In many ways, the Breath of Fire series is the quintessential JRPG. When detractors of the genre complain of its adverseness to innovation, they would usually complain about cliches found in this series. Ironically, the detractors own complaints are usually just as cliche as what they complain about, with very few JRPGs actually following through with many of their complaints as much as the would like you to believe.
That is, with the exception of Breath of Fire, which embodies them in many ways. Silent Protagonist with a mysterious destiny, check. Saving the world from an ancient evil, check. Invoking the powers of friendship, check. Yet, the series also always managed to provide the comfortable experience in a solid package, and as such it became Capcom's main RPG franchise.
Generally, the series was well received both commercially and critically. However, with the release of the fifth game on the PS2, which was a huge departure for the series, Capcom simply stopped making anymore. That is until a rumor of a mobile only Breath of Fire 6, that seems to be as much of a departure for the series as the fifth game, but into much darker waters.
Just what the hell happened here?
The Breath of Fire series involves five main games, and many mobile mini-games. It was created by Tukuro Fujiwara and Makoto Ikehara to add to Capcom's genre selection, and was made from the onset to be a typical RPG. At first, it was unique among RPG games by emphasizing on the Anime style, more so than other series such as Fina Fantasy.
each game, the player controls a blue haired character named Ryu, who
will eventually have Dragon powers. Transformation is a theme explore in
most of the game, and acts as both a story elements and gameplay
Note that all critical ratings are from Gameranking.com, and that commercial performance is after some research from yours truly.
A) The Main Series:
These are all the five mainline games, all of which were released in North America.
1- Breath of Fire:
Seeing the success of RPGs in their home country, as well as the increased popularity of the genre in the west, Capcom realized that they need to make and RPG game and add it to their list of franchises. To do so, the creative minds of Capcom, including famed designer Keiji Inafune, Ghost's and Goblins designer Yokuro Fujiwara, and newcomer writer Makoto Ikehara, all came together to make the quintessential RPG.
Realizing that they didn't have much experience with the genre, the development took longer than expected, and they needed to ask help from Squaresoft. As a result, the first Breath of Fire game is clearly and imbalanced game. It had excellent character design, and some good combat, but it lulled terribly at the the end.
Still, it was a solid RPG, that
laid a good foundation for the series. It introduced the blue haired
Ryu, and the ability to transform into dragons. Additionally, it focused
on not only human characters, but characters from many imaginary races
as well. Finally, it also introduced the series penchant for mini-games
and over-world activities.
2- Breath of Fire II:
With lessons learned from BoFs development, Capcom went on with their production of the second game with more experience. It resulted in a visual and mechanical overhaul overhaul, and a game that is very different from its predecessor. In fact, it was not necessarily an improvement, and fans are divided between these two games. In my review of the game here, I thought the game's story to be a marked improvement, but I hated some of its "caveman design" principles,
The game had many flaws to it, a lot of them having to do with Capcom actually publishing the game rather than Squaresoft. There are many translation errors, vague descriptions, and overall bad use of language. Additionally, everything you need to do, takes twice as much time as it should. From navigating menus, to traversing a dungeon.
Thankfully, it had a gorgeous 16bit art style, and an excellent story for its time.
3- Breath of Fire III:
Making a jump to Sony's console, Breath of Fire III wisely retained its 2D based graphics. As a result, it is one PS RPG that doesn't look like ass. Unfortunately, the game was actually criticized at the time for not "innovating" enough, but still managed to get good reviews. Often taking top place with fans, BoFIII actually encompasses what the series is known for.
Again, you control a blue haired character that can transform into dragons, and you ally with various characters from varied races. However, the game's look is fundamentally changed, through an isometric view, and updated graphics. Additionally, the Dragon transformation mechanic is vastly expanded, and there were other important additions as well. This time, the fishing mini game is actually good.
Taking place across two parts, childhood and
adulthood, the game manages to tell a well-worn story well. Again, this
is not a series known for its innovation, but it delivers an excellent
4- Breath of Fire IV:
Breath of Fire IV is the best of the traditional BoF games, but for some reason is not the most popular. It virtually takes everything that the games introduced, and improves on it. The combat system now is more fluid, with strategic combos available for the player, as well as the ability to switch between characters. Also, it is the most polished entry in the series, with very few of the nagging flaws that were characteristic of the series.
This time, the plot consist of exploring the relationship between people and the gods (Dragons), and it offers the most well-paced story of the four games so far. As well as controlling Ryu, you also get to control another character that reveals the events of the far past. Its not the first game that did it, but BoFIV does it well enough as to make the world more engrossing.
the game has the best presentation, including the PS2 game. With
excellent music, and the best sprite design, BoFIV is Capcom's best stab
at a traditional RPG.
5- Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter
What happens when a series infamous for lack of innovation tries to change something. Apparently, they go for a complete overhaul ,and get a lot of fan backlash as a return. Breath of Fire V couldn't be any different game if it tried. Besides the post-apocalyptic setting ,which already is a huge departure, the game's design was very different and had a lot of polarizing features.
First, the game was actually designed to be played several times. Its ridiculously hard, and had no opportunity for grinding. In fact, the game was designed so that you fail, and have to redo the game from the start. Because of its great difficulties, many times would will need to use the Dragon transformation to win. However, using your dragon powers advance a timer, that once ends finishes the game and forces your to restart. Every-time you restart, you actually start learning more about the world though, and you get your experience and stuff.
It was a radical departure for the series, and despite getting really good reviews, it didn't fare well because of that. To this day, I maintain that BoFV is criminally underrated. It forces you to learn the combat system, and forces you to do well in. Sure, it has its bumps and flaws, but it is a different game. I wish the setting was explored more in video games, as an under ground post-apocalypse setting seems really cool.
Unfortunately, the low commercial reception of the game may have contributed to the decline of the series, as no new game has been released since.
B) Mobile Games:
Most of these games were mini-games that were originally included in the core games, expanded and sold for older mobiles. Specifically, Capcom released 4 of these mini games, with three of them being tied to BoF4. However, the latest mobile game is titled Breath of Fire 6, and is supposed to be the next main title in the series.
1- Breath of Fire 6:
mobile title is not supposed to be a spin-off, its numbered as the 6th
main title in the series, and is unfortunately designed to be a mobile
game. We still do not have much information on the game, but it is going
to have a huge online component (i/e, micro transactions) and a
simplified touch-based battle system. From what I saw, there is no
reason this game cannot be released on the 3DS, which suggests it is
going to be free-to-play nightmare.
When analyzing why any series die, the most obvious answer would be a financial decline. Sometimes, that decline is related to the series itself, or it is related to the developers and/or publishers of the series. Still, it is always interesting to research those exact trends, and learn the reasons behind such a decline. In many way, we wish the gaming industry would actually do this to learn lessons, but we know that the don't actually do so.
As you can see from the Gameranking ratings, the series's critical reception has always been stable at the 70 to 80 range. However, in spite of the critical praise, the franchise never brought in huge sales, with only one game breaking the 1Million mark. With the game's budget in the SNES and PS era, we can assume that it always made a profit.
However, with steep decline in BoFV sales, maybe Capcom was afraid the series didn't have enough of a fanbase for the newer generations of consoles. However, that assumption would be wrong, because BoFV was not a good indicator of interest on the series.
The PS3 is going to be a consistent franchise death theme in this blogging series, especially for Japanese games. When it first came out, the PS3 was bloody expensive, it had no idea what it wanted to be, and was painful for developers to work with. Because of its high cost of development, the PS3 basically killed a lot of mid-tier games, because their sales numbers wouldn't justify the rising cost of PS3 development.
It is no coincidence that
many franchises failed to appear in the PS3. It was a disaster for the
Japanese video game market, and it contributed greatly to pushing the
market towards the portable space.
Anyone who observed Capcom in the last few years would notice a self-destroying attempt at pandering to western audiences. As a result, they either destroyed some of their franchises, or ignored other "more Japanese" ones. In fact, this was an actual market strategy started by Keiji Inafune himself, who personally headed many disastrous projects for Capcom in this period.
Because of this pandering, we can assume that JRPGs such as Breath of Fire went into the back burner for a while, especially since BoF is THE quintessential JRPG.
I think Breath of Fire's death is a dual result of the rising costs of development ushered by the PS3, and Capcom's business direction which went head first into Western pandering. Maybe if the PS3 was more developer friendly, it wouldn't have been the death of the franchise. However, it is obvious that Capcom doesn't do the smartest business decision.
Here, I am not really predicting anything with concrete facts. Mostly, I am imagining a possible future for the series, and how that future can come to be. Many of these "predictions" are pure fancy, while some are obvious due to some recent activity by the company's holding the series's rights.
As evidenced by the impending release of the sixth Breath of Fire game, Capcom considers the series only worth risking on cheaper mobile games. Regardless of the success of BoF6 (they even ditched the roman numerals), Capcom doesn't believe in the series, and they see their primary market as the Japanese people who massively migrated to the mobile market.
If the trend continues as it is, there won't be an incentive for Capcom to make anything other than a mobile game.
The days of console Breath of Fire games is simply over. Capcom will never risk making a full fledged console JRPG. The series didn't have enough fans to support it in the first place, and the cost and risk is too much for a conservative company like Capcom to handle. However, they could, and they should release BoF games on portable consoles such as the 3DS.
the 3DS having a respectable install rate, and with JRPGs proven to
succeed on the console, it suggest that a good game can make good profit
on the portable scene. Of course, it is too late to make a game on the
3DS, but hopefully the next generation of Nintendo portables manages to
be a success.
The "Where the Hell is" is going to be a series where I discuss the decline and disappearance of game franchises that interested me greatly, and now are gone. For a series to be covered, it needs to have three or more games, an unresolved conclusion or different storylines, and is a series I somewhat played. Please feel free to give me any feedback or recommendation, as I always try to write better blogs.