Review by Psycho Penguin
"I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, does it even really matter?"
Enjoying the Breath of Fire series has never been a series easy to enjoy. Ever since the original graced the presence of the SNES, the games have been mired in the doldrums of mediocrity. However, there was hope. After the frustratingly boring third release, Capcom decided that they were going to completely change the series and create a fourth game. However, as soon as I read the preview, there was a major question that needed to be answered.
Am I finally going to play a great Breath of Fire game?
Sadly, the answer here is no.
The disappointing truth is, Breath of Fire 4 is merely a shell of what other great role playing games have been able to produce. From the very beginning, you are thrust into a boring storyline that never really unwinds. The story progresses very slowly, so much so that you will tend to forget why in the world you are doing what you are doing. This becomes increasingly frustrating as you progress through the game.
For example, in the middle portion of the game, you need to go to a new continent. To get there, you have to get a sandflier, which takes forever. Once you get it, it breaks down. Then, you need to find parts for it. This whole process takes a good three or four hours. That's three or four hours of absolutely NO storyline progress. The basic story is already boring enough, with this ''The hero has special powers so the party needs to keep the empire from using the hero for evil purposes'' crap that has floated around in plenty of other games.
Plus, the protagonist of the saga, Ryu, has the personality of a lawn dart. He never really answers any questions, or talks for that matter. Instead, he lets little symbols above his head do the talking for him. I don't know about you, but I don't see too many people walking down the street communicating with tear drops above their head. Adding to the dismay is Nina, the main love interest of the story, or so you would think. Joining the boring cast of characters is the chief of Worent, a mercenary who never talks either, a robot, and a general who's only purpose is to capture Ryu for the empire.
It's not all bad, however. The development is definitely better than you would expect for such a cut and paste group of characters. Ershin is perhaps the prime example of this, as the party will uncover some shocking information about their robotic friend. It even leads to one of the few video game scenes I have ever cried while watching. Scias is perhaps the only one that is never fully developed, and I question his inclusion in the game.
Perhaps the coolest part is the fact that every once in a while, the game will side track and let you play as the leader of the empire, Fou Lu. You will find out many shocking things about him as the game progresses, and he is definitely the most developed character in the game. Those who think Sephiroth was the best final boss ever would be well advised to play this game and see a truly special final boss.
Despite the lackluster storyline, the gameplay almost makes me forget about the flaws of the previous three games in the series. The game is so different than the other three, that you will almost forget that you are playing a Breath of Fire game sometimes. It's not all different, however. The fishing mini game is still here, and it is better than ever. The world map has changed in each game, and this game is no exception, as now you just use a pointer to guide you from place to place. You can still fight random battles in the areas which have a question mark above them, however.
The battle system is without a doubt the saving grace of Breath of Fire 4, and the only element that makes the game worth playing. For those like me that found the previous battle systems boring, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. Battles take place in turn based format. Your characters are able to choose their attacks first, and then the enemies will attack. Depending on the agility of the characters, the enemies will attack at different intervals during battle.
A thing you may notice about the battle system right off the bat is that now you can have six characters during battle, and can interchange between them during battle after every round. If you feel like using Scias, and don't have him in the front row, you can use your next turn to switch one of the characters with Scias, without wasting a turn. This is a feature that has been used in other role playing games before, but never the Breath of Fire series.
The only role playing games to ever feature a combo system, to the best of my knowledge, were Legend of Legaia and Tales of Destiny. Now, they have company. The combo system in this game is truly awesome. Unlike the other games, regular attacks will not contribute to the combo. Instead, you have to use special attacks and magic. When a character uses a magic spell, sometimes a ''combo'' meter will appear in the upper right hand corner. The more enemies there are, the more hits and damage will occur, and both stats are prominently displayed in the corner.
Sometimes, when two characters perform magic spells, the magic spells will combine to form a powerful attack. There are only a few powerful attacks in the game, and can only be used by combining certain magic. For instance, let's say Ursula uses Fireblast, and Nina uses Typhoon. The two magic attacks will sometimes combine, so Ursula will use Fireblast, and Nina's Typhoon attack will turn into Gigaflare. The combo attacks are based on the agility of the characters, so using the right characters at the right time is key. I love a battle system where you control the amount of damage you do, so it is fun.
The mini games are fun, and range from truly awesome to borderline mediocre. Some have you do mundane things like find a ball under a coconut, but others have you do fun activities like chase chickens into the chicken coop. You get game points as you complete mini games, so there is an actual purpose to the mini games. Also, the masters make their return, and they act the same as they did in #3. When you complete a task, you get a skill. The more tasks you complete, the more skills you get. Each master has different tasks and skills.
Sadly, it's not all fun and games. Many of the scenarios you have to go through are boring, and it takes a long time to level up. Not only do the enemies give you a minimal amount of experience points, but the characters also SPLIT the experience given. Therefore, it takes a lot longer to level up than the average role playing game. Fortunately, the maximum level in the game is 50, and you can beat it around 35, so leveling up is not really a must. It is a disappointment to battle freaks like me, however.
Also, after you go through all the trouble of actually completing the game, you are treated to one of the most poorly written endings of all time. You never actually find out anything new, and you will just sit there bored as the game goes off on random tangents that don't really have to do with anything. I also had a bunch of questions about various plot holes that were never covered up, and was hoping to see them resolved in the ending. No such luck, however. It really makes me feel like I wasted my time playing the game, and makes me never want to play the game again.
The controls definitely help the player figure out the battle system, however. It is easy to switch between characters during battle. All you have to do is push left and right when you have a chance to pick attacks, and the different characters will be highlighted. Push what you want that character to do, and the character will be where you want him to be. It's really simple. The rest of the controls are just as effective, and the game is definitely a pleasure to control.
In the previous Breath of Fire games, I really enjoyed some of the music, then soon got fed up with it. However, I am pleased to say that I liked a lot of the music in the fourth game. For one, the battle theme rocks, and never really gets old. Right when it starts to get a little annoying, it switches to the much cooler Fou Lu battle theme. I really loved that, as variety in battle music is a definite plus. I am still waiting for the day a game lets you choose what battle theme you wish to use, however. Some of the music was a tad disappointing, like the forest theme, or some of the town themes (too happy jumpy for my tastes), but overall, the music is really solid.
There is no voice acting, which is probably a good thing, if you consider how awful some of the voice acting in Playstation games have been. There are some voices during battle, but they are just battle cries like YEARGH, AAAH, etc. They definitely add a little spice to the battles, but let's face it, you can only hear the same old battle cries for so long. The other sound effects are solid, especially the sounds of special attacks and Ryu turning into the various dragons.
Breath of Fire 4 has the same graphical style as the previous game in the series, but it pulls it off much more effectively. I think this is the look Capcom was going for in part 3. The game combines 2D sprites with a pseudo-3D world to create some nice looking graphics. The detail in the backgrounds are fantastic, from birds flying around in trees, to pipes cracking in buildings. it really is quite astonishing.
However, it is not all peaches and cream. Due to the fact there is a 3D world, you will need to use the camera a lot to maneuver around buildings, etc. The camera does not follow you around like you will want it to. If you go behind a building, the camera will show the building and not what is behind it, so you manually need to move it. Also, the battles feature some awesome summons, and thankfully you can skip them if you want. However, you can't skip the five second dragon animations that do you get annoying really quickly. Also, some of the attack animations take a long time and get frustrating, quickly.
There are a few secrets in the game, but sadly you will probably get most of them the first time through. And when you complete the game, you get a ''saved game'' file which has you shown as completing the game, but leaves you off before the final boss, so you can still go back and get whatever you missed. That makes the big question, will you want to start the game over? I sure don't want to, the game is pretty long and boring, especially in the middle portions. Plus, the ending doesn't do the replay value any favors.
This game is far too easy for its own good. Due to the combo attacks, most enemies will be gone in a round or two. The enemy AI is pathetic, as some enemies will cast shell on themselves every round. I found at least three enemies in the final dungeon alone that did this. It is just uncalled for, and a definite flaw. But the thing that makes the game so easy is the six character party. This makes boss fights pathetically easy, since you can just switch hurt characters, heal them, then bring them back into battle without missing a beat.
Despite the lack of any real challenge, Breath of Fire 4 is a decent game that managed to surprise me. Is it better than Breath of Fire 3? Yes. Is it the best in the series? Yes. Is it worth a purchase? Maybe. I think you should rent it out and see for yourself. It won't be completed in a rental period, unless you incur a lot of late charges and fees, but you won't experience any real challenge. I purchased it, and enjoyed it for the most part, but now it is just another game in my expanding collection.
Oh yeah, did I mention the ending SUCKS?
-The character development is far better than expected.
-I really loved the graphics, especially the battle graphics.
-Some of the music is really good.
-Capcom's best role playing game idea ever is the combo system.
-The fishing is a whole lot of fun, still.
Not So Good Points
-The game makes you do a series of tedious things that drags the fun down.
-The six character battles make the game far too easy.
-The camera could have used some serious tweaking.
-Some of the mini games are moronic.
-The storyline could have used a lot of work and revision.
-The pathetic ending doesn't help matters any.
I Run Down The Game... Psycho Penguin Style!
Storyline - 6.1/10
Graphics - 9.2/10
Music - 8.7/10
Sound Effects - 8.4/10
Controls - 8.3/10
Gameplay - 7.6/10
Replay Value - Average
Challenge - Below Average
Game Length - 35 Hours
Is The Game Worth A Purchase? - Under 20 bucks, sure.
Overall - 7.3/10
... Wow, a role playing game on PSX Psycho Penguin doesn't hate!
Yep, this is no Chrono Cross, that's for sure. It certainly surprised me, and maybe it will surprise you, as well.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 03/24/02, Updated 03/24/02
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