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Friday, September 17, 2010

Breath of Fire - Retrospective

Breath of Fire should come in a plain white box with JRPG stamped on it.
Not to call it a terrible game, but I can't remember the last time I was so underwhelmed and bemused by a game.
Well, maybe one time.
Breath of Fire follows such a generic RPG plot that you can almost play a drinking game with the number of cliches you find. Your character Ryuu is one of the last of a dying race *gulp* who is the only one that can defeat the big-bad. *gulp* You accomplish this by traveling all around the world from one town to the next *gulp* fighting progressively stronger monsters in each area *gulp* In most cases, you will be forced to solve the problem(s) of whichever town you visit before you can continue *gulp* Even while the evil dark lord is sitting in his tower brooding and listening to The Cure. Along the way, you must collect 6 McGuffins *gulp* (in this case Keys) in order to do.... something involving the goddess Tyr.
Honestly, I wasn't interested enough to care. After 6 shots, you'd be ready to pass out too.

Breath of Fire's only saving grace is the field abilities of the characters you acquire along the way, who just randomly HAPPEN to decide to tag along with you. This lends almost a metroidvania-like quality to the game, as your new abilities allow you to access previously blocked off areas. Bo can travel through trees unopposed and shoot his longbow and hunt roaming animals on the world map, Karn can pick locks and disarm traps and pitfalls, Ox can destroy walls and punch trees to collect fruit, etc. While this helps to give the characters much more identity beyond their in-battle skillset, it has the side effect of creating the most convoluted, twisted, backtracking, meandering, where-the-fuck-do-I-go-now? gameplay this side of Resident Evil 2. There are at least a dozen areas in the game where you have no choice but to talk to EVERY PERSON IN THE WORLD and simply HOPE they're the right person to advance the plot. And if that doesn't work, it's time to go searching the entire overworld map for glyphs and icons you may have forgotten about and see if it's time to play with them. And of course, this is all BEFORE you get the ability to fly around the world as a bird.

Breath of Fire is also WAY too easy. I understand that the GBA version (Which I played) is of a lesser difficulty than the original SNES version, but it's a problem that still requires addressing. The encounter rate in the game is brutally high, oftentimes forcing you into a battle every 10 steps, and watch the screen-fade/monster-appear/battle animation/victory/screen-fade sequence every time. If you stop to fight every one of these battles, you will be unfairly over-leveled for most of the entire game, which rarely makes enemies any threat to you. With an encounter rate so high, the only way to catch your breath and actually figure out the labyrinthine dungeons to get anywhere is to use the "mrbl3" item to keep enemies away for 100 steps, and I have a sneaking suspicion that's exactly what the developers intended, since the mrbl3 is one of the dirt cheapest items in the game. There were at least 2 times in the entire game where I simply dropped 300 gold pieces (a pittance) on mrbl3 items to avoid random battles for the entire dungeon, and STILL took the boss out without breaking a sweat, despite not gaining any experience along the way or actively taking time to grind for levels. You can even set the game to battle for you, which makes an already passive activity even less engaging, and once you manage to get Ryuu's final dragon spell, there is NOTHING in the game that can stop you.

Even control is clunky and unresponsive in this game. Navigating menus is uncomfortable, and even though the game was designed for the SNES, the L and R buttons are never used at all to my recollection, even though it would be a VERY welcome option to use them to navigate between party members from the status menu.

The whole of Breath of Fire just seems lazy. I can cut it some slack for being a SNES era RPG with a limited memory capacity, but Final Fantasy 4, 5, and 6 all came out on the same system, and they're all much better designed games with easier to follow, less-cliche storylines, more identifiable characters, and better music. The only tune I recall enjoying is the Big Fish music that plays when Gobi morphs underwater, and you almost never hear that anywhere else in the game.

The Good:
  • Classic turn-based RPG style is familiar and easy to understand for veterans and beginners
  • Field Abilities of party members add an interesting twist to an otherwise unremarkable game
The Bad
  • Cliche and boring story
  • Poorly presented plot-progression requirements
  • Unbalanced combat/leveling system
The Burning Question
  • When they named the minotaur character "Ox", did that decision take more or less time than deciding to name a dragon "Ryuu"?
The Defining Moment
  • Watching the trailer for The Nutcracker 3D on youtube as the auto-battle took care of the final boss for me.

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