Breath of Fire III is the latest episode, and the first on a next generation system, in the Breath of Fire series. It is a traditional RPG from Capcom, masters of 2D and best known for their Street Fighter series of games. The first two Breath of Fire games appeared on the Super Nintendo and received moderate praise. The third game is no different in terms of mediocrity.
“I’m the Wanderer.”
Breath of Fire III continues the story of the dragons known as “The Brood”. This time you control a young boy named Ryu, who has within him the awesome power of the Brood, which enables him to take the form of a dragon. The story begins in a mine where Ryu is discovered trapped in a crystal. Two miners unwittingly set him free and end up as toast for their efforts. Eventually Ryu is captured but he later escapes and is found by a pair of youthful troublemakers named Rei and Teepo. Together they enjoy a life of youthful mischief until they find themselves the victims of a set-up. The trio is split up and Ryu is left alone to wander in search of his friends and the truth behind his history. Thus begins the adventures of Ryu and his companions.
I found the story for the most part to be very unfocused. Rather than the characters having a purpose for their actions, it became more like a set of circumstances that your characters react to. There is really nothing to keep the player interested in the story until almost 20 hours into the game. You’re basically left to wander from one area to the next, in a very linear fashion. The story and characters are devoid of any emotion or intrigue. Characters are basically stereotypes of the typical princess, hero, or technical genius. Nothing truly sets them apart from anything we’ve seen before other than their appearance and their names. Why they do what they do, what they feel about certain things, are very simplistic reasons and emotions that are rarely voiced until almost the end of the game. And even then, you learn very little about any of the characters. And the worst part is that the main character never speaks. He has no personality whatsoever and the other character’s reactions toward him tell us very little about his personality. This has to be the most annoying aspect of the game. I suppose it’s that way to enable the player to step into the role of the hero. But that simply doesn’t work here. Ryu has his own look, moves, and emotions within the context of the game. He is his own person and only someone that shares most of those same traits could really relate. I couldn’t relate, and the story was weakened because of it. The characters and the game are shown in the third person, but the main character is portrayed in the first person. This contrast of styles does not work at all, and I don’t understand why so many developers use this style.
The halfway point of the story finally gives the player some focus and a reason to keep on playing. It finally gives us some questions that would be worth finding the answers to. But again, the trip to those answers is long and boring. And it is very difficult to be enthusiastic about finding those answers when the character you’re controlling doesn’t seem the least bit interested. The translation is well done with almost no awkward phrases or misspelled words. The translation was localized to an extent, but it is basically a straight translation from the original Japanese text.
As far as graphics go, Breath of Fire III is a 2D masterpiece. But then again, this is Capcom and if anyone can create incredible 2D graphics on a 3D system, it’s them. The character models and portraits are top notch and a joy to watch in motion. They are extremely detailed, large and animate fluidly. Each character has a huge repertoire of animations in and out of battle. The monsters are all wonderfully conceived and drawn. And some of the bosses in the game are absolutely mind blowing, taking up half of the screen with their body, and every part of that body in some kind of motion. And on the 2D limited PlayStation this is an incredible feat. There is almost no load time and absolutely no slowdown, even when two giant creatures are going at it.
Magic spells in the game use every graphical trick in the PlayStation’s library to dazzle and amaze the player. Giant lightning bolts and pillars of flame all make their presence felt and properly portray the power and purpose of each spell.
The only weakness in the graphics is the rather bland 3D backgrounds. While most of the locales are masterfully designed, they lack the unique look that hand drawn art provides. Textures are too limited and structures are too blocky and similar to help draw the player into that world. I understand that 3D backgrounds had to be used because of the RAM limitations in the PlayStation, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’d rather have a few seconds of load time here and there with intricate hand drawn backgrounds. I will give Capcom credit though for making the most of the situation. They incorporate the 3D by having you rotate the field of vision in order to find hidden items and switches that can’t be seen from the normal angle. An interesting application of the 3D camera, but not exactly necessary.
The voices in the game are carried over from the Japanese version, but they are only used during battle for spells and attacks. The voices are well performed and fit the characters fairly well. The music in the game is high quality sound wise, but not very appealing in terms of composition. None of the tracks really stick out in my mind and many get repeated throughout the game. The battle music is not too bad, but can get annoying since you fight so often. The music would fit into the category of New Age I would presume. Kind of like Yanni meets John Tesh in my worst nightmare. I didn’t like it, but I’m sure this appeals to many people. The compositions aren’t bad, just not my cup of tea.
“What, another fight?”
The gameplay is set up in your basic menu system with no real innovations in that department. You’ve played it before and it’s kind of like slipping into an old pair of shoes. You’ll be running through battles with your eyes closed in no time at all. And you will be doing it quite often because the rate of random encounters in the game is extremely high, and it is doubled if you have your characters run. The rate is so high because the game’s difficulty is so high. You’re going to have to fight a lot of battles to keep your characters on par with your enemies. Normally I wouldn’t mind so many battles except that many of the areas in the game are very large. There are also numerous puzzles to solve and a lot of backtracking involved. All of this combined with the high encounter rate makes the game very frustrating and repetitive.
Each character has specific magic and weapons, which helps to diversify them and add to their individuality. It also adds a certain level of strategy to the gameplay in choosing which characters are best suited to certain battles. Also, weapons and armor have weight to them, and what you equip affects your character’s agility. Sometimes it’s good to have a lot of armor against slower, stronger opponents. Other times speed takes precedent over power and defense. The only problem with this is the random nature of the battles. Each area has a diverse collection of opponents and you never know what you’ll be facing until you face it. So for the most part, equipping strategy only makes sense for boss fights and even then only after you faced that boss once already and you know its weaknesses.
Exploration would have been a lot of fun if not for the high encounter rate. The locales are diverse and have many hidden items to be found. Also, each character has a skill that can be used in exploring. Ryu has a sword swipe that can cut down bushes to reach new areas, another character can destroy small objects to open paths and another can push large objects. These skills are used to find secrets and also for finding a way through certain areas. Sometimes you have to have a certain character with you because only they can open up specific paths to the exit.
There are a few innovations in Breath of Fire III’s gameplay that are worth noting. The most interesting of these is the master system. Throughout the world of Breath of Fire III, various masters are located. By aligning a character with a master, certain aspects of that character will be enhanced such as their power or agility. Also, after gaining levels you can return to that master and they will add a skill to your list. This could be a new spell, an attack or sometimes an item. The master system provides a unique way to balance out or further enhance your characters. Some masters will let you serve under them as soon as you find them, while others will require you to meet certain requirements before they’ll teach you. Each master can only teach you a certain number of skills, so it is wise to switch between different masters throughout the game to keep learning.
Another innovation is the dragon gene system. Hidden throughout the game are Brood genes that can be used by Ryu to transform into different dragons during battle. Also, the genes can be combined with each other to create a number of different dragons with a variety of skills. The number of combinations is quite large and it’s fun to experiment with the system. The dragons can be vital in winning some battles, but they can drain your magic points quickly and leave you in a lurch if you run out to soon or don’t have enough to begin with.
There are two mini games included that can be fun to play. These are fishing and the Fairy Village. There are fishing spots located at various spots around the world, each with a unique mix of fish. You have to have a fishing pole and a lure of some kind in order to play this mini-game. Different lures attract different fish and trial and error will help you determine which is needed. The fish you catch can be used in battle to restore hit points or magic points, but they also can be traded for items at Manillo’s shop. The hard part is finding Manillo’s shop because Manillo is another fish that you have to catch with a specific lure. So first you have to find him, and then you have to catch him. The Fairy Village is a mini-strategy game in which you have to help a group of fairies survive and build a village. You have to place fairies in charge of hunting, building, trading and many other skills. There’s not much of a point to it, but it is kind of fun to play around with.
Breath of Fire III does have some depth to its gameplay, but as far as the basics go you’ve played it all before. It gets pretty dull rather quickly, and that isn’t a good thing for a game that is over 40 hours in length. And quite a large amount of that 40 hours isn’t really necessary, as some sections of the game are unnecessarily tedious. There is something to be said for tradition, but tradition and innovation can still go hand in hand. When it comes right down to it, the game is rather boring to play. You’re thrown cliché after cliché and the story really goes nowhere and refuses to draw in the player. This game had a lot of potential and it is still beautiful to look at and a testament to the power of 2D, but it simply isn’t that memorable of a game.