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

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

"What would you prefer? Sizable boosts to your health and magic or smaller ones to agility, offense and defense? A powerful spell that assaults one monster or a weaker one that hits everything? A strong healing spell or a weaker one that also cures status ailments? From the beginning, you're involved in the evolution of your party and your decisions will wind up determining just how difficult the game's toughest challenges are."

For long-time gamers such as myself, there is a sort of "you can't go home again" vibe about some of those beloved titles of yesteryear. Take the world of console role-playing games -- specifically the early Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy games on the NES.

Back in the day, they were these expansive fantasy worlds that I would enter for hours at a time. I'd come home from school, eat dinner, go upstairs to my Nintendo and, before I knew it, I'd be told it was time for bed. An entire evening would meld into this blend of towns, caves and combat where I eagerly pushed forward to see what great equipment would be waiting in the next town and what horrid beasts would be next on my party's chopping block. I've tried to revisit those wondrous times, only to find that sense of awe get replaced by boredom as I spent what seemed to be hours running in circles around towns to grind both cash to buy the equipment and levels to hold my own against those beasts. You can't go home again...

If I didn't know better, I'd think I worked for Zeboyd Games. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning is the proof. An XBox 360 indie game created in homage to those eight-bit titles, it manages to avert all the tedium they possessed, which finally makes it possible to return home.

For $1, you'll get a quest that lasts for a handful of hours. The interesting thing is that it made me realize that those ancient Dragon Warriors would likely only take that long to play if the level-grinding was removed and you didn't run into encounters every three steps. Breath of Death is a stripped-down RPG that successfully removes much of the "busy-work" while improving on the essentials.

Such as combat. After each fight, you regain all your hit points and a few magic points with the amount of magic restored determined by how quickly you finish the battle. Simply regaining magic isn't the only reason you'll want to take out enemies quickly, though, as they get a bit more powerful every turn. With many groups of foes, you'll likely have them killed before they're strong enough to inflict serious damage. With better be spamming powerful spells and attacks from the beginning or you're risking a glimpse of the "game over" screen.

You'll want some good attacks that can hit all enemies for those occasions you get stuck in fights with four or five powerful monsters. You'll also want to have a few super-powered moves to whittle away at the health of bosses, some of which have tens of thousands of hit points. Not only will you get both, but you'll be the one determining which abilities each member of your party will use. Whenever any of your (eventually) four characters gains a level, you'll get two options for their level-up bonus. Sometimes, you'll be picking between two stat bonuses; while other times, you'll be choosing between two special abilities. What would you prefer? Sizable boosts to your health and magic or smaller ones to agility, offense and defense? A powerful spell that assaults one monster or a weaker one that hits everything? A strong healing spell or a weaker one that also cures status ailments? From the beginning, you're involved in the evolution of your party and your decisions will wind up determining just how difficult the game's toughest challenges are.

If those bosses wind up being too tough, it always is possible to grind until you're able to win, but unless you screwed up some level-up choices, that tactic isn't necessary and you could say it's even discouraged. Whenever you enter a dungeon, the menu screen will note how many battles you may be forced into during the course of your exploration. An optional cave holding a new weapon or item tends to have 10 fights, while the massive final dungeon has 50. After you've exhausted that number, you'll never encounter another random encounter in that dungeon. You WILL be able to choose "fight" from the menu if you want to train your characters a bit longer, but you won't be forced to fight and fight and fight when you're just trying to leave after getting the key item you went there for in the first place.

Sometimes, I'd actually get through the game's mandatory allotment of optional fights before even reaching a dungeon's boss. Generally this was because Zeboyd didn't eliminate all the annoying aspects of those classic RPGs -- in this case, lazy dungeon design. Usually, if I find a dungeon from an old game memorable, it's because it was a long maze with a lot of tough battles...not because it looked sweet and was super fun and innovative. In Breath of Death, you get a bunch of mazes. Corridors and rooms scattered together with no rhyme or reason; towns that push you down a linear path with insurmountable obstacles like cars and shrubs preventing you from finding a shortcut to the boss AND a dungeon that's way too large for the castle it's in -- you get all of these things here. A lot of creativity was used in giving this game ways to avoid falling into those tedious cash/level-grinding traps, but the dungeons brought back memories of the more generic clusterfuck collections of winding paths and dead ends that old-school RPGs took glee in delivering.

That was my only real problem with Breath of Death, though. Not only does it improve on classic RPGs, but it also proves to be pretty entertaining. The warm-up boss in the tutorial dungeon does a reasonably accurate rendition of something Dracula says in your initial Symphony of the Night meeting. The names of the world's towns are combinations of the American and Japanese names of four games that likely served as influences for the Zeboyd guys. An impostor king apologizes after he realizes he could have had the throne by simply asking the true ruler. Your hero gripes about how he feels the game isn't worth the 80 points it cost due to its brevity. The plot, featuring four undead heroes seeking to uncover the mysteries behind their planet being destroyed in a war, is go from place to place for no real reason other than to decide to move to the next region. The dialogue, on the other hand, is very entertaining, as you get to read things like characters griping because the overly noble leader refuses to steal from a treasure chest in one house even if it might potentially contain a super-powered weapon.

Breath of Death allowed me to go home. To experience an old-school RPG that didn't suffer from outdated mechanics. It felt like a good Dragon Warrior experience, but I didn't have to spend hours running in circles around towns to grind. I just moved forward and enjoyed customizing my party, which is all I really ask for when I play a game like this.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 12, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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