Breath of Fire has been a series I’ve always wanted to delve into. I’ve heard time and time again that it was a remarkable series, so much so that it’s even survived up to this day (albeit in Japan). I was finally given a chance at my first BoF game with the third entry, recently released here in the States on the PSP, and my impression going in was a fantastic game that would have me glued to my screen and playing till the battery on my Vita would give out. Sadly, reality hit; and I was met with a game with a mediocre story and stale execution.
The game follows a blue-haired boy (canonically) named Ryu, a dragon who takes the form of a human after being discovered and awoken from within a crystal. While his origins are a mystery, he’s taken in by a group of thieves after being found stark naked in a forest, having escaped from his recent imprisonment. He’s met with hospitality and friendliness, and so they band together to do what they need to do to survive. However, things go awry, and Ryu’s friends go missing — and so you set off in search of your friends; but along the way, you may learn of a much more malicious evil at work.
Breath of Fire III’s story is incredibly formulaic. While it may offer some interesting concepts (such as being a dragon for one) and takes on rather generic set pieces, it’s nothing new or exciting. It plays the story safe, and progression is always halted by rather cryptic sequences where the game just throws you back into the world with hardly any context of your next objective. Granted, the game did come before waymarkers and from a time when your best strategy guide was the testimony of friend, but it’s apparent how archaic the game really is.
Of course, that isn’t to say I don’t like what it does with its story. There’s one moment in particular from very early in the game that sticks out to me — when you infiltrate the mansion of a town mayor in search of his riches to give to the poor after being informed of his supposed ‘greedy tax policies’. After a short and sweet sneaking mission, you find the spirits of his predecessors haunting the villa and opposing you all throughout your expedition. You reach the mayor’s room and instead of him being captured or possessed by a monster, the previously mentioned spirits culminate into one giant mass for a final bout whilst the mayor cowers in fear. You soon learn after succeeding in your mission that you were deceived by the quest giver and must pay the price. That is certainly far from generic (or at least uncommon if not rare).
The gameplay in BoF3 is the same as any other traditional JRPG: attack, wait your turn, buff, wait your turn, etc. It’s so typical at first that you’re left wondering what the appeal of the game really is. While it’s possible to gain enemy skills using the Examine feature, it’s rather confusing how you’re even supposed to do it without prior knowledge of the series. The game doesn’t explain its mechanics, even when new ones are introduced, so you’ll be as blind as a bat your first playthrough. One of the major draws of the gameplay, however, is the Gene Splicing mechanic which allows you to take any dragon genes found throughout your adventures, and applies them to your party. This allows for much more versatility in your movesets and to change the tide of a battle. It’s hard to imagine any other series justifying such an abstract concept and make it work so well within gameplay. Add on the plethora of skills each dragon form is given and it never gets old transforming.
Too bad the high frequency of random encounters does. Never before have I grown so tired of fighting enemies in an RPG. As much as I love to grind, within the first few hours of the game, I wanted to set it down because of how tedious having to press X had become. In a game that’ll take you approximately 40-60 hours to complete, having to bear with so much tedium so early on will surely turn off even the most diligent of JRPG fans. I know I was.
In terms of aesthetic, BoF is no marvel to look at. While it’s concept art is certainly dazzling, the in-game sprites show their age. It’s possible to make out the slightest of detail, but the character sprites are just not at all attractive. They seem too closely stitched together, and even with the fluid animation accompanied in cutscenes and fights, it’s much too static. The overworld and locales look just fine in comparison. The game, similar to the Pokemon games on the DS, utilize 2D sprites against a 3D world. There’s some smart use of dimension in certain sequences of the game that have you rotating the camera in order to see objects/NPCs in places that are otherwise impossible to notice, but that’s all the use you’ll really get from the camera if you’re not one to really take in your surroundings.
The soundtrack in Breath of Fire III is serviceable. I never noticed many stand-out tracks that had me hyped up for the action or what’s going on in the story as it’s fairly generic by today’s standards. It’s filled with the average MIDI rock ballads and simplistic tunes that try too hard to be memorable, but that’s typical of most RPGs back then. The talent is there, for sure; and it’s not bad, but it’s not amazing either.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever return to Breath of Fire III. While the story did intrigue me at times, there’s not much intrigue or wonder in the world and no real urgency in your quest. From the get-go you’re given a pair of ‘pals’ and you’re supposed to like and care about them, but I couldn’t care less. The gameplay is sub-par, standard JRPG-fare with little to spice it up. It’s a mediocre title, but perhaps my disinterest in the game stems from not having grown up with the series. Regardless, if you want an RPG to pass the time by or are a fan of the series, Breath of Fire III is worth the £8/$10 price tag.
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