Breath of Fire (Game Boy Advance)

Re-Enter the Dragon

By Michael Henninger

Breath of Fire

    The original Breath of Fire will always have a rightful place in the pantheon of memorable SNES RPGs. In the early 1990s, developer Capcom and co-publisher Squaresoft released a game that would share the stage with the likes of Final Fantasy IV, Secret of Mana, Lufia and later Final Fantasy VI to name a few, as a pillar of an increasingly popular, but still niche--as esteemed by most Japan-based developers--North American genre. Though times have certainly changed, Breath of Fire remains a classic, and its improved Game Boy Advance release marks the first time many gamers may be able to enjoy it.

Title Screen
The new title screen


Breath of Fire brings to light many of the hallmarks of upper-tier, 16-bit RPGs: colorful, contrasting and detailed pixel-art; a fulfilling and driven fantasy quest with diverse environments and myriad dungeons to explore; an interesting cast of player characters; and fluid sprite animations that are sure to tickle the old-school sensibilities of long-time RPG fans. But what made BoF something special--at least, at the time of its original release--is the way it differed from the competition. Its unique battle system, a sleek, icon-based interface, a cast of racially dynamic characters, fully animated monsters, day-and-night time changes, minigames, and a 3/4 overhead battle view, which provided a 3-D viewpoint rarely used in RPGs of that era, imbued BoF with freshness and originality. BoF is an RPG that conflates pre-32-bit RPG conventions in some ways, but for the most part it's never afraid to just be itself.

New cut-scene
New cut-scenes enhance the story

Breath of Fire's story, falling in line with the archetypical mythologies crafted for many RPGs of its time, places the player in control of protagonist Ryu, a descendant of the Dragon Light Clan, who must stop his clan's evil counterpart, the Dark Dragon Clan, from unsealing an evil goddess, Tyr. To realize their nefarious ambitions, the dark clan must collect Six Goddess Keys and unlock the goddess's tomb. BoF has a proclivity for half-human characters, as Ryu is joined by one of the most eclectic casts in the history of RPGs. Nina, the angelic princess of Winlan, wolf-like archer Bo, man-beast Ox, slithering sorceress Bleu, and a fish man called Gobi are some of the unconventional characters who lend their talents to the quest. The plotline/scenario is straight-forward for the most part with a few side-quests thrown in for good measure, but BoF by no means revels in subplot or diversion to the degree its successor does.

Breath of Fire's turn-based battle system provides players the latitude of substituting a character between rounds, a feature seldom implemented in even the newest of RPGs. Substitutions can be performed between any round though only one character can be exchanged at a time. The party size allows for four characters and a total of eight can be acquired. Also featured is an 'auto' option that forgoes the usual, turn-based menu navigation in favor of an all-out physical attack useful for blowing through less challenging, random encounters. This battle mode can be deactivated during the progress of any round by holding the B button. Menu commands (the standard fight, defend, magic, item and special skill used in many RPGs) are negotiated via a simple and economical icon system that dominates much of the game's pleasing interface. Also consider the use of handy HP/MP gauges during battles, and you have a battle system and menu interface that are serviceable, intuitive, and should give players little to complain about, if nothing to to be particularly impressed with by today's standards.

A battle unfolds
A battle unfolds

In terms of interaction, BoF is not without charm. The game allows players to hunt and fish, and although these minigames are somewhat primitive endeavors requiring only basic motor skills and a bit of luck, they do succeed in adding a little spice and (dare I say it) realism to the quest no matter how superficial the mechanics. On the overworld map, characters can perform specific functions such as breaking through walls or unlocking doors, which can be necessary towards uncovering secrets or advancing in the story.

Although BoF is, afterall, a remake of an older title and does not dazzle graphically to the degree of other, newer GBA RPGs, this edition does get a little shot in the arm and looks a bit healthier than it once did. The graphics look slightly refined and more polished than the original. New character portraits have been added to the battles and new cut-scenes have also been added to enhance the overall presentation. Additional new features include a save function that allows players to save anywhere, an improved fishing minigame, and the ability to link-up GBAs with other adventurers to trade items.

Breath of Fire for the GBA is set to hit shelves on December 12, 2001. RPGamer will continue to update you on its progress as we draw closer to what may be a very merry Christmas for RPG fans.

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