Monday 8 December 2014

Breath of Fire 2 Review (GBA)

Following on from the excellent first instalment in the Breath of Fire series, Breath of Fire II has a lot to live up to. Set in the same world as the first title but five hundred years later, the second installment continues the story.

Though there may not seem to be too many similarities between the stories of the two titles, certain things remain the same - you still control the hero Ryu who will learn he has the power to turn into a dragon, and at the end of all the twists and turns there will still be a showdown with a mysterious goddess.

The story goes that, after the destruction of the evil Milia, the warriors hid themselves away from the world in such a way that they could never be found - as with their great power they had exposed the world to danger. Five hundred years later, after the memory of the eight brave fighters has drifted away like a gentle snowflake on the wind, a small boy in a tiny village is leading a humble existence with his father and sister. The boy's name is Ryu and he will shortly learn that his fate is entwined with the fate of the world around him.

Certain things have changed since the first game in the series: now you can no longer tell how much energy the enemy has left, healing is not always the first action that happens each turn in a battle, and a new town-building feature has been added. Breath of Fire had a large amount of features that meant the story kept progressing at a decent pace, with a smart player being able to gain the upper hand most of the time.

With the removal of some of these, the second title really makes it hard for you to achieve your goal. While some may welcome the dramatic increase in difficulty, the balance of the original seems to have vanished completely. This means that you may well end up doing the same section of the game at least fifteen or twenty times before getting through. This does not help the flow of an otherwise brilliant story - in fact, after you've heard the same part of the plot regurgitated time and again, you become indifferent to the detail; the broken narrative.

Cosmetically, the second instalment is much improved from the original. Characters and landscapes are bigger and contain a lot more detail - bringing the game closer to being a sort of Anime comic strip, though not quite making it. The world around you is depicted beautifully, with clouds passing overhead and a lot more variation in the terrain than before and all holding true to the established style of the series. Every aspect from a graphical point of view is bigger, more detailed and generally more charming.

Breath of Fire II truly is a gaming conundrum: you are presented with a beautifully detailed world, underpinned with interesting characters and a brilliantly developed plot, but you cannot progress anywhere because the difficulty level is so ridiculous. It just seems stupid - why make almost every section of the game so tough that you have to level up your characters for a couple of hours just to get through? And then, when reaching the next section, you have to do the same thing again. Surely it would have been better to simply reduce the difficulty of the sections to keep the story flowing and the player interested?

What we are left with is an RPG that is screaming out for 'essential' status, but due to the complete lack of a learning gradient ends up being unnecessarily difficult and frustrating to play. The title is still very good, and the story so engaging that some players will do whatever it takes to advance the plot, but for RPG fans in general, this amounts to little more than a failure to expand upon an exceptional first instalment. Breath of Fire II is good - but it could and should have been a lot better. Disappointing.

Overall 7/10

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