Thursday 22 November 2012

Breath of Fire Review (Gameboy Advance)

Over the years, the Breath of Fire series has always managed to be overshadowed by some other title. On the Super Nintendo, Breath of Fire 1 & 2 were overlooked through a combination of Western RPG apathy and the emergence of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Later, on the PSone, things were much the same. Breath of Fire 3 launched to critical acclaim, but few people would look outside of their Final Fantasy 'comfort' zones - so it was inevitable that when the fourth instalment of the series arrived, many more would fail to acknowledge it. The Game Boy Advance now offers players another chance to sample one of the most magical adventures ever made.

The story surrounding the first game in the series (and which may appear a little fragmented if you weren't paying attention) is a magical yarn that helps to pull you in, and really makes you care about what is happening to the world. It starts when our hero Ryu is rushed from a burning building, with the story of a prophecy ringing in his ears. The great thing about Breath of Fire is that very little of the story is disclosed, with Ryu not having a clue what is happening, but gradually uncovering small pieces of information as the adventure unfolds.

Scripting is first-class, with twists and turns that always keep you guessing until the very last battle. The action is presented in a typical turn-based adventure style. Most of the time you'll walk around the map screen engaging in random battles; it then switches to the battle screen where you can choose your commands - standard fare for anyone who is familiar with turn-based RPGs. The action breaks down into a fairly simple scheme- go to a village and talk to people, then go to the cause of that village's problem and enter a tower or dungeon. Kill a big monster at the end, gain some new skill that allows you to enter the next area, and so on until you finish the game.

Although the way things are done is fairly straightforward, the magical setting makes you push on to see the next part of the story. Graphically, while designed for the Super Nintendo, everything is perfectly acceptable. Sprites have been polished to make them sharper, but apart from that things are kept fairly simple. This is in no way a bad thing however. Far from being just functional, the graphics help to give the game a unique look that sets it apart from other role-playing games.

Characters constructed out of limited colour palettes are bright and vibrant, with well-animated movements. When exploring, it is easy to tell where you are in the world as no two areas look the same (and also contain different enemies). Over the years we have played a lot of RPGs, and every now and then one of them tries to do something a bit different - or so we thought. Let us bring your attention to the Playstation 2 game, Final Fantasy X, hailed upon release for the way in which battles were made more flexible by being able to switch characters in the middle of a fight. Well, guess what? You can do that in Breath of Fire too, and this game originally came out in the early-Nineties (and Dragon Quest games were arguably doing it even earlier).

The title has more innovative touches than possibly any other single RPG. As well as the tagging system 'borrowed' by FFX, all the characters in your party gain experience at the same level. This means that while in other games characters outside of your main party remain weak, in Breath of Fire you can switch characters without fearing they will not be able to cope with enemies. Characters also have a number of individual actions available to them - find an object for Gobi for instance and you can travel around underwater inside a big fish- with doing so meaning you will not be attacked, letting players explore areas without fear of constant random battles. Furthermore, when Mina reaches a certain level she can warp the party to any town you have visited - this is positively a breath of fresh air.

It allows players to freely explore without needing to worry if they will make it back to safety when weak. These are just a few of the extremely helpful features that the game offers, thus easing frustration and aiding progress. In terms of difficulty, the game is well-structured with a near-extraordinary understanding of both pace and learning requirements. To start with, you only have two characters to control and they are both very weak. The characters do not really know what is going on and are not aware of their true powers - thus a lot of the time enemies that appear will be too strong for you, forcing you to run instead of fight.

At first this seems like a flaw, but it is only after you have made it past the first quarter of the game that you realise it is intentional. From here, characters begin to get stronger and realise their destinies, this makes battles a lot easier. Everything is set up to merge seamlessly with the storyline and is an amazing accomplishment.

Overall, Breath of Fire is one of the finest RPGs to appear on any format. Though bettered by latter incarnations of the series, the original remains both innovative and a pure joy to play. While not the most difficult game to beat, it offers up a sturdy challenge - and when games are this long, you don't really need a Final Fantasy VIII-style level of hardcore 'comfort', do you? This title has charm, humour and an epic storyline to round it off, and if you tire of the adventuring you can even opt for fishing. How many other games can boast that? A brilliant game guaranteed to get you hooked (no pun intended).

1 comment:

  1. While I've never had a serious go of the first title, recently I played Breath of Fire 2 with a patch that replaced the much maligned original translation with something a lot more palatable. What I found, not having played the game prior to this, was that BoF2 was an absolutely fantastic game for those who are into classic JRPGs. It's a shame that the series as a whole receives such ill-treatment in the West.

    P.S. Just started looking around this site and I'm really liking what I am seeing.