Game Gems: A series of exceptional games
This particular piece will feature Breath of Fire III, which was initially released for the original PlayStation console in 1997.
Breath of Fire III: The story of an orphaned dragon boy with blue hair
Breath of Fire III revolves around Ryu, a part of the dying Brood race. Ryu appears human, but has the ability to transform into powerful dragons, giving him new powers, abilities, and strength on his journey. The game opens with Ryu, in dragon form, being awakened from his slumber as miners crack open a rare crystal. Frightened by the creatures, the miners attack Ryu and you have to fight back and flee from the mine to get away. Unfortunately, Ryu is heavily outnumbered by the miners, and a very strong miner knocks Ryu unconscious. He is then transported via train to a science lab, where he is to be experimented upon. Ryu awakens during the train ride, and rattles the cage, causing it to fall off in the middle of a forest. Ryu then transforms back into his human form and lies there, unprotected and unconscious.
Luckily, a local thief named Rei (part of a clan of cat-like people) finds the young Ryu and rescues him from being eaten alive by wild animals. Rei takes you to his house and introduces Ryu to his friend Teepo, who lives with Rei. Together those three start an epic adventure, saving villages from monsters, rescuing a princess and learning the secrets about Ryu’s past. One of my favorite parts of the story is that time passes in the middle of the game. The first part let’s you play as young Ryu until you enter a sacred temple and are transported several years into the future. The journey continues with adult Ryu.
Time travel has always been fascinating to me in video games. To this day, it is still my favorite thing about Breath of Fire III and Ocarina of Time.
An epic adventure with truly lovable characters
I adore the art style of the game and the character design as a whole. They do an excellent job of portraying the characters in the beginning as generally young and childish, while having them increasingly mature throughout the journey. After the time jump, the characters have matured by several years, and the game handles it very well.
Every character has their own personality and rich story-line. Ryu serves the role of the silent and determined protagonist. Nina is a spoiled princess who is not afraid to say what is on her mind and serves as a love interest for Ryu. Rei is your protector and behaves like a big brother early on by taking you in when he finds you hurt and lost in the woods. Teepo is a more hot-headed character, giving you a sense of rivalry during our adventure. The genius scientist Momo uses her wits and understanding of machinery to aid the team in difficult situations. Peco is a sweet and powerful little onion-esque creature, who maintains a mysterious aura along your journey. Garr is a mighty warrior and and enigmatic guardian, who is truly your most important companion in your journey.
The supporting cast or antagonists are just as memorable. The horse brothers Balio and Sunder, a pair of hitmen hired to hunt your down, serve as your opponents. You encounter all sorts of other powerful enemies along the way, all leading up to a climactic fight with a goddess. The script is full of deep and mature themes such as finding one’s place in the world, the manipulation of the world by killing monsters, and using technology to alter your environment. On the other hand, there are countless comedic moments that will make the journey much more enjoyable.
A JRPG through and through
Breath of Fire III is a typical JRPG with all its ups and downs. However, it does not make grinding a necessity, although it helps a lot especially in the beginning with the harder boss battles and dungeons. If you play this game, you should take your time. It can be very text heavy at times without any voice-overs, so reading is an essential part of the Breath of Fire experience. Breath of Fire III employs very basic, turn-based combat, which takes very little time to master. There are the usual elements like attacking, defending, using items or spells to fight. There are certain affinities and weaknesses, but they are not very elaborately implemented and pose very little advantage to the player. For example, you can still attack sea monsters with water attacks. Some battles have cutscenes or scripted events, such as a battle that you have to lose or your party fleeing after a few rounds. Those events are well integrated and feel natural.
You also get to do typical quirky things like fishing, participating in a tournament, building up a fairy town or crossing a desert. That last bit is an excellent piece of game design. It is towards the end of the game and you have to cross a huge desert to reach the next region. There is caravan and a man who gives you a limited supply of water and tells you how to find your way across the desert following the stars. You are then sent into the desert and you basically have to use your compass and the stars to navigate during the night. As soon as the sun rises, your party sets up camp. You will get thirsty and you will need to consume the water to stay alive since you will take damage for every step you take while being thirsty. If you run out, you can try to get by with healing items, but you’ll probably have to reload or die to try again if you lost your way.
Overall, Breath of Fire III is loaded with little bits of fun game design that really allow it to stand out despite it’s very basic core gameplay.
Awaken the Dragon within
One of the most exciting gameplay mechanics of Breath of Fire III is Ryu’s ability to transform himself into a dragon. While it starts off as a scripted event, you do eventually gain the ability to transform at will. In the beginning, you will be able to transform into a young dragon with different attributes such as a fire or thunder-type dragon. During your exploration of new regions, you will find various dragon genes of different types. Those genes will allow you to transform into new dragons that differ in appearance, spells, and stats.
There is also one unique and “hidden” transformation called “Kaiser.” Kaiser is a known entity in the Breath of Fire Saga and is usually portrayed as a dragon. In Breath of Fire III you are able to transform yourself into a controllable version which creates a golden aura around you, basically making Ryu look like a Super-Saiyan. As a 90’s kid, this was really awesome since I was already really into Dragon Ball at that time and to be able to transform like that in a different franchise just gave me goose bumps. It adds a lot of depth and experimentation into the game and really rewards exploration as you search for every dragon gene. In general, the game offers so much variety and depth that you really create a unique adventure for yourself. The game is somewhere around 35 – 50 hours for a decent playthrough. The fact that you can play it on the go with your PSP really drives it home.
A broken legacy
Breath of Fire is a great series that started on the SNES in 1993 with the first title. After the second one, only one year later, the success led the team to develop the Breath of Fire III for the PlayStation, which is still their best title in terms of sales.
Breath of Fire IV (PSX) and subsequently BoF V (PS2) did not achieve any more success and basically brought the series to a halt, with no new ideas or modern game concepts. I was shocked to find out that they actually made a 6th title, this time for mobile on Android and iOS. However, the latest installment is a far cry from the original game concept and is essentially a generic hack-and-slash mobile RPG.
As a fan of the franchise, I hate to see so much potential go to waste. Breath of Fire could have been some serious competition for the Final Fantasy franchise, but now it will be sent to oblivion. Capcom’s finest RPG is now nothing more than a pleasant memory. All the more reason for me to pay one last tribute to the game that enriched my childhood and stayed with me through the years, especially later on handheld devices such as the PSP. If you are interested in the game and would like to read some more, there is an extensive article on wiki.com about the game. In addition, the game is available on Sony’s PSN store for $9.99.
Thanks for the ride, Capcom.