Thursday, 11 July 2019

Breath of Fire (SNES)

Breath of Fire title screen SNES
Developer:Konami|Release Date:1994 (1993 in Japan)|Systems:SNES, GBA

This week on Super Adventures, I'm taking a look at classic Super Nintendo RPG Breath of Fire! It was originally known as Breath of Fire: Ryu no Senshi in Japan, which translates to 'Dragon Warrior'. Though they couldn't call it that in the US because Enix had already claimed the name five years earlier when they used it for Dragon Quest. JRPGs are confusing.

I've seen a lot of Capcom games and I've seen a lot of JRPGs, but I can't think of many times I've seen a Capcom JRPG before. In fact I half expected to see Squaresoft's name appear when I started it up... and then it did, because they were the ones who localised it for North America. They never quite got around to releasing it in Europe though.

In fact the game didn't reach Europe until the Game Boy Advance port made its way here in 2001. I guess they'd grown a little more confident that the game would find an audience by that point, seeing as we'd bought enough copies of Breath of Fire II, Breath of Fire III and Breath of Fire IV. I was fairly sure that the game had to exist somewhere, as you don't typically make sequels without first making an original, but it's obscure enough for me. I've never played it before and I don't know anything about it. I'm expecting dragons though.

The game's likely going to have a story as well, and I'm going to go through the first few hours of it, taking screenshots, and whining about things as I go, so this article will contain SPOILERS. I won't be playing any longer than that though, because RPGs are like really long and I've got other things to do today.



I left the title screen on and got a bit of an intro cutscene, featuring many many words. I've noticed that a lot of RPGs like to explain a bit about the backstory before giving us any characters to care about or a hook and I'm not sure it's the ideal way to grab a player's interest.

For instance, my reaction when this intro came on was 'I'm recording this as a video so I'll just read it later when I'm putting my article together'. Which would be now.

It starts off a bit depressing, talking about how our lives flash by, and so did the empire of the Dragon Clan. They fought some meaningless battles and then their time was over. But now the Dark Dragon Clan is repeating their past mistakes!

Oh, so that's why they're called the Dragon Clan. I suppose that flash of white smoke as they transform is their clothes evaporating. That must be why the second pair changed their mind and decided to take the lift instead.

This scene loops just like this in the game but I had to do some editing to remove the text that appears, so the GIF isn't 100% authentic. Though it is unique!

The Dark Dragons have been getting evil wishes from an evil goddess to aid their global conquest, so that's not good, but fortunately there's a town of Light Dragons who can bring peace to the world! Possibly. And it goes back to the title screen after that.

Hang on, they've forgotten to mention the seven crystals and the ancient evil sealed away for a thousand years. I thought this was supposed to be a JRPG.

After selecting my save slot and naming the hero (I went with 'Ryu' because that's what he's called), this options screen came up and now I have to decide what buttons should do what

Magic's always pretty good, so I've put that on 'X'... though perhaps 'Row' would be more useful? Or maybe 'Change'? I feel like 'Menu' must already be mapped to the Start button so I could map 'R' to 'Row' or 'Option' or... man I don't know! I have no idea what any of this will actually do yet, or when. Do I use them in combat? On the field?

I expect I'll be able to remap them later though so I'll just pick whatever and move on. I'm basically just swapping buttons around as an excuse to listen to the sound effects. They're very 'video game'.

Whoa, scary dream dragon.

I hope this is just a dark dragon and not a Dark Dragon, or I'm going to feel really dumb when I wake up and find that he was just trolling me.

Oh good, there really is a disaster! That's a huge relief.

It's minute #1 and I can already cross off the first two entries on the The Grand List Of Console Role Playing Game Clich├ęs, as it started with my hero being woken up and his village is on fire. Plus he's probably pretty young so there's another one.

Hey, there's a picture of the guy from Ghouls 'n Ghosts on his wall! I tried to grab it on the way out, but Ryu's not interested in saving his valuables. Though I was able to get a V-Ptn from his flaming chest of drawers before following the friendly penguin downstairs.

The building is safe? Uh, no it's not mate, the floor above us is literally on fire. You can tell because a: we were just there, and b: the room we're in is flickering red! Or maybe that's because they've got the fire on.

In their defence it must be pretty cold right now. I mean Ryu didn't just wear his clothes in bed, he wore his cape as well. You know, his outfit's reminding me of another RPG hero I've seen recently.

But despite his basic low-res sprite, Kris from Deltarune is actually a giant compared to a true Super Nintendo hero like Ryu. He doesn't have the bright blue mullet either.

Anyway despite abundant evidence to the contrary, the NPCs from the village have decided that my house is safer than where they were, and that works out pretty well for me as now I don't have to go wandering everywhere to find them all. The village elder I'll inevitably be asked to find is in my living room, how convenient is that?

I went talking to everyone until I found the correct NPC to trigger the next cutscene, then the heroic mage Sara came in and turned one of them to stone! This is not a responsible use of magic!

Turns out that the NPCs here are the Light Dragon Clan, which is why Zog, leader of the Dark Dragons, has sent his forces to destroy them. He doesn't know that the Light clan lost the Power of the Dragon ages ago! Though Sara seems like she's pretty powerful at the moment, with the way she's throwing magic around.

She casts a bigger spell that turns everyone to stone, even Ryu, and then goes outside to distract the Dark Dragons alone.

A bit of lightning sends the grunts running for their lives, but their commander, Jade, is able to dodge it. Then he complete no-sells her fireball, and the camera pans away to let her get captured or whatever off screen.

Then there's more text to read! And it's unskippable this time! Turns out that the goddess Tyr encouraged the Dragons clans to fight each other to gain the power of her wishes. But a warrior rolled up with their RPG party and sealed the goddess away with 6 crystals keys. Probably happened a thousand years ago, knowing how these things typically work. Now the Dark Dragons have the goddess keys and this is very bad.

So I guess it's up to us to go get a team, find the keys and defeat the goddess again. Fortunately Sara's stone spell eventually wore off, and the village elder used the power of explosions to summon a chest containing items of great power that will serve me well in my quest.

Money is the most powerful force in the realm and now I'm 300GP richer!

No it's no good, I can't make this sound interesting. I was hoping for an ancient sword that levels up as I kill things, or a lasso of truth or something. You can't say "It is dangerous to go alone! Take this." and then hand the hero a couple of hundred quid. Especially as there's probably nowhere to spend it now that the village has burned down.

Oh, no I was wrong, the shops are still open. They've just moved their wares outdoors while the remodelling takes place.

I don't know why, but I expected this game to look a lot more dated than it does. I suppose I just assumed it would be closer to Final Fantasy IV because any SNES RPG with a sequel released on the same system is going to look a little basic, right? I should've realised those Capcom pixel artists were going show off their talent. Plus all the shadows are a nice touch.

The shop screen's a bit of a disappointment though. No descriptions, no stats, just prices. It doesn't even show me if an item's better than what I'm wearing.

Oh hang on, I can use the dumbbell icon to check that info and trade in the item I'm wearing if it's inferior, and the ? icon shows me the stats. They could've put all the info on screen at once and saved me having to deal with all these icons, but it is there.

See, they've filled the inventory screen with info! It's not an impossible dream.

It doesn't have much space for the item names though. I suppose I must be wearing a wood SHield, a suede CaPe and a straw HaT right now. I used to be wearing a Robe but I spent most of my 300 GP on the SuedeCP to raise my DEF 3 points at the cost of some of my ACT. I have no idea what ACT does, but I'm fairly certain I want to make my DEF go up, so I'm happy enough with the trade off.

The item shop's even more cryptic, selling items like Mrbl3 and T-Drop. I'll just blow my remaining 60 GP on 6 herbs... one at a time, because I can't afford the 'herb x9' item listed under it. (The GBA port lets you choose up to 9 of anything at once, which helps).

At least one other building's still intact, possibly because it's full of water and designed with open flames in mind. The statue in the middle seemed like it'd be worth investigating, seeing as it's the only thing in here, and my instincts paid off as it contains a dragon spirit with the power of a save point! I was actually hoping he'd give me some direction, maybe even an objective, but saving's good too.

By the way, I cheated a bit by the way when I was making this GIF as I made the dragon transparent, because it was less distracting than having him flicker like he does in game and it's probably what he's supposed to look like on a TV anyway.

Hey I recognise this place. Looks different without all the dragons though.

I've no idea what my destination is, but the route seems obvious as there's only one way that I can go. Shame I won't be travelling there very fast. The game could do with a run button in my opinion.

So I left the village and headed west... for about 13 seconds. Then the screen went funny and monsters appeared!

Oh no, the battle system uses icons too! At least it was fairly easy to figure out which ones let me hit things with a sword. I suppose I'll try to figure out what the AB and ST icons do when that tactic stops being effective.

I'm not keen on the enemies getting to attack me before Ryu's made his move, but maybe that's my fault for lowering my ACT to nothing. It's a mystery.

GBA
Here's what the GBA port looks like by comparison. They've stuck the menu in the middle of the screen obscuring one of the enemies but at least it uses words instead of symbols. The main downside of the GBA version is the GBA's screen, as the lack of a backlight has forced them to raise the brightness in an attempt to make any of it visible.

I'm not sure if they've changed anything else about the combat. Fights seem to give out the exact same money and experience. Though it's now much quicker to get around outside of fights as they've added a run button!

I decided to grind for a while on the overworld until fleas were less of a threat, maybe even long enough to earn the cash for a new weapon. Then I realised it'd take me like 40 fights to afford it and went off to the next town instead.

The next town turned out to be just as ruined as mine, so I popped into the dragon shrine to save my game and ventured into their castle to slay the monsters currently infesting it.

It was going pretty well until I got poisoned at the start of my first fight. I got a level up at the end of it, bringing me to level 4 and automatically raising my stats, but unfortunately it didn't restore me to full health or give me an antidote spell so I'm bleeding health every step.

The town doesn't have any antidote items either, as it doesn't have any shops, so now I'm going to hike all the way back to the starting village in this condition. It's lucky I bought so many herbs really.


FIVE MINUTES OF HIKING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE AND BACK LATER


Oh, there's a pool of healing water just a little bit further down the corridor that I got poisoned in. So if I'd taken a few steps forward I would've found the cure, and spending all my sword money on antidotes was a complete waste of cash.

It's fine though. All the debris up here forced me to take a shortcut through the treasure vaults on the floor below, and I found a free BronzSW there which brought my ATK from 25 to 32! Well it probably belongs to the local king, but I'm sure he'll let me borrow it.

You know what I haven't found though? A save point. It's starting to seem like saving is restricted to towns only.

Didn't take me long to find the monster squatting in the throne room. At least I think this is is supposed to be the throne room, even if it looks more like a dungeon. Where's the red carpet with the gold trim? Where are the steps? Throne rooms always have steps!

Anyway the guy doesn't want to leave peacefully, so that means I've reached my first boss fight!

I've only got two moves in battle right now, attack and use items, so my tactics are limited. Though I'm glad the game isn't one of those that only lets you bring a couple of items into fights because I'm burning through healing herbs.

The fight didn't have any surprises, until the very end. Because it wasn't the end. I got his health bar down to zero, a message flashed up saying "Frog seems alright." and the fight kept going!

Then I hit him once and won. Got two levels ups and 350 GP for my trouble, then 150 GP when I raided the treasure. Hey, if I'm doing quests for these people then they should be paying me!

With that job done they sent me on a quest to go to the Nanai dungeon to find the Quake Control and switch off the earthquakes. It seems to be one of those kind of games where there's no danger of anyone ever saying anything interesting, as the story's all plot driven and it's played very straight.

No point hanging around town #2 any longer as the shops have all collapsed and I've already swiped all the treasure so I'm hitting the long and linear road once again. I don't know where Nanai is, but when there's only one path you can be sure you'll get there eventually.

By the way, the game has a day/night cycle! Plus animals apparently, though I can't interact with any of them. In fact they're so fast I can't even catch up to them, and whenever I try I usually run into another random encounter instead. The encounter rate out here seems just a little too high for comfort.

Well there goes all Ryu's dreams of entering the sea.

Alright I've finally caught a deer, so... now what? Oh never mind, he managed to slip away. I guess I'll go back to fighting slimes then.

To be honest I'm getting a bit tired of these same fights over and over again, especially as my involvement in the process is limited to tapping a button. I just keep attacking over and over and then I win, because it's all I can do really. I've got no skills, no magic, and I'm still on my own.

Aha, this must be Nanai, home of the Quake Control. This seems like a wasted trip though because I'm a silent protagonist and can't tell him who goes there! I get the impression that I'm supposed to have a second character with me by now by the way he called me 'intruders' plural, but I'm not sure what I can do about that.

I suppose all I can do right now is backtrack and check the overworld for paths I might have missed. I'm not looking forward to it, as exploring isn't much fun when there's random encounters interrupting you all the time. Some of the time is fine, all of the time is no good.


LATER, BACK AT THE STARTING VILLAGE


Wait, what is this? WHAT IS THIS? An item that turns off random encounters? This is amazing! Give me... 1453 divided by 9... 161 of them please!

Though I shouldn't really turn the encounters off all the time as I'll never get any experience, or money to buy more Mrbl3. But while I'm searching for a way into Nanai I will absolutely turn them off, for as many minutes as the item will buy me before it wears off.

Funny thing is I only came back home to ask the NPCs for advice, but they were useless as always. Bloody NPCs man, they're only ever there to slow you down.


LATER, BACK AT THE SECOND TOWN


An NPC gave me the secret of how to get into Nanai! NPCs can be really useful sometimes. In fact they should put an icon above the head of the useful one so I don't have to waste time talking to all of their mates.

Following the NPCs advice I waited until night time and then walked into Nanai when the guards were asleep. Though not all of them are sleeping so I need to snake around the buildings to keep a safe distance between myself and the insomniacs.

I have gotten caught before and they just boot me out without a fight, so it isn't the end of the world but doesn't further my goals either.

There's not much to do in Nanai as it's pretty abandoned, but I did find a weapon seller with ridiculous prices. 2250 G for a LongSD... I could buy 250 Mrbl3 for that! By the way I was curious about what that item is called in Japanese, and it apparently translates to 'protective smoke', which makes a lot more sense.

This is a beautiful looking shop though, with a nice use of shadows to add depth. Not the most crucial location in the game so far, but I figured I should take a shot of it because it's only intact shop I've found so far and I wanted to show it off. It also shows that shops are open at any time of day, even when all the other NPCs have gone to bed, which is very handy.

Alright, time to sneak into their castle and deal with the Quake Control.

I'm really surprised this lava effect works actually works in a GIF. I'm also kind of surprised that I found a lava cave under the castle.

It's times like this where the slightly annoying encounter rate gets more annoying, as it's not a straight forward path down here, it branches, and the only way to know which road leads to treasure and which takes me to the exit is to walk down them. So if I go the wrong way I get a fight there and a fight on the way back, in addition to the fights I'll run into going down the right path and back again.

It seems to me that a game shouldn't make me resent having to engage with the gameplay so much. I'm being punished with battles, when they should really be the fun bit.

A few levels down I finally found the Quake Control, along with the person pressing all kinds of nasty buttons.

He wants to use it to take over the planet, because I guess he wants to rule a world of rubble, but if I had dialogue options I'd be begging him to give up his megalomania and join my party instead. Please, I need another team member already! All I do every battle is tap the same button over and over and I want more options!

I'm falling asleep on my chair here, because I don't need my eyes open to win fights.

Bloody hell this guy has has a huge health bar. You're just going to have to take my word for it because the game doesn't give me any number for enemy health, but I'm going to run out of herbs before he runs out of hit points if this carries on like this.

I eventually got him down to about a third of his health and then he started using healing spells! So I hit him with a lightning spell item I found and took off more than he was regenerating. Eventually with a lot of patience I finally emptied his health bar. AND HE STILL DIDN'T DIE.

It got to the point where I had to check a walkthrough to see if I was supposed to lose the fight, because I didn't want to be an idiot and waste all my herbs on a lost cause. I found out that yes he is beatable, then I beat him with my very next hit. Took about 35 hits in total I think, over a long 6 minutes. (It seems a lot longer when you're playing it).

Then he exploded! And the town exploded! The poor woman running the weapon shop likely exploded too! I hope she had time to escape though, because collateral damage wasn't what I signed up for. I'm supposed to be here to help!


LATER


With the town no longer blocking my way I was able to carry on across the landscape and I finally discovered my second party member! She's a princess, with wings and a piano! And all of my items in her bag.

She didn't join Ryu's party, she stole the game from him while he was asleep, so I'm still stuck controlling one character in fights. I feel like the game's trolling me at this point.

Though one advantage of being the princess is that she just can walk up to guards that were blocking Ryu's path and ask them to join her party!

I love that they're actually using their wings in battle, though Nina actually teleports over to the enemy to attack because I guess swooping is hard to animate. I cheated again when making this GIF by the way, as I made the flashing ghost enemy transparent on every frame, instead of only visible on half of them. No one wants to look at a flickering ghost skull.

Slaying flickering ghost skulls has some appeal, though I'm still not finding much joy in selecting attack over and over again. I'm picking the moves for all three characters at once, but the order they execute those actions during a turn is presumably determined by their stats. So if I want to use a herb on someone it's best to tell the fastest one to do it, so the injured character doesn't die before being healed.

So here I am at another town then. I was expecting something to happen that would put Ryu and Nina into the same team, but they're just getting further and further away from each other. At least I get to save the game again here.

Hang on, the town of Romero has a zombie problem? I see what they did there. (It's called Romero in the original Japanese as well, it's not a joke added by the translator).

I carried on down the path, finding myself in a small forest maze made more irritating due to the random encounters. To be honest the layout's incredibly simple, but I kept losing track of which direction I was heading in due to being teleported to the Fight Dimension every few steps (I really am falling asleep here). I could've used a Mrbl3 smoke grenade to get rid of them for a bit, but I don't think cheating myself of experience is going to pay off in the long run, sadly.

Not that there's going to be much of a long run for me, as I'm only playing this until I finally get Nina and Ryu into the same party at once. Can't be long now, surely?


20 MINUTES LATER


Good news! I've learned that the 'AB' icon means 'auto battle'! So I've been leaving Nina and her team to win fights by themselves. Thankfully it can be interrupted though, if the enemy you're facing turns out to be a grim reaper boss.

The annoying thing is, I won! Even with a character down I beat the guy. Then the message "Morte began crying." came up on screen, and I remembered that bosses don't truly die in this until you hit them a few times after their first death.

I figured I should heal one of my sidekicks, but the reaper was fast enough to slay him before Nina used the herb, so that was a wasted turn. I could've healed her, but I assumed I could survive long enough to bring the reaper's second wind to an end. I was wrong. I probably should've used one of those powerful single-use magic items I've been picking up in retrospect.

Still, at least I learned here that when you're KO'd you return to the last save point with all your levels but less money. And now I'm turning the game off.


CONCLUSION

Breath of Fire is definitely a JRPG. Now I know why they originally gave it the name Dragon Warrior, because it's as generic as they come, at least for the first few hours that I've played.

I wouldn't say that it's bad though, in fact it seems pretty well made. The graphics aren't the best I've seen on the SNES but they're better than I expected. I guess I imagined it having Final Fantasy IV-style visuals because it's the first in its series, but nope Capcom definitely knew how to put pixels together back then. They even gave the maps shadows, and a day/night cycle, which I appreciated. The music's pretty decent too, though not on Final Fantasy's level, because what is?

But I'm struggling to come up with anything I really liked about the game. I could list all kinds of things that annoyed me though. Like the abbreviated item names that make it hard to know what anything does. I can't blame the translators for that, they only had a tiny space to fit the names into, but its still awkward. In fact I found the menus to be a bit awkward in general, with all the icons, and the way you have to mess around pressing buttons to get information that could've all been displayed on screen. That's all a bit improved on the GBA version thankfully.

The GBA port also features a run button that makes getting around the overworld and dungeons a lot more bearable. The original SNES version does not, though it does have the item that gets the random encounters off your back for a bit, at the cost of the experience you'll need to beat the next boss. The fights didn't seem so bad at first, but they came at me just a little too frequently and after spending an hour or so tapping a button to win each battle I realised I could just let auto battle do it for me. The bosses were a different story, requiring me to use a herb every few turns as I slowly chipped away at their health bar... and after that, their second invisible health bar. And there's no save points at the end of dungeons so if you screw it up you have to do it all over again! The worst part of it is, after all the time I spent going through dungeons, hours of tapping the same button over and over again, I still haven't got Ryu and Nina in a party together! I haven't even unlocked any magic or abilities for the guy yet.

I could put up with boring gameplay if the story had grabbed my interest, but it didn't. The game never gave me reason to suspect that a character might eventually say something interesting if I kept playing, it's just not that kind of game. It's been very straightforward and earnest and determined to be a proper RPG so far. Of course the next dungeon after I quit might start with Ryu bouncing up to the top of a tower on a dolphin's nose and end with him suplexing a ghost train, but I doubt it.

The trouble with Breath of Fire is that it's been too dull for me to really enjoy but too decent to for me to hate. I doubt I'll play it any further myself but I wouldn't talk anyone else out of giving it a try if it looks like your kind of thing. Just... buy a few of those Mrbl3 no-encounter items before you head out.


Thanks for reading. If you've got any opinions of your own about Breath of Fire you want to share... then you're out of luck I'm afraid. It's just not possible for you to do that.

Oh hang on, I suppose you could use the comment box below, that would probably work. You could also have a guess at what the next game will be if you want.

3 comments:

  1. I think the series gets better and more interesting as it goes on; I have a vague memory that BoF3 is good, but I may be wrong.

    I have no idea what the next game is. It looks a bit Star Warsey maybe.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I played this game BoF 10 years ago and i don't recall tediousness on first part.
    Of course, i don't excuse you lying there.
    It just, i could overcome that somehow. That's all
    Being alone in RPG sucks. I agree

    ReplyDelete
  3. Man, you're hilarious. Thanks for the good read

    I like BoF very much, I am fond of it as it was the first RPG I played, without even knowing such genre was a thing... Sum it up with me not being very fluent in english and the awful translation, it took me ages to beat it. But nonetheless, fun was had and the world was saved.

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