Breath of Fire - Reader Retroview  

Breath of Ash That Sticks in the Eyes
by JuMeSyn

22-32 hours


Rating definitions 

   There exist in any given thesaurus a few definitions for what might be termed ‘middle-of-the-road.’ Average, normal, mediocre, unimpressive, not bad, okay, fair, adequate, and functional are just some of them. All of these adjectives were applicable to Breath of Fire way back in 1993 when it was released on the Super Nintendo, and it was a perfectly ordinary RPG at the time with little that stood out in any particular way. What was (barely) acceptable in 1993 is no longer so, however. Mediocrity of 13 years ago has given way to substandard RPG play in 2006 (and in 2002, when I played it).

   Breath of Fire has a story that is so very archetypal in the RPG world as to be barely memorable. Ryu is the hero (this is absolutely coincidental and in no way reflective of Capcom being the developer of the game) who must gather together a team of travelers in order to combat the evil empire seeking to conquer the world. Nothing original here, and even the little details fail to stick in the memory. Further cementing the notion of Capcom having a small development team, Ryu turns into a dragon in battle and is a Dragon of Light, while the Emperor is one of the Dragons of Darkness. Feel the innovation as it runs away into the distance. In the beginning of a Breath of Fire standard, a blue-haired young man named Ryu who can turn into a dragon is the hero and he quickly comes upon a winged female named Nina to join his quest. The major alteration from formula comes in the fact that most of Ryu’s companions exhibit quite a bit of anthropomorphizing instead of the usual humans and elves; he’ll be allied with, among others, a big merchant goldfish named Gobi and a half-snake sorceress named Bleu. A dishonorable mention for a very boring translation must be made here. Squaresoft did not translate many games for the Super Nintendo, and those it did usually managed to be better than the dull job found here.

You think I LIKE being a piñata?  I hate having all this stuff crammed into me so much I’ll spit it all out – at YOU who put it in there! You think I LIKE being a piñata? I hate having all this stuff crammed into me so much I’ll spit it all out – at YOU who put it in there!

   Battles progress in tried-and-true fashion, at frequent intervals thanks to the expected overly prominent random battles. Four player-controlled characters are found on one side of the screen, enemies on the other side. This is a turn-based slugfest, and proceeds exactly as one would expect. The slight wrinkle in the formula comes when Ryu learns some dragon spells, which allow him to transform in the midst of battle and use powerful elemental attacks depending upon what sort of dragon he transforms into. These boil down into turning Ryu into a powerhouse in battle and are nothing terribly diverting. Experience and money are obtained post-battle, again as tradition would dictate.

   Visuals are perfectly okay considering the time the game was originally made, but nothing extraordinary. The graphics do their job in a rather plain way that fails to imbue the game with any intangible magic that grander RPGs frequently achieve. The music fails even to be perfectly okay, for most of the tunes fade from memory more slowly than one might desire thanks to their repetitiousness. The regular battle music in particular I refuse to remember thanks to its incredibly annoying nature. A few okay tunes are drowned out by the rest. Sound effects are barely functional, and the Super Nintendo was capable of better than what Breath of Fire offers.

   Interaction mostly succeeds in being functional; at least shop menus demonstrate the effects of weapons and armor prior to their being purchased. Navigating the item menu is annoying but there have been worse. Equipping weapons is not automatic in a shop, which can lead to a few frustrating moments if one fails to deal with this technicality. The major novelty in the interactions of Breath of Fire comes from each character having a different action if s/he is in the lead of the party (party order can be altered at will most of the time). A mole-man digs into the ground if he is in the lead, an ox-man can smash walls apart, etc. Needing to switch between members can be annoying but not overly so. The system in Breath of Fire is not broken, however, just in need of a tune-up.

This is what happens when twins get Alzheimer’s.  They won’t move for hours. This is what happens when twins get Alzheimer’s. They won’t move for hours.

   Breath of Fire is somewhat challenging, although old-time RPGamers will not experience any problems. Fighting quite a few random battles to reach a boss is to be expected, and bosses do pack something of a punch. Finding the right dragon transformations will unhinge most of the battle difficulty though. Somewhat vague objectives and unclear methods of attaining those objectives are far more difficult to circumvent. A special note here regarding content inserted into the Game Boy Advance reissue (calling it a remake insults actual remakes); aside from a quick-save function and some redrawn character portraits, nothing is different.

   Depending upon just how long an RPGamer gets stuck at certain confusing points, the completion time can vary. A bare-bones approach would probably finish the game within a tad over 20 hours, but that will be hard to achieve without blindly following a walkthrough. Once finished, there is really nothing to replay the title for. Breath of Fire has no optional content worth replaying its main quest for, unless finding a few powerful dragon spells is an incentive for a person other than me.

   Breath of Fire is an incredibly generic example of the RPG that has dated badly. On the Super Nintendo it is an at-best marginal item, unworthy of being sought out save by a very bored player. If an RPGamer has somehow exhausted all other RPG options available for the Game Boy Advance, it avoids being truly execrable thanks to far nastier fare available. On either system, Breath of Fire is unmemorable.

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