Breath of Fire is one of the more notable RPG series released on the Super Nintendo, but unfortunately it really doesn’t hold up to modern standards. If you’ve ever played a turn-based JRPG before, you know what to expect from the gameplay. Breath of Fire does try to do a couple unique things, with day-night cycles and hunting animals on the overworld, but other than that it’s really basic.
Random battles are an annoyance for every RPG fan and it feels like you can’t go more than five steps without getting sucked into one. There is an item you can use to avoid them for a while, and an auto-battle feature that helps speed things along, but even by SNES RPG standards they’re way too frequent.
What worse is that weak enemies from early in the game will keep showing up in later areas, giving you almost no XP or gold and just being an annoying waste of time. Other times, you’ll run into enemies with overpowered attacks that can wipe out your entire party in a single attack.
The whole game is very poorly balanced and this extends to the boss fights as well. None of them are too difficult, but some are complete pushovers and are really unsatisfying to beat. The HP meters of enemies are usually visible when you attack, but for bosses once their HP drops to zero, they get a second wind and there’s no indication for how much HP they have. Most RPGs don’t display enemy health so it’s not a big deal, but why even include an HP meter for boss fights if it doesn’t really mean anything?
The dungeons aren’t that great either. Their layout is fine, though not very memorable, but there’s not much incentive to explore since most chests only contain contain weak healing items that can be cheaply purchased in shops or armor and weapons that were usually weaker than what I already had. Occasionally you will find more powerful healing items that are available in shops, but after about the hundredth time I opened a chest to find nothing but an Herb, I just started rushing through the dungeons’ main path without exploring.
The most important element in any RPG is the story, and in this respect Breath of Fire again falls flat. Your main character is Ryu the last survivor of the Dragon Clan whose town gets destroyed by the evil Dark Dragons. Most of the characters are fairly unmemorable takes on standard RPG tropes, and there isn’t much that veteran RPG fans haven’t seen done much better elsewhere. The dialogue is really bland too, but this might just be the translation. There are a couple nice set pieces, like exploring a giant stone robot who then sacrifices himself in a volcano, but these are few and far between.
There’s one moment in the game that is so annoying that it deserves special mention. When you reach the town of Bleak, an NPC will request a Gold Nugget, the most expensive item in the game, in exchange for a key item needed to progress. If you know ahead of time you need save up for it, it’s not too hard, but there’s no indication this is coming, so I ended up spending all my money on new equipment right before, and had to use a cheat to buy the gold nugget to avoid grinding potentially for hours just to afford it. There’s another character who asks for another gold nugget later on, but you’ll be able to find one in a chest before then, so isn’t quite as egregious. The first time however you have no choice but to buy one from a shop. I imagine a lot of players gave up on the game right there.
One area where Breath of Fire does hold up is the visuals. Everything from the sprites to the backgrounds is great and there are some unique enemy designs. The music, while not as memorable as something like Final Fantasy, is really nice too. However, neither of these is my opinion are enough to make up for the games many flaws.
Turn-based JRPGs are notorious for aging poorly, and Breath of Fire doesn’t do much to challenge that reputation. It’s not terrible, but it has some deep flaws in its design and given the time commitment required, I really can’t recommend it unless you’re RPG fanatic who’s just looking for something familiar to kill time. From what I hear, the later titles in the series are a lot better, so I’ll have to check them out sometime and let you know if I like them anymore.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5