Breath of Fire - Reader Retroview

The Legacy of the Light Dragon Clan Starts Here

By: Francis Alma

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 10
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 10
   Plot 9
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Easy to Medium
   Time to Complete

20-40 hrs.


Where it all begins...

    Back in the 1990s, the SNES was the console that initiated many trends for RPGaming as we know it nowadays. Being this console the one that sparked what many call "the golden age" of RPGs, companies started to develop games of this genre for the at-the-time very powerful system, in order to introduce them to the at-the-time flourishing market of RPGs in the Western World. Among these games, we can find Breath of Fire, a singular jewel developed by Square and Capcom around 1994. This Square-Capcom alliance may have been for a short time and most likely may be known by the production of this sole RPG... This game, however, despite its small flaws, can be considered the bedrock of a succesful series that today shines with a light of its own.

   The Battle System in Breath of Fire combines the turn-based system found in many NES RPGs with other quite original and innovative features. Your party consists of a total of 8 characters. Four of these characters conform your "main party". They're the ones that go into battles, as well as travel in the overworld. Along with them, you have other four characters that serve as backup and are available to being switched at any time during the game, once you acquire them. In the case of battles, you may switch only one character at a time per round. When you engage into a fight, you can either input commands for the four characters in your main party individually (attacking, defending, using magic/special skill, or using an item); or, there's an Auto-Battle mode in which all your allies simply inflict physical attacks when their respective turn come around, this being so until all monsters (or all allies) are vanquished. Something to point out is that if for some reason you'd like to cancel the Auto-Battle Mode, you may do so by pressing B at any point during the round. Once the current round ends, you can then input commands again individually to each character. It is after you input whichever commands you decide that every character -both friend and foe- execute their respective action in their respective turns.

   Although by the time this game was released, the Battle System already had its age, and even more today, when this is considered a completely outdated one to use, it still isn't frustrating or boring. This is so, not only because of its innovative icon-based interface, but also because of the few new features that mark an evolution from the standarized turn-based system. Among them we can mention the nice add-on of having HP gauges that increase or decrease as damage or healing takes place, both for allies and enemies. This is a handy tool that can let you think your tactic medley to use in the given battle.

   On the other hand, gaining experience and gold in BoF is quite standarized, because it uses the universally re-known "engage in battle, kill monsters, victory fanfare, 'gained x EXP and y GP'" scheme. Special skills and magic spells, though, can be learned either through gaining levels, or by completing side quests, each with a certain degree of difficulty. These side quests may range from fighting a monster for inheriting the special skills of the main Hero -he who started the trend of transforming into a dragon-, to finding a special NPC that bestows a new ability to one of your other characters. One of them, for example, has the ability to "fuse" with other members of your party, resulting in a stronger character with new special skills, to use either in the overworld, or during battles. However, while you have your characters Fused, you can't use them individually until you revert the effect, so sometimes it deserves being thought over before doing it (and obviously, you have to find first the well-hidden NPC in order to learn the mentioned ability).

   Despite the fact that this game's battle system is somewhat clichéd by the time of its release, still the Interface that's in it is stupendous. In fact, the whole game's Interface is one of the high scores of it, due to its rarity, yet versatility. As explained above, the Battle System is Icon-Based, with each Icon destined to do a specific function. However, not only the Battle Menus, but all the menus in the game are Icon-based. In a nutshell, you can consider it an Interface "for the reading impaired". Although an Interface like this was seen in games like Ogre Battle, in BoF it is much more simplistic, understandable, and, again, versatile. Most (if not all) of the Icons are pretty much self-explanatory, judging by their images, of what function they do... If, despite that, you still aren't sure of the purpose of certain icon, there's a handy question mark (?) Icon that serves as the tutor of the entire menu system and accesible during the whole game. When used on the Item sub-menu, the (?) gives information concerning the item, weapon, armor or accessory in your inventory from which you'd like to obtain information. This helps you keep track of the items you have, what they do, and given the case they're equipment, which members of your party can use them. Too bad, though, that such an Interface wasn't found on the game's sequels, since it would have been a very welcomed addition...

   Menu System aside, the Overworld of Breath of Fire is one of the most interactive seen at the time. Every single character of your party can interact in their own special way with the enviroment, depending on who is leading the main party. For example, this is the game that starts the trends of hunting (done by certain characters) and fishing (only done by the Hero), found on its sequels, even if they're nothing more than mini-games that don't require that much skill to do. That is, you don't need to do any special maneuver with the controller to fish or hunt. Just pressing A in front of a well, or any other place where the Hero can cast his fishing rod and bait (once equipped, of course), does so. After that, it's just a matter of luck in catching something, that can range from different kinds of fish, to invaluable items that can't be found elsewhere. In the case of hunting, just pressing Y makes the character use his weapon for hunting animals found on the Overworld. Other characters can interact in other ways with the Overworld, such as opening locked doors, breaking open cracked walls, or turning into a fish or bird to facilitate transportation underwater or in the surface, among others. These features, even though are somewhat simplistic, conform the bedrock of the polished interface found in the game's sequels, making the whole experience much more enjoyable as the series progresses. Even if looking back at them may make them look old (even "boring", for some people), still at its time -and probably nowadays, for the lover of Old School RPGs- it may be considered entertaining. Since the game is somewhat fast-paced as well, things don't get that much repetitive, unless you take into account the levelling up in order to make your characters stronger, which is another element commonly found in the "typical" RPG.

Careful! Infuriating a member of the Light Dragon Clan may result in being struck by lightning...
Careful! Infuriating a member of the Light Dragon Clan may result in being struck by lightning...  

   The Music, although not that memorable, still does the job quite well and sets the precise mood for each dungeon, town, or palace. The tunes combine jazzy rhythms with certain medieval sounds in such a way that, although they're sometimes a bit repetitive, they still make up for a very good soundtrack. Some tracks are somewhat up-beat, while others give the mystical feeling of Sacred Shrines. Others can give the sensation of "a mission to accomplish", and yet others give the eerie feeling of a deep dungeon, a dark forest, or a huge labyrinth. The weakness, however, in the audio department, comes in the sound effects. Although most of them are quite good, there's just too little variability in them. For example, out of 8 characters with 8 different weapons, only 3 or 4 different sounds are found when they execute physical attacks. Concerning the magic spells, thunder strikes (as shown on the right) sound good, as do many other spell effects, but not all that spectacular or awe-inspiring... This can be considered more an annoying factor than anything else, and still, it doesn't get annoying to the point of hitting the mute button, or listening to something else while you play the game, which is good, and stacks points in favor of the game... ;-)

   Considering that this is the RPG that starts the trends found on the whole series, Originality is another of BoF's high scores. Taking into account all the RPGs released at the time, this was the first one that combined characters of so many different and diverse races, with very different and defined abilities and attributes, into a unique team hardly seen anywhere else. Hunting and Fishing are two very welcomed mini-games, that can be considered nowadays some sort of trademark of the series, even if in this game they're simply done by pressing a button. In Battles, energy gauges both for enemies and allies are a handy tool for strategic planning. And plotwise, again, "The Legacy of the Light Dragon Clan Starts Here". Most of the elements found on the storylines of this game's sequels, are found for the first time here.

   Speaking of the Plot, aside from original, as it was mentioned above, it is also quite fast-paced, as well as fairly linear. This can be considered 'good' or 'bad' depending on the player's perspective. In my personal opinion, the linearity found in this plot helps you stay focused on what to do next, so you don't feel lost and/or not wary of what to do next in any point of the game. However, near the end of it, certain isolated sub-quests can be done in order to add up to the main storyline, rather than taking from it. Set in a medieval and fantastic environment typical of "Old School" RPGs, players who love this kind of storylines are in for quite a good treat.

   The game's Localization is quite fair. As far as I can remember, there was no incoherence within the dialogues, and neither there were any significant typoes (if there were any). However, the flaw here comes with the names of items and monsters. Simply put, sometimes they're too abreviated to actually be understood. Thank goodness, though, for the handy (?) Icon that can explain what an item is, hence somehow compensating a bit for this minor flaw. Otherwise it would have made Localization drop much more. But hey, you can't get everything you want in life, so, at least in my book, the game's localization was quite decent and provided that it did have setbacks, they really don't take that much of the overall enjoyment of the game.

The Dragon Shrine: a Sacred place to be, meditate...  and save.
The Dragon Shrine: a Sacred place to be, meditate... and save.  

   Breath of Fire is a game that has a somewhat vast world to explore, with many secrets to be found and with a very decent and enjoyable storyline. Battles and Bosses aren't frustratingly hard unless you don't level up every now and then, and puzzles and dungeons are quite challenging, but not too challenging to draw the player back. Taking into account all these factors, we can consider this a game with an Easy to Medium level of difficulty, that can be beaten in 20 Hours at most, rushing through it, or around 40 hours if you take your time to find all the secrets, skills and items that are well-hidden within the game. However, once you do all that, and considering all the options you can find out there in terms of RPGs (including this game's sequels), playing it all over again just because isn't quite likely, unless of course, you get to enjoy the game so much that you just have to come back for more. So, in terms of Replay Value, BoF has a slightly higher than average score, which can increase or decrease depending on your RPG taste, and how much you savored the experience with it.

   Finally, how can we talk about this fine game without talking about the Visuals department? This is the other brightest spot in Breath of Fire, if not -the- most bright spot of the entire game. The Overworld, backgrounds, dungeons, forest, towns, palaces -you name it- all have very detailed, rich and colorful layers with excellent contrasting (like the foggy environment found in dark forests, for example). In the Overworld, the time shift between dawn, day, sunset and night is also neatly done, and the sprites are quite colorful, vivid, and emotional (it's neat to see the courteous merchants that bow to you after you purchase something from them, and even if you don't, while there are others that give you a heartwarming kiss as a sign of thanks for using their services). The camera angle, while in the Overworld and in dungeons, is put from top of the characters (a la Final Fantasies up to VI). In battles, though, the camera shifts to a 3/4 angle from top (a la Ogre Battle battles), giving you a pseudo-3D environment rarely found on the RPGs of the time. Also, a very nice add-on is that the monsters have animations of their own, which is a breath of fresh air taking into account the static monsters found in the battles of too many other RPGs released for the SNES. When you enter houses, dungeons or the Dragon Shrines, the layout of these is as if you take the roof off to see what's happening inside, giving you the actual feeling that you are inside a house, shrine or dungeon. Speaking of dungeons, most of them are filled with pests (like the tiny rats that you see meddling on top of the cracked walls), remains of creatures on the floor, bats, etc. These details add up to the eerie environment intrinsic of these places. The details with the water are also quite impressive, from the rivers, recovery fountains and canals to the oceans. Also the visual effects of magic spells or special skills during battles are quite astonishing to view. Throw in some breathtaking landscapes and a couple of animated cut scenes found here and there, you get enough eyecandy to actually wonder if you're really looking at a 16-bit game...

Is this Dragon friend or foe?  Play the game and you should know! ;-)
Is this Dragon friend or foe? Play the game and you should know! ;-)  

   So, in conclusion, what do you get after adding up all the elements? A great RPG masterpiece well worth dusting off your SNES for, and also well worth waiting for its rerelease for the GBA. If you are a lover of the Breath of Fire series, still don't have this game, and can get your hands on one, then what are you waiting for? Don't hesitate on doing so! However, if you're still not sure, check out if you can rent it or borrow it from a friend, just so you have a taste of this gaming jewel before actually making it yours. If you're fond of magic, dragons and the medieval environment of early-gen RPGs, aka "Old School" RPGs, I'm quite sure that you won't regret having this game in your lap. Let the Light Dragon Clan Legacy begin!

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