Friday, May 8, 2009

PS1 Look: Breath of Fire 3

Reviewing a game that has just been released can be quite harrowing. The author is expected to play through as much of the game as they can in a limited amount of time and then put his or her thoughts down in a reasonably cohesive manner. These days it only becomes more difficult as the games are longer, usually have some additional modes like multiplayer(which could potentially add another page or two to the review) and so on. Role-playing Games are also difficult to assess in a short span of time as reviewers are expected to go through a 40 hour epic(let alone titles that span 100 hours or more) while giving their thoughts on every aspect from story to gameplay(since most people consider both aspects of equal importance). 

Regardless the way I see it is that if one wants to write a positive review of a game they must have finished it. Unlike what some people say a game should never start off terrible and become great over X number of hours. All games should start off good and get better from there. Eventually they will reach a certain point of greatness and whether through nostalgia or otherwise these games will be held up until the end of time. This is potentially unfair to the time-starved reviewers but when it comes to Breath of Fire 3 we can safely ignore all of that. The simple reason of course being that this game is over a decade old.

One of the benefits of buying older titles is that one has several times as many other opinions to read through regarding the game so they can be more assured that they're purchasing a good game. What's also important is that these opinions are more likely to come from people you know and find their opinion trustworthy. It is not uncommon today for gamers to bash reviewers of new titles for their credibility or lack thereof, coloring the review. Whether they have garnered this reputation through bias or an inability in understanding the game or certain genres is never quite clear but all the same, it makes an already difficult process even tougher when the reviewer is considred un-trustworthy. But enough about all that let's move onto the game itself.

Breath of Fire 3 like the previous games(and parts 4 & 5 which follow) involves the story of a young man who houses the power of a dragon clan. This particular adventure is a truly dark one as he discovers many horrible secrets about his lineage, meets and loses several friends, and engages with several enemies out to destroy the world, rule over it, or possibly just make some cash. While it's a dark tale it's kept from being too melodramatic by lightening the mood through a colorful cast of characters(from a bumbling winged princess to a perverted scientist who is also part-hare) and humorous situations. Overall I find little reason to complain about the story(unless you're the type of person who shuts out every RPG storyline that involves battles with a God or even The God).

Like any other Japan-developed RPG your progress can be summed up as "visit a town, explore a dungeon, fight a boss, move on to next town". Thankfully BoF3 mixes things up quite often and you'll find yourself visiting different places or even the same areas under unique circumstances so everything stays fairly fresh. The world employs a constant 3/4s perspective and by using a rotatable camera the developers have seen fit to hide many secrets just out of the player's sight(a popular gimmick). Unlike most JRPGs, BoF3 doesn't employ the use of random battles while in the over world so for the most part you can freely walk between towns and dungeons and engage in battle only if you're interested(where you'll enter a field with possibly a treasure and fight random battles as you please). Aside from the multitude of towns and dungeons you can also find several secret areas and even an entrance to an almost entirely optional fairy town(which you build yourself through a sim-city esque minigame and eventually gain access to a host of neat features). 

In the overworld you can set-up camp. There you'll find all of your current party members sitting around ready to offer their viewpoint on your current task. This is a handy way of giving personality to the party members and allowing the player to grow more attached to them. Also while in camp the player can rest for the night, save their game, change party members, and do a handful of other things. Though resting at camp is free there are a few conditions that can only be healed through an inn or other means(such as if the player loses all of their HP in battle when they're revived a portion of their max HP is gone and can only be replenished in other ways)

Also while exploring the overworld you're bound to do a bit of fishing. While the minigame itself is fairly easy(even if you've never played a fishing game before you'll quickly figure this one out and reel 'em in by the dozens) it's quite deep as there are many kinds of fish to collect, multiple baits to use, and even a merchant can be caught who will take your fish in exchange for unique items and equipment(which are typically more powerful than what you can currently find in stores). 

The battle system isn't all that difficult to figure out. Faster characters are always useful in that if their speed is great enough they can get multiple turns per each enemy turn. Slower characters make up for their lack of speed with additional power, and a variety of offensive and defensive-aligned spell-casters round out the party selection. You can also further customize characters by taking them to various masters littered throughout the game world. Not only do they affect your stat gains but they can also teach you abilities(some you won't get through simple levelups). Granted you probably wouldn't benefit much from turning the offensive spell-caster into a tank but it lends a bit of depth to figuring out your optimal battle party. Also some abilities can actually be learned from monsters. By using up a turn party members can study enemies and possibly learn certain abilities that they use. It remains to be seen which ones are actually useful but for the ones who enjoy experimenting or the completionists this is worth a look.

The main hero has perhaps the most unique ability. While he can become a Dragon it's not as simple as pressing a button. Instead the player finds various crystals throughout the game world that add additional genes. These genes can then be spliced together(up to three) to create a very large number of unique dragon forms. Sometimes you want a dragon that specializes in a particular element the enemy is weak to, other times you need one with a lot of HP and defense to take the brunt of the enemy's attack. Finding out the best combination can make the main character absolutely devastating, and also unfortunately making many battles trivial in terms of challenge. This is somewhat balanced out by the fact that every turn to stay in Dragon form the player must exhaust a particular amount of MP and MP-restoring items also happen to be very rare. 

Unfortunately I'll go ahead and mention it right now. I didn't beat this game. Henceforth I can't give it a positive review. The biggest fault with BoF3 is its reliance on minigames. Minigames are almost expected in the RPG genre as they provide a nice break from the constants like exploring and fighting. Where this game falters is that for the most part the minigames aren't a break, they're essential for progress. Even with danger looming and many mysteries left to be solved you'll find yourself forced to drop everything to help a young weak man win the heart of a girl he likes, or set off all over the continent to find ingredients which will then be used in a cooking game. None of these missions provide other benefits to the player like additional treasures or extra experience points but in order to attain certain vital information or plot items to move the game along these worthless minigames must be completed. Eventually I simply got sick of playing through minigame after minigame and quit. It'd be one thing if there were additional ways of attaining what I needed(through perhaps paying for the stuff or fighting a special boss) but when progress is limited by my inability to figure out math formulas to make a proper dish for the mayor I see no reason to continue.

It seems like an ultimately minor thing but for me at least it wasn't worth the trouble. The rest of the game is actually quite competent and at times even really good but it wasn't enough for me to put up with the constant oddjobs I kept getting forced into(In fact it makes everything worse as it's quite clear the developers know how to put together a decent RPG yet they also think this was a good idea). Maybe you're less likely to quit over a forced stream of minigames in an RPG and if so feel free to check this one out but otherwise I really wouldn't bother. 

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