When I first took off the plastic wrapper and opened the case for Breath of Fire IV, I knew I had bought a good game. The picture on the front cover almost gave me the shakes! Having played the previous Breath of Fire games, I had high expectations, and those expectations were fulfilled. I'm going to base this review a lot in comparison to Breath of Fire III.
I'd like to start off talking about the story of Breath of Fire IV, which is by far the greatest improvement from Breath of Fire III. In BoFIII, the main character really doesn't start becoming a part of the story until the end of the game. He is sort of strung along by the other characters.
This is partially true for BoFIV, except that the main character; Ryu (for those that aren't familiar with the series), becomes part of the story earlier. There are actually two main characters, Ryu and Fou-lu. You control both of them at different times in the game.
The game talks a lot about destiny and how everyone's destiny is affected by Ryu and Fou-lu. All the characters that Ryu and Fou-lu come into contact with are swept up into their "stream" which is the physical manifestation of people's destiny (everyone has a stream, but
Ryu's and Fou-lu's are much bigger than others).
The reason I like BoFIV's story better than its predecessor's story was because 4's story was much more in depth. BoFIII's story was much more "cartoony" than 4's (which is evident in that more people probably died in 4 than in 3).
The characters in 4 were a bit more developed than those in 3. Ryu's only real discernible trait is indifference, because as in other BoF games, he doesn't talk. Nina is just as talkative as in the other BoF games. She seems to be more of the main character because she is usually the one solving the problems. Cray is the tiger demi-human in this installment of the series, but is much more reckless and hotheaded than other characters such as Rei and Katt.
I found it strange that Cray was Nina's love interest rather than Ryu. Ershin is a strange little robot man/women. He talks in 3rd person as if someone is directing him/her. My favorite characters are the warriors Scias and Ursula. Ursula is a calm and calculative army officer who always gets to the point. Scias is definitely my favorite. Not only is he one of the best in battle, but I love the way he stutters and is inept around other people, as if though he spent his entire life training to be a swordsman and is nervous around people.
Although Fou-lu is one of the two main characters, he is very mysterious. Not only does his ridiculously high levels make him seem super bad, but he also talks down to people in a Shakespearean tongue.
The graphics of BoFIV were an adequate improvement over BoFIII's graphics. The backgrounds in 4 were a bit more colorful than those of 3. The only problem in 4 was the all-too-dreary world map and its strategy game-like setup.
The greatest improvements in 4 were the battle and character graphics. The battles used a blend of the game's regular cartoon graphics and some anime cutscenes for important Dragon Spells. Regular spell effects were good, but nothing compared to the dragon transformation and spells. I loved how the game cut to a short anime sequence every time a character transformed.
The character graphics was one of my most favorite aspects of the game. The characters actually seemed to run in 4, while in 3 it just looked like they were kicking their legs forward really quickly (if you played 3, you know what I'm talking about). Of course there were the trademark sweat marks and exclamations over the characters head during dialogues. Also there were character faces in the dialogue boxes, which is something 3 didn't have.
Although BoFIV is not an action RPG I have to say something about the control because it is a great improvement over BoFIII's control. The better running graphics mentioned earlier add a great deal to the "feel" of the controls. In BoFIV there are three types of camera control: 360, 90, and none.
In 360 the player can choose from four camera angles, in 90 there are two camera angles, and of course in the third you can only have one camera angle (360 occurs in most towns and some dungeons, 90 in places like a slope or a long path). These choices are greatly improved from BoFIII. The only drawback is you can't change views while moving.
As I said in my review of Final Fantasy IX, I don't really care too much for music in video games, but I can describe the sound effects. The spells had solid effects as did the character attacks. The background music for the fights was fast paced and enjoyable (the music for fights changed towards the middle of the game and I actually liked the Oriental twang of the game's second half of battle music).
The actual gameplay was the greatest part of the game. The gameplay can be divided into two parts: battles and mini-games.
The battle system of BoFIV is similar to the one of BoFIII in a few ways. Of course there is the main characters' innate ability to transform into a dragon, which is very helpful against bosses. The transformation isn't quite as complicated as BoFIII's (its more like BoFI&II).
Each character's actions are chosen through an easy to comprehend menu before each turn. There are no time gauges; who goes when is based upon the character's speed. One difference is the new front row and back row. All six characters are in battle at the same time, but only three are in the front row, which is where they can execute commands. The players in the back row regain AP every turn (which is very nice considering AP regaining items are very scarce).
The rows are nice because you change people in and out of rows during battle; whenever you want! The main difference in BoFIV and BoFIII is that the newest game has a combo system that is to say in the least, quite in-depth.
There are three types of combos: mixed elements, element/technique+status effect, and double spell/technique. The first one is the most practical, as it can create very powerful spells. The elements can only be mixed if done in the right order: fire-> wind-> water-> earth. Of course fire+water and wind+earth can't happen.
The element/technique+status combo is useful in some ways. If a status spell (such as blind) is cast first and then an elemental/technique spell is cast, it will create one of these combos. First, the status attacks in a normal fashion, but when the elemental or technique is cast, not only does it cause regular damage, it "inherits" the status effect, thus doubling your chance of hitting the target with the effect.
The last type of combo is hardly a combo at all. It occurs either when spells are cast out of order, when opposite elements are cast, or when physical techniques and elements are cast. There is no special mixing or inheriting, they just go in the order of who cast them. This is useful for getting a high number of hits strung together, which is necessary for learning spells from certain masters.
The master system is back in BoFIV, and yes, it is similar to the one in BoFIII. The masters teach you important spells and skills when you have done certain "tasks". These tasks can range from getting a certain amount of damage in a combo, bringing the master a shiny ball, or getting a certain number of points from the fishing mini-game.
As in its prelude, the masters of BoFIV give their apprentice characters bonuses or penalties on the characters' stats when they gain a level. But unlike BoFIII, the newer installment has what are called wills. The master bestows an apprentice his will during battle. A master's will can cause characters to attack from the back row, cheer on a teammate, or even fall asleep in the middle of battle. Each master's will is different.
The mini-games are a large part of BoFIV. The classic BoF fishing game is back, with a few improvements. Fishing spots are like regular fields maps; you can move around them and even pick the spot where you wish to cast off. The fish are numerous and hard to catch, but its fun nonetheless.
The fairy village is also back, and it boasts some changes as well. You can have up to 20 fairies that perform numerous jobs such as hunter, plower, painter, and even health insurance agent! There are other smaller mini-games like desert racing, chicken herding, sailing and you can even help the fairies hunt. The mini-games of BoFIV offer a pleasant distraction from the rest of the game.
When I finished Breath of Fire IV I was very satisfied. Although I compared BoFIV to BoFIII, the games are very different, so don't be afraid to play the latest installment if you didn't like the last one. BoFIV offered a classic role-playing experience that added in some delightful new ideas. I highly recommend picking this up if you are a fan of RPG's and the Breath of Fire series. You won't be disappointed.