Breath of Fire II - Reader Retroview  

Not Red-Hot, But Fiery Enough
by JuMeSyn

30-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   Improvement between installments of RPG series is a frequent occurrence. Rare is the transition in a series of such a noteworthy quality leap as the Breath of Fire series evidences, however. Where Breath of Fire managed at best to be fitfully diverting, Breath of Fire II succeeds in delivering a quality quest with quite a few distinctions to make it stand out. It is not one of the greatest RPGs from the 16-bit era, but does deserve to be remembered 11 years later.

   The major detriment found in Breath of Fire must be mentioned before any meaningful discussion of the title can occur, given that it permeates every aspect of the game. Squaresoft’s translation of Breath of Fire 1 was anything but memorable, yet the game made money in the English-speaking world. This made Capcom translate BoF II itself. And such a horrendous translation deserves universal condemnation from any RPGamer to play the thing. Accomplishing certain goals without the aid of a walkthrough is made nothing but trial-and-error thanks to the translation’s terrible travails and deciphering exactly what is supposed to be said at any given moment is far harder than ought to be so. When the most intelligible aspect of the translation is the item and statistics menu, something horrid has happened.

Never EVER forget to answer in the form of a question!  -$1200, Alex! Never EVER forget to answer in the form of a question! -$1200, Alex!

   With the caveat of deciphering details being difficult, the story found in Breath of Fire II is reasonably interesting. In a short prologue 10 years before the main quest, Ryu is separated from his father and sister whereupon he inadvertently is challenged and (naturally) defeated by a great monster. The main quest picks up with Ryu and his friend Bow as Rangers, the term here for the friendly job doers of a community. They are called upon to rescue a pet pig for a girl named Mina. Accomplishing this task, naturally, leads into something bigger, although the quest takes awhile to unveil the main threat. In a welcome change of pace, there is no empire to be defeated. Instead a strange religion is sweeping the land with very unpleasant overtones not only for the unbelievers but for the newly converted…. The Breath of Fire standard of having a blue-haired hero named Ryu with the ability to transform into a dragon meet up with a winged girl named Nina is firmly in place, but the Ryu and Nina here manage to seem distinct from all the other characters with these traits.

   The base battle system of Breath of Fire II is the turn-based affair seen numerous times before and since. As in the original, Ryu can transform into a dragon during battle once he learns how; apparently Capcom felt that being able to use a dragon transformation repeatedly made the original too easy however, and now all of Ryu’s MP will be sapped by the transformation – which delivers one attack and then ends. Each character has a unique battle command, however, which goes a fair way towards making them seem less formulaic. Some of the battle commands aren’t very useful (R.I.P. – playing dead in the hope of not being hit?), but at least an effort was made. Battles are random; experience and money are obtained afterwards.

   Visuals are not at the highest level the Super Nintendo could reach (observe Chrono Trigger, also from 1995) but are certainly not ugly. Spell effects are reasonable, enemies and characters are seen taking action in battle (admittedly true of the first Breath of Fire, but the animation is better here). Aurally this is not one of the finest efforts on SNES, but avoids annoyance avidly. Some of the music is catchier than the rest but none of it ought to induce the mute button. Sound effects are perfectly serviceable, also.

Nothing like a little inflaming of the ASPCA to start things off! Nothing like a little inflaming of the ASPCA to start things off!

   Challenge-wise Breath of Fire II is not terribly hard in battle, though most of its bigger battles will require attention to be paid because bosses are frequently capable of knocking out a character in two hits. More challenge is found from the ineffectual translation leaving a player adrift as to where to be, than is found from the actual combat. The game is fairly long for a SNES title, so 30 hours is probably a good minimum completion time.

   Battle and menu operations are nothing remarkable but get the job done without unwonted fuss. Each character has a different action when put in the lead of the party, and these are also performed without complications (which is good when many of them are essential to progress at certain points). Two more interesting aspects of interaction are the shaman system and the Township development. A total of six shamans can be found as the game progresses, and they represent one of six elements. All characters except Ryu (and a hidden character) can be fused with one or two shamans, resulting in varying degrees of increased battle aptitude. With certain combinations there is not merely an attribute increase but the physical form of the character changes also. Shamans cannot be fused with more than one character simultaneously, and some combinations fail. Also many of the shamans only appear near the end of the game, although since the final dungeon is rather deserving of the name Infinity their benefit is still tangible. Being wounded in battle will undo the shaman bonding, which will require a trip back to home base for restoration.

   Home base, by the middle of the game, will be Township. This is a town of the player’s design, though the initial architectural style is limited to three choices. Certain persons around the world will become interested in dwelling within Township. Some of these persons offer very valuable services, others give trivia of interest to some, and still others take up space. Inhabitants of Township cannot be evicted once they have come to it, so quite a bit of experimentation is necessary to find the best potential tenants. Replay is encouraged here to see what happens under the other town designs, and thanks to there being several endings. There are also a few little side quests (a very handy spell, Chop-chop, that does a set amount of damage is obtainable via this method) that open up and vanish according to events in the main quest.

   Capcom deserves scorn aplenty for only redoing the character artwork and including a quick save feature, while leaving the truly terrible translation alone. The underlying game is good enough that the translation does not render it unplayable, however. To the RPGamer seeking a less known title on either GBA or SNES, this one will do the job nicely. Playing it without consulting any online help sources, however, is a sure source of frustration.

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