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• Breath of Fire III

developed and published by Capcom/1998.04.30
1 player/1 CD/SONY PlayStation, PSP

Capcom’s Breath of Fire games have never been top shelf material. The main selling point is a hero who can transform into a dragon, and Capcom’s signature 2d sprite-work. Despite owning all the games in the series, I’d only ever completed the original SNES game, when I decided to start Breath of Fire 3.

Story

The story has some nice ideas, and sort of delves into the history of how the Brood were hunted down, but is bogged down by cliched scenarios. You will compete in a battle tournament, visit a haunted mansion, go on several fetch quests, wind up imprisoned, etc..

Luckily the execution is competent enough to prevent you from getting too bored with it, just don’t expect anything terribly new or exciting. One thing that’s kinda cool is you get to see a few of the characters grow up in the game. And all of the story is shown using the in-game graphics.

Graphics & Music

Similar to Xenogears and Grandia, Breath of Fire 3’s graphics engine pumps out 3d environments populated by 2d sprite-based characters. The settings are never as impressive as either of those titles, but BoF3 does have some nice boss monsters, awesome dragon forms, and the main characters look good enough. The isometric angle maintained in this game prevents the ugly scaling / pixelization seen in similar engines.

This is probably my biggest complaint with the game. RPGs should have good music, right? But the music is pretty bland and forgettable – mediocre at best, and annoying at worst, with only a few exceptions.

Gameplay

On the bright side, there’s a pretty cool dragon gene system which allows the main character to transform into a variety of different dragons by mixing genes together. Some combinations produce dragons with elemental affinities, while others combine the powers of party members. Playing around with gene combinations, and the resulting dragons, is good fun, even if most of the dragons are just palette swaps.

The dungeons go one step beyond simple mazes by including puzzles, usually involving switches. The problem is that conveyor belts and floating platforms, which you must ride in some areas, move way too slowly. Luckily, there’s an auto-battle function to speed through redundant random encounters.

One area that nearly stopped me from finishing the game, the Desert of Death, requires you to traverse a never-ending desert. Not only must you navigate by the stars, but even a small error will completely throw you off track, causing you to lose 30-45 minutes of your time. There is an easy way to complete the desert, but the game only tells you the difficult way.

Closing thoughts

If Breath of Fire 3 is lacking in any one thing, it’s ambition. While most RPGs of the time were enhancing their games with cinematic movies, or using 3d to its best effect, the designers at Capcom were content with slightly upgrading their 16-bit RPGs, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

However, the slow pacing, padded length, and sometimes frustrating puzzles make the game less enjoyable than it could have been. If you have already played most of the top shelf RPGs on the PS1, Breath of Fire 3 is better than some of the junk out there. It’s also available for the PSP, if you happen to be starving for a decent JRPG.

Quick Run-Down

PROS:

  • Dragon gene system is cool
  • Transferable skills
  • Optional field encounters
  • Long quest (40 hours)
  • Minigames (fishing, fairy town)
  • Virtually no loading

CONS:

  • Unskippable text
  • Music is mediocre at best
  • Slow plot pacing / tempo
  • Main hero must always join the party
  • Back-up characters can’t be switched mid-dungeon
  • Back-up characters do not accrue experience
  • Very limited camera control
  • Uneven balance (some enemies much stronger than others)

One Sentence Review: Not bad, not great – but a solid RPG.
One Word Review: Long.

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