With the release of the Gameboy Advance, two incredible possibilities were presented to developers: the opportunity to create strong, story-driven role-playing games that harken back to the days of 16-bit, and the chance to re-release some of the their most popular franchises to the masses that never got to play them when they were originally published. Capcom saw these opportunities and quickly pounced with the release of their classic Breath of Fire series.
Something we might consider odd today is the fact that Capcom never saw fit to personally publish the title for the Super Nintendo platform. Instead, Squaresoft released the title stateside; although its successive editions were published by Capcom, (who obviously saw that the Breath of Fire series could be quite lucrative), the first is still widely thought of as a Squaresoft title. Since that time, the series has become pretty popular, giving fans and newcomers alike the opportunity to visit a classic title and experience where the magic began. But after 8 years, perhaps the main thought on everyone's mind is, "Does Breath of Fire stand the test of time?"
Breath of Fire's story is a tale for the ages, but it was groundbreaking when it originally made its debut. In a world corrupted by the empire of the Dark Dragon Clan, one brave adventurer holds the key to salvation. The hero, known as Ryu, learns of his heritage, and with the help of friends overcomes all odds and restores peace. Pretty basic stuff, but with 8 primary characters, each which you'll come to learn and develop their respective skills, it delves a little deeper than that. The world is exceptionally vast, complete with a ample dose of of plot twists and surprise which makes for an engaging adventure. Although in this day and age, the theme carries a "been there, done that" atmosphere, (especially after 3 sequels), the charm of the characters becomes its saving grace.
Graphically, Breath of Fire shows its age. Capcom didn't really go out of its way to make any enhancements to speak of. Not that it's a bad thing, after all, you shouldn't fix what isn't broken, but I was expecting a little more effort. The only upgrades to this revision are the new character portraits, and a minor tweak within the battle command menu. The current Breath of Fire artist who also worked on Breath of Fire III and IV illustrates the new portraits, and while most fare well when compared to the older art works, others do not. Bleu, for instance, definitely does not have the same kind of seductiveness that was present in her old portrait, but instead has a very true-to-character "sage" look. While more befitting of the character, it simply doesn't have the same kind of appeal. Other graphical improvements are apparent when you are occasionally treated to an in-game cinema showing the action, but these are very few in number. While I wouldn't consider this to be the worst, overall in graphic scale, the engine pales in comparison to the current roster of RPGs available for the Gameboy Advance, such as the recent acclaimed hit Golden Sun.
Moreover, Breath of Fire plays as old as it looks. Here's a game that was developed at a time when the player didn't have to juggle tons of in-game stats, systems, and attacks. Instead, the simplistic tone of everything is refreshing, especially with the current crop of RPGs. Battles are in the classic random style, but are usually quick and easy to set up. The turn-based system consists of very few options. There are magic and the typical attack command, but it rarely goes beyond that. Interestingly enough, BOF helped to pioneer the party "switch out" which is currently being used in Final Fantasy X. Each of your four characters in battle can switch out for one of the characters not being used. A nice little option, albeit one that's hardly utilized to the fullest. Perhaps the only really exciting thing to achieve in battle is to change into a dragon with Ryu's ability, but even that is limited to one attack. You're not going to find anything like Overdrives or Trances here. If it all gets redundant, you can always use the auto battle option, which speeds things up considerably. Outside of battle, things don't really get much more exciting, but, to spice things up just a little bit, every character in your party has certain abilities to be used on the overworld map. These can range from Bo's ability to hunt certain wildlife with his bow, to Ryu's ability to fish in a local pond. These abilities are key to finding certain items, and are a welcome addition. New to this revision is the ability to run in on both the overworld maps and in dungeons and towns. This is a nice feature to add into the game, especially given the portable nature of Breath of Fire.
Among the most memorable aspects of the original edition included the game's soundtrack, which is also true in the modern installment. While most of the tunes had to be scaled down, only a couple really suffer because of the hardware. For example, in the town of Winlan, the tracks sounds somewhat off-key compared to the original composition, best described as having a bit of a "tin" sound to it. But all of that will be forgotten once you've heard one of the best overworld themes ever to grace a console RPG. The sound effects are faithfully reproduced, but are kept to a minimum throughout the entire adventure.
Personally, I grew curious as to how Capcom would handle the localization. Would it be a brand spankin' new translation, with certain names changed to reflect the continuity of the series, or a pitiful display of laziness? Well, unfortunately, the result is the latter. For reasons unknown to them alone, Capcom basically slapped on a couple of name changes (none major) and used the old Ted Woolsey Squaresoft translation. While I certainly don't have many qualms about the older script, I sat with mouth agape at just how complacent manner in which the localization was handled. I don't understand why Capcom wouldn't at least change some names such as Winlan to Wyndia to reflect the name of the same town in featured in the second, third and fourth editions of the series. It all projects a feeling that the product was simply slapped on, failing to measure up to the modern day standards of the series (or any RPG franchise for that mater). Without a doubt, this is the most significant gripe I have regarding this port. For shame, Capcom.
Comments: Overall, I can honestly see why Capcom didn't feel the need to change much in this port, but the use of the old script is simply lazy. On the other hand, no matter what way you look at it, Breath of Fire is an incredibly solid game, and one that feels right at home on the GBA. Arguably the best of the series, it's nice to be able to experience it again, though most of the people playing it will be doing so for the first time.
· · · Mezz