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The fourth part in Capcom's famous Breath of Fire series has been released. Capcom has always been famous for releasing tons of sequels to all their games... some of which can be considered a bit unnecessary. However, Breath of Fire IV is not one of those. While I played BoF IV, I experienced lots of improvements since the previous title, Breath of Fire III (that in my opinion was a huge disappointment).
Once again, Ryu awakens. Once again, he doesn't know what he is, and how he got there. Following the traditions of the Breath of Fire games, Ryu meets up with Nina, who is in search for her sister. After finding out that Ryu is a dragon, they settle out on yet another journey for the mysterious truth. At the same time, another character awakens; Fou-Lu, the emperor. According to history, he was the first emperor in the Fou Empire, but that was several hundred years ago. According to the legend, he was extremely powerful, and predicted his own resurrection just before he died. Why has he awakened? Is there a connection between Fou-Lu and Ryu? The plot is actually told in a quite different way in BoF IV... since you get to experience both Ryu's and Fou-Lu's adventures. Players who are a little tired of villains whose only goal are to take over the world will be pleased though, because there is a little more to this plot than that.
After Breath of Fire III was released, many felt that the series needed a change. It needed something new, something special. Unfortunately, BoF IV is in so many ways very similar to BoF III. The whole concept is the same... but there are also lots of improvements that make the game better. We didn't see the major changes until BoF V arrived though.
The one thing that is spectacular with BoF IV, is the battle system. When encountering enemies, all characters in the game enter the battle arena. However, you can only control 3 of them at a time. Whenever you feel like it, you can switch a character in your regular party against one of those standing in the back. This provides lots of tactics to battles, and is an excellent way to save a character that is in danger. Also, for each round, the 3 characters in the back gain a certain amount of AP. Very useful.
Other than this spectacular feature, there isn't that much that is new to the battle system. There is the regular attack, use item, guard etc. When guarding, you now learn enemy skills (similar to the Examine seen in earlier BoF games). One thing that I didn't like was the new dragon system. As usual, Ryu can turn into a dragon, this time using a single gene for each dragon, instead of customizing the dragon setup like in BoF III. Also, the dragons don't look like dragons anymore... instead; Ryu turns into a half-human half-dragon kind of creature. Every single dragon Ryu can use looks exactly the same... the only thing that differs are the skills. If you enjoyed playing with the dragon genes in BoF III, you will most likely be disappointed with this simple replacement. All in all, the battle system is solid though, and the score got quite a boost because of the ability to switch characters during battle.
The characters fortunately still have their battle cries, and especially Ryu's are hilarious. Some of the characters make some really weird sounds when casting certain spells etc, some of them which made me laugh out loud when I first heard them. As for dialogue and translation, it's far better than in the earlier BoF games. This time the dialogue box is big enough to hold more than one sentence (it was ridiculously small in BoF III). The characters are still a little dull though, and there is still a lack of emotion when they speak, and Ryu is (as always) silent. Overall, the translation was good, and I was satisfied with it.
Breath of Fire IV has a soundtrack that gave me some really mixed feelings. While a lot of the tracks still have the same boring style that BoF III had, there are some tunes that really captured me. Especially the songs played when controlling Fou-Lu stayed in my mind for a long time after I was finished with the game. There is a relaxed touch to the soundtrack; I can't remember any of the songs being particularly annoying. Overall, the quality is much better than before, and if I had any money over, perhaps I would buy this soundtrack.
Sort of the same goes for the graphics. The style is the same, of course, but it's a lot smoother now than before. Gamers who didn't like the character design from BoF III will (probably) be pleased to see that the characters look a lot more grown up. The visuals in this game are a little above average; you will be more than able to enjoy them.
However, you will enjoy them only once. Breath of Fire IV has (just like BoF III) a very low replay value. There is no point in playing this game again, unless you want to experience the story once more. Once again, there are two endings, but you don't need to finish the entire game again to get the second. There are a whole lot of sidequests and minigames though, and this time they are (fortunately) a little more understandable than in BoF III.
BoF IV is also quite easy... I didn't really have any problems anywhere in the game, except maybe in the final dungeon. To complete Breath of Fire IV, you need roughly 30 Hours of free time, a bit more if you want to do some sidequests and level up a bit.
In conclusion, Breath of Fire IV was far better than its predecessor. With a little more serious plot, a great battle system and relaxing music, this title should be worthy enough for any gamer out there.
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