Breath of Fire (SNES) – Retro Game Reviews

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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

Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy) – Retro Game Reviews

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When talking about great Final Fantasy spinoff games, Final Fantasy Adventure is a title that gets brought up a lot. Adventure is actually the first game in the Mana series, and if you’re a fan of Secret of Mana or Final Fantasy, it’s a gem worth picking up.

Adventure is an action-RPG in the vein of the original Legend of Zelda, but with more traditional RPG mechanics like gaining XP by defeating enemies, buying weapons and armor from shops, etc. When leveling up, you get an extra point to increase your Power, Stamina (HP), Wisdom (MP) or Will, which gives the game some replay value and facilitates different play styles.

Different classes of weapons have different attack ranges and some have extra functions to help you get around obstacles, like using axes to chop down trees or flails to grab onto poles and swing across gaps. Each weapon type also has a different special attack that can be activated when the special bar at the bottom of the screen fills up. How quickly the bar fills up is determined by your Will. Every time you attack, use an item or use magic the bar resets to zero, so you need to wait if you want launch the special. Most of these specials give you extra range or allow you to launch your weapon at enemies. The special attack for swords however launches your character back and forth across the screen, and I found this more annoying than helpful, especially late in the game when the will bar fills up relatively quickly.

Another annoying thing about the game is how often you need to go through the menu to change magic and items. The A button acts as your main attack and any spell or item can be mapped to the B button but you can only have one at a time. Given the limited buttons on the original Game Boy, I can’t really blame the developers but it’s still a hassle. Luckily, the menu can be opened and navigated pretty quickly so it doesn’t slow the game down too much.

Your inventory space is very limited, which can be a pain because you need to carry around matlocks and keys to navigate dungeons. Both can be purchased at item shops and some enemies also drop matlocks but not keys. The same keys work in all dungeons, so make sure you always have a few packs before entering a new one. Matlocks are used to demolish certain obstacles and open secret entrances in walls. (When you strike a wall you can break through with your weapon, it makes a unique sound.)

The morning star is by far the best weapon in the game. Not only does it break through walls, eliminating the need for matlocks, but when you attack, you swing it around you hitting any enemy near you. Some enemies can only be harmed by certain weapons or with magic, but the star takes out pretty much anything. Even when I had other weapons with far greater attack power, I still used the morning star for everything except for boss battles.

There’s a wide variety of enemies with different attacks to encounter, so I never got bored fighting the same enemies over and over like in some other game. You’ll also get a few companions to help you at different parts of the game, who have abilities like restoring your HP or MP or helping you attack enemies.

Adventure is very well balanced. There are one or two bosses I felt were overpowered, but apart from them I never felt the need to level grind or felt the game was too easy either. When you level up, your HP and MP are restored, so if you’re running low on health sometimes the best strategy is to kill as many enemies as possible. It adds a nice risk-reward element to the combat.

The story is pretty standard RPG fare. You play as Sumo, a knight who must help a mysterious girl named Fuji to protect the Tree of Mana from the Dark Lord and his minions. If you’re an RPG veteran, there’s not much you haven’t seen before, but the story is well told and there are enough memorable moments to make it enjoyable.

The graphics are about what you’d expect from a Game Boy release. Nothing mind-blowing, but not bad either. The music is a mixed bag. Some tracks are really nice, but others loop too frequently and become aggravating.

This is a game where you’ll want to have a strategy guide handy. It’s never explained in game what certain items do, and while most puzzles aren’t too difficult, there’s one in particular where the clue is extremely ambiguous. (Minor spoiler: in the town called Jadd, you’ll meet a boy who will give you a clue on how to open the next dungeon: “Palm trees and an 8.” You need to leave town, find two specific palm trees and walk around them in a figure eight until the dungeon entrance appears. How is anyone supposed to figure that out?) Late in the game you have access to the entire overworld and have to do quite a bit of backtracking, and it’s extremely easy to get lost without a guide.

There’s nothing really innovative about Final Fantasy Adventure, but what it does, it does very well. If you like action-RPGs, it definitely worth the 10 hours or so it takes to complete.

Final Rating: 4/5