Breath of Fire 1 – Retro Review

by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

Nintendo recently made a huge change to get people to purchase their Nintendo Online: They added Super Nintendo games to the list! Some of the choices are odd to me (Super Tennis, Super Soccer, Brawl Brothers, Stunt Racer FX). There are some truly fantastic games on this list so far: Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and perhaps most important out of all of these games for me personally is Breath of FireBreath of Fire is one of the first RPGs I completed without help, and it made me feel so damn good when I finally got to the end. Breath of Fire isn’t one of the best RPGs on the SNES and not even one of the best in its own series, but it still has a lot of charm, a sad story and plenty to discover.

Breath of Fire starts with the Dark Dragon tribe (Empire) invading the small town held by the White/Light Dragons. After killing most of the town, the Protagonist (Ryu)’s sister petrifies everyone to save them and goes to fight the Dragons herself. She fails, and it’s up to Ryu to sally forth and save not only the Light Dragons but the world. The whole “saving the world” bit isn’t really that obvious at first, nor is the ultimate goal of collecting the Goddess Keys. The Goddess Keys are part of a myth. Should someone collect them all, they can receive a wish from the Goddess, Tyr. So naturally, the Dark Dragons are after these Magical Macguffins/Dragon Balls. Ryu picks up a lot of pals along the way, of varying degrees of strength in this turn-based RPG, and it’s a pretty lengthy game. Even the speedrun’s in the 6-8 hours, as we discussed in last night’s livestream.

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If you know how much XP Bo needs to level, you’re either 1. A Liar or 2. You looked it up.

This is not an RPG that will hold your hand. There are zero tutorials and no tooltips. You learn where you go next in almost all cases by simply talking to people. This is still in the era of “RPG = talk to everyone”. Here’s a fantastic example of how important it is to talk to people in Breath of Fire: in Romero, one of your goals is to cure the town of its Zombie Infestation. Yes, a town named Romero is plagued by Zombies. It’s brilliant. One of the women in the town knows where the Water Jr is, which can then be filled with curative waters. This will ultimately cure the town and send the zombies away. The zombies don’t really seem to be that bad. You don’t fight any of them. If you don’t talk to all of the citizens in the daytime, you won’t learn the woman lost her husband, or that she has the Jar.

You come back at night, her husband, the zombie, insists that it’s time for him to go and she has to let the heroes have the Water Jr. It’s a very moving moment, but one you wouldn’t know about (and it’s a serious, important plot topic) if you don’t talk to people. When something important comes up in conversation, it’s always highlighted in red font. This is also a game you do an absolute ton of backtracking in. You return to the Tower of Agua at least two or three times over the course of the game. This leads me to an important part of the game you aren’t told about: The day-to-night transitions are key. There are several points in time where you must do something at night, so you just have to wait it out. In BoF2 at least, you have a spell to transition from day-to-night immediately.  This importance of what time it is is great, but Breath of Fire is not a perfect RPG. Not even a little bit.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the game’s combat system is the Boss’ ability to get back up. Almost every boss in the game has a second wind. The only exceptions that I can think of off the top of my head are Ghosts/Undead bosses, and Dragon Spirits. Every other boss gets up after you deplete his HP. This is perhaps to hide their true hp and give a little bit of extra challenge. Many bosses change up their attacks, do more damage, or hit extra party members during their second wind. The actual HP for these second winds is not often high, but it is a very frustrating thing to lose on a Second Wind. It’s certainly something to be aware of, and you can even lose to the first boss of this game. It’s not uncommon to get to the end of the first dungeon and die to the Frog.

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Combat is always a joy in BoF, exempting perhaps the very high encounter rate.

Which leads me to the party. You have eight party members in total, but I’d be a liar if I said they were all equal, good, or even useful. Most of the party’s only purpose is to serve as transformation fodder for Karne. Karne is a Thief and can open doors/pick locks for you, but the game, in its tried and true tradition, does not adequately inform you of it.  You just know he’s a Thief, and that there are locked doors in the world. It’s not a bad thing, because this is something you can put 2 and 2 together for. However, Karne can also unlock Fusions/Transformations, where several characters combine into him for new, powerful forms. They’re always amazing, and almost always use lesser parts of your team. Bo, Ox, and Gobi are the party members that fuse into him. There are arguments that Ox is not really so bad, but I don’t care for him. Another rubbish part of the game is it doesn’t tell you how much EXP you need to level. It tells you how much exp you have, but that’s it.

Gobi is definitely useless. His only importance to the game is a few story beats and could have easily been relegated to a guest character. He’s weak, his spells are mediocre at best, and by the time you need to transform into the Giant Fish underwater, it’s practically a waste of time. Mogu the Mole’s only purpose other than a story point is to dig underground for some incredibly powerful, late-game armor for Ryu. It’s a bit disappointing that so many characters aren’t worth having in the party. Almost every party I see for the end game is Ryu, Nina, Bleu, Karne (as Shin). So while you do have a nice big party, most of it is not really going to be on the front lines. The only other transformation is Agni, Ryu’s ultimate dragon form. Known as Infinity in Japan, it combines your party together for a massive, world-breaking Dragon. It always does 999 damage.

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This is one of many trips to Agua.

This is another important part of the game – Dragon Forms. Ryu can transform into various elemental dragons, if he finds the Dragon Shrines, and defeats the boss within. He has to fight alone, but they are not insanely powerful. It’s always within the realm of possibility. Unlike Breath of Fire 2, he stays in the Dragon Form until he dies, the battle ends, or he transforms out of it. They hit harder, and are not going to cost all of your AP every single time (again, like in Breath of Fire 2). They are pretty damn overpowered, but with such powerful, difficult bosses all through the game, I don’t feel bad about employing them as often as possible.

Should You Play It? 100% Yes.

The actual story for Breath of Fire is not earth-shaking, but it does have genuine solid moments of happiness, sorrow, and made sense (unless you discount the rubbish localization for the early SNES RPGs). The actual visuals are beautiful, the music evokes powerful emotions without being bidden. The character designs are fantastic, and Breath of Fire had unique monster designs without going back too often to designs made by other companies/franchises. Everything about Breath of Fire felt unique, and different from the other RPGs on the market at the time. The series has held true to its roots, and while I may not enjoy every BoF game, this was an amazing one to find at a young, impressionable age. Now that it’s available as part of the Nintendo Switch Online offering, there has never been a better time to go back and try it for yourself. It’s not easy, it won’t hold your hand, but thankfully there are plenty of options for information on the game online. Or hell, you can just ask me! It’s not a perfect game by any means, but it’s a treasure nonetheless.

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