I’m guessing that game publishers must really love the Game Boy Advance. After all, if the recent trend of porting old SNES titles to the new handheld is any indication, companies are making loads of money with very little investment. The games are already made—all they have to do is tweak them for the new hardware, package them up, and sit back and cash in on the current wave of retro gaming nostalgia.
I don’t think this is a bad thing, either. There’s a whole generation of gamers out there who are too young to have played some of these games on the SNES. There are others, like yours truly, who were young and stupid and ditched all their 16-bit classics when the PSX and Saturn hit the scene (no snickering from the peanut gallery…). So, in a way, this trend toward re-releasing old games is a welcome one. One can only guess that it’s going to get better for GBA owners once Square gets in on the act.
Until that happens, RPG fans still have a plethora of titles from their favorite genre to take with them on long car trips, flights, or while you’re in the bathroom. Arguably, the most impressive ports to hit the GBA are Capcom’s Breath of Fire games. The first installment was a perfect port of the original SNES title. The sequel, which was recently released here in America, is more of the same.
You are Ryu, the chosen one…
Taking place roughly 500 years after the original Breath of Fire, BoF II follows the adventures of a young blue-haired boy named Ryu.
Ryu lives in the small village of Gate, along with his father, Ganer, and his sister, Yua. Ganer is a priest in the church of St. Eva, a seemingly benevolent deity whose teachings are spreading across the land.
The dragon clan of the original game is all but a distant memory to Ryu and his friends. However, as Ryu advances through the game, he’ll discover that not only are his fate and that of the world linked, but that he has far more in common with the Dragon clan than he could possibly imagine.
And that, in a nutshell, is the basic gist of the story in Breath of Fire II. Sadly, the tale here is woefully simple, recycling some of the hoariest clichés in the history of the genre. To be fair, though, one has to consider that this is a game that’s nearly 10 years old. Because of that, some of the trite storyline can be forgiven.
What can’t be forgiven is the shoddy translation. When saying that BoF II is a perfect port of the SNES game, that means it’s an exact duplicate—warts and all. BoF II has an awful translation, one filled with more grammatical errors than I could count, faulty dialogue from NPCs (one character gives you a hint where the player needs to go next—only it’s the wrong town), and an overall vagueness as to what you’re supposed to be doing next at any given point. Because of this, playing Breath of Fire II can often be an aggravating experience. Needless to say, the game definitely loses some points in the story department.
If nothing else, that the translation remains unchanged from the original highlights the fact that companies know they can release and sell these games without doing anything major to them—meaning each sale of the GBA cart is pure profit for Capcom.
Like its predecessor, Breath of Fire II is a traditional turn-based RPG.
What this means is that you’ll spend the entirety of the game traveling across a world map, heading into towns to buy items and advance the plot, exploring various monster-filled dungeons, and engaging in a seemingly endless series of random battles to level up your characters. If you’ve played one traditional RPG, you’ll know exactly what to expect from BoF II.
Just because the system is familiar doesn’t make it bad, though. BoF II features some rock-solid gameplay mechanics that make working your way through the 20+ hours of game time fun and rewarding.
Perhaps the best thing about the game is the battle system. Since you’ll be spending countless hours fighting enemies to make your characters stronger, the battle interface better be good—otherwise, playing the game becomes a chore.
Breath of Fire II doesn’t bring anything majorly innovative to the table in this regard, but it does take all of the traditional turn-based battle elements and does them well. Characters line up one side of the screen, monsters on the other (again, with a sort of canted view not unlike the original game). Players attack in an order based on their agility rating—the higher the rating, the sooner you get to perform an action.
When one of the characters’ turns comes up, the player chooses an action from a series of menus. Each character has the standard options, fight, flee, defend, item, and magic. On top of that, each character has one unique action that only they can perform. These run the gamut from extra strength to reviving downed comrades and so on. The player picks his option, then the character carries it out. Pretty traditional stuff, eh?
One area where the game does break from tradition is in the implementation of a uniting system. The uniting system allows the player to combine one of his party with one of several different shaman discovered throughout the game. The results of these unions can open up a wide range of new characters and abilities. In some instances, uniting will fail if the parties aren’t compatible. In others, the party character will stay the same, but may have some advanced attributes. In the third instance, the character can become something entirely different—and stronger—than the original. Because of this, the player will want to find all of the shamans and spend some time experimenting with different unions to check out the results.
Aside from battle, the player spends the rest of his time exploring the world, helping townsfolk with various sidequests, or solving a few simple puzzles littered throughout the game’s dungeons. Once again, the game is traditional to a fault.
Since the gameplay is so traditional, there’s not much else to say about it. Again, if you’ve played a standard RPG, you know exactly what you’re getting from Breath of Fire II. There’s a definite comfort in the familiarity here.
While there was quite a leap in terms of graphics from the original SNES game to the SNES sequel, the improvement on the GBA is a lot less noticeable.
The GBA Breath of Fire II looks a little nicer than the first game, but not much. There are a few more colors on the palette, what appears to be a few extra frames of animation in the attacks, and some nice spell effects. Otherwise, they’re a lot alike.
Characters are sprite-based, decent sized, and well animated. Battle animations are simple, but detailed enough to make them interesting (which is a good thing, because there’s no variation to them throughout the game). Monsters fare equally well, with a wide variety of creatures, and very few that are palette swaps of other monsters.
Spell effects are decent, although some are more impressive than others. Nina’s BoltX spell looks fantastic, but some of the others (like Flame) could have used some graphical upgrading. At any rate, none of the spells look as good as the ones in Golden Sun—but then again, what else on the GBA has looked that good to begin with?
Towns and dungeons are comprised of the traditional 16-bit era RPG architecture—meaning they’re pretty blocky and straightforward. The environments do generally have a decent amount of detail to them (again, for the 16-bit era), but they’re not likely to blow anyone away—unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last 20 or so years.
Once again, the game features some more impressive character portraits than the original. Given the GBA’s small screen, these newer portraits bring a lot to the game because they manage to convey the mood of each character in different scenes.
Overall, the graphics are good. They’re not the best we’ve seen on the GBA, but they’re not likely to blind you with their ugliness, either. This is an old game—and it shows—but most of us like that because it feeds our sense of nostalgia.
If there’s one area where the game really falters, it’s in the music department. The original Breath of Fire had a decent, if overly traditional, soundtrack. BoF II goes for the same thing, but for some reason, it often annoyed me more than inspired me.
To be fair, part of this could be because of the limitations of the GBA sound hardware. Let’s face it, anything coming through that tiny speaker is bound to sound a little tinny and a lot less majestic than it would on your television. However, it wasn’t just the sound quality that bothered me, it was mainly the tracks themselves.
In a word, the majority of the BoF II soundtrack is bland. It’s not very inspiring in most instances, and that led to me turning the volume down on numerous occasions. Add to that the fact that a lot of it seemed very repetitive, and I came away from the game under whelmed. Yes, there are some good tracks, but they simply seem few and far between.
Fortunately, the sound effects make up for some of the score’s shortcomings. Attacks sound good (or at least as good as they can sound on a GBA), spell effects are solid, and everything else sounds decent as well.
At any rate, the score could have used some work. The music here didn’t do much for me.
While the popular consensus seems to be that Breath of Fire II was a better game than the original, I simply don’t see it that way. While the original game had a massive plot that was at times labyrinthine in its presentation, it was at least slightly more original than the story here (which is so simple and trite that it’s almost funny).
Still, the biggest beef I had with BoF II was the translation. No matter how predictable the plotline is, the poor translation often makes figuring out what you’re supposed to do next an exercise in futility. It’s been widely accepted since the days of the SNES version that this game’s translation needed some major work—why Capcom didn’t do this before releasing the game on the GBA is beyond me—but the cynic in me is guessing it had something to do with getting the game out there as soon as possible and making some cash off of it.
Despite the problems, Breath of Fire II is still a good game—one that offers up more than 20 hours of solid role-playing action. RPG fans will want to add it to their personal library—warts and all.