(Since I just finished my reviews of both Breath of Fire III & IV, I decided to repost my "Where the Hell is Breath of Fire?" blog with some modifications, the original post was nearly five years ago on 11/29/2015)
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 detractor's own complaints are usually just as cliched as what they complain about, with very few JRPGs actually following through with many of their complaints as much as they would like you to believe.
That is, with the exception of the Breath of Fire series, 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 a 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 them 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 series consists of 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 its Anime style, more so than other series such as Final Fantasy.
In each game, the player controls a blue-haired character named Ryu, who will eventually have Dragon powers. Transformation is a theme explored in most of the game and acts as both a story element and a gameplay mechanic.
Note that all critical ratings are from the now-defunct Gameranking.com and that commercial performance is based on some research from yours truly.
A) The Main Series:
These are all the five mainline games, all of which were released in North America. Luckily, I managed to review three of these games as part of my SNES and PS1 reviews.
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 an 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 an imbalanced game. It had excellent character design and some good combat, but it lulled terribly at 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 not only on human characters but characters from many imaginary races as well. Finally, it also introduced the series's penchant for mini-games and over-world activities.
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 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.
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 an 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 traditional RPG. Be warned though that the game has some serious pacing issues, both in its story, but mostly due to some mechanical issues.
Breath of Fire IV is in my opinion the best of the traditional BoF games, but there is generally a divide in that evaluation between it and BoFIII. It virtually takes everything that all other 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 characteristics of the series.
This time, the plot consists 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 past. It's not the first game that did it, but BoFIV does it well enough to make a more engrossing story. That's especially the case because of the great sprite-work that establishes the game's characters.
Additionally, the game has the best presentation, including the PS2 game. With an excellent and unique soundtrack and some seriously great sprite design and animations, 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 to its predecessors if it tried. Besides the post-apocalyptic setting, which may not be as huge a departure as you may think, 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, you will need to use the Dragon transformation to win. However, using your dragon powers advance a timer, that once ends kills the characters and finishes the game, forcing you to restart. Every-time you restart, you actually start learning more about the world though, and you get some of your experience and loot.
It was a radical departure for the series, and despite getting decent reviews, it didn't fare well because of that. To this day, I maintain that BoFV is criminally underrated. It forces you to learn its combat system and forces you to get good at it. 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 underground 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:
"This mobile title is not supposed to be a spin-off, it is 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, microtransactions) 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 a free-to-play nightmare."
This is what I wrote back in 2015 about the game, and it turned out as bad as I predicted. In fact, it held a paltry 1.7 rating in the Google play store at one moment, and it wasn't released outside of Japan.
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 ways, we wish the gaming industry would actually do this to learn lessons, but we know that they 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 the steep decline in sales with BoFV, 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 in 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 headfirst 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.
This Machine caused the end of many franchises
If a series doesn't deserve to "live" then we wouldn't be upset when it stops. This is not the case with Breath of Fire, a franchise which I think still can offer gamers a lot of great titles, and has both the critical and commercial potential to satisfy both Capcom and fans. Here is why I think this series deserves a resurrection.
A Unique World:
Even though the world of Breath of Fire may appear to be your run-of-the-mill JRPG world, it actually has its share of quirks that set it apart from other games in the genre.
First, there is an abundance of non-human races, which feature prominently in your own party. Take BoF IV, for example, none of the main party is strictly human, with all humanoid characters also depicting characteristics of other races.
Second, the reason I said that BoF V's post-apocalyptic world wasn't its most distinctive feature is the fact that in one way, all the worlds of the series are set in a dying or dead world. In fact, the appearance of the dragons is often related to a major change that needs to happen in order to avoid the worst fate for the world.
Both aspects provide a lot of story opportunities that I don't see much in other JRPG franchises.
Beautiful Sprite Work:
A revival of the series may not necessarily be revived with sprites, but that would be cool. I think there is a renewed appreciation of this now-retro art style, and that can serve as a selling point. Quite simply, Capcom has always been at the top of the sprite masters in any era, and they haven't used that style for so long.
With their unique design (not the generic blandness of BoF 6), Capcom can make a truly stunning game with a fraction of the costs it used to incur in the past.
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 sequel.
The days of console Breath of Fire games are 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 are 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.
With the 3DS having a respectable install rate, and with JRPGs proven to succeed on the console, it suggests that a good game can make a 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.
Capcom is Making a Lot of Great Decisions Lately:
When I originally wrote this blog in 2015, Capcom was yet to start their late decade renaissance and Nintendo still did not unveil the Switch. Now, it is not difficult to imagine a refreshed Capcom reaching back into their vault and resurrecting this dead franchise with a cheap entry on the Nintendo Switch.
Do I think it will happen? No, but it sure makes a lot of sense for Capcom. After all, we have seen how games like Octopath Traveler can succeed on the Switch, and I am sure Capcom can guarantee at least 500K sales if they ever release a proper Breath of Fire sequel (or even remake).
If Square-Enix can do it, then why can't Capcom?
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.