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• Breath of Fire IV

developed & published by Capcom/2000.11.28
1 Player/1 CD-ROM/SONY PlayStation

Breath of Fire 4 focuses on two main characters. Fou-Lu, a god-like badass who has just awoken from a 500 year slumber, and Ryu, who appears out of thin air with no recollection of who or what he is. You’ll spend most of the time with Ryu and his friends, which are fairly well developed and likable, and the scenario moves along at a smooth pace with never a dull moment.

A fragile cease-fire between empires hangs in the balance, with Ryu and Fou-Lu, and Nina’s lost sister caught in the middle. Dialogue between characters is accompanied by expressive character portraits and sweeping camera angles, and there are many scenes. The strong cultural styling of each new area really help to flesh out the world.

Presentation

Stylistically, Breath of Fire 4 is a dramatic departure for the series. Returning characters Ryu and Nina, as well as animal and demi-human races seen in previous games, have been given an entirely new art direction which might disappoint die-hard purists. Personally I think this is the best looking game in the series.

The sprite work in this game is absolutely awesome to watch in action. Like the sprites in Final Fantasy Tactics, they are detailed enough to actually emote during story scenes. During battles, they have fluid animations resembling a fighting game rather than a typical RPG. And the monsters, especially returning favorites, have benefited from the fresh new look which gives them an almost sculptural quality.

There are some issues on the 3d side of things. While the settings are definitely much more detailed and intricate than before, they’re also cramped in areas. Exploring the towns can be difficult as your view is often obstructed by buildings. The biggest problem with the 3d work is that it has replaced the most jaw-dropping graphics from the past games – the dragon forms and some boss monsters – with low-poly 3d models. They’re not horrible, but even on the PS1 they could be better.

Breath of Fire 4’s soundtrack is an improvement over previous games in the series, with a strong ethnic vibe thanks to exotic instruments rarely used in other games, such as the sitar. Some songs even use chanting in the background which makes for many memorable songs.

Exploration & Mini Games

Like past games, characters have unique abilities when exploring, such as pushing blocks. These types of interactions are rarely used but do come into play. More often you will encounter area-specific gimmicks such as shifting rocks on a bed of lava, or wind-driven platforms. These are never as puzzling or inventive as examples from Zelda or Golden Sun, but they help to add some variety. There are racing zones for your sandship, and an ocean to explore by ship.

One of the features common to previous games in the series is the fishing mini-game. Breath of Fire 4 takes it to a whole new level, with several different fishing spots, each with their own species of fish. Certain areas might be more popular for certain fish as well, such as near the base of a waterfall, or in amongst the reeds. Choosing where to fish from, and where to aim your lure, becomes just as important as your technique and lure type.

Battle System

Breath of Fire 4’s battle system is fairly forward-thinking for its time. Like in Final Fantasy X, you can swap back-up characters in and out of battle at will, and the inactive characters will slowly regain their HP and AP, and even lend a helping hand from time to time. And best of all everyone earns experience after a battle regardless of whether or not they participated.

A nice feature allows you to combine characters’ magic attacks and skills to perform devastating spells or add extra oomph to your buffs. Like in previous games, skills picked up from monsters or masters can be swapped between your fighters at camp. All in all, it’s probably the most stream-lined version of the battle system, with one problem: the dragon system. Instead of having a wide assortment of cool dragon forms to attain, you have only one basic form and what amount to Final Fantasy-style summons (that use the above-mentioned lowpoly models). Thankfully, you can skip the animations.

Closing Thoughts

I really enjoyed this one. You can finish the game comfortably in about 30 hours, but if you want to get all of the dragon powers and earn all of the masters’ secrets, you can easily add an extra 5 to 10 hours to your quest. And this is one of those RPGs where I was enjoying myself enough that I wanted to do all the little extra quests.

Breath of Fire 4 addresses all of the issues I had with Breath of Fire 3, both in terms of game play and presentation. It’s a shame this game was over-shadowed by bigger titles back when it was released in 2000, and I would highly recommend you play this game if you didn’t play it when it was new. It holds up well, and is arguably the best installment in the series.

Quick Run-down

PROs:

  • Unique new art direction
  • Great sprite animations
  • Flexible battle system
  • Fast-paced scenario
  • Exotic music
  • Better implementation of the Master system
  • Best fishing mini-game of the series
  • Fou-lu & Ershin!

CONs:

  • Dragon system is too much like Final Fantasy
  • Dragons and (some) bosses are unimpressive
  • Cramped environments (especially towns)
  • Some people may not like the new art style

One Sentence Review: An overlooked and underrated PS1 RPG – play this game!
One Word Review: Immaculate.

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