I don't think either fans or Capcom itself would have predicted that Breath of Fire IV would be the last traditional game in the series. After all, it was released with a lot of love from Capcom, and it looked like it was setting up the mythology for future sequels.
For whatever reason, the next games in the series went in a completely different direction, and the franchise has since lain dormant.
Which is a shame, because here we have a classic RPG, built-in many ways like an updated SNES RPG, that begs for a traditional sequel. After all, I still have bittersweet feelings at its ending, and I wish I was still it was a little bit longer.
#75: Breath of Fire IV:
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"When the Dragons move, the world follows. Everything the Dragons do changes the world in some way..."
Years after the latest stalemate between the Western Empire and the Eastern Kingdoms, two nobles from the east are looking after the missing Wynidian princess, Elina. Nina, her sister, and Cray, a dear friend, and the chief of a feline tribe, were crossing the desert that separates the two countries in a "sandflier" when they were suddenly attacked by a Dragon.
Needing parts to fix the sandflier, Nina heads for the nearest town to look for parts when she encounters a naked blue-haired man. Fans of the series will recognize this man as Ryu, a dragon in human form who is the protagonist of all Breath of Fire games. And so the story begins.
In the first chapter, the party looks for the missing princess while they try to keep away from the empire not to upset the stalemate treaty. There, you learn about how the war has been going on for nearly a millennium, and how the empire can easily be classified as callous and evil in some way.
I think it was tradition at that point ot introduce a naked Ryu
In a parallel story that you jump to in fixed moments, you take control of Fou-Lu, the awakened first emperor of the Western Fou Empire. Fou-Lu awakens to join with his second half and take control of the Empire, as promised before the beginning of his slumber. However, the current empire is very different, and they immediately attempt to capture him to use his power, or to kill him in order not to lose their authority. This parallel story does a great job of demonstrating the sheer power of Fou-Lu and his motivations for his actions later in the game.
At that point, it is pretty obvious that Ryu is Fou-Lu's second half. Soon, you learn how the dragons are Gods, called the Endless in this world's mythology. The Endless, you learn, influence the direction of the world, and as such the party of Ryu find themselves swept by the influence of the Endless in an epic struggle.
The setting and characters are great, but the game, unfortunately, doesn't take full advantage of that. Of the six party members, only three get the time and dialogue to shine. It turned out, after some investigation, that the game ran into many schedule and budget items as it tried to release on the PS1 just as the PS2 was peering from the horizon, with many planned story sequences scrapped and replaced with filler.
It would have been great if the filler moments were richer with character building moments such as this
Yet, despite these clear shortcomings, the characters and story shine. They do so because they provide the room for the player to fill in the gaps through the richness of their design. Like the SNES RPGs that inspired it, the characters' movements and animations convey their personality, feelings, and motivations in ways more than dialog could ever do.
"I would call thou foolish. But thou art mortal. Thou cannot go against thy nature no more than a fish could walketh upon the firmament"
In its gameplay, Breath of Fire IV doesn't innovate much in the RPG genre, but it does enough to craft a strong and free-flowing system that still offers a lot of room for both customization and fun. It is at its best when facing tough bosses, which is unfortunately rare throughout the game.
Your party of six are involved in the battle, but only three of them are active in a single turn, and you can freely swap between them when selecting your actions at the start. The three members in the back recover MP points and may chip in with some assist moves.
Characters can attack, defend, use items, or use special skills. A key element to doing well is using your special skills to craft combos, which are easy enough to pull, and are a must to effectively control battles. Almost all skills can combo into each other, but some combinations are more effective. For instance, using a wind attack after a fire attack crafts a spell that is more powerful and hits a group instead of a single enemy. Combos don't always work, but they should work 90% of the time if you make sure the order of casting is correct.
Nina is in the back row here, and I am guarding to learn a physical attack from on of these ducks
To help you build a strong team, the game offers two ancillary systems to help you out.
First, you can learn some enemy moves by defending (which is much better than using the analyze function in Breath of Fire III. While the majority of moves you can learn aren't better than the ones you naturally acquire, it is very recommended that you learn the few elemental moves that you can (such as Burn and Icicle).
Second, there are about 10 or twelve Masters in the world that you can train under and influence your statistical growth. For instance, you can make sure the Scias develops well as a secondary healer or a mage by augmenting his MP and Wisdom development. Also, you can switch between Masters very easily this time around, as you can do it from your camp menu.
Note that these systems were available in the last game as well. However, here, they are easier to use, and the game is much faster, that that it is simply more fun to play.
"We live within and throughout the world. Seek us out so that you can gain from our power"
Unlike previous games in the series, the overworld map here is just that, a map. Honestly, I am not too bothered by that, as it saves time and is not a bad system in itself. You move from two points on the map, and you can occasionally go into random battles if you get a question mark on top of your head. Later, you can simply teleport to any point on the map without much hassle.
Outside of combat and travel, the Breath of Fire series is known for its deluge of mini-games, and it doesn't disappoint here. Nearly every plot moving point has a mini-game of sorts around it, ranging from the mundane (organizing a warehouse) to the ridiculous (push fighting pirates on top of a mast).
Sure, I guess
Mechanically, not all of these games are winners, but they are a welcome distraction that shakes things up pleasantly. Especially since the game doesn't actually have any sidequests to speak off. Sure, you can find new dragon forms and dragon summons, but that's just moving finding point Z in the map.
Of all the mini-games, two are more involved and offer some tangible rewards.
First, there is the classic fishing game, which is brilliant as always and is a lot of fun. I have probably spent 20% of my game time just fishing, and I only regret it a little. Theoretically, this should have allowed me to get to some of the top-level gear that I can exchange for high-level fish, but I rarely managed to catch the correct combination of fish and just did it to get the fish as items.
Good ol' fishing
The other activity is developing your fairy village, which is simple enough without much direct involvement. Occasionally, you find the fairies being hunted by wild animals and you can engage in an annoying mini-game where you need to quickly kill the animals and get food to the fairies.
Generally, playing Breath of Fire IV is mostly about its combat, with a bunch of mini-games sprinkled in to shake things up. Dungeon traversal is mostly very basic, with little puzzle elements in some dungeons only.
"The Endless are... They become Gods or Demons on the desires of those who summoned them"
Initially, it appears that Breath of Fire IV is simply carrying on with the same production and design philosophy of the series. However, it becomes clear that the design here is actually very different despite the surface similarities.
First, let's look at the sprite work. It may not look impressive at first, but once you see the range of character and enemy animations, it becomes apparent that this is some of Capcom's best sprite work, ever. Reportedly, there are over 3000 individual frames of hand-drawn animations, and I believe that.
Characters move and behave in realistic and distinctive ways. Earlier, I said that the character designs and animations convey much about their personality, and that's most apparent in the Fou-Lu chapters. Fou-Lu's animations convey a sense of arrogance and power that outclasses any CGI scene.
It just looks so cool in motion
Admittedly, the game has a washed-out color palette. However, that doesn't take anything away from the vibrancy of the sprites and the world's art design. That is especially apparent in the many exotic details that make up the game's world.
It is worth noting that not everything is sprite-based. In fact, many bosses, and all summons are polygonal creatures. These didn't age as well as the sprites, but they are mostly saved by their exotic art design.
Equalling its art direction, the game's soundtrack is uniquely great. Unlike the disappointing Jazzy tunes of Breath of Fire IV, this game's soundtrack is heavily influenced by Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It sounds exotic, with some non-conventional techniques and instrumentation, and it sounds great.
While the entirety of the soundtrack is very good, the more exotic tracks stand-out. For me, tracks like "Yet the Merchants will Go" and the two battle tracks in the Western continent are as unique as they are great to listen to. Also worthy of mention is the game's theme, "Endings and Beginnings", which permeates throughout the soundtrack.
Again, we don't have any voice acting other than the soundbites in combat (which are all in Japanese), and I am fine with that.
If your major complaint about a game is that you want more of it, then that is already a veiled compliment. The truth is that Breath of Fire IV is a very good game that has clear flaws. There are some clear filler chapters, and characters and story are not explored enough through dialogue.
Yet, in its full design, it conveys so much potential and personality that you cannot help but fill in the missing narrative through your own imagination as we have always done in the SNES era. I think that's why the game is so beloved by its fans, as this is clearly an RPG crafted in the image of the best SNES games.
I can imagine if the game wasn't strained for tie and resources, that it would have been a truly great game. Still, what we have is a cool title that is fun to play from beginning to end.
I will really miss playing as these guys
1-Press Triangle while controlling Nina to fly and check-out your surroundings.
2-Guarding allows you to learn some enemy skills.
3-Press square to get some info on the enemies, which might suggest possible useful items, the ability to get skills, and things that make them drop more EXP.
4-Skills that you can learn are highlighted in blue when an enemy uses them while you guard.
5-Make sure to learn the elemental magic skills from enemies to help you produce more combos.
6-Make sure to find all Masters and train well under them.
7-Alternate between Masters to get a more rounded party.
8-Characters resting in the back row get some MP back.
9-Make sure to find all your dragon forms so that you can control your Kaiser form.
10-Doing well in mini-games, including fishing, helps you upgrade your dragon forms.
11-The fairy village is a useful thing to build and develop.
Some enemy reaction are hilarious
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not in the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
While not as funny as its predecessor, it does have its moments
As expected, I ended up liking Breath of Fire IV very much, and I like it more because it didn't waste my time as much as its predecessor.
After playing so many RPGs in a row, I guess it is time to play a game from another genre. That game will be the Vehicle Combat game, Vigilante 8 2nd Offence at #74. Let's see how this game has aged.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: