_hojo:Rawr of Fire IVMay 6, 2009
_i’ve always viewed the Breath of Fire series as a “solid” RPG series. the kind of franchise where if someone asked me “should i buy Breath of Fire X [X as a variable]?” i’d say “yeah, sure,” but if someone asked “should i track down a copy of Breath of Fire X?” i’d say “don’t go too out of your way looking for it.” the kind of games you don’t go to the game store looking for, but if you see it, you’d go “ooooooh,” and hold onto it in case you don’t find whatever you were looking for. not that you shouldn’t go looking for them, but if i bought a game in that situation, BoF-level quality games are the kind of thing i’d expect to find out of a game bought in that manner. but having just completed Breath of Fire 4, i think i think of the series in a little brighter of a light.
_i’ll start with my favorite part of the game, the characters development. a lot of RPG’s fall into the trap of having a lot of main characters (main meaning playable) in the traveling party just to have them in the party. they’ll have very minor roles in the story, and just end up being there just to be there. each character gets a nice spotlight in the story over the course of the game, giving you a feel for their character and why they’re there. while some characters don’t have much of a direct effect on the story outside of their “spotlight,” they’re all likable and thus forgivable for taking up space during parts of the story.
_another fantastic move of character development was done with the main protagonist, Fou Lu. throughout the game, there are sections where you take direct control of him, advancing story and tearing apart enemies in random battles. this was a brilliant design choice, as it accomplished a couple things. one was that they were able to establish his character without him ever interacting with the main party aside from the very end, but keep the player in the game by not forcing them to just sit around and watch him do things for an hour. another was to show off how powerful he was compared to your party. instead of showing his sprite destroying giant monsters in a cut-scene, leaving you to guess just how strong he was, you actually control him in battle, and tear through these enemies yourself. and once you start fighting those same enemies near the end of the game and they’re harder to beat with your party of 6 than it was with Fou Lu by himself…you think back to those parts and say “man…Fou Lu was strong as shit.” so instead of Fou Lu spending the game chasing the party, or being confronted by the party, then summoning a monster and running away, he’s able to be a integral part of the story throughout the game and always comes off as beastly-strong. Fou Lu…you are well done. pat yourself on the back.
_moving on to the main story…that wasn’t done as well. it’s alright, overall, but it lacked focus for a lot of the game. you start off by sneaking into the Empire, looking for the princess’ (Nina, main character_FEMALE.ver) sister. she stumbles across a naked amnesiac (Ryu, main character_MALE.ver) and, like any normal woman would do, she clothes him and accompanies to the nearest town to see if anybody knows him. [un]surprisingly, nobody does, so Nina, says “let’s hang out together until we find out that you’re really important to the fate of the planet and we go off to every single solitary end of the earth,” although some of that is merely implied. after a couple hours of gametime, the party gains the lovable metal Ershin and the princess’ bodyguard Cray, sneaks into enemy territory, gets caught and deported and reprimanded, occasionally interrupted with Fou Lu. it’s been an decent adventure thus far. but then…the main story kind of falls apart. you pretty much end up going from town to town in the pursuit of knowledge. that knowledge is “what do we do now?” that’s not as in “the game isn’t telling me what to do, what the fuck do i do now?” that’s as in “the main characters are actually saying ‘let’s head to this town and ask [PERSON/PEOPLE] what we should do.'” and that’s basically what happens for 15 hours. now, i said that i enjoyed the character spotlights, and that all pretty much happens from this point on. don’t get me wrong, i did like those. but it happened during all of this main story bunk. you show up in a town that the last person told you to go to to “seek answers” and you happen to CHARACTER FOCUS. and character focus is fine, but i’d have liked to, i dunno, maybe have gone there under the guise of doing something more than just “maybe we’ll find some answers…?” after a while, you find out stuff about Ryu and Fou Lu, and the party finally decides “let’s find Fou Lu.” then, on your way to find Fou Lu, “oh hey, remember this place? this was where your sister was supposed to be Nina!” “oh shit, you’re right! that was a long time ago. i completely forgot!” the very goal you drove towards for the first couple hours of the game got unmentioned for 10+ hours until you, quite literally, just happen to stumble back on it. like i said…lack of focus.
_the battle system…it’s mostly traditional turn-based, but as with most RPG’s, there are a few features of note. actually, i only remember one feature of note, but it is a wonderful note. battle is done with up to 3 characters at a time. but by the end of the game, you have 6 characters in your party. and they all travel with you throughout the game. so, time for the wonderful “logic” question we’ve all wondered in our heads while playing an RPG: “what the fuck are the rest of my party members doing while i go around getting my ass kicked with my select party?” well, in BoF4, they’re right there with you, in the back row. you can switch party members in and out of battle on the fly. “that’s wonderful,” you say. “i love all my party members and would hate for them to not get any in-battle love. but wait…if they’re all there…what the fuck are they doing sitting around for a turn? help me out, assholes!” well, in BoF4, your characters that aren’t taking turns regain AP (ability points, BoF version of MP if you can’t wrap your head around it) and can also be selected for healing. they can also randomly give the front line some support with healing or an attack. just because they’re not on the front lines doesn’t mean that they’re out of the battle. i love the feeling this gives in battles. instead of thinking “fucking assholes just sit around watching their friends fight monsters while they sit on their ass doing nothing.” you see them right there, ready to hop in at a moments notice in battle. this little feature makes your travelling party feel more like a full travelling party, instead of a travelling party divided into two factions that probably whisper in people’s ears behind the scenes in struggles for power.
_graphically, it’s a mixed bag, but it’s more good than bad. 3d models are big, blocky and laughable by today’s standards. not to sound like a retro snob, but 2D sprites just age better than 3D models. luckily, all the character models and most of the monster models are done via the sprite, and those are pretty sexy. animations are smooth and the character and monster design are overall pretty sweet. i loved the style of the text window character portraits. they might not have had as many unique variations on each portrait to show the glut of emotions some of the more recent RPG’s do, but the variations they do have were very well done. towns look nice, but the designs are oftentimes too complex due to the camera angles given to you. you only get 4 angles max, and there’s no tilt as there was in BoF3. it feels like a lot of the towns and dungeons were designed with more camera options in mind. or maybe it’s just one of those RPG dick-moves to make you miss a ton of items unless you A) spend too much time scouring every last inch of every place you go to artificially extend gametime or B) make you buy a guide to find everything. i’m leaning towards “Both,” Option B even more-so given that almost every character’s best equipment being a stealable item from various enemies found throughout the game.
_musically…it was solid. i don’t have much else to say about it. although i should note that i often had the volume lower than i normally do, due to the fact that i streamed a lot of the game and i didn’t want my wonderful voice drowned out by the game audio. so…i will mention it. there’s the mention. and when i write that down and read it over, i can’t help but think about what a travesty that is. a lot of PS1 RPG’s have fantastic scores, and the idea that if i were to have played them in the same situation i’d have just missed it…that’s just a bad thought. and given that Capcom games often have solid scores…i should give the OST a good listen. i won’t edit this paragraph when i do that, because i’d rather give my impressions of the music in-game rather than my impressions of the standalone music. so…yeah, take that for what you will.
_overall, i really enjoyed BoF4. granted, the main story is a bit of an undirected mess for a lot of the game. but, like a game that’s solid but crumbles under the weight of a bunch of little flaws, BoF4 is average but stands tall on the platform of a bunch of little awesomes. and when you think about it, is “weak main story but awesome character focus” any worse than “awesome main story but weak character focus?” i don’t really know. but even with the weak main story, i thoroughly enjoyed Breath of Fire IV. and since i wrote this with the intention of being a review, i shall assign it some numbers. in the spirit of Disgaea, i deem bigger as being better, therefore…
_Breath of Fire IV gets a 7,835/10,000
_*ratingnote* [0 is “God awful,” 10,000 is “Phan-fucking-tastic,” and 5,000 is “Average”]