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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Boy
PLAYERS:   1-2
December 14, 2001
Breath of Fire II

Breath of Fire II

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on February 06, 2002

Review: ?The saga of the fate of the Dragon Tribe is about to begin??

Breath of Fire for the Super NES represented Capcom's first foray into the U.S. console RPG market since the early NES releases of Willow and Destiny of an Emperor. Originally they negotiated for Squaresoft to handle the localization. Almost 9 years later Capcom has resurrected the franchise with a port of BoF to the very capable Gameboy Advance. Finally we can play BoF as it was meant to be played, complete with a new translation and some minor graphical tweaks.

The game begins with the conquest of our hero's village by the Dark Dragon Tribe. The protagonist, Ryu, is of the Light Dragon Tribe that once wielded the awesome power of transforming into the legendary creatures in order to maintain peace throughout the land. This power is now all but lost. King Zog of the Dark Dragon Tribe was not aware of this when he released the evil goddess Milia from imprisonment. Zog then began his conquests with the elimination of his chief rivals, the Light Dragon Tribe. This sets the stage for Ryu to embark on his own quest and gather seven companions in an effort to thwart the efforts of Zog and prevent Milia from again ravaging their world.

Breath of Fire has a rather clich? plot, one that was old when originally released in 1993. The poor writing combined with the choppy script and utter lack of character personality development further bog down the game's tired story. The translation has been improved slightly in the GBA incarnation but the rewrite in lackluster. The player is force fed information through awkward one-way conversations and is led by the nose from location to location. Furthermore, new characters are never introduced formally so much as dropped into situations at random. The addition of characters to the group would have the best opportunity to develop character personalities but this opportunity is wasted in BoF. The characters rarely speak to others or even to each other. By the time you complete your party of eight you will have a hard time remembering their names and backgrounds as they never develop themselves beyond ?My name is??

The pale, drab graphics, choppy animation, and minimalist spell effects further sully the experience. The character and monster designs are acceptable and the ? combat perspective is a fresh change from most RPGs. The game features a day-night system that is represented graphically in towns, on the world map, and in combat. It helps to liven up a presentation that otherwise utterly lacks dynamic. The game does look somewhat sharper than the SNES version, however, and both the on-screen sprites and the text fonts have been increased in size in order to compliment the GBA's smaller screen size. This also has the side effect of making the viewing distance in maps and caves significantly smaller, making exploration more challenging and satisfying.

The sound effects, particularly those in combat, pretty much epitomize what was available in the 16-bit era. The music remains surprisingly intact, a rare feat these days in SNES-GBA ports. As far as RPGs go, you have your standard town, map, cavern, exploration, combat, and dramatic musical themes. The BoF tracks were always appropriate and pleasing, and thankfully, they remain relevant even today. It sounds like SNES music and lacks the orchestrated quality of Golden Sun but the battle themes are particularly fun and catchy.

The gameplay is quite standard by early SNES standards. Consequently, not much excitement remains after having experienced more recent RPGs. Your party of adventurers will grow in size to a massive troupe of eight. Technically, all eight adventurers set out together, however only four of them may participate in combat at once, for some unexplained reason. BoF includes the dubious feature of allowing party members to be swapped out in the middle of a fight. Supposedly, this is to vary the gameplay, but in my experience it only simplifies and cheapens it. What does make the combat more interesting is Ryu's ability to morph into over half a dozen different dragons of varying strengths, and Karn's ability to merge with other party members and form new entities with enhanced powers. All in all, it follows the classic console RPG format almost by the book. You will explore towns and towers, buy equipment from merchants, rest in inns, gather information from locals, fight baddies for experience and funds, and learn new spells and abilities as you grow.

The quest is a relatively long one. For those not previously initiated to BoF, the quest can take you between twenty to forty hours to complete, easily dwarfing the handheld RPG standard. The addition of link cable support is, in general, a positive thing. However, not enough was done with it, and BoF cannot even compete with the lackluster Golden Sun multiplayer arena. By linking two GBAs, each with a BoF game pak loaded, you will simply be allowed to trade items back and forth. It would have benefited greatly by including special, random items and equipment in each game pak. Since everything will eventually become available to you throughout your adventures, the ability to trade items with friends is not necessary.

Bottom Line
Breath of Fire fails to reach any of the GBA RPG standards set by Golden Sun. Since the sequel is already on its way to the GBA you may want to hold on and wait to play that release. If you simply cannot play that game without playing its predecessor first, then by all means, check BoF out. However, if you are looking for a deep, satisfying, and lengthy portable RPG, I recommend Camelot's Golden Sun and even Enix's somewhat older RPG, Dragon Warrior 3.

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