Monday, May 25, 2009

PS1 Look: Breath of Fire IV

Capcom's Breath of Fire IV is in many ways a direct sequel to Breath of Fire III. The gameplay aspects like the Mentor/Learning system(where you learn abilities from various NPCs & Monsters) and unique approach to overworld exploration have been carried over as well as the basics of combat. You can still go fishing and you'll still help raise a fairy village. While part 4 does simplify a few things it's still for the most part a seamless jump.

It's not all the same as Breath of Fire 4 does tell a different story. Series regulars Ryu & Nina are caught up in tale of destiny as they work their way around the world to find a mysterious man by the name of Fou-Lu(who is actually playable at some parts of the story, giving you his perspective). Without spoiling anything I can assure you dragons are involved as well as lots of talk about Gods and fate. 

The differences extend further in the gameplay. Exploration still has the same three-quarters perspective but the dungeons have been shortened quite a bit. The dungeons usually have some theme or gimmick(maybe you'll ride a vehicle, run through a forest, etc) and have only a few treasures. This helps with the pacing as you'll go through a much larger variety of locales. Unfortunately none of the dungeons are particularly impressive nor are they really much of a challenge. 

Combat has also undergone a number of changes. First off is the new party system. The six party members you can attain are situated into front and back rows. The front row takes on the brunt of the fighting and handles all of the actions while the back row recharges ability points and occassionally offers support. The characters can be swapped out at any time and the battle is only truly lost when all six are defeated. 

Also new to this entry is the combo-system. By using similar-abilities(like casting a bunch of spells or doing a bunch of physical attacks) the player can chain attacks together and gain a number of bonuses. Having two characters cast a certain combination of spells can result in more powerful spells and by chaining the characters can do additional damage. This system is an interesting way to keep players from relying on the "fight, heal" doldrums that pervade most RPGs. 

Probably the most welcome aspect of Breath of Fire 4 is that while the constant mini-games have made their return they don't seem as bad as in the last game. Most of them are short and to the point(no exploring the world for cooking ingredients!) and doing well in them can reward the player with items or strengthen some of their abilities. This is definitely an improvement over the original as they're better designed to supplement the pacing instead of help to kill it.

Unfortunately this is the last traditional game in the Breath of Fire series. Part 5 also known as Dragon Quarter took on a very different approach and as such divided many of the fans who have been enjoying the series since the Super Nintendo. While personally I think Dragon Quarter is the best of the series I also think part 4 isn't bad at all(it's certainly an improvement over BoF3 and holds up well next to the second game). 

It should be noted that over the years the Breath of Fire series has changed quite a bit. The early games relied on long dungeons and a number of character-specific abilities to unlock previous areas for new items but the newer games have gone towards shorter dungeons and the character abilities being only useful for certain situations(this is excluding Dragon Quarter which is different altogether). Depending on your tastes you might get more mileage out of the first two games. Unfortunately the first Breath of Fire isn't available on the Virtual Console(due in part to Square publishing the first game in the US) and part 2 has an absolutely horrendous translation. I'm just mentioning this here because I don't plan on ever looking at the first two Breath of Fire games.

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