Breath of Fire IV was a pleasant surprise. My only meaningful experience with the series was playing through Breath of Fire II 15 to 20 years ago, and Breath of Fire IV has all of that game's strengths (colorful setting, solid turn-based gameplay, dogpeople, tigerpeople, and dragonpeople) while mitigating its weaknesses (slog of random encounters, forgettable plot and dialog). My largest complaint is that Breath of Fire IV should've been longer, with more subplots and dialog. That's a great complaint to have!
The inclusion of Fou-Lu, a powerful ancient god, as an occasional playable character was a brilliant move by Capcom. The Fou-Lu segments are fun gameplay digressions that flesh out the main antagonist's motivations and story role, setting up an epic final confrontation. Fou-Lu has a cool-as-heck character design and deserves to be counted among the best RPG antagonists of the PS1 era.
Breath of Fire IV's excellence makes me a little sad about the state of the series. The only Breath of Fire title of the past 15 years is a mobile game that shut down its servers a few months ago, after a lifespan of just over a year. That's not the sequel I want. If Capcom were to revive Breath of Fire with a new console RPG sporting a decent budget, then I'd play that game Endlessly.
Breath of Fire IV has been a distant memory for me and I've wanted to replay this game for such a long time. From the colourful worlds to the Asian-inspired setting, I remember being fond of Capcom's fourth entry in their (once) flagship RPG series and I wanted to know if that would remain with some context; fortunately it does. BoF IV is every bit a classic, old-school JRPG with a simple story and easy-to-grasp turn-based mechanics on the surface, but underneath this visage is a myriad of components to get to grips with. The combo system is so much fun to experiment with, and the ability to switch your party around in battle should be a standard feature in every RPG. Ryu's adventure is charming from the start, but it's also funny and heartbreaking, and the major plot beats kick in at all the right moments. What struck me most was just how beautiful the game was — the sprites move with such fluidity and quirkiness. Whether it be Fou-Lu backflipping away from the enemy with his hair cascading in the wind, to Ursula's ears wriggling, every twitch and jolt of each character or enemy contributes to their personality and it's a sheer delight to behold. This game easily demonstrates some of the best animation and spritework I've ever seen.
There were times I wanted even more from BoF IV though — I wanted to know more about the Endless, more about Fou-Lu and I wanted to spend more time with the characters. At around 30 hours, it's not a particularly short game, but I would've killed for even more story and a few less minigames. BoF IV seems so wrapped up in these brief interludes that it sometimes detracts from the story, so surely swapping a few of these out for a richer world wouldn't have hurt it? The Master system is a little vague, and while learning abilities is interesting, you can easily get through the game without learning a single one, so it makes these additions seem arbitrary. These are mere nitpicks, and it's not often I want more story out of an RPG, but that only shows how much I enjoyed revisiting this gem. You owe it to yourself to play this classic. And Capcom, since you're feeling so generous with Mega Man, Monster Hunter and Resident Evil, don't you think it's time to make up for Breath of Fire 6?