Back in the mid ’90s, Capcom was most well known for their Street Fighter and Mega Man series. Capcom tried their hand at the RPG genre when they released Breath of Fire in Japan on April 3, 1993. It took 16 months for the game to hit North American soil. SquareSoft was an established firm with a penchant for translating JRPGs for American audiences, and they took on the unenviable task of converting the game over. There wasn’t an abundance of RPGs on the SNES back then. Thus, Breath of Fire instantly found a diehard fanbase. It wasn’t great by any stretch but it was plenty solid enough. And for the time, solid did just fine.
WINDS OF CHANGE
I couldn’t stand RPGs growing up. To be precise, it was more like I couldn’t care less. My brother, however, was obsessed with them. He played them all the time it seemed. I didn’t care for RPGs back in the day because I couldn’t see how a slower-paced, turn-based game could be any fun to play. I was a young boy who wanted instant gratification. It wasn’t until much later — around 2003 — that my view on the genre began to shift. Suddenly, the thought of conversing with the locals to dig up clues or just hear some wacky nonsense became massively appealing to me. The turn-based combat went from yawn-inducing to an obsession to level up and earn more gold so I could upgrade my weapons and armor. Today, I consider RPGs among one of my most favorite genres. Go figure. So I don’t really have any big back stories to share about Breath of Fire growing up. I remember, however, being impressed by the magazine previews. Although I didn’t like RPGs then, the game looked quite colorful and even, a bit intriguing. But I figured it to be another in a long list of games I would never play. Little did I know, over a decade later, I would find my way back home to the Super Nintendo for a second chance at 16-bit gaming redemption.
THE STORY GOES…
MEET THE HEROES
MEET THE BAD GUYS
THE QUEST BEGINS
Select the sword option and it opens up even more options.
Breath of Fire uses a unique system where day passes into early evening before giving way to nightfall. It’s pretty cool, especially the first time you see it. Not just cosmetic, either! There are things you can only do in the dark… giving the game an air of clandestine intrigue…
The front guard of Nanai is vigilant during the day but falls prey to exhaustion once the sun goes down. Only at night time can you sneak by him. If a soldier spots you at any point, it’s back to the beginning. It was a clever little way to add in some stealth action to the typical RPG formula. If nothing else, you have to give Capcom some credit for that. I love the small details seen here. Everything from the guard’s snoring bubble to the very atmospheric yellow lights that lends Nanai a brilliant glow. Be sure to explore a bit and not just rush for the exit as there are plenty of good items to be found in chests and large cabinets. Money is tight early on so collect all the free items that you can.
COOL BUT USELESS EASTER EGG
SOME INVALUABLE TIPS
BREATH OF CONFUSION
An old man tells you about the I. Claw near the end of the game. You need to find it or you cannot advance. The problem? There is no clue whatsoever as to where this elusive I. Claw could be hiding. Combine that with a massive world and well, you get the idea. The game forces you to do a ridiculous back-and-forth letter exchange between a weapons’ collector and an old lady stranded on some obscure tiny island in the middle of friggin’ nowhere. Discovering this without any help was pure dumb luck. Breath of Fire doesn’t even give you a damn clue like, “Hey, I heard there’s a lady living somewhere on the east region who loves weapons…” It was simply, “You need an I. Claw” which essentially translated to “Good luck finding it on the large world map, mwahahaha!” Brutal. While some RPGs (i.e. Super Mario RPG) held your hand too much, Breath of Fire was a little TOO obscure at times. I like a happy middle ground — not too obvious but not too obscure, either. A game that did an excellent job of balancing the two was EarthBound. You always got a sense of what to do next but you were never 100% sure. But the key was the game always gave you a sense. Those are the best RPG experiences. Sadly, it’s not quite the case here.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Breath of Fire was met with rather strong reviews. Despite the near year-and-half delay for the North American version, it still managed to stand toe-to-toe admirably with the big SNES summer blockbusters of 1994. EGM gave it scores of 7, 8, 8, 8 and 9. They praised it for its excellent visuals and sound. GameFan rated it 90, 90 and 94%. GameFan lavished heaps of praise on it for its artwork and animation, its length and its stunning music. Super Play was less enthusiastic, however, giving the game a respectable but not remarkable rating of 80%. They called it lightweight. Leave it to those Super Play chaps to calm the rest of us down. They didn’t hand out 9s and 90s willy-nilly like EGM and GameFan did!
Breath of Fire is a solid RPG. It did many things right. These include brilliantly animated sprites, amazing sound and music, a unique day-night system that affected gameplay, and skills unique only to certain characters which made all eight protagonists serve a key role. But with the good comes the bad. The game starts out on a high note — it introduces you to each new ally in a meaningful way, allowing you to hunt and fish for health items, shrink down to save a family of mice from deadly cockroaches and there’s even a cool little stealth action. Sadly, at some point it felt like the developers lost a bit of their ambition and vision. The game begins to drag a bit in its second half. And damn, is the game long. It took me 40 hours to beat and I felt it lost a little steam in the latter half of the journey. The ridiculously high random battles didn’t help it any, either. There’s no run button so our heroes move like snails in mud. The lack of character development in the latter half was also disappointing. Sometimes clues were far too obscure and left you wandering around wondering what the hell to do next. The day and night system, while promising early on, later proves to be a bit of a pain in the ass. In order to advance in certain areas of the game, you had to talk to a specific person in town who only appeared at a certain portion of the day (or night). This actually ended up hampering the experience for me as it made it tedious to play at times. Sure, the day and night engine starts out as a fun quirky novelty, but it quickly morphs into an annoying hassle. This is definitely not the kind of RPG that holds you by the hand. Some will like that open-endedness, but I prefer a balance. You won’t find much of one here.
Nevertheless, for all of the blemishes I brought up, I really did enjoy my time playing through Breath of Fire. It’s got a certain charm to it with its bright and colorful visuals that melts my 16-bit heart. The music is haunting. The melodies fit each region of the game to a tee whether it’s soothing, ominous or action-packed. I enjoyed using the eight characters’ unique skills, such as Ox smashing through barriers and Karn opening locked doors. But at 35-40 hours, it’s just too damn long for not being an epic RPG. It’s also a bit too obscure with its clues. Be sure to have a guide ready. Also, I didn’t like how too many of the NPCs repeated the same phrases. I know they were trying to save memory, or maybe they were just lazy, but these moments often took me out of the moment. When too many NPCs repeat the same thing I just read from someone not two feet away, it really hurts the game’s ability to truly immerse you. Having said that, I would recommend Breath of Fire to any RPG fan with a Super Nintendo. It’s far from a classic, but it’s an enjoyable adventure with a few unique twists along the way that makes it worth going through at least once.
2 thoughts on “Breath of Fire (SNES)”
Capcom’s first Breath of Fire is one of those games that holds a strong place in my heart, mainly for making me appreciate and love turn-based RPGs that I wanted to explore more of them. =)
The first time I played it was on the Game Boy Advance in 2006 (years before one of my cousins loaned me his SNES console) but wouldn’t be able to play it all the way through until 2008 during Hurricane Ike. In hindsight the GBA isn’t exactly a great way to experience games previously available on the Nintendo 16-bit (namely due the GBA’s sound quality which as usual butchered the beautifully strong sound quality of the SFC/SNES original) but it does serve its purpose if you don’t have an SFC and/or SNES console or a console with a downloadable service that involves the Nintendo 16-bit library–I would rectify this by playing the superior SNES original on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console in 2015.
To me I felt the original Breath of Fire was a very compelling turn-based RPG as I felt the story engaged me, Ted Woolsey’s translation (the reason it was initially localized by Square in America, because Capcom’s full-on translation prowess wasn’t quite up there at the time) was great as always (from Final Fantasy Mystic Quest to Secret of Mana to Super Mario RPG, his translation works well), I liked exploring this fantasy world, I loved the different abilities the characters could execute during the overworld depending on who was in the lead, in spite of the initially complex battle interface when the characters dish out their attack and magic it happens relatively swiftly, I loved the different fusion spells (the Puka fusion spell being my favorite), I enjoyed the framed Arthur and secret Chun-Li cameos, the game had a good share of difficult battles, I liked how there were different traps and obstacles depending on the dungeons you venture in (like the Mode 7 rotating plane when stepping on a switch for example), but above all the symphonic soundtrack is brilliant–Capcom’s Alph Lyle sound team did a really great job at augmenting a grand sense of adventurous scale and atmosphere as well as match the appropriate tone and emotion depending on the moment.
It would’ve been nice if you could dash like you would in Konami’s Mōryō Senki MADARA 2 and Quintet and Ancient’s Robotrek afterward but aside from that I didn’t really mind the slow pacing because I found it very fun to play and explore plus level grinding wasn’t too much of a hassle in my opinion (the 2001 GBA port would incorporate the dashing ability and use the simpler battle interface used in Breath of Fire II but copy-pasted Woolsey’s original SNES translation from 1994 even though a new translation could’ve been made seven years later; pretty lazy, if you ask me).
I was really hoping not to talk about Breath of Fire II (which somehow also got released in Europe long before the first game, as is) but to further provide context in the loving this game to the point of wanting to explore more games, I’ll have to. =( After I finished the first Breath of Fire the first time I liked it so much that I thought of trying the sequel on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console (because Square released and did advertising for the original in America it meant they held as much property for it as Capcom which wouldn’t be settled until the Nintendo Wii U’s Virtual Console release, thank God for that) and at first I didn’t think it was so bad but after several hours the problems were starting to dawn on me. What I’m about to say is not in any way, shape, or form meant to invalidate anyone who likes it, if people like it that’s fine, but it’s just my opinion so here goes: my main caveat with the first Breath of Fire sequel is how severely padded it feels (characters take too long to level up because the experience points are divided by the number of people in your party, certain key points and/or NPCs must involve specific characters in your party and if they weren’t in your party then you have to go back to the dragon statue or church and switch them up and then go all the way to where you’re supposed to go, and if you wanted to level THEM up you have to constantly switch), the soundtrack was disappointingly inferior (a few tracks were fine, but several of the songs either annoyed me or made me want to go to sleep, but maybe that’s me), and personally it failed to maintain my interest on account of all of these things (not to mention the translation was, to put it kindly, *bad*–for 1995, no less–and the story didn’t click with me from what I had played). I tried on several occasions to give it a solid chance on my Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, but each time I just didn’t feel the game motivated me enough to continue it which is a shame because Breath of Fire is one of my top favorite turn-based RPGs of all time, for it’s the reason why I fell in love with the turn-based RPG genre. The only things I could say I really liked about the second iteration were that the visuals were improved (par for the course for Nintendo 16-bit Capcom games, but it looked nice regardless) and I appreciated the simplified battle interface (even if the battles weren’t as quick in my opinion like in the first game). Again, it’s all my opinion, if people like it it’s fine; I’m not sure if playing the Retranslated version would sway me gameplay-wise if for some reason I decided to go for that, but it would I’m sure make for better story-engaging purposes.
To each their own
Yeah I’m not sure if playing the retranslated version will sway you any in regards to BoF II, but if you ever decide to give that game another crack then yes, I highly recommend the retranslation. That’s how I played BoF II and it made a sizable difference. I played the original BoF II a bit and I didn’t like it based on the presentation/translation. But like you said, to each his or her own. Glad you like the first Breath of Fire. I liked it too. It’s a good old school JRPG for sure. Not the best but a solid entry for sure.