The epic saga of Ryu the dragon boy and his angelic winged companion has been retold now five different times in the Breath of Fire Capcom rpg series. But for some reason, while it might have become drab to see so many ideas rehashed in each iteration, it instead becomes more engaging. The fishing mini-games that pepper the series, the various designs of each dragon transformation, the city of Wyndia; it’s like a bunch of old friends that keep coming over to visit. You get to reminisce about the old times, but still make new memories of your own. I think that the Breath of Fire series has a sweet spot though, a place where all these ideas, combined with the change in console generation allowed Capcom to make the perfect Breath of Fire game: Breath of Fire III. And while I’ll stay away from reviewing III against either it’s predecessor, II (which is my next favorite) or the follow up IV (which is almost as awesome as II and III) it’s hard to talk about Breath of Fire without reflecting on the history of the series. So as I share some of my opinions, I will try to review the game as it is on it’s own, though being the BOF lover that I am, you can expect some comparison. Breath of Fire III tells the tale of a young dragon boy named Ryu (one of the only series that I don’t change the name of the protagonist…weird) who wakes up in a mine as a little dragon and begins to torch the locals. Seriously. For all the lighthearted moments III has, this is a pretty dark intro. In any case, you eventually end up partnered with a couple of thieves in a small town trying to rob the locals. The story is generally light in tone and primarily character driven, with the plot revolving around the discovery of who Ryu is and where he came from. Garr, one of the games more interesting characters, is a five hundred year old Guardian that has an interesting history with The Brood (the family of dragons), and he and Ryu play the major roles in moving the story along. Without spoiling too much, I found the story kept me engaged all the way through, although often it was side story plot points that I enjoyed the most. Tracking down The Ancient Mariner, robbing a local Mayor, freeing a powerful member of The Brood from prison, battling in a tournament; these all served as character driven side points to the over-arching plot, but I never felt like it was just a bunch of fetch quests. Instead I found myself wanting more quirky tasks so that I could explore new towns and areas. Speaking of exploration, the side quests and mini games are really strong in Breath of Fire III. The fishing is a huge step forward from II, and boasts both huge challenges and some pretty awesome rewards. The mini game itself has received quite a bit of attention, and you can tell by the variety of fish, rods, and tackle that quite a bit of time was spent making this part of the game really fun. The other major side quest is the Faery Village. Here you assign work duties for a group of Faerys and over time they build up their village to include special shops and jobs that can really empower your team with new weapons and accessories. I really liked the balance here, because the village grows every ten battles or so, which means checking the village after every dungeon is a treat as you will return to see lots of new growth. The cast is really strong this time around. Nina is (again) the winged companion, princess of Wyndia. She’s so similar to the Nina of IV that I honestly can’t tell them apart. Rei is a big tiger that wields dual knives and excels at speed and thievery. Garr is a massive dragon like guy that is extremely old and battles with a spear. Momo, a personal favorite of mine, is the nerdy scientist of the group. She uses a cannon and supports the team with healing spells. Peco is a plant and my least favorite, only because he’s so strange, although I have heard many say he is the strongest in the game. And of course Ryu is the mute protagonist, wielding a sword and turning into a monstrous dragon at whim. While the cast is cool and interesting, I should also note that they tend to not have much personality outside of the story scenes, which is an area I felt was lacking. For instance, an important scene in which Ryu and Rei are reconnected after many years took about three sentences, after which they never talk to each other again. It was really strange. Childhood friends don’t just ignore each other, AND go on a massive quest that covers the whole globe together. I think the developers were hoping to further flesh out the characters by talking in the camp menu, but this doesn’t quite work. They don’t really have conversations, just make statements. A little back and forth in camp would’ve gone a long way. But still, there is some great interaction between characters, and I have a fondness for each of them. (Or maybe I’m just playing too many Tales games and think every game needs skits?)
The battle system is very traditional with a few neat twists. Your party of three dukes it out in a turn based battle against the enemy horde using attacks, skills and magic. (And in some cases dragon transformations…). Turn order is decided by agility and then you start to smack each other until one or the other dies. The pace of battles is nice and quick, which is good considering how many you will fight. If the game had any major fault it would be the incredibly high random encounter rate. While this is usually a huge turn off for me, the speed of battles and the need for experience made me accept it without too much frustration. Although I will admit to a couple dungeons feeling a tad too long. One of the cooler elements of the game is the master system. Once apprenticed to a master, every level a character gets will receive stat bumps in certain areas, as well as learn new skills. I apprenticed Ryu first to a master that bumped strength and then moved him over to agility. Needless to say, by the midpoint of the game, Ryu was ending most battles by himself, and also earning extra turns every couple of rounds. (An extra turn is earned by any character with double the agility of the enemy. Not too hard to build an entire party that can earn extra turns regularly.) But you also have characters that thrive on high defense or intelligence and it’s pretty easy to track down the right masters. I loved this because not only does it make grinding for levels so much more interesting, but searching for the masters added yet again to the exploration factor. By the time you’ve moved skills around however you want, and apprenticed to your favorite masters, the customization of each party member is almost completely controlled by the player. This is some very forward thinking for a game from 1997. Music is solid, and enjoyable, though not particularly memorable. I think IV did a much better job of making the music really fit and stand out, but in III you will find the music is happy and almost cute, which is really a theme throughout the game. One small annoyance was the battle theme by about the ending dungeons. It started to kind of grate on me at that point. The high encounter rate probably played into this as well. Ok, lets do a final rundown! 1. Should I play this game? This is a GREAT retro psx rpg. If your’e in the mood for one of the better 90’s games then this is for you. I think they really nailed it on a lot of different levels. 2. Do I need an FAQ to really enoy it? I would be careful about using an FAQ because the game really doesn’t need one. You just may need help tracking down master locations, but be careful not to spoil the story. It has a few great twists. 3. How hard is Breath of Fire III? This game is really easy if you level grind a little bit in the right areas and pay attention to the masters carefully. Which shouldn’t be too hard since this is one of the better parts of the game. But even after leveling up like crazy the final boss was tough, which I appreciated. 4. What was your favorite thing about Breath of Fire III? I LOVED how long you play as kid Ryu. I didn’t mention this earlier, but be prepared to play as a child for about half of the game. It sounds annoying, but it really makes for some enjoyable storytelling when you and the others all grow up. 5. How long did you play? I put in around 50 hours or so. But I did tons of fishing and abused a certain leveling trick involving a Lava Man. So that’s probably ten more than you need. If you only level up the party you plan on using and stop around lvl 40 you could beat it in under 40 hours I think. (I believe I read about a ten hour challenge if that’s helpful). 6. How much does Breath of Fire III cost? I bought it on psx so I could play it on my PS3, which ran me around $30 for a pretty decent copy. A new copy will run you serious cash, but you can probably find a good used copy for under $40. Last I saw the PSP remake was around $30 as well. Ok, retrogamers! I can’t stress enough how enjoyable my winter was playing Breath of Fire III! If you haven’t played this yet, go grab a copy and get your fishing pole out, and let me know what you think!