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Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (Xbox 360) artwork

Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (Xbox 360) review


"Breath of Death VII is one of those rare parody games that recognises and mocks the pitfalls of its genre, but then sidesteps them in its own design, equipping itself with a veneer of smug satisfaction that transfers to the gamer. "



Here’s the thing with making a satirical video game that not a lot of people get: it’s all well and good to poke fun at others, but when you purposefully stroll into the same bear-traps, you can hardly complain when you lose a leg.

Satire has to be able to stand on its own merit before it can successfully make fun of its intended targets. Recent homebrew games like 8-bit Girlfriend forgot this and instead ran on the odd belief that being amusing was enough of an excuse to not put forth any kind of gameplay. Breath of Death VII is a different beast. It makes time to parody everything from Dragon Quest to Resident Evil, but, even if it didn’t, it would still be a great game on its own right.

Set on an Earth obliterated by a particularly cruel world war, Breath of Death presents a world ruled by the undead. It quickly introduces the mute protagonist, DEM, who just as quickly shakes off his silence by allowing the gamer to read his thoughts. He’ll later claim that his silence allows the weight of his actions to be that which expresses his heroics, before ultimately admitting that, as a skeleton knight, it has more to do with his lack of tongue. He finds himself in a cave where the basics of the game are explained to him by a helpful ghost. As a veteran warrior, DEM already knows these things. His inability to tell the ghost to shut up is convenient for the gamer, though, who gets a rundown of the basics as a result. He then kills a lot of trolls in turn-based menu-driven battles.

When broken down into base like that, perhaps the way Breath of Death utilises its battling doesn’t sound any different from the standardised fare set way back in the 8-bit days. HOWEVER! The battles that take place are breathtakingly swift: they’re usually over in seconds but lose nothing in the way of challenge because of it. Monsters that survive each attack round get stronger, and your party of up to four undead misfits have a huge range of options in putting them down before they can overpower you. Spamming normal blows will start dialling up the team’s combo counter, allowing them to invest in heavier strikes until the counter is reset by any of numerous special techniques that exchange raw power for a counter reset. There’s all the expected spells and trappings, and your characters can combine to do link attacks similar to those in Chrono Trigger.

Though the game is quite long for an indie title, the refreshing brevity of these battles helps it zoom along smoothly. Dungeons -- story based and optional -- are numerous, but can be quickly gutted. Levelling characters presents the choice of two unique buffs: either differing statistical boosts or a mixture of character exclusive spells/attacks. Careful picking of these perks could steer each character towards customised roles. You could turn DEM into an fight-ready mage, able to throw down damaging rains of fire as well as carve up forces with brute strength, or you may prefer to build him up as a pure slugger, or a meat shield.

Breath of Death VII‘s biggest asset is that it’s a competent retro RPG infused with unique and brave ideas without anything to help it. Then it heaps on the satire. Then DEM will stop techno-obsessed vampire, Lita, stealing from a house while she complains about it being par for course, or the game itself will mock you with unobtainable chests (Oh, I bet there’s something AWESOME in that chest behind the forever-locked door. If only you had a master of unlocking…). The jokes are sometimes groanworthy but almost always brilliant, stretching right back into the hazy 80’s to find titles to gleefully mock before turning its sights back on more recent targets. It’s obvious the writer is someone who knows the field he’s working in. It helps that said person is then able to translate this knowledge into a quirky, funny and outright competent video game.

Breath of Death VII is one of those rare parody games that recognises and mocks the pitfalls of its genre, but then sidesteps them in its own design, equipping itself with a veneer of smug satisfaction that transfers to the gamer.

Rating: 9/10

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (July 24, 2010)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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PAJ89 posted July 24, 2010:

Nice, I was actually going to try the demo, but Marketplace was being a pain and I forgot about it. Reading this has served as a reminder to try it out, and that it could be worth a purchase.
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honestgamer posted July 24, 2010:

I really liked this review, EmP! Grammatical issues aside, it's one of your strongest pieces that I can remember reading in awhile. I've decided to celebrate the occasion by pretending for a few minutes that I'm wolfqueen.

Thanks for reviewing this. I had no idea that it even exists and it sounds like something that I would very much enjoy playing. The angle that you took worked perfectly, your examples were interesting and you covered all of the bases that really mattered to me. Great job!
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EmP posted July 24, 2010:

You'd make an awful WQ. Not once did you insinuate that I've not written a good review since 2007.

Many thanks for the catches and, to both of you, I can't recommend BoDVII enough. Especially since it's at 80mps. Shoes for your avatar cost more!
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honestgamer posted July 24, 2010:

It just so happens that my balance on Xbox Live was 80 points. I have just downloaded it and perhaps one of these days, I'll actually play it!
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wolfqueen001 posted July 25, 2010:

You'd make an awful WQ. Not once did you insinuate that I've not written a good review since 2007.

XXXD No! You're just so good now that I can't honestly say that one's better than the other anymore! Yeah, that's it. You're too good now. >.> Though you'll sooner forget all the ones I've gushed over recently or in the past three years. =P

Hooray! At least now it's been bumped to 2007 instead of 2006, though! =D

Thanks for doing most of my work for me, Jason! Saves me a lot of time. Maybe now I can get a vacation. He works me like a dog you know. XD

....er, well, bad example, but you know what I mean! =D

EDIT: OK. I read the review. I'm going to be a rebel and say that while I did like this one, I think your Shining Wisdom review was better. At least to me. Maybe it's because I could see the effort you put into that one or something.

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