Since I enjoyed my playthrough of Breath of Fire 2, I decided to go back (figuratively, that is), and give the first one a try. I finished it yesterday, and it wasn’t really that difficult. I did use a walkthrough for much of it, but even without that it’s generally pretty easy to get a lot of experience and money without going too far off the beaten path. This was Capcom’s first role-playing game, but it was localized by Square, which means it had a fairly competent translation by Ted Woolsey instead of the sloppy job the second one got. There are character limits making it difficult to tell what some items are, but that was difficult to avoid back then, and there is a way you can get information on what a given item does. You can also find out how powerful weapons and armor are before you buy them, but it’s frustrating to figure out whether they’re better than what you already have, which resulted in my buying some useless stuff. Oh, well. One of the main innovations in the first two games (I don’t know if it’s original with them, but I think it’s the first time I saw it) is that several of your characters have powers they can use on the map screen, like Karn picking locks and Ox breaking down walls. As with the sequel, most of the party members have animal features.
It’s a little confusing because both games have a hero named Ryu who can turn into a dragon and a bird-girl named Nina, but they’re different characters. BoF1 has a canine archer named Bo, and BoF2 a canine archer named Bow, but they didn’t have the same name in the original Japanese; they’re called Gillian and Bosch, respectively. Ox is similar to Rand in that they’re both big guys who are older and more mature than most of the party (Ox has a pregnant wife), but one is bovine and the other an armadillo. And Bleu really IS the same character in both, as she’s thousands of years old and functionally immortal, but she’s a required party member in 1 and optional in 2. Karn is human, but is able to merge with other characters in the manner of the shamans in the second game.
He was originally portrayed in a way that resembled blackface, which is probably why he was lightened in the American version.
I guess that was easier than making him a more realistic Black guy. The other two party members are the greedy merchant fish-man Gobi and the mole man Mogu. Gobi is able to open his own shop, which is a pretty cool feature, if not all that practical in terms of getting through the game. I suspect Prima, the underwater commercial hub, is based at least partially on Venice in the thirteenth century.
The fish-people and metalworking bovine people (officially the Manillo and Iron Ogre Clan) reappear in BoF2, but none of them are playable. The characters are creative, but sparse dialogue means you don’t always get much sense of their personalities. BoF2 did a much better job of developing the party members, although of course it was somehow hampered by the translation.
The game starts with Drogen, the town inhabited by members of the Light Dragon Clan, being attacked by the Dark Dragons, under the leadership of Emperor Zog (not the same as the guy from The Sea Fairies, although they’re both evil overlords), who wants to conquer the world.
Not long after you start, you have to blow up a castle to stop an evil knight from attacking other places with earthquakes. Later on, you activate a stone robot to unblock a dried-up river, but a Dark Dragon general steals it and destroys a town.
As it’s a turn-based RPG, it’s not really that fast-paced in actual gameplay; but the story does create a sense of urgency at times, and show that not every location is going to be permanent. The plot is pretty straightforward, advising you where to go next, but there are times when you have to revisit places you haven’t been in a while. It’s a little overdone toward the end, when you’re trying to infiltrate Zog’s castle and have to keep going back and forth with subquests in order to proceed. One oddity of this game is that every enemy has a life bar, but bosses have an unspecified number of hit points after you deplete it, providing somewhat of a false sense of security. Also worthy of note is that you have to explore the sea bed at one point, as well as two separate dream worlds.
Amusing references include a town called Romero that’s plagued by zombies, a brief cameo by Chun-Li, and a stone boss named Goda who can disassemble himself like the Yellow Devil/Rock Monster in the Mega Man series. He also looks like Stone Man from Mega Man 5.
The final boss, after you beat Zog and the guy who betrays him (actually called Judas in Japanese, which is a pretty big hint; he’s Jade in English), is the goddess of destruction who is summoned by the Dark Dragons. Her name is given in this game as Tyr, like the Norse god of war, but elsewhere she’s called Myria.
Using Ryu’s final dragon ability, Agni, means you don’t have to use a whole lot of strategy on the last few bosses.
I’m always interested in how video game series fit together. Officially, BoF2 takes place 500 years after the first game, in a world that’s changed quite a bit but still has some of the same locations, albeit occasionally under different names. Tunlan is the same in both, Winlan/Windia and Gant/Guntz are confirmed to be the same places, and the Lament Woods/Forest of Despair and Krypt are likely the same as the Tag Woods and Thieves’ Tomb. The Sky Tower is presumably the same as the Spyre Tower, as both have control over the weather, but it’s largely underwater by the second game. Bleu’s cave is in the same general area both times, although the moving town above it is no longer there in 2. Drogen is in the same basic location on the map as Gate, but the Dragon Clan has moved underground in the time between the games. The Light and Dark Dragons are no longer enemies by that point, and Ray Bradoc turns out to be a descendant of the latter. Shrines to the Dragon God have become much less common by 2, presumably because of the influence of the St. Eva Church. And while TownShip is said to have been built on the ruins of another town, it presumably wasn’t around 500 years previously. The closest town on the map looks to be Auria. There’s no indication as to whether Prima still exists. Bo and Karn make a cameo appearance in 2, but that probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as it’s unlikely they both lived for 500 more years. Then again, what fun is that?
Time travel does exist in the first game. I also found it strange that, in 2, the people of Highfort mention a war with Goonheim, but that’s not somewhere you can visit.
I’m interested in playing at least the next two games in the series. I’ve heard that the fifth, Dragon Quarter, isn’t really set in the same world; and the sixth was never finished. I believe 3 and 4 were both released for PlayStation systems, and I don’t have any of those, but it might be worth buying an appropriate console. Can anyone recommend the best way to play these games?