Review by !.ACA.!

Reviewed: 04/06/06

D + ... Despite its great ambition and many great aspects, it's simply hard to recommend Breath of Fire due to its ambiguous nature.

Despite its great ambition and many great aspects, it’s simply hard to recommend Breath of Fire due to its ambiguous nature.

It almost seems like Breath of Fire was created, tested for game-stopping bugs, and then shipped to the public. Capcom, the team responsible for this RPG, most certainly never played their own game from start to finish, because they would have undoubtedly fixed this game’s major issue: lack of direction.

Breath of Fire excels on many levels, but it is all for nothing since the gamer is lost for most of the game. Poor, unhelpful dialog leaves Ryu, the hero, wandering around for most of the adventure, with no idea of where to go or what to do next. Many times events and puzzles are completely trivial; these situations are often interlaced with a very high random encounter level.

As Ryu travels from town to town gaining allies and slaying evildoers, it would be much more helpful if the townspeople provided clues regarding where to go next. For most of the game, Ryu must simply wander around the world map, desperately seeking the next town or dungeon to explore. Luckily, Ryu’s party will eventually learn Warp, a spell that eliminates much of the mindless backtracking, but it does not eliminate the tedious process of initially wandering around for the next goal.

As you wander and are harassed by the constant random encounters, it will soon become apparent that most of the enemies are far too easy to defeat, making the battles very unappealing and boring. Fortunately, there is an Auto-Battle button that eliminates the hassles of selecting attacks. Random encounters are a staple to most RPGs, but Breath of Fire’s encounters are more tiresome than most games’ due not just to their lack of difficulty and simplicity, but because of the amount of random wandering involved in the first place.

Late in the game, there are many puzzles involving invisible floors that are increasingly difficult to navigate. While a certain challenge is welcomed regarding puzzles, especially in RPGs, these puzzles rely less on problem solving and more on luckily selecting the correct path to travel. When coupled with a high encounter rate, these parts of the game quickly become extremely frustrating.

Breath of Fire does many things well, despite its overwhelming ambiguity. For example, Ryu has the ability to transform into one of many different elemental dragons mid-battle (which is where the game’s title is derived from). Ryu’s dragon-forms are incredibly powerful and offer a break from the standard battle style. One ally, Karn, frequently learns mystical spells that allow him to simulate a more powerful form by combining the powers of other allies. Each of the characters come from a unique town and clan of elders. Gobi, a fish who is a traveling merchant, comes from a clan of fellow fish; Mogu, a mole with the ability to drill through dirt on the world map, resides in an underground mole village before joining Ryu’s quest. Another ally, a wolf named Bo, can walk through forests and hunt for meat on the world map with his bow and arrow.

On-map abilities are very nice feature of Breath of Fire. Ryu can fish in various bodies of water, often finding rare pieces of armor. Appropriately named after his species, Ox can destroy weak walls. Nina, a princess from a city named Winlan, even learns a great on-map ability near the end of the game that will certainly surprise you when the time comes. These abilities help add personality to Breath of Fire’s eight characters.

Purchasing and upgrading the latest equipment for characters is fairly standard and robust, however, the normal menus are not very helpful. In-game information about items, equipment, and spells is extremely lacking—even the item names themselves are often confusing and misleading. For quick access to commonly used items and spells, various aspects of the menu can mapped directly to buttons on the controller.

In battle, the game functions like a standard RPG, though you can actively switch between the eight characters on the fly, which lets you bring out the healer, Nina, in times of crisis while letting the brute force attackers fight most of the battle. The battle system is turn-based, with attack order based directly on what is essentially the speed statistic.

Aesthetically, Breath of Fire excels. There are many environments and characters, and each one is bright (where appropriate) and unique. The storyline seems lacking due to the poor dialog and ambiguous events, but it is actually charming if you can put it all together. The game’s final moments, especially, are quite memorable.

In the end, it is hard to recommend Breath of Fire. It has been stated many times, but its ambiguity is a true nuisance. Battles are boring, and though the characters are all unique and fun to use, they are hard to fall in love with when the game’s high points of back-story and interaction are distracted by endless encounters and searching for the next destination. If Breath of Fire was played with a walkthrough in hand, it could be easily recommended. On its own merit, however, the same cannot be said.

F … Presentation
Breath of Fire provides little-to-no information about what to do or where to go through most of the game, making it a chore to progress through the otherwise engaging story.

A … Graphics
Unique environments and detailed characters, Breath of Fire is a good-looking game.

B … Audio
Breath of Fire’s soundtrack greatly complements its many moods and worlds.

B + … Gameplay
Overall, a solid game but it is hurt due to its ambiguous nature.

C … Value
A long adventure with a few interesting side quests and rare items to obtain. Unfortunately, the first time through the game is tedious without the help of a walkthrough.

D + … FINAL GRADE


Rating:   2.0 - Poor

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