Breath of Fire IV Review

The Legend of the Silent Dragon

There are few series that are successful enough to have four games with the same title, and the Breath of Fire series can be added to that list. Capcom had Square publish the first one, but the last three have been Capcom alone. The series does not get all the recognition it deserves, but it still has quite a reputation for being a challenging series. Does the newest installment live up to this reputation?

Breath of Fire IV‘s battle system is a compilation of all that was good in the previous games, while adding a great new concept to RPGs. To start off with, there are two “lines” of battlers in your party. Three fight up front, dealing the damage and healing, and three wait in back as reserves. Some spells can target the entire six in the party, and all healing spells can target someone in the front or back, so it is easy to heal party members without worrying about if they will be killed. These characters can be switched between the two lines at any time when entering commands. Each character, has his or her own special move that they do in back, whether it be laying down cover fire or healing.

Attack spells cast consecutively can turn into combos; if two spells of the same element are cast, the number of hits increases. Alternatively, two spells of different elements can be combined into a more powerful spell. You can learn enemy skills by just defending, instead of the examine command from Breath of Fire III. These enemy skills are interchangeable amongst party members. Ryu has his dragon forms, as usual. Like almost every new RPG, there are long summon animations, but they can be skipped shortly into the animation with the press of a button. The battle system is one of the best out there, even if it is turn-based.

Menus in the game are excellent. Instead of having submenus, different menus are accessed by pressing left or right. For instance, in the magic menu during battle, skills are accessed by pressing right. Because of this, there are some things that are hidden, so look carefully for hidden menus, but there are no excess menus. The font is much more readable than its predecessor’s. The map screen only allows direct movement from place to place instead of providing land areas to wonder around on. Encounters on the map screen, however, can be accessed whenever the player wants. As the series continues, so does the improvement of the interface.

The music in this game is also leaps and bounds above the previous installments’ music. There are many memorable tracks, like the second boss battle and Worent Village’s. Some tracks give the game a Chinese feel. Other songs perfectly match the moods in the game and the places that are being visited. What knocks this score down is the sound effects. None of the voices, including the intro, ending, and in-game character spell names, are translated. Most of them sound like jibberish in the game anyway, so if they were translated to English, they would still not be understandable. The rest of the effects are just average; nothing special here. The music and sound effects work well with the game’s atmosphere.

The plot is very engaging and unfolds smoothly. You get to see it from the view of two different people, one on the “good” side and one on the “bad” side. Of course, more time is spent with the “good” guy, Ryu. It deals with the two main characters being two halves of a dragon, where one was sent to the past and one into the future. The two must find each other join together to become whole again. The main character, Ryu, never talks during the game, though this is not unusual in the BoF series. However, his head nods and his lips look like they move. The plot gets you into the lives of the characters and you are immersed in their lives, but it is not quite as good as some of the Final Fantasy plots, most likely due to the translation of the game.

As mentioned before, nothing was translated except for the text in the game. Not everybody who will play the game will be able to interpret the Japanese speech. This removes some depth from the characters because you cannot understand them. Every speech clip is in Japanese, including voice in the songs. There are also several typos and grammar mistakes in the game. (Hey, everyone is not perfect!) They gave one of the characters, Fou-Lu, a regal air about him with his semi-medieval English speech, and they included several common clichés as not to alienate everyone in North America. These factors made up somewhat for the bad grammar. The general quality of the translation is good enough that you can oversee the other flaws.

I would love to play this game many times over. The game is just that enjoyable. It is not too frustrating as to alienate the gamer from playing through again, but it is not easy enough to blow through it at one sitting. Finding everything, as well as completing the numerous numbers of subtle sidequests and ample mini-games, make RPGamers come back to Breath of Fire IV to have some great fun.

I’ll be frank: The visuals aren’t the best in the industry. The fully-3D environment is back from Breath of Fire III. In fact, many of the cut scenes use old-style blocky polygons, but the main screens and battle scenes use 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds. When zoomed in, the sprites look horrible, but thankfully that is not too often. Items can be hidden behind scenery, so rotating the view often is advised. There are also anime clips in the opening and in the prologue, as well as during the dragon transformations in battle, adding a nice touch to the game. The best part of the visuals is the scenery. The sprites look like they belong in the scenery, which is quite good for a 3D game. They aren’t the best out there, but the graphics definitely get the job done.

Until the end of chapter three, the game is extremely easy. Most enemies can be vanquished by just a sword swipe or two, even most bosses. You will never have to make a large purchase of items since plenty of them are given to you. Weapons are another matter, and they usually are quite expensive as well. By the beginning of chapter four, the game’s difficulty goes up quite a bit, but it never gets harder than a medium-difficulty game. Despite this huge balance difference, it never gets too overly difficult or frustrating.

Even with the difficult ending, expect to spend around 30 hours for an average trip through. Adding on the sidequests, such as the masters and the metal balls, requires another ten or so hours. People new to RPGs won’t have too much trouble with spending more than 40 hours on the main game.

In all, Breath of Fire IV is an excellent, well-rounded game. It holds up the series title quite well, and manages to make some improvements. Due to it not being a highly visible game, it is easily found for around $10-20 almost anywhere. I found mine at Blockbuster on the used game shelf in almost unplayed condition, despite it being there for over a month. Even though many aspects of the game are blatantly Japanese, it should at least be tried by any able-bodied and -minded RPGamer.

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'Good' -- 3.5/5
20-40 HOURS



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