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Wolf Kanno's Crazy Ramblings and Incoherent Statements

My Top 100's Lost but Not Forgotten: Breath of Fire

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Blah blah blah, made a list, blah blah blah, this is for games that didn't make it.

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Anyone who simply glances over my list will notice I have a strong affiliation with Capcom's classic and underrated RPG series Breath of Fire. They will also notice I left one entry out of the list, and while my BoFII entry hints as to some of the reasons, I figured I would lay it out here in this blog series.
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In the early 90s, Nintendo released the Super Famicom game system and RPGs seriously began to take off with the successes of titles like Square's Final Fantasy series, Enix's Dragon Quest series, Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei, and a myriad of other RPG classics we still act like they're hot trout today. Capcom saw all this and wanted in. Capcom was already a powerhouse with their Rockman series and was battling Sega for arcade dominance with the genre defining Street Fighter II. So perhaps Capcom felt a bit invincible and figured they could tackle the console dominating genre of RPGs. It couldn't be that hard right?
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Capcom set off their producer Tokuro Fujiwara (Ghosts and Goblins) and future series director and main writer Makoto Ikehara, and even Keiji Inafune was on the project for a brief moment before being replaced by Tatsuya Yoshikawa. The game had music done by Capcom's famous Alph Lyla which worked on many of Capcom's rocking OSTs in the 90s including Street Fighter II. The most famous member of this group being Yoko Shimomura and Yasaki Fujita. So yeah, this game had a pretty strong development team, but Breath of Fire is kind of an interesting example of how even strong talent can struggle when forced out of their comfort zone. I'll get to that a bit later.
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Breath of Fire is set in a world of anthropomorphic races who co-exist together. The most notable is the Dragon Clan, which are powerful and sentient dragons that take human form when not spending their time being all dragony. In the ancient past, a goddess named Tyr (Myria) came before the Dragon Clan and offered them great power and desire if they served her. This caused a great rift between the clan and plunged the world into a cataclysmic war that nearly destroyed everything. Realizing their hubris, the Dragon Clan sealed Tyr away using six magic keys. The Dragon Clan had split into the Light and Dark dragons due to the war and in the ensuing thousands of years, developed different cultures from each other. In the present day, the Dark Dragons have used their power to create a powerful empire that is slowly trying to take over the world, whereas the Light Dragons faded away to a small village clan who sealed most of their power away, even the ability to transform back into their true forms.
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When the story begins, Ryu is awakened to learn that the village is being attacked by the Dark Dragons who fear their old adversaries may once again try to stand up against them, unfortunately for the Light Dragons, only Ryu's sister Sara is the only one who possesses any of the clans former power, and she duels the Dragon Emperor Zog's second in command Jade (Judas) and is captured, but at least ends the attack on the village. From here, Ryu sets off on a journey to rescue his sister, and stop the Dark Dragon Empire who is trying to find the Six Goddess Keys to release Tyr. On his journey, he encounters and recruits several friends and allies from across the various clans that are being oppressed by the Dark Dragons including legacy characters such as the Wing Clan Princess Nina of Wyndia, a member of the Wolba Clan named Bo (Giliam), a greedy and selfish Maniloo Clan members named Gobi, and series badass and lazy snake goddess Bleu (Dias).
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For the most part, the plot is pretty straightforward and standard for the time. Go to new town, liberate it from the Dark Clans and possibly recruit a new party member. There are a few interesting scenarios here and there such as Nina's introduction which actually has you change character perspective and play as her for a short dungeon. There is also Jade's Four Deva generals who all have some unique personality quirks but it's Cerl and the story of Alan and the time stopped village that's one of the most standout stories in the game. Especially since it leads to the missing Nina quest, which itself is a pretty unique story that reaffirms Nina as one of the series legacy characters. Eventually Jade lives up to his Japanese name of Judas and betrays the emperor and tries to take Tyr for himself, and the party has the series traditon of a having amelancholic battle against a Dragon who is actually a close ally/friend/relative to Ryu.
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Gameplay is probably where BoF1 both shines and also really shows how ameturish the effort was. From a programming standpoint, BoF1's mechanics are incredibly simplistic, to the point where one could be forgiven for thinking the game is some early RPG Maker title. I'll use magic as an example:

In Dragon Quest, most spells do an allotted amount of damage. A spell like Frizz would do between 20-35hp of damage per cast, whereas Frizzle would do 75-100hp and KaFrizzle would do 200-250hp of damage and so forth. In BoF1, a fire spell will do 25hp of damage unless the enemy is immune to it. Guaranteed and always, there is no algortithm for things like resistance or enemy magic defense. Spells and techniques basically will always do the same damage unless the enemy has immunity or if the attack critical hits which does double it's damage. There is even an item in the game that makes your next move a guaranteed critical hit regardless of what ability it is. So a lot of the more nuanced depth of a typical RPG is kind of missing here which is truly fascinating but never really hurts the game too badly.
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What';s most interesting about the game, and something I mentioned with BoFII is that Capcom incorporated some unique ideas that really set this game apart from other RPGs at the time, incorporating some Zelda-esque shenanigans. The biggest one easily being the fact that all the characters have unique abilities they can use on the map or in dungeons. This in fact does lead to some pretty good value for some of the less than steller party members such as Gobi working as your team's "boat" and Bo being able to hunt food on the map that can be used for healing or sold for quick cash. In fact, my favorite mini-game is one that involves Gobi. There are two merchant bazaars in the game and once Gobi gets his mercantile license restored, he can set up shap at these places and trade items in your ivnentory for new gear. There is actually some interesting chain of deals shennaigans that will ultimately net you some of the game's best gear and the whole thing plays out very similar to Torneko's shop mechanics in Dragon Quest IV. Course BoF has a bad habit of not exactly explainging this so I missed it the first time I played the game, but it's been a real treat since I did learn about.
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Another unique mechanic which set this series apart from other games at the time was the dragon and fusion mechanics. As you progress through the game, Ryu can come across some wells on the map and if you use his fishing ability, he can acquire some of the legendary Dragon Clan armor and sword. The gear is pretty good for the most part, but their true purpse is to be taken to the various hidden Dragon Shrines where Ryu can undergo a trial and awaken his clans power to transform into a dragon. The thief Karn on the otherhand has some connection to an ancient power that allows him to fuse with other party members and transform into powerful monsters that can often be stronger than some of Ryu's own dragon forms. Both of these mechanics add some nice flavor to a generally stale and traditonal battle system that has all the basic attack, defend, and magic shenanigens associated with the genre. Varitey certainly doesn't hurt the game.
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What does hurt the game is some of the balancing issues. BoF1 has the second largest playable cast in the series but I guarantee your final team will be Ryu, Nina, Karn, and Bleu. Bo, Ox, Mogu, and Gobi are at their best, decent filler characters, and complete liabilities at worse. Not helping things is Karn, whose fusion skill makes him a permanent fixture on the team because as I said, he can often be your main offense. Ryu's dragon forms are also no slouch, especially since they cast a small amount of AP to transform and unlike every other game, Ryu remains in the form until your either change him back to human or the battle ends with no consequence. Ryu and Karn pretty much blow the rest of the team out of the water in terms of non-magical damage output and then Blue shows up to fill that gap. Nina is also the team medic but what really drives this home is that Karn can only fuse with Ox, Bo, Gobi and Mogu so that leaves the other three useful members completely free to stay on your main team. So party variety gets hurt big time the longer you play. I don't even need to mention Ryu's final Infinity form that fuses the whole team together and pulls off max damage every round.
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The other issue here is some of the strange enemy quirks, the most obnoxious being bosses having second winds. Basically you always see an enemy's health bar, but most bosses will onyl have like a tenth of their actual health shown by the bar and once they get K.O. they get back up with a sliver of their health on the bar and the other 9/10ths of their health tacked on. Was a real shock the first time it happens, gets old real fast when most bosses do it especially Tyr the final boss who has a ridiculously high health pool. For the most part, BoF1 may also be one of the easiest entries in the series, it doesn't take much to break this game and in fact the general design of the game practically encourages it


Overall, BoF1 is pretty by the book in terms of RPG conventions and the writing is rarely that stellar despite having a strong OST to really enhance some of the games better moments. Of anything, I feel it shows just how much of a serious leap in writing ability BoFII was after playing through this entry. It's as daunting as it would have been for North American fans jumping from the NES FFI to the SNES FFII(IV) in terms of scale and depth.


Of course, maybe the real issue here is the game's terrible localization and translation. Capcom USA didn't have the resources to translate an RPG, being more inclined to Capcom's more simplistic arcade style titles with excuse plots. So the company outsourced it to Square of all people who were not exactly known for their stellar track record at the time. Ted Woosely actually transalted the game around the time he was finishing up Secret of Mana. So who knows how much nuance got left on the editing floor table as BoF1 suffered through the issue of the time of tight deadlines and limited character space. So like any RPG at the time, it's almost surprising how well it did considering the odds against it. Even more annoying is that when Capcom ported the game to the GBA a decade later, they barely fixed the script.
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Despite all this the game has some other fun charm going for it like numerous Capcom cameos and references. There is a fun easter egg where Chun Li appears, houses have portraits of Arthur from Ghosts and Goblins hanging in them, and boss Goda not only looks like a Wily Robot, but even has animatiosn that are a reference to Yellow Devil from Mega Man. The game also shows off a lot of Capcom's strength at the time with some really impressive sprite work and of course the game has a pretty killer OST with some real great themes, many of which were re-used in the sequel.
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Breath of Fire is a fun if painfully basic first attempt at an RPG by Capcom. While the sequels were incredible improvements that pushed the series into FF levels of good for me, the same cannot be said of BoF1 which felt a bit dated despite it's unique traits even at the time of release. For these reasons, I couldn't really put it on my list, but it's still a pretty interesting game and I feel playing through it is great for eally showing off how much Capcom advanced and learned over the years.

Comments

  1. Fynn's Avatar
    The English script in this game is still at the very least comprehensible. The same canít really be said for IIís localization, which was a nightmare (though Iím pretty sure youíve mentioned that on your list?)
  2. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Fynn
    The English script in this game is still at the very least comprehensible. The same canít really be said for IIís localization, which was a nightmare (though Iím pretty sure youíve mentioned that on your list?)
    That's true, it's still a shame that Capcom didn't do much to really upgrade the scripts when they had a chance though.
  3. Fynn's Avatar
    Sadly, the GBA ports did seem like kind of a lazy cash grab on Capcom’s part. Sure, they redrew the portraits (an improvement in I, but debatable in II) and redid the menus, and that was it. They didn’t polish the gameplay or add any extra features, so I’m not really surprised they didn’t bother with a retranslation. While I still like those ports for being so colorful (IMO that’s how BOF is supposed to look like), they still kinda pale in comparison to SE’s effort to port the SNES FF titles to GBA, as well as Dawn of Souls.
  4. Lord Golbez's Avatar
    Hmm. I always liked the first one better than the second. I guess I can see the point of view that the writing improved significantly for the second one. Still I enjoyed the Dragon Questlike side stories of each town. Cerl and Alan probably beats the emotional impact of anything in the sequel for me. At least give it this though: the dragon transformations in the first game are better and more original than in BoFII. In BoFII, they're effectively the same as FF summons that use up all your MP.
  5. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Golbez
    Hmm. I always liked the first one better than the second. I guess I can see the point of view that the writing improved significantly for the second one. Still I enjoyed the Dragon Questlike side stories of each town. Cerl and Alan probably beats the emotional impact of anything in the sequel for me. At least give it this though: the dragon transformations in the first game are better and more original than in BoFII. In BoFII, they're effectively the same as FF summons that use up all your MP.
    I honestly like the Dragon Transformations better in the sequel, despite not being my ideal one which is BoFIII. Largely because they felt better balanced to the game. Sure they were a one shot hot mess, but in addition to Ryu not really needing his AP, it was nice they were fairly powerful. In BoF1 you're often obligated to use them until the form becomes too weak since they all did fixed damage. Not helped that you basically get his last two forms right on top of each other, leaving one of them completely useless since Agni/Infinity is so overpowered. I honestly just had more fun with Ryu's setup in the sequel than the first game, but I attribute this to really Capcom's inexperience.
  6. Lord Golbez's Avatar
    I actually think Rudra is better than Agni/Infinity because you can easily do more than 999 damage in a turn with a party of 4. You get them at the same time, but I only use Agni for the Goddess, because it's required there to face her true form. Also, I didn't even know how to use Agni the first time I played because it requires that Karn isn't transformed and I pretty much always had Karn transformed, so I got plenty of uss out of that "second best" dragon. Definitely agree that BoF3 has the best dragon system though.
  7. Christmas's Avatar
    This series is still alive? Tot it ended in BoF 4.
  8. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Christmas
    This series is still alive? Tot it ended in BoF 4.
    T he last game was a mobile only title in Japan. It didn't last that long. Dragon Quarter for the PS2 was the fifth installment and the last one released in the West.