Let’s set the stage, the year is 1993 and American gamers are starved for JRPGs, Releases this year include the likes of final fantasy mystic quest, lufia and the fortress of doom, and ugh…. secret of the stars to satiate your hunger. Now, 1994 was a bit better with earthbound, final fantasy 6 and robotrek – yeah, I had robotrek and I liked it!
Breath of Fire was released in 94 and would be Capcom’s flagship RPG series for the next 10 years, however, it never was a blockbuster, but it did achieve cult status. Remember, hits like secret of mana, final fantasy 4, and final fantasy 6 had already hit store shelves at this point. While the Japanese version released in 1993, The North American release took a bit longer. Breath of Fire was a joint venture between Capcom and Squaresoft because At that time, Capcom hadn’t attempted to localize a game which relied so heavily on text. In addition, the company had already begun work on Breath of Fire II. so They pawned the task of localizing Breath of Fire to Squaresoft, a company with more experience at translating Japanese role-playing games to English. It’s worth noting that It’s rumored that Squaresoft released Breath of Fire in lieu of Final Fantasy V, which was deemed to be “too hard” for American audiences.
ironically, Breath of Fire’s awful translation is often the worst criticism of the game. The English port also saw several name alterations, though some of these — in the case of the main characters — were necessitated by technical restrictions of only four letters per name (e.g. “Giliam” is shortened to “Bo”). Similarly, the names of inventory items are limited to five letters (LtKey, F.Stn, WtrJr, etc). For the English localization, Karn’s appearance was altered to give him white skin and brown hair.
let’s get to the story, 2000 years before the events of the first game, the goddess Myria, called Tyr in the SNES version, appeared and began granting wishes to the mortals, in a bid to have the various clans of the world fight each other for her power. The most powerful of these clans, the dragon clan, waged a devastating war for this power before she was eventually sealed away. – this ravaged the planet and split the brood, or the dragon clan, up into 2 factions, the peaceful white dragon clan and the evil black dragon clan.
When BOF begins The white dragon clan chose to seal their powers away, scatter and live their lives in peace around the world. One isolated settlement of white dragons was the village of Drogan, where our protagonist, ryu lives with this sister, sara. When The BDC under their leader Zog, attacks Ryu’s hometown and kidnaps his sister, he sets off on his grand adventure To destroy the BDC, rescue his sister and …collect 7 keys and seal away the goddess forever? Ok whatever.
One of the big draws of the series are the mythologically inspired anthropomorphic characters which range from snakes and fish to even wolves and Moles! The battle system is your standard turn based affair, but with a unique twist. You can have all 8 characters travel with you and you can switch out who is in your main party of 4 at any time, even during battles! This allows for a greater use of strategy and conservation of AP. Although, like most games of this time, most of your party members have little personality beyond their opening recruiting story. So let’s focus on our hero and heronine , two recurring characters throughout the series - the dragon boy Ryu and the winged angel-like girl Nina. Although each game is its own contained story (with a loose plot connecting most of them together), every one of them stars a reincarnation of Ryu and Nina.
Let’s talk about Ryu first. He is a member of the brood or what is known as the Dragon Clan. As in all the games, he later gains the ability to transform into a dragon. It’s interesting to note that even though the games take place in vastly different worlds with different reincarnations of Ryu and Nina, they are somewhat chronological in the fact that dragon transformations and the purity of the brood are extremely powerful in the first game while in each subsequent game the number of the brood diminishes with the dragons on the verge of extinction in the 3rd installment
Nina, our heroine, is the princess of Winlan and a member of the Wing Clan. She serves as Ryu’s love interest and gains a wide variety of healing and protection spells. Later in the game, she can transform into a giant bird, greatly simplifying travelling on the world map. Similar to how the dragon clan wanes in power thoughout the series, a similar thing happens to the wing clan. In BOF just about every adult Wing tribe member has the power to transform into a great bird, but As time goes on their power fades and in BOF2 the power has been all but lost, culminating with the wing clans flightlessness in BOF3. By this point the members just have small dinky wings on their backs which are useful for little more than decoration.
Another character to make a recurring appearance in the BOF games is Bleu or deis. However she is only playable in BOF1 and 2, although she is a secret chacter in the latter. She has the upper torso of a busty woman and the lower body of a snake, she’s some sort of all-powerful deity (later on revealed to be a Goddess in Breath of Fire III). However, she’s also complete slacker and a pervert. Her status as Goddess is implied with her magic selection, consisting of the most powerful magic in the game. Unlike all the other characters, she has no unique skill.
A unique quirk of BOF is that the overworld isn’t just some flat map, the designers added a level of interactivity not seen in games of the time. It has wildlife, varied terrain, buried treasure, secrts, and even a night and day engine that has a real-time effect on the activity of monsters and NPCs in towns.
Just as the overworld had added complexity, so did the dungeons, as you gained characters you gained their special abilities too. Abilities to fly, hunt, knock down walls and swim to name a few. Ryu also has the ability to fish. Hunting and fishing are in every mainline BOF title and another character that joins you, bo, also has the ability to file arrows at birds, boar, and deer and their meat is the best healing items in the game.
In 2001, Capcom decided to port both their SNES RPGs to the GBA but it doesn’t seem that Capcom utilized that power too well. It’s very much the same game, with the only visual improvement being some new artwork and character portraits displayed during dialogue as well as an added dash button. Also, they didn’t bother to retranslate any of the text, so the writing is still pretty lame. However, the gold and experience gained after battle has been increased, so the game’s a bit less difficult. As with most SNES-to-GBA ports, the soundtrack in Breath of Fire suffers dramatically, as it now sounds scratchy and muffled. Overall BOF is a great entry into the series and I love the dark, somber tone that pervades the game, it gives it character and personality that newer games are lacking.
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