Old RPG Review #28: Breath of Fire IV

NuMetalManiak Oh yes, the Breath of Fire series by Capcom. I've been playing these from the first game and each one has quite some spin to it. Like the ones before it, IV is not a direct sequel, as all games take place in totally different timelines. But this one's worth a play as much as, say, Breath of Fire III. Ready?

Gameplay: There's not a whole lot of extreme change in this game from the third. A lot of stuff returns, such as the turn-based combat system with three characters, the fishing minigame, learnable skills, masters, camping, field skills, and the faerie village all make a return here. Of the new things, for one, overworld navigation is slightly different from III, as it's just moving on dotted lines towards destinations. There is a warp spell though, and that's something III didn't have. Also as far as navigation goes, you can change camera angles in this one, although it is limited in some places. Also masters in this game work differently in terms of skill learning, sometimes you have to get a good combo going, fight a set number of battles or monsters, or even spend a set amount of time. The stat enhancements are still around though.

As far as battles go, I just mentioned something new, and that's the combo system. This involves skills that use AP, and you can rack up more damage with good combos. Elemental spells can make interesting combos, such as when using an earth spell and then using a fire spell can create a powerful Earth+fire attack on all enemies. Physical moves can be part of a combo, and extra damage in incurred in those cases. Also notable in the battle system is that you can swap out party members AS WELL as order in which they move. This can actually set up combos well. Up to three characters are up front battling, while up to three characters sit in the back, gaining AP and HP whenever a turn passes. If anyone needs dire healing, then it would be wise to send them to the back and have a reserve character handy. If the three up front all die, then it's a game over, whether or not the rear row of characters is active or not.

Minigames return, with a vengeance! Or not, as the one's I found here were mostly easy, thankfully. Some were fun too, like the sandflier one. Fishing is of course its own game, and new is the type of spot you go to, with river, lake, or ocean being spots of interest. Too bad you can no longer see the catches though. Fish function as items and to trade with certain Manillo people (for those who aren't familiar with the BOF series, Manillo are the large fish people) for items or supplies. The faerie village also makes a return, and I neglected doing this in BOF III. This time I decided to try it out. The aspect is to get a good faerie colony running, having some of them hunt while others build houses which can be made into item shops, weapon shops, etc. It's of marginal help at most. Overall, gameplay is pretty nice, although a lot of stuff I kinda know already from playing Breath of Fire III. Grade: B-

Characters: "Dragon Boy" Ryu: Always a staple, the blue-haired swordsman always makes a good character due to his good offense. In terms of Dragon power, there's not a whole lot of dragon powers to pick up as in III, but you don't have to necessarily worry about picking up genes and combining them. This game kind of combines the dragon powers of the second game and the third game, in which Ryu has dragon summons (where he first has to meet with a dragon, hard to find usually), and dragon powers that he can transform himself to. Breath attacks have interesting cinematic sequences that look cool, but are thankfully skippable so I don't have to watch them all the time.
"Winged Princess" Nina: Another staple of the franchise, she's a tailor-made magician entirely, with little physical power. This Nina has healing spells, much like the one from the very first game, as well as some good wind spells. She's also the fastest character overall, so that's great.
"Woren Chief" Cray: Of the Woren tribe. Think of Katt from BOFII and Rei from BOFIII. That's what species Cray is. In this game, Cray fulfills the "tank" sort of character, with great defense, offense, and HP, at the expense of being the overall slowest character. He's got some support magic which might help too.
"Blessed Armor" Ershin: A sort of robot-like character, Ershin is largely unremarkable, especially in the first half of the game where she's only got basic attacks. After a revelation, Ershin will be able to use some really strong spells. However, her magic power and AP are nowhere near as good as Nina's. I made my Ershin have some good speed in this game, so that's pretty nice, but Ershin's probably my least used character overall.
"Ruffian Swordsman" Scias: My favorite character in the game. You don't get a whole lot of knowledge about Scias, but you shouldn't care when he's the best power type character ever. Able to wield a two-hit weapon, with some good attack power, Scias is awesome mainly for his "Shining Blade" technique, which always critical hits. He's got some magic ability, functioning as a secondary healer and has some ice spells, and his speed is second best overall. Scias is definitely a character I keep in my front party.
"Shooter Captain" Ursula: I find her above average in most combat aspects, but Ursula doesn't really excel anywhere. Good magic ability overall, and she can equip guns that could hit all enemies at once. Her speed is second slowest though.
"Dragon Emperor" Fou-lu: A temporary playable character, but one players can remember. His Shakespearean tongue plus his overpowered moves make him destructive in combat. His scenarios are different from the six characters above and he journeys alone, but he's got lots of story on him.

Non playable characters include Elina, sister of Nina; Kahn, an egotistical fighter with a unique theme that fights the player often; Yuna, a deranged, villainous pacifist; Rasso and Yohm, Empire generals who are after Ryu and Fou-lu, respectively. There are other characters too, some from other games. If you win the game, there's a shop run by Rei and Teepo from the third game. Momo (also from the third game) makes an appearance as a master, and Bunyan makes a return as well. Grade: A-

Plot: Winged Princess and Woren Chief are searching for Elina, stumbling in the desert where their sandflier crashes. Winged Princess goes off to find spare parts, and runs into Dragon Boy, and he's naked! He gets on clothes and ends up joining. Meanwhile, Dragon Emperor awakens in his tomb and is hunted down by Yohm. As for the main party, Winged Princess and Dragon Boy don't end up getting the parts, instead running into Rasso at some point. They meet "Blessed Armor" and she tags along; eventually the party returns to Woren Chief and they all go to get more information on Elina. Dragon Emperor is of course on the run from Yohm, ending up in the care of Bunyan and then running off in dragon form once Yohm tracks him down.

Back to the main party, Rasso fights the party with one of his minions before they reach Empire territory. Over there, they are caught by Yuna and returned to the eastern lands, where Woren Chief is put on trial for actions. Ruffian Swordsman is entrusted with keeping remaining party members from doing dumb things, but he ends up helping the party out anyways, and Woren Chief is broken out of his trial. Journey continues and we eventually learn more about the dragons, and how Dragon Boy is the Yorae Dragon of all things. Blessed Armor also hides a spirit within her, which is Deis, another staple of the BOF series. When Rasso pursues the travelers, he kills the children and this causes Dragon Boy to go berserk and unless his Kaiser powers. This kills Rasso and most of the troops, although Shooter Captain who was present survives thanks to Winged Princess calming Dragon Boy down. Shooter Captain tags along with the party, following her orders to take them to the empire.

At the start of the next chapter, we see the last playable moments of Dragon Emperor, in the care of some redneck girl named Mami in some redneck village in empire territory. As always, he has his promises to keep, and ventures to the empire capital, but not before Yohm catches up. He fires the Carronade, some big weapon, on the Dragon Emperor, and the ammunition used was that same girl who cared for Dragon Emperor. Although he survives the attack, his insanity dwells within him and states that mortals are all evil. Now to the rest of the party, they're venturing all around for ways to reach empire territory, getting stuck on a tidal island along the way. The truly last playable moments of Dragon Emperor happen around this time, where he finally reaches the capital, kills both Yohm and the current emperor Soniel, and reclaims his position on the throne.

On Empire soil, the main party ventures in search of Dragon Emperor, although the events due to him have shaked the empire. Notably though, the party finds Yuna again, and retrieve the Dragonslayer, a powerful weapon. Here, Woren Chief finally finds Elina, and discovers a horrible revelation that her body has been horribly mutated. She begs for him to kill her with the Dragonslayer and he sadly complies. Shooter Captain's grandfather, a powerful general, fights hard against Dragon Emperor's guardians, but he succumbs, and another party connection gets lost. At the end of it all, the six finally confront Dragon Emperor himself, and like in every other game, you get to pick the ending. The bad ending happens when the boy and the emperor fuse into the infini dragon, where they kill the five remaining party members. The good ending happens when Dragon Boy disagrees, fighting two boss battles, and at the end, still fuses, but this time they will rid the world of gods and not mortals.

Overall, very enjoyable plot. The best thing about it is that you switch between you're main party and Fou-lu. Grade: A

Music: It's nice overall. A little more oriental as opposed to the jazzy songs of the third game. There are two different normal battle themes, which didn't actually happen in the third game, and I like the second one (in empire territory) better. Overall, music, enjoyable. Grade: B+

Overall grade: B+

As always, Capcom makes an enjoyable BOF game. The new stuff isn't going to break a lot of amazement, but doesn't need to. The story is always nice, as is the versatility of each character. Thankfully, minigames aren't as bad as they were in the third game, so you know what? This game is more or less a great improvement over Breath of Fire III.