"Cue two miners innocently going about their jobs when they stumble across a rather rich vein of chrsym ore. Overjoyed, the anxious two set their explosives, planning to blast free their latest find, but instead of the deceased fossil they expected, out pops a rather lively baby dragon."
Previous Breath of Fire games always managed to turn up a good percentage of the dragons which Ryu, BoF’s protagonist, traditionally shares a kinship with; but in this third instalment, we find they're an extinct race. They’re present only in the form of crystallized fossil remains, known as chrsym ore, that are mined as a power source throughout the world’s dragon graveyards.
Cue two miners [note: cameos from BoFI's cast, no less, with Woosly's translation issues remedied] innocently going about their jobs when they stumble across a rather rich vein of chrsym ore. Overjoyed, the anxious two set their explosives, planning to blast free their latest find, but instead of the deceased fossil they expected, out pops a rather lively baby dragon. Bad news for the hapless duo, as they are immediately deep-fried. The infant dragon runs amuck in the mines, making piles of ash of those who impede him before his eventual capture. Caged and transported to some unknown location, the dragon manages to escape - and not long after, the form of a young boy is found naked and unconscious next to the wrecked remains of a cage. Enter Ryu.
Ryu (or whatever name you choose to give him) never really has it easy, his only friends being a thieving woren [cat-person] and a slightly psychotic purple-haired midget, but he manages to get by - albeit via slightly unscrupulous means. Take a stroll into the local village from your adopted tree-house home, and you'll discover that you are far from a prized resident among the community.
On your way to town, it's probable that you will encounter some form of wandering foe via the random encounter system, giving you a chance to experience the battle system. Battles are played out in a standard turn-based fare with a few handy twists. BoFIII gives you the chance to examine your foe of choice, presenting you with the chance to learn some of their special abilities and tack them onto your own moveset. The usual method of a drop-down menu presents you with your list of options, and you vanquish your enemies in whatever way you see fit. Nice touches include individual skills for each member of your cast, and the Japanese voice actors yelling out the names for spells in their own tongue. Later in the game, Ryu will learn to control his dragon powers through genes that he'll collect throughout his adventures. By mixing and matching up to three of these genes at once, you can create several different combinations resulting in our spiky-haired chum taking up various dragon forms depending on your splicing of choice. Dragontastic.
Finally make it to the village, and you'll find that the translation issues that slightly plagued its SNES counterparts no longer apply. The localisation is solid, and NPCs often have helpful or witty responses for your party of collective miscreants, cultivating in random sprouting of comedic genius such as "Oh, Mina. You're so beautiful when you play with the chickens."
Sometimes you'll find the lines of text changing depending on which character you decide to have take point. Being able to cycle through your characters to choose a lead is also a nice touch; not only can this enable you to gain differing responses from chatty townsfolk and gossip-ridden passersby, but it showcases each cast member’s overworld skills. The thieving cat-boy can pick locks, whilst the angry midget can take his frustration out on random objects by kicking at them. These actions will have to be used wisely to progress through the game.
While we are on the subject of progression, the game offers several good features that you'll steadily stumble upon as you traverse through BoFIII. It won't be long until you come across your very first master, an NPC that you can tutor under and subsequently alter your base statistics as your cast levels up, offering you a huge opportunity to mould your mini-army into the fighting force you truly desire. As well as offering stat-alteration, masters will also teach you new skills akin to those you can learn from enemies when you progress a set number of levels under their tutelage. With this system in tow, you have no excuse but to mould your characters into your perfect vessels of destruction.
Other distractions include the fishing stages that can be found in previous Breath of Fire games, but it’s been hugely revamped into a mini-game in its own right. Aside from the more complex ways of snaring your aquatic prizes, whatever you catch makes its way into your inventory as consumable items. Build up enough of these, and they can be used as fishy currency to purchase goods from Manillo traders, whom you must also hook from the watery depths.
Another enjoyable addition is the chance to rebuild the homes of a recently razed fairy village, and in return you get their gratitude and slave labour, as you work them like dogs for your every slight convenience. You can choose to put them to work in shops, inns and the like as well as open casinos, copy shops and music halls for them to slave in; you can even demand they risk their lives by sending them out into the dangerous unknown to find you treasures -- that'll learn them for being easily bossed around. These tasks will go some way to consoling players that BoFIII is pretty much devoid of side-quests.
The rather linear plot path is not the only thing to go against Ryu, though; the main problem he faces is that because he takes the usual BoF route of the silent protagonist, you never really get a feel for him, and you may not get as attached to him as you might like. The rest of the cast sometimes also suffers from this, often being forced to carry on one-sided conversations with him. Obviously, the idea is that the silent breaks from Ryu are meant to be filled in mentally by the player, but it leaves a lot of scenes that should be building character bonds remaining unnecessarily empty.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the game’s sound-based aspects, however. The soundtrack is hardly devoid of decent music, but it doesn't distinguish itself as much as it perhaps could have. Not that the game's presentation is all bad; you'll often find yourself marvelling slightly at your bright, vibrant cartoon style sprites and the lively and colourful environments. But much like is expected from the serial, the overal effect is a case of nothing awful but nothing really great. However, Breath of Fire III as a whole is another quality chapter in a series you'd expect nothing less from. It borrows things that work in its predecessors and irons out the niggles that detracted from them. The mounting, well-paced storyline and enjoyable gameplay glosses over a small number of little flaws to make BoFIII an enjoyable and recommendable RPG for fans both familiar with and new to the serial. Missing out on this game would be an insult to Mina. And her chickens.
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