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Breath of Fire II (SNES) artwork

Breath of Fire II (SNES) review

"Perhaps the poor NoA censors just couldn't comprehend what they were playing, shrugged their shoulders and let it all go through without chopping out minor details like how the villain is a demon using a Christianity-like religion as a front to absorb peoples' souls to increase its power. Or how, in spectacular fashion, the final boss utilizes the game's "anyone can die" mantra to such effect that I still look at the entirety of that confrontation as one of the most epic in J-RPG history."

It could be said that Breath of Fire II's greatest success simply was being released in America. Back in the day, Nintendo of America had certain ideas about what should and should not be in games featuring their seal of approval. They tended to frown on overt references to death, which goes a long way to explain why an early-game boss in Final Fantasy threatens to "knock you all down". References to religion tended to be a no-no, too. Churches turned to shrines and even long-standing Dungeons Dragons spells like "Bless" could laughably find themselves with new monikers.

Now I must confess that the Japanese-to-English localization of this game could be pretty dodgy at times. Maybe that was the culprit. Perhaps the poor NoA censors just couldn't comprehend what they were playing, shrugged their shoulders and let it all go through without chopping out minor details like how the villain is a demon using a Christianity-like religion as a front to absorb peoples' souls to increase its power. Or how, in spectacular fashion, the final boss utilizes the game's "anyone can die" mantra to such effect that I still look at the entirety of that confrontation as one of the most epic in J-RPG history.

Even considering the iffy translation, none of this is particularly subtle (someone's babbling something about the holy St. Eva every few minutes), so maybe the quality control just didn't give a damn. If so, kudos to them. While not a masterpiece, Breath of Fire II is one of the better SNES role-playing games. Coming out towards the end of that system's life, it boasted great graphics for the time as well as a mature plot that effectively blended humor and tragedy. Lots of tragedy.

And more importantly, this is a pretty fun game that I found to be a bit more challenging than many of its peers. You'll be going through healing spells at a good clip in this one, making dungeons a test of endurance…even if many of them aren't particularly long. As the game progressed, I'd find myself casting one heal spell or another after virtually every battle and I had to use more elaborate strategies than the old-school RPG favorite of "tap attack button until you've won" with regularity. The only complaint I had about the game's difficulty was that there are a couple areas that become painfully brutal if you hadn't been regularly using two particular characters.

As your party grows, for the most part, you have complete freedom to pick the three characters who will support the protagonist Ryu, but occasionally you'll be roped into using someone because of their special power. Each character has some attribute to make them unique. Bow's projectile attacks make him a great choice for the optional hunting mini-game, while Jean can morph into a giant frog and cross certain bodies of water and Spar's the only one who can talk to gigantic sentient trees. Usually, this isn't much of a problem, as you can swap between characters at any of those dragon monuments used to save the game. Maybe I'd have preferred to not be stuck with the recently acquired Spar throughout a dungeon taking place in the mind of one of those talking trees, but I was at least able to stick him in the back of my formation where few attacks reached him.

Nina and Sten were different stories. You'll be expected to control both of these characters ON THEIR OWN for brief parts of the game. For Nina, this is understandable. She's the best mage with the exception of a secret character and, as any Breath of Fire fan knows, her and Ryu compose the "winged girl and dragon boy" duo that headlines all of those games. Sten, on the other hand, is a mediocre fighter who gains a few offensive spells. When you obtain him, he makes a decent fourth member of the party, but when Rand, who combines brutal force with a cornucopia of healing spells, becomes a permanent member, he's likely to get tossed on the scrap heap. Unfortunately, the game likes him. His special ability, which allows the party to cross certain chasms, comes in handy frequently and if you don't take the hint, he'll be pathetically underpowered when you get about halfway through the game and have to go solo with him for a bit (with no way to back out in order to grind for a bit with the rest of the party). If you make him an integral parts of your party for the early and middle portions of the game, cool. If not…well, I hope you have good luck evading combat!

Even if you know what to expect, there is a lot of challenge to Breath of Fire II. Maybe you'll be encountering poisonous monsters before you've gained a single party member possessing an antidote spell, making money-grinding for the local town's weaponry a hassle. Or perhaps you'll be forced to hustle through an underwater dungeon because you can only last for three minutes in the submerged parts. Or simply trying to advance through the gargantuan final dungeon, where the monsters are a definite step up in competition from what you had been slaying.

Being a thorough player can help with at least the latter of those tasks, as does a bit of luck. Early in the game, you start to build your own town. Scattered around the world are many people looking for a new place to live. Some offer great rewards; others are worthless. The tricky thing is that each of these people is only capable of moving into one particular (of six) houses. If you've already filled that house, you're out of luck if its occupant sucks. Arguably the best of the prospective residents is a woman who initially sells the crappiest of crappy equipment: the "goods for a level one adventurer" discount store. By the end of the game, her inventory has upgraded to a "what's what" list of some of the game's best stuff.

Finding her can make things easier, as can hunting down six shamans who can be bonded to various characters to make them more powerful. Knowing where to fish also is beneficial. Some fishing holes, which can only be accessed immediately after overworld battles, contain treasure chests holding little things like Ryu's best sword. A well-hidden cave holds upgrades to Ryu's dragon powers, which allow our hero to transform into a dragon and deliver a devastating attack at the expense of ALL his magic. If you find this upgrade, he'll be able to devastate many future bosses, turning tough fights into mere formalities. All of these things can be easily missed, but will give a thorough adventurer a leg up on the opposition.

I liked Breath of Fire II when I originally bought it in the late 1990s and I enjoyed it just as much after finally replaying it to get the good ending (accursed "blink and you miss them" conditions!). It has its moments of frustration, but also has plenty of rewards for players willing to dig for them. It's one of those games where you'll truly get what you put into it. A casual player who's just trying to get through the quest will find themselves being forced to constantly grind for levels to contend with the game's powerful opposition. But with some "above and beyond the call of duty" work, things will get more and more manageable, as superior weapons and powers will be obtained to be of assistance in the epic battle against the game's false god.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 16, 2011)

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

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joseph_valencia posted September 16, 2011:

Did you play the re-translated version?
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overdrive posted September 16, 2011:

The patch? Yeah. When I saw there was one, I decided I was going to play the game again AND I was going to get a good translation of the text this time!

And while driving home tonight, the weirdest thought hit me.

1. The dragon has sealed Evan's cave, keeping what's in in and what's out out. For you to enter, she basically has to release the seal and end her life.

2. You first encounter Barubari/y as a child in the cave next the village with Evan's cave.

3. And then as a boss in the depths of the cave at the end of the game.

So if it's sealed and the all-powerful Evan can't get out, how can his right-hand scaly critter-demon buddy bounce back and forth without a fucking care in the world?

EDIT: Oh yeah, the only part of the retranslation I don't think I liked that jumps out at me was Evan's speech before the fight. Replacing "and now, he is dead" when he's talking about your comrades with "erased from existence" doesn't work for me. I preferred the brutal simplicity of the original.
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yamishuryou posted September 17, 2011:

The translation should've kept Katt's name instead of Rinpoo :(

Also, I think the Normal ending is the best ending. The tragic sacrifice and all that is a lot more powerful than the nominal 'Good Ending'.

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