After disappearing from the world for what seemed like an eternity, the Breath of Fire series looked to lay buried with its own history. With Final Fantasy VII a massive global success Capcom decided to reintroduce the 'Dragon Clan' once more - and we should all be grateful that they did.
Breath of Fire III follows the path of a boy named Ryu and his incredible power. The story goes that an ancient legend speaks of a powerful Dragon Clan that suddenly vanished without explanation. Far from having disappeared completely, the remains of the Dragon people have formed into ore that can be used as energy. One day, while miners were excavating such ore, they come across a small dragon imprisoned in the mine - thus a new legend was forged.
While the story and world of Breath of Fire III are reminiscent of the titles that preceded it, most other things have changed. Battles are still turn-based but the interface now comes in the form of a "+" shape - simply press left, right, up or down to select from the options available - something that really helps the flow of battles no end, and a work of genius by the development team. Furthermore, a number of other unique underlying features have been put into place, most notable of these is the way random battles occur.
Wandering around dungeons or other areas holds to the tried and true formula visited by other RPGs (ie - your characters meet with encounters at random intervals). However, while working your way around the BoF III map screen there are no random battles whatsoever. This allows you to explore the map without fear of being attacked every two and a half seconds. Should you wish to level up characters on the map screen, exclamation marks appear from time to time, and by pressing the attack button you will be placed in a small area of land containing an item that prefigures a number of random battles before you can acquire it.
In graphical terms, the game isn't really anything to shout about - characters are a touch flat and lacking in colour though they are consistent with the series style. While the graphics aren't the best, they are entirely serviceable and keep Ryu and his compatriots anchored firmly in the Breath of Fire world. Ditto for magic attacks - while basically 'by-the-numbers', there are certainly some nice flourishes, especially when our hero transforms into one of many huge dragons.
What infuses a good RPG is normally the constituent elements of plot and the right control system (to allow you to explore said plot through to its conclusion). It is here where Breath of Fire III truly excels. The story unfolds before you at a breakneck pace and only when you stop to save do you realise that you've been playing for around twenty odd hours, or that the seasons have changed. That's not to say the game's a breeze, indeed there are a number of situations which require players to swallow their pride and beat a formal retreat, or instances where your party will be wiped out completely.
It is hard to know whether it's the inspired plot, the endearing and differing characters, or the minor milieu of genius that really helps to push Breath of Fire III toward the highest rung of gaming. In truth, it is no doubt the delicate marriage of a number of flawless and well-realised situations, coupled with the above high points, that will see players continually rushing through the game wanting - indeed needing - to know what comes next. In conclusion, Breath of Fire III is one of the finest role-playing games ever made, and absolutely essential for those wanting to lose themselves in a different world - a different reality - for weeks.