Breath of Fire III

Publisher: Capcom Developer: Capcom
Reviewer: Locke Released: 05/98
Gameplay: 75% Control: 80%
Graphics: 87% Sound/Music: 70%
Story: 65% Overall: 73%

It's hard to precisely determine what exactly makes Breath of Fire III so genuinely unplayable. Is it the prohibitively frequent random encounters? The lacking battle engine? The barren plot?

I was most delicately tortured by BoFIII's crude battle engine. The groundwork is sound, if unimpressive: this is a standard turn-based system, with your characters and foes getting alternative turns until either side is destroyed or you decide to escape. The first thing I noticed is the annoying frequency with which the enemies escape your blows: approximately every third attack deals zero damage - the enemy deftly shifts and the game plays a maddening "whoosh" effect. Throw firearms into the mix, and the rate jumps drastically. Some foes, like the recurrent "Nut Troops", dodge about 90% of your blows, making assault magic your only answer.

With time I also noticed that there is a noticeable lag between the command input and execution - with some encounters the lag stretches into seconds. At times I even worried that the game had frozen.

A la Final Fantasy VII, the characters in your party have the capacity to learn enemy skills. In BoFIII, this requires no special item and can be done as often as possible by any character through the use of a certain command.

Unfortunately, along with an extensive library of skills to learn, BoFIII brandishes a whole spectrum of problems. It goes without saying that not all skills can be learned. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have been too bad, but in BoFIII your "Learn" command must be entered every round. This means that you have no way of knowing whether the given enemy skill cannot be learned, or it's just your character's general ineptitude. Meanwhile, the enemy decimates you.

Even if you do learn a special skill, you should be aware that only a single character can use it. Each skill can be learned only once, and only by a single character. Yes, the game does provide a means of exchanging skills between characters, but this "Skill Ink", as BoFIII calls it, is a fairly rare item. Add to this the fact that about half of all skills are rather useless, and there will be no end to your displeasure.

Similarly, BoFIII gives you the option of apprenticing your characters to a "master". As the apprentice character gains levels, the master will impart to him his skills and influence of his attribute growth. Unfortunately, most masters take your characters in unwanted directions, suppressing some attributes in exchange for increasing others. These effects are completely irreversible. Likewise, you have no way of knowing whether you have exhausted a given master's skills.

I had several qualms about the battle menus. BoFIII features a cross-shaped command menu, with the attack command in the center. To input any other command, you have to hold down a directional button while confirming the command. Mess up the timing and you end up with a basic attack.

Random encounters in BoFIII come alarmingly often, to the point of discouraging exploration. Unfortunately, some of the dungeons feature puzzles that include lots of backtracking (the black ship comes to mind).

Battles are fought directly in the playing field and tend to drag. I already mentioned the lag and the dodging. Add the fact that a number of foes are oddly powerful, and some feature attacks like Tornado, which reduces random combatants to one hit point. Pointless to the player, but a royal nuisance to deal with. To that, add the fact that most assault magic is feeble, making the attack-heal loop a large part of combat.

Other than the random battles, the dungeons are creative, if unexciting. Compared to the beautifully, fluidly animated sprites of the characters and foes, the pre-rendered dungeon walls seem bleak and low on detail. Most dungeons feature at least one action puzzle, which usually involves depressing sequences of switches and a lot of running and backtracking (luckily, no jumping).

Of some interest is the fact that your entire three-person party tags along behind the lead character. This seemingly harmless fact turns deadly when in some time puzzles, the rest of your party gets stuck between force fields while you squeeze through: your comrades keep throwing themselves against the obstacle, instantly reducing their hit point count to one.

Each character has the ability to perform a special maneuver in the field: the main character swings his sword; another can push heavy objects; yet another is armed with a punch. Sometimes, a specific action will be necessary to solve certain puzzles. Annoying, especially if you don't have the required character in your party.

Lastly, BoFIII has the dubious distinction of having the grandest - and most annoying - action puzzle of all: the Desert. Crossing it involves continual walking on a featureless plain, relying on nothing more than the stars and some very uncertain direction. All the while you are attacked by enemies and have to ration your water.

The music in BoFIII is oddly muted. Throughout most of the game the player listens to five uninspired "easy listening" tracks that eventually become elevator music. When I accessed the option to hear some of the other tracks, I couldn't say at which point of the game it played. Nevertheless, most were instantly forgettable.

The story in Breath of Fire III is unremarkable in every way, except for the fact that your heroes aren't out to save the world. What this results in is that your character has no discernible mission to accomplish, and even the central villain - or what passes for one - remains in obscurity until the last minute. The cast of characters is cliché and unexciting. The dialog that occurs between them relies heavily on rapidly changing emoticons - your mute hero's only mode of communication. The world of Breath of Fire III is similarly barren - there are, apparently, no more than a handful of towns, and few areas of interest.

BoFIII hardly warrants a purchase, even though it can be readily found in discount bins across the nation. Its unique blend of lackluster gameplay and poor innovation is distinctly dissuasive.


Miner flambe, courtesy of baby Ryu.

The desert: don't get caught without water.

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