Breath of Fire IV is the latest title of the dragon-filled series from Capcom. Each new release brings new innovations, while keeping the characters and the heart of the series intact. From my personal perspective, I was brought into the series with Breath of Fire III. I enjoyed it so much that I had to get a hold of the previous titles on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. While one cannot always appreciate the quality of a game once its time has passed, I do feel that the stories were important enough to fully understand the whole series.
The graphical aspects of Breath of Fire IV are a great enhancement from its predecessor. Boasting over 3,000 animation patterns during its showing at E3, the graphics are one of the many improvements Capcom has made for their latest game. These changes include a more realistic style than the cartoonist feel of Breath of Fire III. The backgrounds are almost like paintings, light in color and soft in shape and texture. While most games have trouble mixing 2D and 3D elements, there is no sign of such problems in Breath of Fire IV, allowing one to immerse themselves in the graphics as well as the story.
The battle system of Breath of Fire IV is the most complex the series has had to date. You will now be able to control six characters during battle, three in front and three in back. Those in the front will take the brunt of the damage from battle, while those in the back should reinforce the team with magic or long range weapons while recovering hit and ability points. At the beginning of each round, you can change the formation of your party, protecting the injured or moving a character forward for an all out assault and then shifting them to the back row to recharge.
With the additions of skills and combos, the battle system has a whole new level of strategy as well. Characters can learn skills by defending, stealing, or earning them after a battle. You may also be sent on a quest if your characters are apprenticing under a folkorist. Once a skill has been learned, it can be transferred to another ally at any time during the game. Using these skills and the four elements of magic (fire, water, wind, earth), you can make combinations in battle. Akin to Valkyrie Profile‚s system, each hit in the combo gains strength, making them key to winning the more challenging battles, and may be the main point of attack from the player‚s perspective.
Even with all these changes, there is so much that remains the same. The characters of the Breath of Fire series have always centered around the lives of two people, Ryu and Nina. With a new circle of characters to complement our faithful companions, it‚s always good to know whom you‚re dealing with.
- Nina: The Princess of Windia, a kingdom that is part of the Eastern Alliance. A winged creature, Nina is searching for her lost, elder sister. With some childish characteristics, she may not always be reliable.
- Ryu: Nina finds him on a desert highway in the Eastern Continent. Ryu has in his possession the „Dragon‚s Eyeš. Legend says that he who holds the „Dragon‚s Eyeš can control the world. Unfortunately, Ryu is suffering from amnesia.
- Scias: A self-made mercenary from the war just passed, Scias doesn‚t have many jobs that require his skills these days. When our heroes meet up with him, he joins their quest. Most likely in search of a good drink.
- Cray: The young, yet capable leader of the Fulen Clan. He joins Nina to search for his friend, Princess Eleena. While his ferocity in the war gone by earned him many merits, he still manages to control his emotions.
- Master: Armed with a magical armor that protects him from curses, Master never removes it, even while he sleeps. Because of this, no one knows what he looks like, or why he seems to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
- Fou-Lu: Founder of the Western Fou Empire. He unified the continent in his lifetime with his unbelievable powers. Right before his death, he claimed that he would be resurrected hundreds of years later.
- Ursula: A troop leader in the Fou Imperial Army. She has gained her status from a commoner with her great magic skills. She is praised for her self control and her ability to be relied upon.
- Rasso: A troop leader in the Fou Imperial Army. As the son of an influential noble, Rasso is expected to make general in a short time. Unlike most nobles, he believes in the power of the people.
- Yom: A general in the Fou Imperial Army. While he looks frail and worn, his battle skills are as sharp as ever. With the ability to summon evil beings with ease, he is a powerful force on the battlefield.
Ryu and Fou-Lu have the power to transform themselves into dragons, as well as summon other dragons to their aid. In the past few years, the dragon activity has increased substantially. Certain dragons have already been seen around the world. Here is what is currently known about them.
- Aura (Human): Recently seen in the Eastern Continent. Since its shape is similar to human, it is assumed this is a new species of dragon. Rumor has it the Fou Imperial Army is searching out for dragons in this area.
- Junar (Sand): He is tubular in shape and about 15 meters long. Living in the desert, Junar burrows through the sand to get from place to place. There is a rumor that he protects a hidden society in the middle of the desert.
- Larwi (Wind): Humongous in size, its length is over two kilometers. Capable of flight, the legends say that the ancients rode to Windia on its back. A ceremony is held every year in celebration of this dragon.
- Ta-Pu (Grass): Hidden in the southern forests, it floats in the tall grasslands. Some say it is the cause of the endless winds in those forests. When someone approaches, the dragon vanishes without a trace.
- Nosto (Mud): A cylindrical dragon with a semi-transparent body just over 10 meters long. It resides in the middle of the continent known as the Great Mud Slap. Rumors state that if one sees this dragon, a great misfortune will occur.
Breath of Fire IV is likely to be overlooked, because of the packed November schedule. With competition like Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, Final Fantasy IX, and Skies of Arcadia, Capcom has picked a tight spot for their latest RPG release. Judging from what I‚ve seen so far, Breath of Fire IV could be the sleeper hit of the year. Look for it November 29, 2000.