Breath of Fire II Review
Steady Downward Trend
Picture this. It’s the early ’90s and the North American RPG market is deep in a mode of stasis. Capcom — still a new name on the RPG scene — develops a game whose plot revolves deeply around the antics of a member of the Light Dragon Clan. With Squaresoft’s publishing help, the game goes on to become one of those held most dear in the hearts of millions. Now… Fast forward 2 years and a sequel — Breath of Fire II — pounces onto our shore amidst Square’s own megalithic titles. While it can’t be said that the game did poorly, the SNES version has long since vanished from the shelves where it might be easily found. So, for many long ages it sat thus, until the Game Boy Advance comes along and carries with it an era strong with the smell of remakes and ports. On the crest of this wave come Breath of Fire and its sequel, but would it be better for the tide to go out?
Breath of Fire II takes a vast plethora of things directly from its progenitor; the battle system being one thing among many. Harkening back to the elder days of turn-based combat where a character’s agility determine the order in which they strike, the game is on decidedly familiar ground. Throw in the basic magic and item systems, a nice little auto-battle option — wherein the computer controls both sides of the struggle — and a much improved version of the morphing skills seen in the original, and you’ve got an easily maneuverable, if somewhat stale, mode of battle operations. In essence, your characters can become ‘shamanized’ with other characters to form new, more powerful heroes with a wider array of skills. The one person left out of this is, of course, the main character, who can transform himself into dragons of a wide variety, all with differing elemental strengths and weaknesses.
Like the shifting powers of the silently dramatic lead character, nearly every other facet of the game has its ups and downs. To begin with, the Breath of Fire menu system hasn’t changed for the better in any incarnation thus far. Episode 2 of the saga has interface menus that are neither excellent or fantastic. They are composed primarily of simple text or icon lists that don’t hinder the game but also don’t add any fun or excitement either. And in much the same manner the soundtrack to the game is relatively simple. It comes granted that neither the SNES or the GBA come with redbooking capacity because of the size such files would take up, but the game is basically just a rehash of the moderately unpleasant fare shown in the original Breath of Fire. With the actual music patterned after the first, it should come as no surprise that the sound effects suffer the same fate.
Alas, an area where the original version of Breath of Fire II faltered has followed it into its GBA incarnation; the translation. Although the game is intelligible for the most part, it does have a very bad habit of losing direction in dialogue. A large number of NPCs will skip around from topic to topic as you progress through the game, nary a one of which will help you find your way if you should perchance become lost. Many of the common contractions and other parts of conversational English that make us seem informal are left out of the game, as well. With this problem it hardly matters that the plot is basically just your average save-the-world scenario wherein an evil Goddess tries to annihilate the tribe of the main character because they pose a threat to her.
Combine the common threads found in virtually every aspect of the game with both the mundane plot and the laughable GBA addition of the ability to swap items over a game link and you come upon the great and epic flaw in remakes and ports; they simply aren’t original at all. With the lack of originality or change from the SNES version, aside from being able to save anywhere outside of combat, there’s little added as a reason to play the game again. Although many recent RPGs have the benefit of sidequests and mini-games to increase their replay value, Capcom decided against changing the game in such a way and left only the ever present Breath of Fire fishing game as a diversion.
Even amid all these nasty tendencies toward a mediocre game come the 16-bit nature of the in-game graphics. Having seen the graphics on the non-ported games for the GBA, one can quickly see how bad the imagery really is. Virtually nothing has shading of any noticeable level, there are few mode7 effects, and the animation is short and non-descript even as combat graphics go. Thankfully the game isn’t nearly long enough to make all these poorly done aspects of the game break your concentration or your desire to beat the game. In fact, as long as it is by comparison to other handheld RPGs, the game certainly doesn’t seem to take the 30 hours it does, which could be considered a compliment in some circles.
A far cry from the glorious Squaresoft games of the SNES era, Breath of Fire II‘s ill-advised return in the age of fantastic 3D graphics, analog controllers, and a multitude of other ports comes at a price. Will the third title in the series make an appearance on the little handheld that could? Only time — and BoFII‘s sales figures — will tell.