Breath of Fire IV

Nina, Princess of Wyndia, along with her companion Cray, is searching for her lost sister Elina, who has gone missing for several weeks during a diplomatic mission, when they stumble upon a crater left by a strange object from the sky, in which they find Ryu, a boy with amnesia. In the meantime, Fou-Lu, an ancient emperor with distant connections to Ryu, rises from his tomb and seeks to reclaim his throne. Capcom’s Breath of Fire IV was the last installment of their RPG franchise to appear on the Sony Playstation, combining many of the best elements from its predecessors into an enjoyable, but not perfect, experience.

As in previous installments, combat is randomly-encountered and turn-based. Before a round of battle, the player inputs commands for three of six playable characters in whatever order the player wants them to attack. As with most turn-based RPGs, there is no telling when enemies will execute their turns in between the characters’ turns. One major driving factor of combat, though, is the ability of the three attacking characters to string together combination attacks with their special AP-consuming skills, with more powerful spells sometimes resulting based on the types of spells combined, and spells of the same element obtaining additional hits against foes.

The Master System from the third game returns, where the player can apprentice characters to special NPCs, consequently affecting their stat growth, and occasionally letting them learn new skills. However, unlike in the third game, learning said skills requires the player to fulfill special conditions aside from leveling apprenticed characters, such as obtaining a certain number of “hits” against enemies with combo attacks, dealing a certain amount of damage, and so forth. Ryu, too, can transform into a few different dragon forms, thus obtaining a new set of skills, but as a battle progresses, a certain amount of his AP depletes each turn.

There are some other interesting twists in battle, such as the ability to use magic and items on characters currently not in the active party, and that the allies not participating during a round of battle, after that round, regain some of their AP; AP regenerated this way, however, will not remain after the battle. All in all, the battle system is mostly enjoyable, with most normal fights, as long as the player takes advantage of the combo system, typically not dragging on forever, although there are some minor flaws such as the tendency of combos at times to not work right, but this doesn’t detract too terribly from an otherwise solid combat engine.

The interface is clean for the most part, with easy menus, shopping, equipment upgrades, a relatively decent direction on how to advance, and so forth, not to mention extras inherited from the third installment such as fishing and the fairy village. There are some issues, though, such as the inability as the game progresses to revisit certain areas to obtain new skills from Masters, not to mention the absolute lack of save points in most dungeons, which can sometimes result in a lot of lost playing time if the player dies against a tough boss (though the game is mostly easy, anyway). All in all, interaction is decent, although there are some areas that could’ve been better.

The fourth installment retains plenty of aspects from its predecessors to make it feel like a logical part of the series such as Ryu, Nina, many races, the Master System, and so forth, although it does have some new features such as the changes to the battle system to make it feel fresh.

The story, unfortunately, is where the game hits rock-bottom. The occasional switch between playing Ryu and company and Fou-Lu is interesting, but the main plot itself and the playable characters are all weakly-developed, with sluggish pacing and many fetch quests that contribute poorly to the narrative. Some localization issues, such as a little bit of censorship, affect the plot, as well, which doesn’t truly pick up until near the end. Overall, story is hardly the reason to play Breath of Fire IV.

The soundtrack, however, is actually a nice step up from the third game’s, with many solid tracks such as the overworld theme, the battle themes, and most town pieces, alongside other pieces like the bouncy minigame theme. Its presentation at times leaves a little to desire, though, given a few areas without music, and the battle voices, left in Japanese, aren’t terribly memorable, either. Still, the fourth installment is generally easy on the ears.

Breath of Fire IV, moreover, shifts visual styles from its predecessor, with character and monster sprites having a nice, fluid anime design and superb animation. The scenery, moreover, is purely three-dimensional, with an interesting color scheme that very well conveys the various game environs. Granted, the scenery could have certainly looked better (although it does for players that play the game on the Playstation 2 with “Smooth” texturing), and overall, the game’s visual package is well above average.

Finally, the fourth game isn’t terribly lengthy, taking from twenty to forty hours to finish, with a few sidequests available such as fishing and the fairy village. Overall, Breath of Fire IV is a decent continuation of the series, combining many of the best elements from its predecessors with some new elements that make it a generally enjoyable experience. As with the previous installments, however, the narrative generally leaves much to desire, but those RPGamers interested solely in gameplay will likely have a fun time.

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