Whenever a first game of a series is released and is successful, it gives the company that created the game more time and money to figure out how to improve the experience and possibly learn from their mistakes. Capcom did just so with its Breath of Fire series with the second and final one to be released on the SNES. Breath of Fire II builds a stronger world than its predecessor. The rest of the series (except for some remakes) would go to the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, so this game is an excellent sendoff for SNES, RPG, and Capcom fans everywhere.
It’s been 500 years since the last Breath of Fire adventure, and players will once again take on the role of Ryu (re-nameable, but we’ll use his default name). The player portrays a young kid named Ryu Bateson, whose father and baby sister mysteriously disappeared. Everyone has forgotten who he is, and some random cult popped up out of the middle of nowhere, forcing him to escape town with another orphan, a dog boy named Bow. Ten years later Bow is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. So Ryu sets out on his adventure and solves some mysteries and in the process, discovers his latent dragon powers that he uses to battle an ancient evil that laid dormant for so long.
Breath of Fire II plays much like a regular RPG and the previous Breath of Fire game: you slowly walk around in an overhead setting (just as slow as the first game), get into random battles, get experience and gold to get stronger, learn new techniques, get better upgrades and healing items, and complete tasks and talk to people to advance the story. During your journey you’ll come across new allies with different motives that will aid you, from strongman armadillo Rand to cat-like fighter Katt to black-winged Nina to monkey peddler Sten, all having unique abilities that are needed to progress in the game.
Like the first game, the battles are in an isometric perspective, and enemies must be slain to get EXP and gold. Also like in the last game, Ryu will eventually discover new dragon abilities, where each incarnation is stronger than the last. Off to the the side is some hunting and fishing that will net you some good food that’s worth your time, even if you’re slow and the prey gets away too easily. Breath of Fire II improves in many ways from the last; one of the more important changes is that you can now sort your items easier so you can have more room for new stuff. The battles have a better sense of flow and the translation is clearer, because Capcom USA didn’t need Squaresoft for the translation this time.
The story is notably darker and more dramatic, taking on themes like death and religion, and the dialogue makes better sense and doesn’t feel as stiff. If there’s one thing that it didn’t improve on the prequel is that you can’t swap your allies as easily; some will come and go, but the leftovers will be instead “stored” in an ever-building little town. Therefore you’ll have to talk to a Dragon Statue (which you can also save) to set your allies, and you’ll need them at the right time for the right reason, too.
You may also notice that there is more grinding than in Breath of Fire, especially if you haven’t used an ally in awhile, so plan your strategy accordingly. On the bright side, what to do next is easier to figure out, although a guide will probably still be handy. To complicate the matter is that apparently using a dragon power costs Ryu all his AP for some reason. Another interesting touch is that characters will also react depending on how you answer their questions, as you can see the jewel next to the caption box.
The graphics are also improved from the last game; the characters look more appealing, and their sprite animations look more fluid as it builds on what the previous entry has set, particularly when in battle as Ryu cuts into his enemies, giving a satisfying feeling as he does so. A little bit of Mode-7 graphics is added, such as the first cut-scene with a dragon’s eye opening and looking at you. That thing gave me a shiver down my spine as it growls at you, and the next few opening scenes give a perfect vibe to start out a new quest!
The battle mode is also more appealing, as the menu looks more organized than last time. Other than that, the overworld sprites take on the same type of walking movements like the last game, as Capcom believed in the old saying, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Some enemies probably look like they were still censored for a Western release, but they will still make a Nintendo censor shed a tear (note the bare-chested Harpies at the beginning of the game and some of the zombies, for example).
Like the gameplay and graphics, the music is much stronger, using an improved version of Capcom’s soundfont. The music itself is much more epic to listen to and is more memorable than ever, and this time it looks like only one composer wrote the soundtrack instead of a team.
The main appeal is the overworld music, particularly the main themes, the dungeon music, and the mountains, but the battle music is great as those tunes use a little bit of the same soundfonts used for Mega Man X! The sound effects are nice to hear, as it also has a better version of the “action confirmed” effect which was used in the last game.
Breath of Fire II is a big improvement over its predecessor, as it gives more of what made its big brother so good in the first place and gives players a cleaner, smoother game that holds more weight with its darker story, crisper graphics, more memorable characters, and a much better soundtrack.
There are a few drawbacks, however those aren’t enough to detract from an epic tale. And like every new dragon power that Ryu gets, Breath of Fire II takes on a more powerful dragon form that’ll roast any unfortunate goon who dares get in the way into a pile of ash. Futhermore it will soar like a mighty beast and very likely land in collections of all the SNES and RPG fans, and its loud howl will be heard and remembered for years to come.
5 out of 5 Stars.
Editor’s note: A wonderful re-translation is available for this game at https://www.romhacking.net/reviews/3370/
Breath of Fire (video game). (2017, November 15). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breath_of_Fire_(video_game)
Breath of Fire II. (2017, September 1). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breath_of_Fire_II
Breath of Fire. (2017, November 14). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breath_of_Fire
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