Breath of Fire 2

Breath of Fire 2 is an RPG, released by Capcom for the SNES in December of 1995. You play as Ryu, a young boy who one day discovers that his family has gone missing, and that the other members of his town no longer remember who he is. 10 years later, Ryu sets out on a journey to discover his destiny and vanquish a growing evil to save the world.

It's about as standard as RPG plots come, and the rest of the game can also be summed up with "standard RPG" as well. As far as run-of-the-mill RPGs go, however, it's not too bad, and it does try a few interesting new things. In the end, however, there's not really enough to make it stand out amongst all the other games in its genre.

The first thing you may notice just by looking at it, is that Breath of Fire 2 is an amazing-looking game graphically. This is especially evident during battles, which contain a lot of animations, even in the backgrounds and the enemies. Other areas of the game look great, as well, such as the kingdom of Tunlan with its flowing fountains and the kingdom of Windia with its turning windmills. The soundtrack, however, is somewhat lacking when compared to many other RPGs.

Great graphics don't make a great game, of course, but in this case you can at least tell that they really tried to make the rest of the game interesting. Unlike many modern games, that seem to prioritize graphics far above the actual gameplay.

The true meat of an RPG, and this seems to be a point that many games miss entirely, does NOT lie in its plot, or its characters, or in building levels and buying equipment, but in the battles themselves. A good story can motivate the player to continue onward until the day is saved and the credits roll. However, a good battle system and challenging fights can be motivational and rewarding all on their own.

BoF 2's battle system falls somewhere squarely in the middle of this spectrum. It's your traditional, turn-based battle-system, with very few added bells and whistles. Although there are a few standout bosses, most of the fighting doesn't involve a lot of strategy. The fighting can get repetitive, and the game feels "unbalanced", in that you can seem underleveled in one area, but then overleveled in the next. The encounter rate is also a bit high. However, it benefits from one of the game's more unique features: the game is very customizable.

The game features 8 strange and colorful characters for you to recruit to your party (and 1 hidden character.) The characters are balanced in such a way that many of their abilities and attributes overlap. Although this means the player can put together almost any party to their own preference, it also robs the characters of having a defined role in battle. This may seem preferable to some, but I feel that if the characters were more defined as such, that more focus could have been put into the strategic aspect of battles.

In addition, Ryu's ability to turn into a dragon is very disappointing, as the transformations are more like one-shot spells. Using them drains Ryu's AP completely, multiplying the damage by the amount of AP you have. The strategy for using these attacks amounts to "attack with dragon, restore AP with items, repeat." There could have been much more to this system.

One of the game's most interesting features is the ability to create your own town and populate it with recruitable NPCs. You only get six houses, though, and many of the people you will find aren't very useful. Although you might come across someone who offers to open an armor shop, or a bank, most will do things like change the color of the dialog windows, or ask you pointless riddles, or just take up a house with no benefit to the player, whatsoever!

Another interesting feature is the Shaman System, which also adds to the game's customizability. Each character can fuse with up to two (of six) shamans, with some combinations being more effective than others. While most will give you a measly stat boost or palette swap, certain combinations will turn your characters into an all-new warrior, with a new sprite and a much more substantial raise in stats.

The best combinations also give you new special commands to perform. Since the characters' default special commands are rather useless, this is possibly the greatest benefit from fusing. These new commands can also add new strategic possibilities to battles. Sadly, these fusions are very easy to lose from taking damage, and Ryu can't fuse at all.

Some of the exploration is actually quite interesting. Every character has a unique ability that can be used outside of battle. For example, Ryu can fish while Katt can destroy rocks, Sten can grab distant ledges and Nina can fly over damaging tiles. Even some of the areas themselves are interesting, like a dungeon that reverses the old concept of only being able to see for a small radius around your character; instead, it's the radius around your character that is obscured! Unfortunately, much of the game sees you exploring repetitive mazes with the same tilesets used over and over again, and fighting against the high encounter rate makes exploring later dungeons a chore.

Of course, there's also the game's story to consider. Although the characters are interesting and there is the faint outline of a story that could have been better, the game has a severe case of ADD that throws everything off. The entire plot is composed of side-missions, all piled on top of each other, in a tangential mess that can't focus itself enough to gain the momentum needed to really suck the player in. Although there's some interesting concepts dealing with morality and religion, the villain turns out to be of the James Bond-esque, monologue-spewing variety, and the ending resolves very little. The orginal English release is also hurt by a shockingly awful translation.

Maybe I'm being somewhat harsh on this game. After all, it tried some interesting new things, it looks pretty, and it has some memorable characters. However, the fundementals aren't executed well enough, and the new ideas don't work as well as they may have originally intended. It's not a bad game, but in a sea of the many RPGs released for the SNES, it's only about average. Somehow, over the years this game has been lauded as a classic. I just can't see the appeal, myself.

I would recommend this game mostly to die hard RPG fans and fans of the Breath of Fire series. In the end, I didn't feel burned by Breath of Fire 2, but I didn't think it was so hot.