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

Donkey Kong Country (SNES) – Retro Game Reviews

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I played Donkey Kong Country a few times as a kid, but I never cared for it. The game was too hard for me then, and the art style didn’t appeal to me. (The bee enemies really scared me for some reason.) Revisiting it now, it still wouldn’t rank among my favorite platformers, but I have a lot more respect for it.

Before Donkey Kong Country, the DK franchise was effectively dead. Rareware effectively rebuilt the series from the ground up, changing the gameplay completely, adding what at the time were cutting edge graphics, and injecting some 90s attitude into the aging franchise.

From the opening cutscene, this game screams “This ain’t yo’ daddy’s Donkey Kong.” The original DK is relegated to the role of Cranky Kong, with a grown-up Donkey Kong Jr. taking center stage, surrounded by a cast of new characters. DKC is fully of personality, from Cranky’s hilarious insults right down to DK and Diddy’s idle animations.

For the most part, the art has aged really well. The early 3D reminds me a lot of claymation, and the enemies and backgrounds are nice and colorful. Obviously, everything is a bit pixelated, but that’s to be expected. The only model I really had a problem with was DK himself, who just looks like a brown blob a lot of time. Maybe that’s just me, but considering how DK was removed as main character from the sequels, perhaps someone at Rare shared my criticism.

Donkey Kong Country is famous for its tight controls, and while the game is challenging, it’s nowhere near as hard as I remembered. There’s still some trial and error, especially on the later levels, with enemies appearing without giving you time to react, but it never gets to the point where frustration ruined the experience or made me want to quit.

David Wise’s score is rightly lauded as one of the best soundtracks on SNES if not in the entire history of gaming. From upbeat tracks like “Jungle Groove” to the soothing “Aquatic Ambiance”, DKC shows the heights the SNES sound chip is capable of, and it’s worth playing for the music alone.

Another thing Donkey Kong Country is famous for is its hidden areas and bonus stages. I’ve never been the type of gamer that feels the need to find every secret, but if you are, DKC has a ton of replay value (which is good since the main game can be completed in only a couple of hours).

DKC isn’t without its problems though. The slippery controls in ice levels are atrocious. Ice levels are a bane to most gamers at the best of time, and given DKC’s difficulty, I’m sure they resulted in quite a few broken controllers back in the day. “Stop and Go Station” (where you have to hit barrels to stop invincible enemies from moving for a short time) and “Loopy Lights” (where the same mechanic is used to keep the stage lit up) are cool ideas in theory, but the barrels don’t last for a consistent length of time, making them needlessly frustrating.

By far the worst level in the game is “Torchlight Trouble”. This level is entirely dark, apart from a flashlight being held by a parrot (one of several animal companions in the game). The level itself isn’t bad, but every time you turn around, the parrot swings his flashlight, and the screen flashes completely white for a moment. It only took about ten seconds for this to start giving me a headache, though thankfully there are no other levels employing this gimmick.

It’s easy to see why Donkey Kong Country is favorite game for completionists and speedrunners. It’s a game that rewards repeated playthroughs and mastery of the controls. This has never been what I personally look for in a game and I’ll never be a DKC superfan, but I enjoyed my experience a lot more than I expected, and I could see myself revisiting it from time to time in the future.

Final Score: 4/5

The Adventures of Batman & Robin (SNES) – Retro Game Reviews

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Given Konami’s current reputation, it’s hard to believe they used to be one of the most respected publishers in the industry, and one of the things they were most known for were their awesome licensed games. The Adventures of Batman & Robin lives up to that reputation and is without a doubt one of the best looking games on the Super Nintendo.

Based on Batman: The Animated Series, everything from the character sprites and backgrounds to the sound design and even the dialogue perfectly captures the feel of the cartoon. They even have the show’s signature title cards before each stage. There are eight stages in total, with each stage acting like mini-episodes of the TV series. The first seven focus on different villains, with the eighth stage being a boss rush, half of which are repeats and the other half being new villains.

But despite how good the game looks and sounds, there are two major drawbacks to the game: its length and its frustrating difficulty. If you’re good enough, the game can be completed in just over an hour, and while I don’t inherently mind hard games, in this case the crushing difficulty feels like its only there to artificially extend the length of the game. I’m not ashamed to admit I cheated my way through a lot of the game. On your first playthrough I recommend using an infinite lives cheat at the very least.

Each stage begins with a brief cutscene explaining your current mission and allowing Batman to select which gear to take with him, including his signature batarangs  and grappling gun (which can be used unlimitedly) as well as smoke bombs, shurikens, paralysis spray and plastic explosives (of which you have a limited supply). There is also a flashlight, gas mask, and infrared goggles, which you can take with you on every stage but are only useful in the Penguin, Scarecrow and Riddler stage respectively. It’s a nice gimmick, but since there’s no penalty for taking everything other than it taking longer to cycle through your weapons, it feels underutilized.

Despite the title, Robin isn’t playable and only has a very small role as a supporting character. If you’re a fan of the character, it’s a bit of let down, but given how small a role Robin played in the cartoon most of the time, I suppose it isn’t very surprising.

The combat system is decent. You can stun or disarm thugs by hitting them with a batarang or grab them by the collar and throw them into other enemies. It’s very well animated and a lot of fun. However, the same three henchmen are used over and over in every level, so by the end I just crouch-rolled past them most of the time.

The levels themselves for the most part aren’t too difficult. Most levels consist of beating up henchmen and some light platforming (sometimes assisted by your grappling gun ) before encountering the boss. There is some variation, like investigating a museum in the Penguin stage or the Riddler stage being a giant maze. The Catwoman stage featuring a rooftop chase lit by police searchlights was the high point of the game for me.

The fifth stage takes place entirely in the Batmobile, which sounds cool but the controls are incredibly clunky and you’re placed under an insanely strict time limit. The Batmobile is equipped with guns like in the Tim Burton movies and you can blow up civilian cars without any penalty. This is the only part of the game I consider outright bad and if you skip it, you won’t be missing anything.

All of the bosses are way too overpowered. Many of them are faster and have larger attack ranges than Batman with very little wind up to signal their attacks and some of them feature instant death via bottomless pits.One really frustrating thing is that in some boss fights if you get too close, Batman will auto-grab the villain and they will kick you away without any chance for you to avoid them. Even the bosses that aren’t too hard have so much health that the fights drag on forever. You end up feeling like a wimp after punching the villain a dozen or so times and them just getting back up for more, and that’s the last thing you want in a Batman game.

The Adventures of Batman & Robin is a bit of a mixed bag. If you are a fan of Batman: The Animated Series or just Batman in general, it’s definitely worth checking out, but the gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. If you don’t mind grueling difficulty or aren’t opposed to using cheats, it’s a decent afternoon’s worth of entertaining.

Final Rating: 3.5/5