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April 17, 2002
Breath of Fire II

Breath of Fire

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on May 08, 2002

Review: A new Dragon Child? a new destiny awaits?

It has been but a few months since Capcom's release of Breath of Fire for the Gameboy Advance, and now its sequel, originally a Super Nintendo game as well, has hit our shores. For the record, BoF II, even in its original form, was a vastly superior adventure when compared to its predecessor. The engine implemented in the sequel is remarkably similar to that of the original. While the new game does share some of the faults of the first, it has enough enhancements and additions to provide a brand new, yet comfortably similar experience, all the while telling a much better tale.

It has been approximately five centuries since the blue-haired hero, a member of the Light Dragon clan, and his band of seven companions defeated the evil goddess Milia. The entire Dragon clan was shattered, and almost all knowledge of their existence and hidden powers was lost. Ryu's story begins in the village of Gate, where an innocent trek to visit the slumbering Ancient Dragon instigates a series of events that will thrust him into the heart of a struggle to prevent the rise of another dark deity. All throughout the land people are succumbing to the lure of a demonic creature of godly proportions. Ryu, able to commune with the declined Dragon God, is descended from a remnant of the Light Dragon clan and his powers are central to the outcome of this titanic struggle. He sets out from the village Gate, a village that forgot him, with a new friend, Bow, and must travel the land in order to discover who and what he is. Up to seven additional companions will join him in his quest to seek out his lost family and answer the questions that have ruled over most of his life.

The core gameplay is identical to that of the original Breath of Fire. The character, equipment, combat, and exploration elements of the game remain true to the first game. The exploration of villages, caves, towns, towers, dungeons, and castles is all very traditional Japanese RPG fare. The combat is still randomly encountered and turn based. Initially, the game suffers from the too-frequent battles of the previous game, but as you gain in power, certain maps and most of the overworld will depopulate to a certain degree. Once again, a simple button press will result in an ?auto-combat? which will resolve lesser melees in mere seconds. One feature of BoF's combat that thankfully did not survive is the ability to swap out characters in the middle of a fight, much like Final Fantasy X allowed. This more traditional method of battling rewards you for equally empowering your companions and preparing beforehand.

All of the gameplay elements that made the original BoF stand out from the 16-bit RPG crowd return, in tweaked form, in Breath of Fire II. The day-night progression of each day remains intact, though this time it has little bearing in the actual gameplay. Entering specific areas during a particular time-period was required to trigger certain in-game events in Breath of Fire, and that seems to be the case no longer in the second game. The overworld fishing and hunting aspects of the first title return as full-fledged mini games, now requiring proper equipment and some skill, as well as an adventurous spirit. Once again, each of the nine main characters has two unique skills, one in combat, and one during exploration sequences. In general, these skills are well thought out, particularly the unique battle abilities, though obviously some will be of more use than others. Two new gameplay features help to spice up the experience and add an element of customization to your adventure. Half a dozen Shamans can be persuaded to join your quest, and up to two of them can be ?fused? to most of your characters. Such fusions will either result in failure, a slight increase to your character's power, a more significant stat increase, or an all-out transformation, which will grant many bonuses to stats, spells, and skills. Additionally, you will be granted an opportunity to establish your own town throughout the adventure. You will have the final word in hiring out carpenters to customize the look and layout of your town, and will even be able to wander the world and invite characters to populate it. Different characters are available and as thanks for providing them with a home, they will offer their own unique services to you. It deserves mentioning that the one addition made to the original's port to the GBA has also been included in this game. The ability to link two games on two systems via cable and swap items makes an unfortunate reemergence. Honestly, it is quite the worthless feature that only serves to unbalance the gameplay. Had different production lines of the game featured unique sets of equipment to discover, this might have been a relevant addition to the gameplay. But since every item hidden in the game can potentially be purchased or found in every single adventure, this link-up feature really only serves to transfer excellent out-of-depth equipment to characters that aren't as far along in their quests.

The text in Breath of Fire II is a mixed bag. The original's story was horribly clich?d, crippled further by an abysmal translation, and featured no character interaction or development. Sadly, only some of these issues have been resolved this time around. The story is original, honest, interesting, and rewarding. The characters each have individual personalities, back-stories, relevant in-game side plots, and actual lines of dialogue throughout the adventure. Unfortunately, the translation was only slightly tweaked from its original SNES format, and still features some of the worst grammar of any RPG. Easily three quarters of the in-game text is incorrect, and the game pretty much lacks any punctuation. It is truly ghastly the lack of effort placed in originally translating this game, and doubly offensive that these errors were not remedied in its second release.

For anyone that played either Breath of Fire on the SNES, or the first game's re-release on the GBA a few months ago, the graphics will hold no surprises. BoF II is based on a similar engine as the original's, so the overworld exploration and ? view combat perspective will be intuitively familiar to BoF veterans. The artwork and colors are significantly improved, however, especially in the two areas the first game lacked, combat animations and spell effects. Watching your characters attack, cast spells, and transform is a joy to behold. The animations and designs of the enemies are also of a much higher quality than in the original Breath of Fire. Most of the sound effects will be extremely familiar to fans of the Breath of Fire series. Finally, the GBA's sound system is put to good use in outputting the highly competent tunes and themes of Breath of Fire II. The second game featured a very solid soundtrack on the Super Nintendo, and once again Capcom shows us that Nintendo's new handheld is easily capable of outputting at least SNES-quality synth, a feat even Nintendo seems incapable of so far. Of special note are the battle and overworld themes, which not only powerfully fit their respective in-game sequences, but also change throughout the development of the story, just like in the first game. This underrated feature truly helps to keep the wandering and fighting situations a bit fresher, something gamers who dislike random combat might appreciate. My only gripe is that the Breath of Fire games lack the ability to ?remember? the wandering music and resets the exploration themes between the generally too frequent combats.

Bottom Line
Whereas Breath of Fire could only aspire to mediocrity, Breath of Fire II is a competent game that manages to be almost great in certain ways. It tells an excellent story packed with interesting characters and intelligent scenarios. Breath of Fire II is a solid and enjoyable RPG experience that no GBA-owning fan of the genre should avoid, particularly those that missed its 1994 SNES release.

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