Breath of Fire II

In 1993, Squaresoft’s North American branch localized and published the first installment of Capcom’s Breath of Fire role-playing game series on the Super NES, likely due to the fact that Square was better known for producing games of the genre than Capcom. The first entry would receive a port a little under a decade later to the GameBoy Advance, and the franchise’s initial sequel, Breath of Fire II, would likewise see a portable version, providing an experience on par with its predecessor, although it still inherits some of its original 16-bit incarnations negative aspects.

The sequel, like its predecessor, features random encounters, with the rate of fights being somewhat high, although luckily, a certain item can reduce the frequency of battle. The player’s party of up to four active characters, their formation adjustable within the game interface, allies close to the enemy dealing and taking more damage, and confederates farther from foes dealing and receiving less damage. Each character can attack normally with their equipped weapon, execute an exclusive ability (which is in most cases useless, with rare exceptions), use an AP-consuming ability, use an item, defend, change formation, or attempt to escape, an option that naturally doesn’t always work.

When the player has inputted commands for all their characters, they and the enemy execute turns depending upon agility, with a somewhat sluggish pace similar to the first game, and remaining opponent HP not visible until a player has defeated at least one of a particular enemy type. A step down from the prequel is that the player can no longer swap in allies not present in the party, although an aspect better in the GameBoy Advance port is that defeating enemies yields more experience and money than in the original Super NES version, which at the very least makes battles more bearable, even if the player uses Smoke to avoid combat.

Perhaps the most interesting aspects of Breath of Fire II’s game mechanics is its shaman system, where the player can find up to six shamans (one unfortunately missable without help from a guide) and fuse two to an ally for various effects such as a form change, in which case they’ll have increased stats and in most instances a different innate ability, some of which can actually prove useful, such as Nina’s Banish to cause enemies to flee or Jean’s Chop to execute a powerful attack against all antagonists after a turn of charging. Some shaman combinations don’t work, although if one is successful, the game keeps tabs on the combo should the player wish to perform the same shamanization in the future.

Players are unable to fuse shamans with Ryu and the sequel’s secret character, with the hero occasionally receiving dragon powers throughout the game that consume all his AP, with dealt damage depending upon how much AP he has. Items that partially recover AP at the expense of HP can allow Ryu to reuse his special abilities multiple times in a battle, with his powers sometimes being the difference between victory and defeat, alongside spells that target all participating characters. The battle system definitely has its flaws, namely the general slowness of regular battles and need to use a guide to get the most out of shamans, but the increased experience and money largely compensate for these shortcomings.

The interface is somewhat weaker, with compressed menu options akin to those in the original SNES version, a lack of in-game dungeon maps, no in-game measure of playtime, and sometimes poor direction on how to advance the main storyline. There are some positive aspects, however, such as the ability to see if new equipment the player wishes to purchase increases or decreases a character’s stats, along with the ability to instantly trade in a character’s current gear with improved incarnations. A quicksave feature is also present, alongside the ability to dash, so interaction, while one of the title’s weaker aspects, is by no means a total writeoff.

The story is one of the game’s stronger aspects, with religious overtones that were somewhat ahead of the original version’s time, most characters having decent development as well, although a lackluster localization mars the narrative, alongside the aforementioned poor direction at some points on how to advance the primary storyline.

Inarguably the strongest aspect of the first Breath of Fire sequel is its soundtrack, with plenty of solid tunes that the GameBoy Advance’s general weak aural quality doesn’t mar, although there are admittedly a few parts where it does.

The visuals also look nice, with colorful environs and character sprites representative of their portraits, aside from characters in battle telekinetically executing their normal attacks against foes and occasional palette swaps.

Finally, getting a good grasp of playing time can be somewhat difficult given the mentioned lack of an in-game clock, this reviewer estimating twenty to forty hours being necessary to complete the game. There also exists decent replayability thanks to a boss fight that can alter the remainder of the game’s narrative, alongside different types of buildings acquirable for the player’s township headquarters.

Overall, Breath of Fire II is for the most part a solid sequel that hits most of the right points, with respect to things such as its battle system the customization of shamans in particular enhances, the enjoyable narrative, the superb soundtrack, and the nice visual presentation. It does have some occasional strikes against it, however, such as a few missables, poor direction at a few points on how to advance the chief storyline, and the same weak translation as the original version. There exists a fan retranslation of the Super NES version, making difficult the decision to play that or the GameBoy Advance iteration, given the latter’s increased battle rewards and dash feature that shaves off superfluous playtime.

The Good:
+Shaman system provides decent twists to battle.
+Decent narrative.
+Solid aural and visual presentation.

The Bad:
-Some missables.
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.
-Same lackluster localization as original version.

The Bottom Line:
A good but flawed sequel.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 8/10
Localization: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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