The way I see it, there are two kinds of RPGs on the PSX landscape - stuff made by Squaresoft, and "real" RPG games, the kind that emphasize gameplay over narrative. The former, being much more addictive to many mainstream players than the latter, sells the most (naturally). Squaresoft's domination of the RPG landscape in North America has netted them more fans than they could hope to choke on, thus draining the potential fanbase for a game like Breath of Fire III significantly. But for those RPGers that still prefer dungeon-heavy gameplay and light-hearted storylines, here's a game made just for you.
BOF3 starts out in the Dauna Mines, where workers have excavated a Brood Crystal that contained a long-sealed dragon. This dragon is the lead Ryu, who cremates the workers in his way until getting stomped on by the bigger employees of said Mines. Soon Ryu breaks free and falls into the forest housing Rei and Teepo, who, very surprisingly (_), become his party members for the first few hours in. From here on forth, you lead various teams of three through dungeons, towns, wishy-washy story segments, elevator-music-esque battle themes, and daunting boss encounters for 40+ hours in an adventure that you'll likely forget about a month after completion.
But wait, it sounds like I hate BOF3, doesn't it? Well, in many ways, I hate the cliche BOF3's gameplay and story mimmick, but I still like the game because as a cliche, it's very, very well done.
Let's start off with the gameplay, shall we? The battle engine is simple turn-based stuff, but what differentiates it from countless others is the speed of most battles. Enemy encounters are fought on the same background you met them on in the dungeon, which makes the loading of battles speedier than most games (since a new battle screen/background doesn't have to load). This makes battles flow seamlessly to and from the dungeon-crawling gameplay, meaning you won't agonize nearly as much over battle-loading.
Sony and Square should take some notes, because the transition seen here is far less annoying than having to wait half a minute for a quick battle to load in FF or LoD.
Next up, battling. BOF3 uses the same battle engine as most cliches in the genre, but the difference again, is in the speed of encounters. A battle usually consists of your party "Charging" (going all-attack) and taking some minor hits, then winning the fight in about 30 seconds to two minutes (depending on the quality and quantity of enemies). Some battles may require the usage of Elemental Magic to destroy foes (another cliche executed better than the norm), but usually, if equipped suitably, you won't need to waste AP on the enemy.
When fighting a powerful enemy, however, more options present themselves (they're always there, but common sense indicates that you don't need to summon a powerful dragon to kill two small plant enemies), Ryu can mutate into one of several different combinations of Dragons (Warriors, Huge Dragons, and Regular) which grant him powerful AP attacks and pumped-up defense and attack. Other characters have magic to use, or powerful attacks called "Gambit".
Also in your arsenal are offensive items that take the form of an elemental magic attack. Nothing we haven't seen done millions of times before, but again, BOF3 has many advantages over the typical RPG.
For one thing, most random enemy encounters provide a decent challenge. Yes, there are a few that will bore you with their sheer simplicity, but overall the enemies are difficult to defeat but very rewarding when/if you do defeat them. Also, while many boss encounters are a piece o' cake, there are a few, namely the Dragon Zombie in your second visit to Dauna Mines, that require a lot of sheer skill to defeat.
Though I did find that my party was doing too much "healing" at times, the problem only arose when fighting the most difficult boss enemies. A small flaw; not enough to ruin the battle segments.
One rather annoying nitpick I find is the frequency of "missed" attacks. Half the time, your attack will miss for some unknown reason, which is seriously irritating. Especially during boss fights when every lance stab and blade hack count, does this become a problem.
Lastly, your repertoire of skills and "Masters" that increase abilities and Magic is truly impressive. The amount of combination make for some good gameplay variety that aid in the creation of a perfect party. Also adds some great replay value - first "fetch quest" RPG I've ever felt like playing through again just to get all the secrets and skills.
Overall, while it is utterly unoriginal, the quest in BOF3 is just too enjoyable and entertaining for me to bash. I absolutely love the amazing amount of dungeons and ramped-up difficulty seen here, and if you go in with an open mind, you will too. This game is almost on the level of Grandia in terms of dungeons, and THAT is saying something.
Perhaps the biggest setback for BOF3 is a storyline that drags it's knuckles slowly until some 25 hours in when religion (a much overused topic in RPGs) enters the fray. Though this is easily substituted by fantastic gameplay, the feeling that a stronger storyline/emphasis on character development would make the game better is undeniable.
If there's an RPG out there with better sprites than BOF3 (that was made before 1998, mind you), I haven't seen it The animation on every character is easily superior to every other sprite-based RPG I've ever seen on any console (again, pre-BOF4). The level of detail and amount of animations per character design topple even Grandia and Chrono Trigger. That they animate without any visible "animation gaps" (FM3, FFT, and Persona 2 come to mind) is truly a testament to Capcom's mastery of sprite-animation.
Likewise, the 3D backgrounds, while lacking even a pinch of excitement, are well animated and don't distract the player with gaping seams. "Forgettable" is the best term to use when describing the environments in this game.
A lot of the music in BOF3 is "elevator" material - nothing to write home about, but nothing to cringe at either. With the exception of the extremely repetitive (after a good while) battle theme, the music in BOF3 ranges from forgettable to excellent. The score, comprised of fusion music (mainly for dungeons) fits the gameplay well despite being an exercise in apathy half the time. You'll either love the music or simply enjoy it, but either way, it's fit for the game.
There's a lot to be said about a dungeon-intense RPG with a surprisingly-flawless isometric camera system that, despite having a rather bare-bones plot, manages to keep the player interested the whole way through. Though it doesn't lack it's share of problems, BOF3 is still an RPG worth experiencing. It's not on the level of Grandia or Chrono Trigger (the two games I would fastest compare it to) but it's still worth playing if you're even remotely intrigued by the concept. Buy it now!