Old RPG Review #11: Breath of Fire II

NuMetalManiak
I played Breath of Fire II right after finishing the first Breath of Fire. It seems this is a more popular entry in the series than it's predecessor. Still, it was pretty decent for an old-school turn-based RPG. It's story is a little better too, in some way. Again, this was a SNES RPG made by Capcom, and I played on the GBA port.

Gameplay: Breath of Fire II's gameplay is similar to Breath of Fire's gameplay. Being a sequel, it is expected to have quite a few new things. In the previous game, you can have eight characters in your party with four battling at one time, but here, you actually have to swap out your party members at a dragon statue or someplace similar (it's the same type of dragon statue that you would use to save a game in the previous installment). Again, up to four only at a time, and in this game, you always have Ryu in your party, you cannot swap him out for a different group. Another new thing for battles is a formation feature, where, in addition to organizing your members, you give them a formation. I stuck with Defensive for much of the game though. There's a dancing monster on the menu screen which visually tells you how high the encounter rate is for a particular area (yes, random encounters are still prevalent). I remember at least one dungeon in the game where you have to rely on this "monster meter" to clear everything.

Other minor stuff? Hmm. The zombie status effect has changed drastically in this game. There's a pre-status where your character is "rotting" and by the next turn becomes a zombie if left uncured. And the zombified character attacks the party and takes damage from healing spells. Every character has a field ability, just like in the first game, but they also have a unique battle ability which I'll get to in the characters section. One particular area in the game has some giant variations of monsters that are tough to beat, but it makes a great experience pool for leveling up characters, which I used at my discretion. Day and night in the game seem to play a crucial part, for example you can't enter certain towns at nightfall. Luckily Ryu comes with a spell to change the time of day.

Hunting and fishing are done differently in this game as well. After battle, animals don't appear on the world map, but there are patches of grass you can enter, and if you have a character who can hunt in the front of your party (Bow, Bleu or Katt) then you could get some food and stuff. Fishing is its own minigame now, where you cast and reel up fish, or even treasure chests. It's pretty tough though.

Two of the more unique changes in this game are shaman bonding and the Township. The shamans enhance your characters stats, as well as their appearance. It wears off if your character dies in battle though, and that's never a good thing, cause you lose stat bonuses. Shamans need to be found in order to use them, and two of the can be found during the course of the story. Now, Township is very unique, as you can make your own town. It's explained in the plot at the beginning, but then it's up to you to get the proper Township you desire. You can have up to three design choices, chosen by one of three carpenters, and can persuade people all over the BoF2 world to come to your town. Only drawbacks are you can only have one person per household and that some of them might not be useful. If you play your game real well you can even have a floating Township! Really cool. I would recommend looking up a guide online for the best Township results. I personally recommend the carpenter that cooks food and the residents who open up armor shops.

Overall, BoF2 has quite enjoyable gameplay, especially with all the new stuff added in that wasn't in the previous game. Gameplay grade: A

Characters: Ryu: Just like his predecessor from the first game, an all-around above average attacker with dragon abilities. What I HATE though is that in this game, they look more like dragon summons than transformations (a la Final Fantasy) and they take up ALL of Ryu's AP! This is terrible. Ryu also cannot bond with shamans in this game. He still keeps his fishing field ability though. The new battle ability he has is called GUTS and can refill his HP somewhat, but this has a drawback of less HP recovered the more you use it. Works in a pinch though. Grade: A-
Bow: Not related to Bo from the first game. Bow is a dog-like character who likes to steal stuff and shoot a crossbow. He is also one of two healers in the game, so make use of that in your team when need be. His attack is not as good as Ryu's though. Field ability is hunt with his bow. Special ability is SHOT which has a chance of instantly killing an enemy or doing just 1 point of damage. His shaman form (Devil + Holy) is some sort of tank-like character with a new ability called SPRY which can damage all enemies. Didn't use it, but it proves to be quite useful. Grade: B-
Rand: The other healer of your party and the largest member of the group. He's quite strong and has a good heart as a worker. Being a big character, he excels in physical prowess, and is a better choice of character IMO. Field ability is rolling to get around faster but I didn't find it useful. Battle ability is WAKE which can hit a dead party member to revive them, but it doesn't work all the time. Shaman form is an armadillo thing (Earth + Holy) with better stats. Grade: B+
Katt: The cat lady is actually your best physical attacker in the game. But her HP and AP are horribly low to compensate. She practically needs shamanizing for the spells she uses, if you want to use them. Field ability is hunting with her stick. Battle ability is DARE which is useless as it tempts enemies to hit her. Shaman for is a blonde cat with much stronger attack power (Devil + Fire/Water) and a new ability KEEP which waits a turn before causing massive physical damage. Grade: A-
Nina: A staple in the series just like Ryu, this Nina is the black (actually purple) winged princess of Windia. In this game, she's an offensive magician at most, but her physical power is weak and HP is low. Field ability is call the bird (available during the plot). Battle ability is WILL which restores AP. Her shaman form is an angelic princess (Holy + Wind) with new ability BNSH which attempts to cause enemies to flee. Grade: B-
Sten: A member of the Highlander race, which are monkeys. This guy is unfortunately very average as a character, so he doesn't excel at many things, but comes with some good spells. His field ability will probably be the most used one; it involves crossing poles and is used for treasure and stuff. I like his plot story when you get to it. In battle, his ability is RIP which makes him play dead. Not useful since he takes more damage if hit. Shaman transformation (Fire + Wind) is some fiery devil monkey with ability SWEH which switches out a group of monsters for a different group. My personal favorite shaman combo. Grade: C+
Jean: A frog prince from some French-like area, he gets caught up in a royalty battle but joins your group thenafter. Not really that good of character in battle though, although his luck stat is pretty good. Field ability turns him into a large frog which can hop across ponds. Battle ability is JAB which hits all enemies, but doesn't do much, so it's not useful. Jean's shaman form is very good though (Water/Wind + Holy), and he becomes a frog knight with CHOP, where he waits a turn and then does 999 damage to all enemies. Very good, it's too bad that a non-shamanized Jean has some trouble. Grade: C-
Spar: A plant-like "thing" who lacks emotion, but is saved by the party from a sideshow. Good HP and AP amounts but lacking everywhere else. Field ability is forestwalk similar to Bo from the first game. Battle ability is NTRE which does interesting things in response to the environment. Spar has the most shaman forms. One is a mushroom girl (Water + Wind) with SPOR which is horrible to use as it could put everyone in the party to sleep. The other ones are "man-eater" and "onion" (I'm seriously making these names up). "Man-eater" doesn't change his battle ability but "onion" has BUD which is some sort of berserk status. Grade: C
Bleu: A totally optional character but she's well worth it. Much like the previous game, Deis/Bleu excels in offensive magic, so use her for that. She also is very fast and durable in battle. If you can find her, do it, it will make the game much more fun. She has a field ability now, a mediocre hunting ability (unless you're hunting for charcoal). Battle ability is SHED where she fully heals herself. No shaman abilities, but she doesn't need them. Grade: A+

Plot: If I have to say one term about the game's plot, it would be "heart-wrenching". There are a ton of moments in the game where your heart would sink after seeing what happens during the plot, especially if you don't get the ending you want.

So, this game gives us the first child Ryu (who you can name at your leisure, by the way). He has a father, named Ganer, and a sister, Yua, living in a church. When his father asks Ryu to find his sister, he ends up getting attacked until his father saves him. Then, something strange happens, and no one knows who Ryu is. He meets Bow and they set off on an adventure, only to meet a demonic creature and nearly get killed by it.

That's the prologue of BoF2, and it fast-forwards by about ten years or so to a time where Ryu and Bow work as rangers, doing their job. After that, Bow gets caught up in thieving business and requests Ryu to find the actual thief to clear his name. So Ryu sets off to the arena town of Coursair where he enters a contest against the gladiator Katt. They start trusting each other and alongside farmworker Rand defeat the head chairman of the arenas, who turns out to be possessed by a demon. This whole thing with the churches and demons starts to come to light eventually.

Ryu and Katt find a student named Nina harassed by a bunch of foreign thugs, so they help her get her sister Mina to safety and Nina joins. They journey to the town of Windia (it used to be called Winlan in the first game) and Nina is banished from the castle because of her black wings. They meet Sten and after a failed magic trick he decides to tag along. The next town the party goes to they help a strong guy named Ray save the villagers in a well, and if you do this plot part right, you get a pretty good reward from Ray. You also get a Shaman at around this time as well.

On the other side of the world they find Jean, and take him back to his hometown, but an impostor locks him away. This plot part is pretty lame, as you try to catch ingredients for a cooking contest, and it is all for naught, as the impostor Jean has somehow bribed the cooking judges. Or so it seems, as this impostor is also a demon. After that happens you find the real thief, a girl named Patty (who many fans actually believe is Ryu's sister!) and Bow's name is cleared. Still, you need to fight the accuser who framed Bow, because that guy (I believe his name was Trout or something) is yet another demon.

Later on, you free Spar from his sideshow act and kill another demon, and then attempt to consult the Great Wise Tree (but not after clearing his memory) for what's going on. A number of side plots involving certain party characters happens at this point. You go to Highfort for a special item, and learn more of Sten's past, as well as his friend, who later helps Sten in getting rid of the new (demonized) leader. Then, you help rid the Queen of Tunlan of monsters by going inside her. Yes, it's as dirty as it sounds and is the one place in the game where you have to use the monster meter. You then learn from the Great Wise Tree, and then set off for Rand's hometown of Farmtown. Rand's mother seems to beat him every so often or so, and somehow got herself into the church that I talked about earlier. Also your other friend Ray is revealed as an enemy too. We get to Nina's side story at this point, and she ventures to become the Great Bird. Apparently this is a thing which is irreversible, but Nina vows for it in order to save the world. But her sister Mina becomes the Great Bird instead, doing her part to help the party. And then it's on to Evrai, the home of the church.

So all this talk about the church suddenly reveals itself to be not more than it seems. You get with a group of rebels to attack this church. The party chases the church leader, Habaruku, and then Ray intervenes. In the first Breath of Fire game, you had to get by your brainwashed sister Sara in a tragic outcome. The same deal applies to Ray, as he ends up giving Ryu his ultimate dragon spell, which Ryu uses to defeat Ray. It's a tragic moment, as Ray actually wanted to help but his belief in the church got in the way. Eventually, you find Rand's mother and rescue her, and then Rand tries to sacrifice himself to get the party to confront Habaruku, but then Daisy (Rand's mother) beats him away and she ends up getting crushed to death instead. Although she's a total jerk to her son, I can't help but feel remorse for this moment.

This is a crucial moment in the game soonafter. There is a large machine, with an old man strapped to it. If you want the BEST ending, do not kill the old man, even though he says to kill him. SPOILER ALERT, the old man is Ryu's father. Regardless of the outcome, you journey to gate and find Father Hulk, who asks you to release the dragon guarding the caves using Patty. But then you find out that Hulk was really Habaruku the whole damn time (I saw that coming), and you fight the guy. Then, you have a choice, wait or defeat. If you choose wait, you get the WORST ending, plus you won't enter the final challenge of the game.

Choose Defeat (as in defeat the demons inside the final dungeon) in order to progress, through the final (and most annoying) dungeon in the whole game. At the midpoint of the dungeon is the Dragon Clan town of Dologany, which was Drogen in the first game. You learn a lot about the final villain in the game, and even get a flashback of Ryu's mother, Valery, and her adventures, leading up to Ganer and the birth of Ryu (this is also the only instance of Ryu actually talking in the game, as a child in a flashback). Continuing through the final dungeon, you learn the Anfini spell, in a rather harrowing part of the plot. Then you confront the demon from your childhood and beat him. At least he accepts defeat.

It REALLY got heart-wrenching right at the end. Deathevn (the final boss) greets your party, traps them, and actually disintegrates them in crystals, except for Ryu, who retaliates in anger. Casting the Anfini spell, he revives his friends, and by the time victory is finally achieved, it is all over. Or is it? There are two more endings, and it all depends on if you rescued old man Ganer from the church before. If you didn't save him, after leaving the final dungeon, Ryu changes to dragon form in order to block the gate his mother had blocked, in a very sad RPG moment. If you did save Ganer and managed to get the Township to fly, then the Township will block the gate, and Ryu can live in harmony without a sad ending. Plot grade: A+

Music: The music is a little generic in most places, but still enjoyable, much like the original game was. Like the first game, battle and overworld themes are different, and there are a number of different boss themes. I really liked the first battle theme, as well as some of the boss themes, especially the Deathevn theme. Overall, good job on the music. Grade: B

Overall grade: A-

Breath of Fire 2 is indeed a better game than it's predecessor, with a storyline with good moments and heart-wrenching moments. It's pretty tough to figure out all the brand new stuff, like the Township and shamans, without a guide. But it's a nice sequel. The only thing I really hate were how Ryu's dragon spells worked. That's about it. A good storyline, play this one.

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