Both on the SNES and the PS1, Capcom’s Breath of Fire series was rarely considered as examples of the system’s best RPGs. In many ways, they felt too formulaic and safe to be contenders for greatness. On the PS1, where graphics were going into a more 3D and “realistic” style, the first BoF game was firmly planted in the past.
Ironically, it is this last quality that best preserves BoF III for today’s players. Its sprites and 2D graphics and animations have aged better than most PS1 RPGs, and what may have been considered (erroneously) a weakness at one point is the game’s biggest strength along with a surprisingly good story and characters.
Yet, other weaknesses that were noted in the past, such as a lack of innovation and depth in its combat and an overall sluggishness to the experience, all contribute to dragging the game down. In the end, BoF III’s adherence to past SNES RPGs is both its biggest strength and most damaging weakness
#75(S): Breath of Fire III:
Year: 1997 (JP), 1998 (NA).
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"We are just some poor kids trying to get some food. Who ever we steal from will forgive us, right?"
The game starts with a dramatic scene, where a small dragon escapes a mine by killing a couple of guards and then is captured and carted to authority. Yet, a dragon is not easily contained, and it escapes and is suddenly transformed into a young blue-haired boy. This boy, Ryu, is then adopted by a golden-hearted ruffian, Rei, who also earlier adopted another child in the gang. In the beginning’s narration, you learn that dragons, who harbor near-infinite power, were previously involved in a war that almost destroyed the world.
From this set-up, the story resolves itself slowly, in two parts. The first part involves Ryu as a child under Rei’s thieving tutelage. This leads them to accidentally crossing a powerful crime organization which leads to a separation of the trio and the mandated imprisonment of the JRPG hero. In prison, Ryu meets Nina, the spritely princess of the Kingdom who becomes an invaluable ally in Ryu trying to find his friends. In the child chapters, Ryu meets all of the game’s playable characters and sets up both his peaceful and compassionate moral compass, as well as his relationship with the other characters.
Balon and Sunder need to hear some Pink Floyd
As such, in the second part of the game, where Ryu must resolve the issue of his powerful and destructive dragon powers, the emotional and personal stakes have already been set-up. This leads to a second part that is like a funeral march on the surface.
A common criticism of the game is that the story takes a while to get going, with the stakes never getting high until much later in the game.
I disagree with that criticism, as I think the slow-burn works for the story. It allows for a breathing room for the characters to develop in, and even allows a lot of “pillow” moments where characters just behave in a silly or humorous manner. Seriously, there is a lot of funny moments in the game that land well due to both the slapstick direction and on-key animations and visual cues.
Nina here teases Ryu just for fun while Momo has an important conversation
Overall, I think that there is more depth to BoF III’s story and character than it is commonly given credit for, and that is one of its biggest strengths (along with a good sense of humor).
"The savage and malevolent Brood (dragons) attempted to conquer the world, igniting a fierce war..."
On the surface, there are several interesting mechanics that should shake up how BoF III plays.
First, there is a master system that significantly affects character growth. For instance, Bunyan is an early master that increases power and defense at the expense of intelligence and action points, making him perfect for a potential tank. Once you train with a master, you also get some special skills every two or three levels you train under them. A major flaw in this system is that levels don’t stack up when learning skills, meaning that if a master teaches something at level 10, then you must remain with him and NEVER change masters until you get that skill.
Second, all your characters have the Blue Mage ability to learn some enemy skills by examining their actions in battle. In theory, this is an excellent system, as it allows you to learn many enemy skills and then freely transfer them between characters. However, the great majority of skills in the game (90%) are almost useless. As such, I feel compelled to grind for more useful skills while getting a boatload of utter rubbish.
Third, exclusive to Ryu is the ability to transform into a dragon by splicing up to three different “dragon genes” which you find around the world. These transformations are very powerful and they look super cool. One can complain that they have no idea how to get the best transformation from a combination of around 15 genes, but that’s what trial and error (and GameFAQs) are for.
As a dragon, Ryu can unleash serious damage
Other than that, the turn-based gameplay is classic JRPG fare with each character really filling in a basic role that can be augmented or slightly changed by training with different masters. This isn’t terribly exciting but should be effective despite the plethora of useless skills.
However, what sucks the excitement out of gameplay is not the system itself, but the technical performance which is excruciatingly slow, compounded by high random encounter rate and sudden difficulty spikes.
Simply put, for it to be playable in any respectable way, battles need to be sped to double the speed at least.
"The strong get what they want. And the weak can't do anything about it"
Unfortunately, the general sluggishness of the game is not restricted to combat but somehow affects other parts as well. For instance, movement in town and in the maps feels too slow, but that’s not a big issue.
A much bigger issue is the VERY SLOW text scrolling speed even at the highest setting. Dialogue becomes sluggish as a result, with every conversation taking almost two minutes more than it should. While some of it is due to scene construction (waiting for the character to animate), most of it is just slow text scrolling.
Slow dialogue works in a contemplative camp scene like this
Other minor annoyances creep up, such as the need to physically travel to a master’s location to train under them or learn their skills. Also, some dungeons have puzzles that require some backtracking, which is annoying with the game’s slow combat and high encounter rate.
To provide moments of levity, BoFIII includes a number of mini-games. While most mini-games are one-time affairs included to shake things up, the fishing mini-game is something that was so good, it was expanded further in the PSP release.
What is cool about the fishing mini-game is that it could provide a lot of in-game bonuses as you can trade some fish for high-level gear. Another major side activity that can help you is a fairy village which you open in the latter part of the game and can influence its development, which also can help you by providing some good items.
The game’s general sluggishness does reduce the fun in both the above activities, as you feel nothing goes fast enough to be engaging. This almost ruins a theoretically great part of the game where you cross a desert and need to keep the stars in mind to correctly navigate. It is a great idea, but the game’s slow performance makes it truly disastrous if you ever make a mistake.
"The power that can shake the very foundation of the world... The power of Infinity..."
Finally, let us just take a moment to appreciate how well the game’s graphics and animations have aged compared to its polygonal peers. Capcom were known for its excellent sprite-work, and that shows clearly here.
Not only are the characters sprites well-drawn, but they are also expressively animated. Take for instance the several idle animations of the characters, which are hardly noticeable but provide so much character context in their execution. Sadly, there is a limited number of action animations, and I wish there were two or three per character.
That being said, the child sprites of Nina and Ryu are ridiculously expressive
A similar level of care was reserved for enemy sprites, which have a variety of designs (despite the occasional color swaps) and especially menacing boss sprites. The same level of care did not translate to the game’s world, which is sadly mostly forgettable with only a handful of interesting locations and an almost washed-out look.
In the audio department, attacks are voiced in Japanese, but there is no voice acting outside of battle, which wouldn’t be an issue if the text scrolling wasn’t slower than human speech.
As for the soundtrack, it is not exactly memorable, and I am not saying that because of the glitched PS1 soundtrack. Sure, it has some interesting tunes and an especially interesting jazzy take in some tracks. However, it fails to compare to Capcom’s best work and wasn’t very memorable to me.
In conclusion, I think that Breath of Fire III could have been a very good RPG if not for its sluggishness in both combat and general movement and dialogue. It has an interesting story and a lovable cast as well as some solid foundations in its gameplay. Sure, the Masters and Skills system have some holes, but the combat would have still been fun if it had double the speed.
Ultimately, that’s the only thing that keeps me from surely recommending the game, which is otherwise a great looking game with a very good story. Maybe play it in an emulator with a fast-forward function (just a thought).
Our heroes do deserve such a feast
1-DON'T CHANGE MASTERS UNTIL YOU LEARN ALL THEIR SKILLS.
2-Consult a FAQ to know which skills are useful so that you don't waste your time fishing for trash.
3-To unlock Deis as a master, don't be a perv, and compliment how she looks after she changes.
4-You can save your favorite dragon combinations, but you do that from the menu screen.
5-Since passive party members don't ain any levels, you can avoid the late-game grind requirement by focusing on one single party throughout the game (which I don't like to do).
6-Engage with the fairy village mini-game to unlock some useful mid-game gear.
7-The fishing mini-game also gives you access to some useful gear.
8-Use Masters to build your character to complement their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
9-Ryu's best attribute should be Action Points.
You must have so many questions here?
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not in the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
You should have more questions about this battle though? Are those two bodybuilders standing in a lava pit?
I think that if you play BoF III in an emulator with a fast forward function, then it deserves another point to its score. However, as it is, its charm is not enough to offset some seriously sluggish gameplay. It still is so damn charming though.
Now, I am going to play Breath of Fire IV, which is the game that officially sits at #75 in the Retro Sanctuary's list. I am hoping it has the same level of charm but with a faster and more streamlined gameplay loop.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: