Breath of Fire III PSP Review

Urge to Burn Rising

Two miners are preparing to blast apart a huge crystal deep within the earth’s depths. To their dismay, though, once this is done, they soon discover that they’ve unleashed a dragon, sealed within the crystal and now very much awake. It’s at this point that the player takes control, but not of the miners — the player is placed within the role of the dragon, and he’s forced to bite, burn, and bake his way free of the mine and its frightened, but armed, workers. None of which is enough to stop him from getting clocked on the head by a crane. After this humiliating turn of events, the little green beast is caged up and placed on a train off to who-knows-where.

En route, though, the dragon wakes up again and begins violently shaking his cage — enough that it falls off the train, off the tracks entirely, and crashes into a forest below. It’s not long after that an orphan and resident of the forest, Rei, happens upon the crash site. It’s not a dragon he discovers there, however, it’s a little boy. Rei takes the boy home, introduces him to another orphan named Teepo, and indoctrinates the lad into the little gang’s lifestyle of robbery and hooliganism. But when the three of them steal from the wrong man, a much more dangerous adventure will begin.

Nudity in games since 1997

And so starts Breath of Fire III, the third installment in Capcom’s ubertraditional RPG series. From the ho-hum opener through the at-times bizarre story, Breath of Fire III is a living, breathing embodiment and homage to all things cliched, generic, and unsurprising. Originally released on the PlayStation, the game doggedly refused to break from any semblance of the series norm despite the transition across console generations. Yes, there is a winged princess of Wyndia named Nina. Yes, there are lots of animalistic humanoids. You guessed it, there is an animated, intelligent plant. Why yes, there is a war between dragons and a goddess making up the bulk of the game’s dubious mythology.

It’s all standard stuff, rote and predictable through and through. This isn’t paint-by-numbers, but it is write-an-RPG-story-by-numbers, which is really just as bad, particularly when the story almost completely falls apart at the end. It does have a few nice moments; just not enough to carry the entire game. The cast of characters is, at least, likable, even though they do nothing much to set themselves apart from previous Breath of Fire casts or the characters of dozens of other games. Weak antagonists don’t do much to contribute — the villa ind for the first quarter or so of the game are simply annoying, and much of the remainder of the game plods along without any defining opposition at all.

The music in this game is beyond simply grating; it’s easily one of the PlayStation’s worst RPG soundtracks. Message to all game designers, past, present, and future: synthed-up elevator music is never an appropriate way to add to your game emotion, atmosphere, or the appreciation of those possessed of good taste. It’s a mixture of schlocky light jazz and that horrific misnomer of a genre called easy listening, and it’s enough to make any gamer cover his or her ears. And though there at least a small handful of songs that range from tolerable to nice-but-forgettable, nothing strikes of originalism. One of the most egregious offenses in the entire soundtrack, in fact, highlights this — the game’s forest music is almost a total copy of a song from the much better composed Chrono Trigger, and many sections are note-for-note identical. Perhaps Capcom’s composers had some sort of arrangement with Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu that allowed them to get away with this creative theft — maybe there was some kind of blackmail involved — but regardless of the “hows,” the inclusion is criminally unforgivable in a soundtrack so otherwise notable for its lack of creativity.

I am dragon, hear me roar.

The menus both in and out of battle are nice, with a very clean design and quality pictures for speedier command selection in the battle menus. The only drag is that the game’s font — big, blocky letters, the kind used to teach Sesame Streeters how to read — is pretty hideous. The translation is subpar, with stilted dialogue, poor grammar, syntax, and punctuation, and a tendency to display only a few words from a line of text at a time, for entirely unknown reasons.

Breath of Fire III at least does a nice job with the graphics. It’s probably among the better looking of the PlayStation’s 2D games, at least from a technical perspective, with big, detailed sprites and a lot of great animation for the characters and monsters. The art direction, equally as important, isn’t quite as nice, which results in a lot of the backgrounds and locations in the game, though well depicted, being fairly bland and uninteresting. But the combat, thanks to the animations and great spell effects, is a highlight of the total presentation.

There’s good gameplay to be found here as well. Again, it’s not much out of the ordinary, but it’s a solid package. The battle system is pretty standard turn-based fare, with some nice distinguishing features. There’s a heavy emphasis placed on balance between the three main combat stats: speed, offense, and defense. Characters with high enough speed relative to the other combatants will get an extra turn at the end of each round of combat, but equipping heavier, and generally more powerful, weapons and armor decreases that speed. It encourages players to toy around with different strategies for different characters, and gives a real usefulness to light attackers that’s usually missing in turn-based traditional RPGs. It’s also possible to sometimes learn certain select abilities from enemies by using an observe command on them, but for most abilities, it’s more effective to learn them through either leveling up a given character or by using the master system.

The master system is a nice addition to the series’ established gameplay trends. Apprenticing characters to certain special NPCs will modify the statistical increases, either for the better or worse, when the apprenticed character levels up; the system also rewards the apprentice through the learning of new skills at fixed level intervals, which vary from master to master. Each ability, whether gleaned from a master or through enemy observation, can be learned only once, but there’s some customization in allowing the skills to be transferred from character to character by using an item. The real fun of the master system is in the control it affords the player over how each character develops statistically. Because each master improves the gains in some stats while hurting others, again the game puts a nice emphasis on tweaking character customization and finding the right playing strategy.

The dragon system, a staple of the series, returns once more, with a slight variation this time. While in previous entries in the Breath of Fire series Ryu would acquire several distinct dragon forms, in the third installment he instead gains many more dragon genes, such as the Flame, Defense, or Miracle genes. Some of the genes are automatically acquired, others gained by checking out-of-the-way spots or completing sidequests. Each gene confers some certain attribute, and as many as three genes can be combined during dragon transformations, sometimes to pretty unique results. The system has a lot more flexibility than previous dragon systems, and even though it’s still not a particularly complex or deep system, it’s still a lot of fun to play around with.

Overall, the original Breath of Fire III was not a bad game. Far from it — it was a fairly average game that still managed to be fun despite its limitations and low expectations, kind of like the cheesy low-grade popcorn flicks regularly pumped out by the movie industry. But this isn’t in toto a review of the original; it’s a review of the, sadly, sloppy PSP port of the original. And while that was an average but still fun game, the joy doesn’t carry across to its portable incarnation.

Any gamer willing to shell out the import fees for this game will encounter zero additional content during the game itself, with only some minor post-game additions; the poor original English translation, as error prone as it was, remains solidly and disappointingly intact, just like the GBA Breath of Fire ports; and worst of all, the gamer is in for loading. Lots of loading, in fact. Prepare to wait before battles for longer than has ever been considered acceptable, say in the range of 7-9 seconds. And prepare to wait after battles, too, for an equal amount of time. Given the fairly high random encounter rating in Breath of Fire III, that’s going to add up to a hefty amount of loading — loading that, going by better ports like Tales of Eternia, is easily avoidable on the PSP with the slightest bit of effort on the developer’s behalf. It’s also hard to look past the lack of adding any sort of quick save feature.

The bottom line? Unless you were an enormous fan of the original desperate to have it in portable form, or if you’re just dying for any traditional RPG on the PSP, this one is worth passing on.

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'Bad' -- 2.0/5
20-40 HOURS



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