Review by TheSpelunker

"A valiant effort by a company that is not known for its RPGs"

The first Breath of Fire, which this game is a sequel to, was rather easy and generic by most roleplaying games' standards. A boy named Ryu and his party, traveling around the world, parleyed with chieftains of villages who sent them to dungeons, and when they returned from the dungeon the chieftain congratulated and sent them to another chieftain; this chieftain would then have another quest for them to do. The quests were easy--so uninvolved that they became trivial.The player bought MRBL3, an item that gave him immunity to encounters with monsters, avoided all of the monsters in a dungeon, and mushed the boss even without having got any experience from the dungeon or even gold. How could he afford the MRBL3? He never bought the equipment that the last town was selling. Someone can see how this formula would detract from a game.

That was Breath of Fire 1. Breath of Fire 2 is an improvement, and still retains the uniqueness of the series, which makes it a rather good RPG--one of my favorite American RPGs on the Super Nintendo, second to the two Final Fantasy games. Despite similarities with its predecessor, such as some of its story, Breath of Fire II is ultimately its own game. Breath of Fire 1's main character could become a dragon if having conquered a shrine's trial he had enough magic points, but in Breath of Fire 2 I didn't see so much fiery breath instantly obliterating enemies. There is the dragon clan, which is a benevolent group that protects the world when it is threatened. They are the ones that can change into dragons in the game, but in Breath of Fire 2 the dragon clan is assumed to be extinct. You are again a blue-haired boy named Ryu; you even meet variations of your friends from the first game, some of whom actually descended from the original party in Breath of Fire 1, which continues the series neatly.

There is no need to worry if you haven't played Breath of Fire 1. The only point that should be made is that, opposed to Breath of Fire 1, most ordinary things that you do in Breath of Fire 2 have some twist to them. Breath of Fire 1's sequence of ordinary events was expected and potentially tedious. The variety in Breath of Fire 2 among bosses, dungeons, and so forth lessens the dullness that characterizes RPGs like Breath of Fire 1, which do not need their full length of 40-50 hours to communicate their message. Breath of Fire 2 , though it retains the same style as its predecessor, improves on a lot of the problems that existed before, which is a combination that generally pays off.

It is worth nothing to start with that you are the same person in every Breath of Fire game, a boy with blue hair named Ryu. The introduction of this game is not as direct as Breath of Fire 1's. You begin as a very young child, and you have a friend named Bow (recall the 'Bo' from your party in Breath of Fire 1.) You were raised in a monastery, and you eventually find your way outside of its walls. From there you encounter humble events, presenting simple things like 'SaladBWL' as your character's helmet and 'BumCL[oak]' as your character's armor. This is my absolute favorite style of the game: that it never overlooks the mundane. You eventually collect more party members, but it is not till the end of the game that you discover who your true enemy is--and it's a rather epic finale if you compare it to your humble beginnings of wooden swords and two-home villages outside of your orphaned life at the monastery.

The Breath of Fire series' problems of translations would recur till it left the SNES and, by the third game, Capcom released it on the Playstation, finally fixing them.The bad translation is a staple of Breath of Fire 1 and 2, where the idiom used is not good, but where also surprisingly, it is not inhibiting of the story, which has points where you will worry, 'Can these characters convincingly act this scene"?" The experience is like having a favorite scene in a Shakespearean play and watching children try to act it. You worry that they may fail and ruin your scene; but they don't. The children don't stumble in the big scenes, and the little scenes, which you care less about (or are cute,) are often goofy; the actors forget lines (this is not tangential. Unimportant villagers seem absent-minded because of dreaminess and childlike sentences, resembling Rosencrantz without a Guildenstern to finish his thoughts) But the poor translation of the game, once again, does not hurt what is there. Has it hurt conceptually the story? Final Fantasy III, which was a sprawling epic on the SNES, was never in BOF2's scope. BOF2, till the end, is humble and sometimes comedic; then you realize that the plot twist at the end predated later RPGs claiming solemnity that used the same thing. Breath of Fire 2 is thus simple and unpretentious, and it has an exciting finale awaiting anyone who would solve it through to the end.

At the start of the game you are child-Ryu, following a neat, linear introduction to the story. You can interact with different things, and you meet Bow, who will become a good friend of yours on your journey. You progress for a bit. Then the game skips ahead a few years, and you become an adult. From here you encounter small problems and must try to fix them. You work for the Ranger's Guild and are given tasks like finding a lady's pet, whom everyone assumes is a dog or cat (the truth, however, is humorously different.) The problems that Ryu and Bow must solve worsen, progressing from business problems to personal problems, and Ryu must leave Bow at one point and seek things by himself. Thus Ryu fights alone for a while, which was thrilling. I was reminded of the original Dragon Warrior and Ultima--solo RPGs like these, it seems, became outdated after the early 80's--but Breath of Fire has always been reverent in this way. Much like other RPGs, the characters in your troupe amass, and as you gain levels you become a formidable group. You march towards fate and try to stop whatever evil underlies the problems of the world, which you begin to see a common theme among. The attraction here opposed to the first game is that you see expressions of artistry in this standard formula. The story uses understatement, occasional abandonment of tension/release altogether (you work in a garden one time, for example, and Ryu can fish off of the shore, Bow can hunt, and you get your own town that you can manage,) Boss fights are interesting, and story scenes are, in many ways, consistently odd, making the game enjoyable and enchanting throughout.

The overworld is where you march around in the game. You can enter towns and dungeons from it and cross bridges, which often separate difficulties of monsters--if you dare. Explorable areas, if you have not met certain criteria, might be off-limits; for example, you may need marine travel or a character who can navigate particular land like woods or the sky. You need at any rate to do things in about every town that you see, and dungeons are also important--there is no such thing as an optional dungeon. Breath of Fire 2 is concerned with content, and does last for a while. Also on the overworld are things like fishing and hunting nodes, which Ryu and Bow respectively can profit from. Though these are not always exciting tasks, they are at least funner than Breath of Fire 1's fishing and hunting systems. Breath of Fire 2's fishing system became deeper, and more animals exist that you can hunt, some of which might attack you if they are aggressive. Since there are random encounters on the overworld, and you only start with land travel, it is initially a hub of going quickly elsewhere and seldom exploring. There were actually times in my game when, trying to reach one town from another, I died embarrassingly on the overworld; and there were times when, having finished a dungeon, I crawled into a town's sanctuary with few hitpoints and no remaining healing. Occasionally on the overworld you will see points of interest and secret areas, especially once you acquire the means of traveling by water or air, where random encounters do not exist. There is one very abnormal spot near a lake, where instead of finding an inn you find an odd man sitting by the shore. He is encamped in a clearing, and he explains drily, 'Sleeping in the open is good, would you like to sleep in the open?' Responding 'yes' works like an inn, but nevertheless you will expect a punch-line to the joke. When you wake up the man is still standing there, placid as ever. The intention of such absurdity is one of the ambiguities comprising the game's humor. Is Breath of Fire 2 a well-meaning and just a haplessly goofy adventure? was it something where the creators were being silly and could not represent their silliness in words?

I like Breath of Fire 2's towns, except for their music, which is often the same. You expect that every town will have the same shops, which is not always true. Some towns have such things as a port, a castle, an explorable well, fight scenes, an underwater cellar, and different guilds and mansions. Day and night are used in the game; the overworld shows which it is (Ryu has a spell that changes it at will,) and towns, except for their inn, lock their buildings at night. To create dynamics different people appear on the streets and in the pub/inn also when it is dark. However, I wonder about the toilet in every house; outhouses, of course, belong rightfully in places like Tag Woods, where a retired fighter named Baba lives, but believe it or not there are often dungeons in toilets--one, two, possibly three toilet-dungeons in the game. Breath of Fire 2's bizarre 16-bit world of village-centric wooden dialogue and toilet-dungeons left me constantly astounded. You also have as I said your own manageable town,which is not as big as HomeTown (which has mansions, a ranger's and magic guild,) but it starts small and grows. You can invite migrants from all over the world into your village, this' being one of many of numerous twists that Breath of Fire 2 has that stands out; in further keeping with the game, the method of inviting migrants to your town, which isn't direct or logical (you simply find hermits, and they appear in your town,) attracts such characters as a cat, who moves across the world into one of your village's houses, and soon fills its interior with kittens.

Dungeons, for a console role-playing game, are slightly deceptive. You can usually sight-see in Super Nintendo RPGs, inconsiderate of gaining levels and buying equipment. Breath of Fire 2's dungeons, however, have varying difficulties. Easy dungeons exist, and then there are hard dungeons that will thwart you. You may fall in false pits, constantly encounter monsters, and chase elusive treasure chests at times when you ought to be in pursuit of the exit. Your visibility, to create variety and challenge, is reduced in one dungeon. Towards the middle of the game, if you slip up, dungeons will kick you to the start. And you must at times level up before entering dungeons, or face harsh waters while you leave and reenter them, visiting inns. The challenge is fun; condescension is avoided, and the game pretends to be arduous at times, but it is forgiving. You spend in the beginning more time generally on smaller tasks like gaining levels, and in the middle and at the end success depends on refining your methods, equipment, and possibly party formation and ensuring that everyone is of a similar level.Thus you do not notice the challenge as much once you are stronger; you can solve problems in multiple ways, rather than 'attack,' 'attack', 'use herb,' and so forth. Random encounters, characteristic of Breath of Fire, are incessant. But the navigation is not always laborious and dungeons will offer clever surprises. A statue in one dungeon taunts you, for example, 'Can't you get out of here?' and if you take the bait, teleports you out, missing half of your gold,. Oh no!, yet you return with a smile on your face. Someone put thought into the game. It wasn't programmed from a static diagram.

A lot of Breath of Fire 2's characters are the same as its predecessor's, like the Bo-Bow switch (in Breath of Fire 1 he was a wolfman. Now he is a dogman.) Nina, the girl with wings, supports Ryu every game in her role. Where the names are dissimilar, the archetypes of the characters are otherwise. Rand, who breaks damaged walls, was in Breath of Fire 1 named less flatteringly, OX--though, as big guys who break walls go, he is about the same. The party was taken by a fish to inaccessible islands in Breath of Fire 1, but in Breath of Fire 2 it is a frogman who does this; and he speaks French. You feel as though all of these old friends--for they never said much in Breath of Fire 1, being known by their actions instead of their words--are reuniting once again and fighting the bad guys. And this time they say more--parting words before Breath of Fire 3, perhaps, whose characters are entirely different. You even see a meter in dialogues with characters and other people, which changes colors, and shows people's feelings towards you: hostile being red, and ambivalent may be yellow. The interaction between characters in Breath of Fire 2 is deeper than before. Characters discuss important events, and you complete segments where the party visits a character's hometown and learns of his past. Such reconciliations are usually silly, and you laugh, caring about these characters, their families, and why they are in your party. Sometimes you control a character by himself, which is always fun; this follows with the game's humble roots and its reverence of the early RPG's style.

Though a character has skills that function on the overworld, in a battle is where he is at his best, especially with a party supporting him. A maximum of four characters may be in a party at once; you recruit a total of seven, the remaining balance of which will have to cheerlead while your starting squadron fights. Essentially, you have a favorite party and only replace its members when another character is necessitated or useful, such as for their skill in a specific dungeon (Sten, for example, a monkey who can reach far ledges, is often needed.) By fighting monsters, this favorite party then gains experience and can buy better gear, becoming the favorite in more ways than one--even if you, for instance, suddenly desire a monkey instead of a level 20 frogman, if the monkey is level 2, wielding a stick and wearing a loin cloth, powering him up will be difficult.. Breath of Fire 2 is far more difficult than Breath of Fire 1, which is one of its best features. Breath of Fire 1 would have been a much better game if it was challenging; Breath of Fire 2 is that and more--involving too; you care about your party, gear, and skills because you must, and through this necessity you become more attached to your characters and to the game.

As I said, Breath of Fire 2 is fun because every thing is done with a little spirit. This applies especially to the battles, which, though noted for their unrelenting rate of encounters, precede bosses who often justify any previous exasperation that you felt. The first bosses (a group of three,) for instance, squabble, and one of them hits the other on the second turn, letting you assess their power; thus because they do indeed hit hard you devote a character to full-time healing. Other bosses talk before their attacks; and yet other bosses begin the battle with an ailment, or vice versa--you begin the battle with an ailment, initially giving you a disadvantage (ex: the poisonous spider, who is a boss, bit you before the battle started.) You can't skip all of the game's battles as you could in Breath of Fire 1. MRBL3 is gone, replaced by SMOKE, which limits battles but which doesn't stop them. You will actually want, in an unusual show of demand by a Western console RPG, to use smoke regularly when you have the money. Though expensive, it almost seems to normalize the encounter rate--and probably was intended to be that way all along. Otherwise you will be up to your neck in encounters. Battles can also be funny; for instance, 'farming', which is required at one point, means fighting rocks and stumps that don't fight back, and then the last rock that you touch is a souped-up boss. There is a plentiful supply of bosses, and the boss music never becomes repetitive-it is the best boss music that I have heard on the console.

A review of Breath of Fire 1 or 2 is probably incomplete without mentioning the atmosphere of the games, which is a main distinction of theirs from all other 16-bit RPGs. The artwork, for one thing, is unique to the two games. There is an ambiguous, shady style in each of the sprites' drawing, and it complements the fact that ordinary people in the game are possessed by demons and will suddenly transform when they reveal their true nature. You often encounter this, going from town to town where a 'new person' has moved in, and you can't initially determine who it is. By the time that you find out, you are already in danger and soon to fight the demon itself. There is, like the music of boss battles, very exceptional music for the demon-humans as well (though if you play Quest for Glory I, a completely unrelated game, you will hear similar music, which is suspect itself.) I sometimes replay Breath of Fire games simply so that I can again experience their atmosphere--how they begin humbly, doing small chores and tasks, proceed into the ambiguous world of cheery towns (with demons behind the scenes,) entertain and humor me throughout, and not till the end present the ultimate evil, which is just as well--caring about an ultimate evil is unsustainable for 40-50 hours if the game presents the problem from the start. And that is not to say that other games don't know this, too, but Breath of Fire does everything differently, which is what keeps me returning to it.

Breath of Fire 2 is not perfect-- I have mentioned the general abstraction that characterizes its dialogue. Was the clarity lost in translation? or was it not there in the first place? You will probably play through the game and enjoy it, but will keep the limitations in mind, because an RPG with awkward dialogue and transitions will never be the best. Even though Final Fantasy III/VI and II/IV, as RPGs, will never have the cute quirkiness of the first two Breath of Fires, they do obey the rules, do do things correctly, and do excel at it. You often see this same parallel in real life--there is always an offbeat way of doing something, and it has a certain appeal over the traditional way; creators of a product must choose between the two, and poor traditional games are just as bad as poor quirky ones, perhaps worse because their redundancies were seen before. The real and somewhat unrelated mystery of the game is, Is Breath of Fire 2 eccentric intentionally? It sometimes seems doubtful, but questions like these and others, I suppose, only make further progress in the game more exciting. Breath of Fire 2 was never The Next Great Thing, but it was the fun little adventure that you leaped into once you had finished playing the next great thing.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/09/07, Updated 09/11/07

Game Release: Breath of Fire II (US, 12/31/95)


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