Breath of Fire

This reviewer is a diehard RPG enthusiast, with his first game of the genre being Dragon Warrior on the NES. However, he didn’t truly get into the genre until the commencement of Capcom’s former flagship role-playing game franchise, with its first installment, Breath of Fire, originally seeing its development on the Super NES, although years later, the game saw a port to the GameBoy Advance, which is the ideal way to experience it despite some flaws.

The first game features a randomly-encountered turn-based battle system with an encounter rate that’s mercifully adjustable, with the active party of up to four characters squaring off against a certain number of enemies. Each character can attack, use an AP-consuming ability, defend, switch places with a backup character, or use an item, while the entire party can also attempt to escape, although this option naturally doesn’t work all the time; however, a certain magic spell can increase its success rate.

The player’s party and the enemy, once they’ve inputted all commands for their party, exchange commands based on their agility, although there are some twists to the first game’s battle system such as the fact that healing magic (although not healing items) get the first priority in a round, decreasing the number of occurrences where the enemy beats the player to healing a weak character, thus wasting the healing spell. Winning a battle nets the player’s party experience for occasional level-ups, money, and sometimes an item.

There are other twists to the battle system such as protagonist Ryu’s ability to transform into various dragons, abilities that he gains (with one exception) from participating in special one-on-one battles. In most instances, though, getting dragon powers other than the first require the player to have acquired certain equipment from fishing on the overworld and in one town. Another character, Karn, can also fuse with other allies into a more powerful form, thus lessening the choices the player needs to make of which characters to use in battle (although all characters in and out of the party gain experience when the player wins a battle).

The combat engine works well for the most part, although some fights can take a while, given the sluggishness at times of command execution, and the potential need at times to use a guide to acquire more powerful abilities, although as mentioned, the encounter rate is adjustable, and experience and money rewards from combat are greater in the GameBoy Advance version. Ultimately, the battle system is well above average.

Control, however, could have been better, and while the menus system is easy to get a handle of, the localization team compressed the names of menu options to four letters and the names of items and spells to five characters, accounting for some oddly-named items and spells at time. There’s also sometimes poor direction towards the end of the game on how to advance, and in the end, interaction could have certainly been better.

The story starts off decently enough, with the Dark Dragons destroying the village of the Light Dragons and one of the survivors, Ryu, going on a journey to rescue his sister Sara, although there aren’t a whole lot of developing cutscenes, let alone character development, throughout the game, and the translation somewhat hurts the narrative at times, with all characters’ names compressed to four characters just like the menu options. Overall, the plot could have been much better.

Although the SNES version of Breath of Fire had a nice soundtrack, the GameBoy Advance version unfortunately butchers the audio at times, with many tracks having an excess of bleeps and duts sometimes bordering on 8-bit quality, but the tracks are still sometimes memorable and above average.

The visuals, however, are still well-polished, with character sprites looking like their character portraits, and nicely-hued and believable environments. The character sprites outside of battle, though, don’t show a whole range of emotions, but the graphical presentation nonetheless borders on perfection.

Finally, given the ability to dash in the GameBoy Advance port, finishing this particular version of the game takes a shorter amount of time, somewhere around fifteen to thirty hours, although there isn’t much replay value. In conclusion, Breath of Fire for the GBA is the ideal way to experience the title, with some improvements such as the aforementioned dash system, although there are some negative points such as the poorer music quality. Even so, those that have yet to play a title from Capcom’s former flagship RPG franchise will find this an okay starting point.

The Good:
+Solid battle system with adjustable encounter rate.
+Good music.
+Nice visuals.

The Bad:
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.
-Paper-thin plot with weak localization.
-Music quality suffers somewhat on GBA.
-Not much replay value.

The Bottom Line:
An okay start to the series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 3/10
Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Playing Time: 15-30 Hours

Overall: 6/10

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