Let’s face it: if you were born in the 80′s and you were a gamer, chances are good that there are many titles out there that bring back golden memories for you. Times were much easier back then, when long summer breaks and school holidays were the pinnacle of your gaming time. That was the exact feeling I had when a bunch of my friends on Twitter and Backloggery started talking about Breath of Fire. The first time I played this JRPG, I was just a young buck in elementary school. My good friend Jason G. had lent me his copy, and I had NO idea what I was getting into. At this time in my gaming history, I was only just figuring out what kind of games I liked. I didn’t recognize company names back then, nor did I realize that the game was even a JRPG. All I knew was ‘it was one of those games that you battle enemies and gain levels to grow stronger.’ Yeah, really.
I had a lot of good memories with that game, and even remember a point where a major plot item happens, and I called up my friend’s house phone, leaving him an extensively long message of my feelings on his answering machine. Needless to say, his mother wasn’t very happy. My first playthrough was very successful, for the most part. I didn’t understand the importance of battling all of my foes, however, and found myself running from most of them. Nearing the end of the game, I was only at level 29, finding it increasingly harder and harder to play through. Eventually, all of that running catches up to you, and I reached a boss I simply could not trump. Reluctantly, I returned the game.
Fast forward nearly 16 years, and the urge to play (and hopefully beat) Breath of Fire has come. I wanted the true, authentic experience, so I hunted down a copy that I could play on my antiquated SNES. Mind you, this old dog has seen it’s day, and I actually have to wrap the power cord around the console in order to make the terminals touch properly, giving it power. One wrong move and it is quite literally game over for me! As I play though, I am reminded of those old times, and based on my limited knowledge then, and my new, more educated knowledge now, I decided to see just how well Breath of Fire has aged.
As with most JRPGs, there is certainly no lack of a story present. You are Ryu, a young boy and the last member of the Light Dragon Clan. The Dark Dragons rise up against the world every so often, and it is up to you to stop them and save the world. This is a pretty typical scenario that comes out of most JRPGs of this time, but let’s be real here: not many of them let you be a dragon. One of the coolest features about this game is the hero’s ability to train in special locations to unleash his potential as a Light Dragon. I’m racking my brain through the JRPGs of that time and cannot find a single game where something like that was possible. You weren’t just any dragon either. Sure, some of the first forms were pretty rinky dink compared to others, but those later forms were purely epic.
The game didn’t stop there. Without giving too much away, all of the characters had their own special talents that made having them in your party invaluable both in battle and out on the world map. There are even three other characters that can have transformations of their own! The amount of detail put into making each character unique and useful was something that was not prevalent in other games. Having these characters in your party meant more than just having a person waiting around to revive one of your elite characters in case he/she died. As stated previously, traveling through the maps was made compelling by allowing for various dig spots, hunting game, smashing walls and unlocking doors that could only be handled by specific characters. It gave them more purpose than just in battles.
On the turn side, while everyone has a light reason for joining the party, they don’t actually contribute to the story much. This is truly a story for Ryu, about Ryu, and while the friendships you cultivate are great to have around due to the aforementioned features, the story scenes don’t have too much to say involving them. This, by no means deters from the story, but is certainly interesting to see nonetheless.
The battle system also saw some features that were not prevalent in JRPGs back then. Two features that I want to call attention to are the Auto-Battle, which forces all of your characters to default attack until either the enemy dies or the party goes down. This helped with one of the biggest flaws in this game (mentioned below) but doesn’t totally negate it, unfortunately The other feature is the ability to swap party members on the fly during battle. No game up to this point had anything like it, and even more modern games now don’t use it all that frequently (or are very successful when they do). This swapping system is clear cut and to the point. No razzle dazzle cut scenes, no dancing characters, just a quick swap and you’re on your way. The battle animations also moved very quickly, allowing for faster than normal battles. No waiting around for that pesky ATB to fill up!
The size of the SNES cartridges back then weren’t that big, and yet some of the music and graphics of those times were revolutionary. Pixel art as we knew and loved became more developed and refined, and music was no longer limited to five channels. Breath of Fire is not short of either of the two. Combining some beautiful sprites and ‘larger than life’ bosses, Breath of Fire is gorgeous for its time. The battle animations for both the characters and the enemies were fleshed out really well. Not to mention the use of a 3/4 view during battle, which wasn’t a popular choice then (we mostly saw left or right positioned characters). The music is still remarkable to me; I often find myself jamming to the songs long after my game has been shut off for the day/night. Some of my favorite songs from the SNES era came out of this title, and really brings the game to life.
Of course, the game is not without faults. One of the biggest points that most fans of the series will tell you about is the frequency of the random encounters. For me, it didn’t seem noticeable until the first third of the game was completed, and then it just skyrockets. I’m talking a battle every seven to nine steps. When you’re backtracking in old areas with enemies that grant you hardly any experience. It is moments like these that make travel so tedious, and makes me wonder if that was why I used to run from my battles back then. Capcom might have known this going in, and created the modern day Repel known as ‘Marbl3.’ This item stops all enemies from attacking you for a set amount of steps. I didn’t think I would need them, but once the encounter rate went up I bought over 40 of the little buggers.
As I continue to progress through the game, I am finding myself more and more satisfied with the experience. I liked the game back then, but I feel as if I can really appreciate it now in all of its glory. Breath of Fire is bringing back both old memories for me and creating brand new ones as I play through, and I am very much looking forward to the end of the game.
With all that being said, Breath of Fire remains a CLASSIC in the history of video games!