When the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series (or Dragon Warrior to some people) were released to the public, they defined what makes a role-playing game. These games went beyond pencil-and-paper stats and long hours of leveling up a wizard or warrior. Video games made this possible and much time has been spent going through dungeons and fighting monsters to get stronger and collect treasures ever since.
Other companies followed suit and are famous in their own ways. One such company is Mega Man and Street Fighter creator Capcom, who decided to make an RPG for the SNES. That result is Breath of Fire, which is a good game to play through at least once. When the game was released overseas, Capcom USA had no experience with text-heavy games at that time, so Squaresoft took care of the translations … and it shows.
You are Ryu (a nameable character, but we’ll use his default name for clarity), one of the last surviving members of the fabled Dragon Clan; humans who can shapeshift into powerful dragons. One day, you wake up to find that your home is being destroyed, your town is sacked, and your sister is kidnapped by the Dark Dragons, an empire who wants to collect special “keys” that are supposed to revive the mad goddess Tyr. According to legend, whoever revives Tyr is granted a wish, so Ryu sets off to find all the keys and put a stop to the Dark Dragons’ evil plans.
Breath of Fire is a typical RPG: You walk around, fight monsters, talk to townspeople, collect key items, upgrade equipment, buy items, and eventually come across other characters who will follow you in your journey. You can also come across Dragon Shrines in towns whose statues serve as save points. The two things that make this adventure interesting is that the battle mode is an isometric point of view, something that was seldom done in the early 90s. And secondly, Ryu will come across special shrines that will grant him dragon powers that will crush the opposition, but you’ll need to do some “training” (actually fight the temple spirit on your own).
During your quest, you can rearrange items and party members on the menu, and can even gain insight on what an item does. If you get too many items you can always store them in item shops for later use. Ryu will encounter unique characters that will serve some purpose in battle, from the winged princess Nina to the wall-smashing Ox to the shape-shifting thief Karn whose transformations serve very well in battle, each with their own magic abilities and stats.
In battle mode you can attack, use magic or items, run, change order, or auto-battle, which will continue the battle for you. Breath of Fire is actually one of the easier RPGs to play through (I didn’t have to do half as much grinding as other games), but it doesn’t exactly hold your hand, either; Backtracking is almost mandatory to get important items later in the game once you get new allies, and even with a guide the experience gets a little tedious but rewarding in the end.
Since Squaresoft did the translation work, the methodology is all a bit too familiar for Final Fantasy fans: stiff and a little stunted, making you feel like the translation should’ve been more accurate and less robotic. In essence, some of the dialogue doesn’t exactly make sense. What’s even more interesting is the history behind the changes made: Most stuff is abbreviated, most of the characters names have been changed, and I presume that the more mature details have been edited for a Western release (for instance I read that Karn’s Japanese appearance looked like a pale Blackface, edited to look more like Lupin III if he was an Arabian kid). Another thing is that moving around is slow and deliberate. So you’d better have good patience as there is no run button, but that shouldn’t trouble RPG fans too much.
The first part of the game finds you in a lush world ready for adventure, and the best part is the isometric battles set exactly where you encounter the enemy, from beaches to grassy fields to surreal dungeons that almost feel like you’re literally walking on air. In addition, the Mode-7 graphics add an awesome touch to it. The characters look like your run-of-the-mill archetypes at first glance (mostly humanoid animals), but they add a breath of fresh air after dealing with Final Fantasy worlds or smacking Dragon Quest slimes for so long.
Even though the sprites are limited, I enjoyed the main characters’ walking movements. The NPCs, however, are limited to fewer movements, but you can’t help but feel Capcom’s influence; some of the townspeople look suspiciously like Dr. Wily from Mega Man, and Chun-Li from Street Fighter makes a cameo if you know where to find her! The best dragon transformations get mini cutscenes, and they take up where the main party should be! They’re that huge!
The soundtrack is composed by a team consisting of Yasuaki Fujita, Mari Yamaguchi, Minae Fuji, eventual Kingdom Hearts and Mario & Luigi composer Yoko Shimomura, and Tatsuya Nishimura. Mr. Fujita worked on most of the compositions, each having some epic flair that adds energy to the adventure, and Capcom’s soundfont backs it up splendidly! Ms. Shimomura only wrote one piece, Prima’s town theme, but it stands out as if her Kingdom Hearts side was coming out. The overworld themes are stronger, more pressing, and more epic than the last, and the sad moments almost make you want to cry.
Though the game requires patience and definitely a guide, Breath of Fire stands out from its contemporaries thanks to its strong soundtrack, isometric battles, and unique presentation. This game would be a start to a great SNES – and later PlayStation – series that should have at least one playthough with every SNES RPG fan … if you can tolerate Squaresoft’s rendition of the translation.
The game is very much like the protagonist itself: human and unassuming at first glance, but if given time its true form will show, and anyone who’s seen that will realize that every experience in this game is worth all the trouble going through. This game is a powerful contender that ranks up even with the greatest trailblazers gone before it, and its burning cinders will last a very long time.
4 out of 5 Stars.
Breath of Fire (video game). (2017, November 15). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breath_of_Fire_(video_game)
Dragon Quest. (2017, November 12). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_Quest
Final Fantasy. (2017, November 10). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_Fantasy
Karn. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://bof.wikia.com/wiki/Karn
Role-playing game. (2017, December 2). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Role-playing_game
Role-playing video game. (2017, December 5). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Role-playing_video_game
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