Breath of Fire III Review by: janusBreath of Fire III: Avenge Your Ancestors
This game is the first BOF on the PlayStation, but also my first PSX game ever. Although technically rather average, it's still worth the detour.
Although the graphs are a definite improvement from BOF2, they are nevertheless below average for the era.
There are no CGI movies at all except at the very end. Considering the length of the game (7h51 as a tool-assisted speedrun I produced), it would have been a welcomed addition. Also, the overworld map is rather simplistic. It's done better than Chrono Trigger – you have the possibility to fight and natural elements are better-drawn – but Ryu looks rather fat. As a child or as an adult, he looks chubby and simply-drawn. Although you can teleport later in the game, walking around the whole world is tedious.
However, when inside villages/battlefields, the graphics look very nice. They make abundant use of 3D. In fact, there are many points in the game where rotating the camera is your only chance of spotting vital items that let you move forward or dragon genes that make you stronger. Inside village, you can see smoking chimneys – the camera angle even makes the smoking larger when the perspective asks for it. Villagers and allies have realistic measurements and their movements are fluid. When you don't move for a long time, they even have distinct poses.
The fishing game, although hard to master, is a very good improvement from previous games. There are fishing spots everywhere on the planet, each with their specific fish attracted to specific baits. You get points for fishing larger fish, which can help you obtain special prizes and privileges later on. Manillo (the big fish you catch with gold coins) has an elaborate exchange system that lets you have rare items. Early in the game, you can get the silver knife, a useful weapon against undead enemies. There is even a point in the game where you have to fish, and its outcome may influence a price you will receive.
Battles are also nicely done. You fight in the very same background the “!” that signals the battle appears on your allies, making transition minimal. In games like Final Fantasy VII or even BOF IV, it would take nearly 10-15 seconds before you could start action. Although no physical attack touches an enemy – even Momo's gun attack doesn't reach anyone – the movement is fluid and distinctive for everyone. Ryu and Nina's attacks look different when they reach adulthood and that was nice too.
Magic, however, does attack everyone. It isn't as elaborate and FF VII but it's very varied. There are numerous technics you can learn from various masters, ranging from critical attacks to magic to enhanced attacks, and they are nicely done too.
Finally, the dragon concept in the game is the best of all first 4 BOF. They depend upon the gene you get, so you can combine one or more. If the combination “makes sense” (not mixing only ice and fire, for example), then your dragon is even stronger! Plus, you can mix both genes' spells. They are also nicely drawn, coming in all forms and shapes. My favorite one is the Warrior gene, which has the strong spell Aura, making you do a fairly strong attack. Some of them will have rather low hit points so be careful; one of them even makes you beserk so watch out.
I was rather disappointed with the soundtrack.
It seemed like a setback from BOF II, which soundtrack had some realistic beats to it – God of Decadence sounded wonderfully religious with its devilish organ. But in BOF III, like in FF VII, the music suffers from early-PSX limitations. As a result, tracks like Life's a Beach, Even the Sun's Happy (fishing), Castle Windia and the overworld themes (two of them) don't sound as optimal as they could have (in comparison with BOF IV for example). Even the last part of the last dungeon (Castle in the Sky) doesn't sound... right although the track in itself is good.
The same thing goes for the sound effects (on the soundtrack, you can hear ALL battle sound effects for the boss battle them. Shoot me!) Inside battles, all your allies shout something for whatever attack they have. It gets pretty annoying in the first part as the shouts are from children (Teepo, Ryu, Nina) – Ryu's transformation into a dragon as a child doesn't sound credible. Enemies too sound weird; the ghosts you have to fight at one point almost sound like they have digestive problems. Finally, “rumbles” (like the sound coming from the houses Rei and Teepo steal from) seem to have been done at the very last minute.
However, magic sounds right. Fire, ice, lightning, etc., as as realistic as they get for the time. The sleeping spell is shown with a giant swinging pendulum! Weapons too sound right. Nina's wand has a trail of, er, pixie dust that follow her attacks, Ryu's sword swing sounds like he's swinging it, just like Garr's spear. However, Momo's gun is always accompanied by her little shout, which sounds ridiculous.
Finally, since I gave it a 6, the soundtrack wasn't a total failure. The ordinary battle theme is still among my favorites, and so is Donden (the “major boss” theme) which sounds very dramatic. Dungeon/mountain themes, although not very elaborate, sound dark enough to be good. One of the best themes (as in “it fits the context”) is Questionable Century, the first part of the last dungeon. Its heavy synth translates the high technology that surrounds you. Special mention to Steam Locomotion (when riding the steamboat), that has a ragtime-like sound, and Yggdrasil, that is very soothing and relaxing
Whatever technical shortcomings this game has was compensated with elements that will hook you up.
First, there are several “masters” from whom you can change your statistics and learn spells/technics. So you could technically have Nina become a warrior and Garr, a magician. With Bunyan, for example, you will be physically much stronger but magically much weaker. He teaches useful technics like super combo, which lets you attack as many times (max 32) as you can press the appropriate button when it shows on the screen. That was a big time saver during my speedrun. He doesn't ask for anything to become your master; however some might ask for money or for a little quest before accepting to teach you. They will teach you new tricks after specific intervals (for Bunyan, you need to reach a certain level) so see them often.
You can also learn special technics directly from monsters. Boss Goblin, for example, has “command”, where allies focus their attacks on a specific enemy. Very useful when you need beserked or confused allies to focus on the enemy rather than you...
Second, you gain access to fairies quite early in the game. Once you free them from the evil Australian dolphin, you can grow their village. You have the choice to let them develop shops, build houses or explore for rare items. Success is not guaranteed so you have to be patient. But with the fairies, you have more chances to get rare items like the GooKing Sword, the best one in the game – trying to get it from the actual GooKing is nearly impossible at 1024:1.
Finally, trying to get all the dragon genes (a prerequisite to be taught by one master) will make you want to explore all corners of the world. You do get a few automatically, a few others are hidden in plain sight, but you will have to look everywhere to get most of the others.
BOF III has the best scenario of the series and one of the best of all the RPGs I've played.
The game starts in a mine where two workers try to blow up a giant chrysm where a dragon seems to be trapped. After the explosion, they realize it's still alive (that's you)! The dragon tries to escape but it finally captured. He is brought in a train but he manages to escape.
He falls down and transform into a young child, Ryu. He is narrowly saved by Rei, a Tigerman who was hunting nearby. He and Teepo, another orphan, are petty thieves whose mischiefs land them into trouble with Bunyan, a local lumberjack. Instead to wacking them, he pushes them to go to a mountain nearby where a dangerous monster destroying wildlife lives. After they complete their mission, villagers are very grateful. Their reputation even gets to the ears of Loki, a mysterious caped man who wants them to go on a second mission: defeat McNeil, who extorted so much money from the villagers. That's when all the troubles start...
What I just describe is not even five percent of the game! After your troubles with McNeil, you will face crime syndicates, dragon killers, Deis (Bleu)... There are even a few plot twists about as stunning as the one in BOF II.
The depth of the scenario goes hand in hand with the story.
First, there are two distinctive parts in the game: Child Ryu and Adult Ryu. What happens in your youth with the crime syndicate will come haunting you back in your adulthood. Even King Windia will still remember you all those years later, forcing Nina to use her imagination to get her father's permission to cross the bridge to the East again. Finally, the weakling you helped win the heart of the woman he loves will help you again in your adulthood. You will even see his child; the steamboat will even have problems again!
Also, as Capcom seems to love doing, you will see cameos of previous characters like Mogu, Bow, Katt... Fortunately, they are blended into the story so you might even not notice them.
Finally, the story of the dragons, the central plot of the game, is very-well done and developed slowly but coherently. You will start the game knowing you are a dragon but the power is dormant and will only awaken in a dramatic situation. Once it does, some will try to exploit it to their advantage but fail. When Guardian Garr, who was trained to kill dragons, meets you he will want to kill you but fail. In your adulthood, he will even go as far as questioning the very purpose of his mission and go on a quest to meet God!
The game can prove to be a challenge on many levels.
First, Ryu is pretty weak until he can at least transform into a dragon or learn under a master. Be ready to grind so fighting isn't as tough. Even allies like Nina and Momo are fairly weak (Momo's accuracy is terrible).
Second, bosses are fairly strong throughout the game. Nue, the first boss, will be quite a challenge if you're not prepared. Even with proper leveling up, bosses inside the last dungeon will be tough with their strong magic and paralyzing attacks (it's game over if everyone gets paralyzed).
Speaking of fighting, it seems to happen too frequently like many other RPGs. Although there are ways to delay/avoid fighting (see my speedrun for some tricks), you will find yourself inside a battle more often than not.
Finally, some compulsory mini-games will be very challenging for those not used to action (like me). Fishing is hard to master, there is a rope-pulling contest where you must do it in a controlled manner as to not get too far ahead/behind the other puller, a well where you must drop a bucket in a very precise fashion in order to get its content and a steamboat you must drive around in 30 seconds without overheating the engine.
Fortunately, if you manage to grind your levels with the proper masters, the game can be a breeze. Having Nina learn under a magician and Ryu learn under a fighter will help you withstand bosses' nasty attacks and even make the use of dragon powers non necessary! Of course, those fairies can also help if you're lucky enough to get the strong weapons they sometimes fetch. And learning from those monsters too can prove to be useful.
In short, Breath of Fire III is a must-try for all RPG fans. Despite underwhelming graphs and music, the game has plenty to offer and the plot will keep you hooked. It develops slowly and coherently and its twists will blow you mind. Let's see how well you fairy village prospers!