And so it ends, the fourth version of Capcom’s first RPG series is indeed a fun and rewarding one. Good characters, plot, sound, battle system and antagonist make this one of the finest and well rounded titles I have played. My favorite thing about it is certainly how well it flows. I cannot explain exactly but everything seems to go naturally and smoothly. Nothing seems to take less or more time than it should, therefore, I have never been bored of an area or ever felt that another passed like a glimpse. The game’s tempo is perfect.
It should be quite evident I haven’t writen this in one sitting. In the intervals, thinking on what and how to write, I felt anxious to lay my hands on the game again, anxious for the battles not fought, for the treasures not found, for the decisions not taken. A desire to exhaust every possibility and secret the game has to offer. I haven’t felt such thrill since I first played Chrono Cross, a good 6 or 7 years ago! Therefore, I affirm with no hesitation: the game is good.
It starts with Cray and Nina on a sandflier (desert traveling vehicle) going after Nina’s missing older sister, Elina. The sandflier is attacked by a big fat flying lamprey, forcing Nina to go after parts to repair it while Cray stays behind to guard the vessel against raiders. And so the adventure begins.
First I want to talk about the battle system. Like its predecessors, you may use certain armors and weapons in the middle of battles and also change equipment. There is the option of setting the party to auto attack the enemy should it suffice or save button-pressing time. What is new to the series but most likely not to the genre is that when you have over three characters in your party, that being the limit to the active party, the remaining characters are placed on a back row, from where they can be switched in and out freely. On the back row, the character recovers each turn an amount of AP equal to his/her CP stat number. While this recovery is erased when the battle ends, I am simply unable to put in words how incredibly useful this feature is, to a degree it allows Ryu to morph into a dragon twice in the same battle. This alone made me like the game in a different level. Anyway, the turn order is determined by the player: choose the character, choose the action, repeat. The Speed stat serves solely to place the enemies’ actions before, woven into or after the player’s. Which brings the combo system. Several spells, when done in succession by the player, can create a combo, making the later spells stronger, adding extra effects or even resulting in a different spell altogether. This can be done with attack, stat up, melee and even healing spells! It is very fun to experiment and try new combinations and see how much damage and how many hits you can deal.
Some features were borrowed from Breath of Fire III. The first is the Masters. Again, throughout the journey the party meets with people kind enough to share their knowledge. Just like in the other game, once under a master the character’s stats gains are altered according to the master and it is possible to learn new moves from them. Unlike the other game, though, the requirement for learning a spell is not gaining a few levels while apprenticing. Each master demands that a task is fulfilled in order to let the player in his/her secrets. These affairs range from doing a number of hits in a combo to finding certain items. Also, every master bestows the student with an abilty that is active at all times, called Will. Some are good, such as “perfect accuracy”. Another distinct and very, very welcome change is that you may change masters directly from the diary inside the camp and remember what is their current request, too. Saves a lot of time from traveling from one master to another to quit or begin an apprenticeship. Tell the truth, it isn’t even needed to start one, as long as whatever the master asks for is done, you get that new move! It is only necessary to go to them to get those.
Next is the faerie town. It is basically the same thing, but I found it easier to manage. It is again useful in the meaning of items.
Then comes learning skills from enemies. This time, whenever a character Defends and an enemy or even a dragon form of Ryu uses a learnable skill, there is a chance it will be learned. When such a skill is used, its name appears in blue instead of black. No more blindingly observing your peers until either giving up or dying! They are added to a different magic list and may be pooled to a common skill list and then assigned to a different character. This may be done using the diary in the camp and requires the use of Aurum, the same as BoF III. Differently, however, I think all skills may be learned by anyone since they can all be set to whoever or perhaps some characters are more likely to learn certain skills.
Fishing. No really, it is similar to the last game, which is to say it is boring, tiring and loathsome. Choose a rod, a lure, cast the lure, pull the rod in rhythm to attract the fish, the fish bites, a struggle drags on for a thousand days and there you go, you reeled a damn jellyfish in. Again, there are Manillos who trade rare and exceptional items for fish but boy are they greedy. At least with every purchase the Manillos give points which are then traded for cards and the cards for other rarer and even better items. Alas, it is probably the only thing in the game I do not like.
Lastly, the random battles. On the overworld, a question mark hovers above Ryu’s head randomly. It gives the option of entering and area with enemies to battle with. So, while on the overworld, you only fight when you feel like. Inside dungeons you may be attacked at any time.
Speak of overworld, I am at a loss of words to describe how UTTERLY DISAPPOINTING it is. Let’s recap what an overworld should be like, shall we?
This is an overworld view of the GBA version of Breath of Fire. See, there are the characters, a city, a tower crawling with enemies, three altitudes and a few trees. Simple and effective.
SNES’ BoF 2. Hunting field, forest, city, ocean, good guys.
It is…a map. The simplest form of map. One of those you would see on a parchment or blueprint.
WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE COLORS, THE CITIES, THE BLOODY LANDSCAPE?!?!
All you get is a bunch of dots connected by dotted lines in a dull music. Ladies and non-ladies, this is Breath of Fire IV’s overworld. It fucking sucks. How come no one in the development team remembered that the overworld sets the player into the ambient and gives more flavor to each location and era. I haven’t ever seen a post 16-bit era RPG do that. They didn’t even need to draw inspiration from other games. The rest of the series already had decent world maps. Fuck this. Can you begin to imagine, say, Chrono Trigger like this, without any difference from 1000 and 2300 AD? If a game designer ever reads this, please don’t make an apathetic overworld. With that being said, it stands as the only thing I dislike. That is saying something actually since I am quite picky.
Still on the topic of bad points, the game is tainted with the hand of censorship from Capcom USA. Yeah ugh. The censored things were:
1.) In the original version, Scias is alcoholic and due to it he slurs. In the USA version he stutters to hide that.
2.) Four scenes were cut: Nina and Ursula’s bath, Ursula taking off her pants, Ryu accidentaly touching Ursula’s breasts and the Emperor’s murder.
There are some fresh tidings, too:
The dragon system. Again Ryu finds the dragon genes scattered around the world but each grants access to one dragon form. It is no longer possible to combine genes. While it certainly simplifies our lives, the core of the fun of BoF3’s awesome dragon system is mixing and matching every one of them. Oh well. Also, every dragon form is exactly the same :/ In the attack animations they differ but in the battle screen they do not. The fuck? BoF3’s dragon system was so damn good I can hardly believe how they fucked up this one.
Dual hero. Aside from Ryu, at certain times you control another character named Fou-Lu, who follows his own path and is extremely important to the storyline.
Game points. Time and time again you play minigames that yield points, which are used for purposes I deem spoilers.
Battle abilities. Not a new thing to the series, they return from BoF2 with a few changes. Every character has one save Ryu and they only have a chance of being triggered instead of activated. No, none is half as good as Bleu’s Shed.
Ah right, the characters:
The silent protagonist excels at everything except attack magic. He can turn into a dragon. He is the best. He joins Nina soon after she goes to seek for parts so Cray can fix the sandflier. It is difficult to describe his persona since he does not talk. It is safe to say, though, he is a child at his good heart and thus ingenuous and easily driven around, specially by Nina. His ability on the the field is to slash with his sword, used to cut bushes, hunt and steal people’s Zeny.
Contrary to the previous games, Nina is the first character you control. She is a typical anime girl. Shy and innocent, she is also cheerful and optimistic. She needs someone supporting her to go on but does so with a smile and courage. Bearing a great set of Wind and healing spells, Nina is the best at magic. Really. No one gets close. Naturally, she is the frailer character of all since her HP and Defense suck. Her Attack is also bad, though unimportant. She is also the fastest and has loads of Wisdom and AP. An invaluable character at all times. On the field, she flies up high to have a better view of the surroudings. In battle and in the back row, when someone in the front row gets low on HP, she may cast Cheering and heal the front row.
The game’s Woren (aka Furen) is slow, sturdy and very, very strong. The one thing that kills him is magic. He knows a few Earth and many assist spells himself, too. When brawl is of no effect he becomes quite useless, sadly. Cray tries to act calmly and rationaly despite his short temper. A resolved fellow, he is constantly worrying about Elina and still must stay firm for he knows Nina looks up for him for emotional support. He joins as soon as Nina returns to the sandflier. His field ability is to push certain objects while in battle, when a character runs low on health he may literally take one for the team with Defend if he is on the front row.
Awkward, obnoxious, with a habit of laughing at inappropriate times, Ershin, a walking-talking piece of armor, joins Ryu when he crosses a miasma infected area. Always refering to herself in the third person, she is strong and resistant. Wisdom and Speed are a bit lacking, however. Her low AP is easily remedied by a master and, coupled with her titanical CP and varied spell learnset, she is a powerhouse. She can destroy certain objects, steal Zeny and hunt with a head bash and in battle she may do an extra attack called Covering Fire at the end of every turn if she is on the back row.
He joins shortly after the party’s return to Ludia. His true motives are unknown and he couldn’t tell if he wanted: he stutters like crazy. At any rate, he prefers to keep to himself. His actions speak louder than words and we can see he has a sense of justice. Scias is a formidable fighter and a Water and healing magic adept. Many of his weapons are able to do two hits, enhancing his usefulness and his melee skills. His battle ability is Rakhasa. When he hits low energy, it may kick in and ensure his next attack is critical.
A captain of the army, Ursula is resolute, stoic and pragmatic. She is sent to capture Ryu and, when their interests meet, she joins the party. She stops at nothing and no one can make her falter. Ursula is good at everything but is great at none. She has good Attack, Wisdom and Speed, alright HP, AP and Defense and an awesome spell set. Her only bad stat is CP. She is also the only character to wield weapons that can hit all enemies at once. On the field she shoots her gun to hunt and steal Zeny. In battle, he may Revive a fallen ally or even herself.
Fou-Lu is a party of his own. He parts to the capital of the Empire but his motives are not clear. He acts tough and wisely all the time as if to show he is on control but in reality he wishes he was Sephiroth.
That is it, my Breath of Fire saga has come to an end. It was a pleasure (mostly, fuck you 3) to follow the legacy of the blue-haired, shapeshifting, brave and yet mute warriors. I intend to play Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter someday but this day is not in the foreseeable future. Next up is Camelot’s excellent Golden Sun for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. I shall use a modified version of the Visual Boy Advance emulator called VBA Link to try and transfer info from Golden Sun to its sequel when I am done with the first game. In case that fails, well, there are always cheat codes :B