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Doesn't this game just beat all?
By Fritz Fraundorf, Reader Reviewer
This time, waiting was more than half the fun. Breath of Fire 3 is here at last. It's been a long time coming, all right, but the first time you land hands on this game, the delays will all fly out the window. From the very beginning and its amazing sense of discovery and exploration to the epic conclusion many hours later, few other games will draw you in like this one does. You see, BOF3 has something that's often forgotten it RPGs these days -- it doesn't have FMV; it doesn't have a lot of media hype; it doesn't have a main character with a sword bigger than he is. No, what Breath of Fire 3 has is something long forgotten by most RPGs. Fun.
Like its SNES predecessors, BOF3 is packed with gameplay, but even moreso this time. There's just a ridiculous amount of stuff to do, ranging from cooking contests and a fishing game that is good enough to be a stand-alone product to building an entire city and playing a worldwide hide-and-seek game. You'll constantly be doing something new, learning some new ability, playing a new game, discovering a new play mechanic, creating a new dragon form (the main character, Ryu, can turn into various kinds of dragons by splicing any 3 of 18 different Genes together), getting a new item, meeting a new character... there's so much to do and find that you'll frequently be taking time out from the actual storyline to explore for new stuff just because you want to. The more standard RPG elements of game are also well designed, featuring many innovative ideas, like a cool skill system, weapons and armor that actually have weight (the stronger the gear you equip, the slower you are, so it's a tradeoff), and a maximum HP loss system that prevents you from using constantly reviving your characters like you can in other games. It's fairly challenging as well, and requires that you utilize all the abilities and tactics available to you in order to beat the tough bosses. It's never frusteratingly tough, just challenging, which is exactly what it should be.
Although the focus of BOF3 is on gameplay, the storyline is excellent as well. Rather than chuck plot at you from the outset, BOF3 starts off calm and gradually builds up to the conclusion. It's not Wild Arms or FF7, but it doesn't try to be -- it's something entirely different, and although it's hard to explain, it's really cool. There are plenty of plot twists, though, and some cool villains (Balio and Sunder!). The characters are great as well; they all have distinct personalities and catchphrases (like Rei's "Doesn't this just beat all?" and the unforgettable dolphin scene), and some towns even have their own dialect. Capcom did an incredibly good job on this translation -- everything is spelled right, translated right, and well-written. They even got Yggdrasil right! Overall, this is one of the best RPG translations ever, and Capcom deserves commendation for doing the right thing and delaying the game to get it right.
When you first start BOF3, you'll be impressed by its hand-drawn backgrounds. You'll be even more impressed when you discover that they're actually polygons so well done they look hand-drawn, and that you can actually move the camera (a cool feature needed to find many cleverly-hidden items). The characters look good, but not great, although they are well animated. However, despite having a polygonal background and being scaled back and forth, they never get pixelled. I don't know how Capcom did it, but it's true. There is absolutely no pixellation in the game. As for the fights, one feature in particular stands out: instead of jumping to a separate fight screen, the enemies just come in right on the main field screen and you fight right there. Not only does this help you remember which way you were going before a fight, it's just plain cool. The special effects are also above-average (but not spectacular), and the fights in general are very good-looking.
In the aural department, BOF3 once again goes against the tide of RPG tradition, and succeeds greatly. It eschews big symphonic scores for cool, jazzy, tunes that fit the game very well. There's a lot of great music in here -- the soundtrack for this game would be well worth buying, but it unfortunately doesn't include all the game's music. A big thanks must be given to Capcom for retaining the really cool Japanese song ("Pure Again") in the credits.
Of course, no game is perfect, and Breath of Fire 3 does have a few flaws. Aside from slightly long load times and an annoying shop interface (you can't buy equipment for the characters not in your current party), the main one is its lack of replay value -- there aren't that many secrets, so once you beat the game, you probably won't play it much more (although there are two optional bosses similar to the Weapons in FF7). While it lasts, though, this is one heck of a game, and comes highly recommended. Easily one of the best RPGs in years.
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