Thursday, June 2, 2016

Breath of Fire (SNES) Review

Written: May 31st-June 2nd, 2016
Alternate Title: Breath of Fire: The Dragon Warrior [|O|]
Year: 1993, 1994 | Developed by: Capcom
Published by: SquareSoft

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit!  =D  Ah, RPGs, what a great genre; while I personally prefer the action-oriented kind of RPGs (for obvious reasons: action) I do have a big appreciation for the turn-based kind (in fact some of them are my favorites), and today we get to cover the game that made me fall in love with the latter.

Capcom is mostly known for making platformers, beat'em ups, and fighting games, but once in awhile they worked on games outside of the norm; on April 1993 the Super Famicom unleashed in Japan what would eventually become a franchise which at the same time was Capcom's initial take on the traditional turn-based RPG genre--Breath of Fire: The Dragon Warrior, or as it would be simplified as when translated to North American shores sixteen months later on August 1994 (courtesy of SquareSoft), Breath of Fire=)  Created by the team of designer Yoshinori Kawano ("Botunori") and producer Tokuro Fujiwara (of Ghosts'n Goblins fame), this was quite a departure for the company at the time; let's talk about it.

After a brief prologue that ponders the meaning of life it is revealed that thousands of years ago a goddess of destruction named Tyr (Myria in Japan) was responsible for the Dragon Clan fighting each other to the point that two different Dragons were formed: the Light Dragons and the Dark Dragons.  The reason: Tyr offered to grant any wish they desired, causing the two to vie in favor of her which segued to a devastating war which the goddess highly encouraged.  Just when things were deteriorating, this "Goddess War" was put to an end once and for all when a legendary Light Dragon imprisoned Tyr and sealed her away with the six goddess keys, which were then separated.

Or so it seemed, for the Dark Dragons persistently hunted the Light Dragons even now; little did the enemy forces know that long ago the Light Dragons sealed their own power away.  In the village of Drogen a young orphaned Ryu, a descendant of the Light Dragon with a dragon-shaped scar on his head, has been residing with the survivors of the Light Dragons, being raised by his priestess sister Sara who honed powerful magic.
One night Ryu dreams of a dragon telling him that he's in danger and should wake up lest he wants to be engulfed in flame; once he wakes up he discovers that there's fire everywhere and convenes with the others.  Sara, in order to protect her brother and the other villagers, turns them into stone so that the fire will not touch them and that they would be safe from the Dark Dragons, who take her hostage by order of Dark Dragon Emperor Zog (Zorgon in Japan).  Learning of Zog's plan to take over the planet by the Dark Dragons' "birthright" by wishing for it once he has all six keys (when instead it'll be his own and everyone's downfall), it is up to Ryu to embark on a big journey to collect these goddess keys along seven other companions he meets along the way before Zog does and unlock his inner power in the process.  Only you can restore peace to this war-engulfed world and save it before it is destroyed.

"Say, did that old man look familiar to anyone?"
"No, of course not, he's much too wily to be famous"
In the overworld you only get to move in a four-square pattern, and with the Select button you can access the menu.  Because it was Capcom's first traditional RPG their menu is laid out in a way that is uncommon with other ways in the genre which might take a bit to accustom to but after an hour or two of play you'll get it down pat: the bag icon lets you access the items, the helmet icon lets you put equipment on your characters, the cane icon will let you conjure magic (if you can during the overworld provided you have enough AP), the left and right arrow icon lets you change battle formation, and the up and down arrow icon will enable you to switch the order of characters (especially who takes the lead, once Ryu finds his companions).  Once you find the map you can look at your whereabouts with the Start button outside, and with the A button you can open chests, find items inside drawers, talk to NPCs, and perform a special skill depending on who takes the lead (up to four characters can form a line a la Phantasy Star).

Rang weapon utilized!
When walking in the overworld or in a dungeon there doesn't appear to be an enemy in sight, but like Final Fantasy IV and V before it there will be random battles aplenty (there are some exceptions).  And just like the menu, so too does its battle interface take a short time to experience before it's mastered; the main choices are to attack (sword icon), protect yourself (shield), conjure magic for anyone in your party or against your enemies (cane), or use an item during battle (bag).  But the first row of options once it's your turn will comprise of the sword icon, the Run icon should you wish to abort battle (should you be allowed to), change formation and/or bring a member from your back row forward; and should you feel very confident you can choose the AB icon to watch the battle unfold automatically which can always be disabled with the B button.  When you start the game there are one of three save files you can choose from, and to save your current progress you must tell the story to the Dragon Lord's statue largely found inside a small temple.

Just think of the Choppers as this game's own
Mettaurs  =)
Breath of Fire's characters were originally designed by Keiji Inafune (who also did character designs for the early Mega Man installments), but during development his supervisor took him off the project (for reasons) and replaced him with Tatsuya Yoshikawa; amidst the new illustrations that were made Yoshikawa respectfully retained many of Inafune's designs (thereby crediting him as "Inafking").  Well, that was nice of him.  <=)  The character (and profile) designs of the characters are really good, and the in-game animations are solid; the overworld roaming animations are okay, but what really shines in this regard are the animations during battle which happen smoothly and swiftly (whether they're attacking, using an item/casting a spell, or when they're hit).  Succinct and to the point, just the way I like it here.

Inside the desert oasis of Arad
Some good designs that come from the central characters that spring to mind are Nina with wings on her back, the anthropomorphic wolf bowman Bo (Gilliam in Japan), the traveling merchant fishman Gobi (Manillo), and even the sorceress Bleu (Deis) who's half-human/half-serpent; there are even some nifty creature designs for when Karn (Danc) does a simulation spell that combines more than one member of the party (especially Puka).  =)  The NPCs are designed nicely, and the enemy roster comprises of creatures such as variants of slime (because it wouldn't be an RPG without 'em), miniature axe-wielding helmet creatures with arms and legs, round spiked birdheads, giant knights, skeletal riders, dogfish, sentient cacti, and giant crabs to name some; they all animate well too.  Bosses are huge and tower over you (like the sword-wielding generals, sandworm creature, ogres, and toads, et al), and it's fascinating to see them flash brightly when they're on their last legs and disappear as they're circled out of the battlefield once the last hit has been dished against them.

Love the night shots  <=)
The visuals in Breath of Fire are gorgeous, simply put, from the large abundance of bright colors to the good sense of detail.  =)  The areas are all diverse, from the windy angel village Winlan (Windia in Japan) to the desert sands of Arad to the wavy underwater merchant city of Prima to even the musical island paradises that is Tunlan (with the wonderful structure and waterfalls), and the overworld itself is varied depending which part of the world you're in (i.e. grasslands, desert, mountain landscape, island).  I think the best part of this turn-based RPG, however (aside from the fact that engaging in battle will shift the perspective from bird's eye to isometric viewpoint) is the fact that the longer you roam in the overworld the darker or brighter it gets which affects not only the current place you're in but also the safe areas you visit (at night the lights are on); it really augments Breath of Fire's sense of atmosphere.  I like that today's game took a cue from Drakkhen (which basically inspired the day/night feature in the RPG genre).  =)

Battle on a rope bridge
As for the interior designs, they're also well-designed and pretty to look at; the inner halls of the castles look good, the inside of buildings and inns for the most part look safe and inviting (especially with that neat little framed Arthur cameo from the Ghosts'n Goblins series), the caverns look ominous and rocky (and to add more to the atmosphere there are occasional water drops from the stalactites), the space effects are neat later on in the game, and in one of the towers each floor is comprised of different elements (i.e. rain, desert, sky) which is pretty cool.  The village of Auria is shiny and gold, the village of Bleak is dark, and once in awhile there's a nice line scrolling effect when you either walk on a bridge from either Winlan or Gust or when you head up and down the elevator in the Dark Dragon base Scande.  And the battlefields' attention to detail is very appreciated regardless where you are; on land, near water, on a bridge, in a hall, outside, underwater, in a forest.  =)

Such a relaxing underwater environment  <=)
Breath of Fire's music was composed by four members of Capcom's Alph Lyla sound team: Yasuaki Fujita (The Little Mermaid, Darkwing Duck), Mari Yamaguchi (Super Ghouls'n Ghosts, Mega Man VThe Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse), Minae Fuji (Mega Man IV), and Yoko Shimomura (Gargoyle's Quest: Ghosts'n GoblinsStreet Fighter II: The World Warrior), and it is hands down one of the best Nintendo 16-bit soundtracks provided by them.  =)  The pure instrumentation is great and engaging, the music perfectly suits the tone and emotion of the current situation, and the grand piano sounds incredible in Nintendo 16-bit format.  My sole nitpick is that after a battle is over (whether it was won or aborted) the music will start over again.  <=(  C'mon, man, you came out after Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and Final Fantasy V (both of which resumed the music instead of starting over); and I would actually make a bigger deal of this if Capcom didn't repeat this with the immediate sequel.  Oh well, at the least music here is fantastic.  =D

That's no ordinary octopus  ={
There are three overworld themes that sound spectacular (the first one being the triumphant and iconic Breath of Fire theme and the second one is really uplifting in the short amount of time it's heard before it goes away forever), some village themes are pleasant to listen to (particularly for Winlan/Gust, Auria, and Bleak; Arad in particular has that appropriately nice Lawrence of Arabia flavor to it), the Dark Dragon march heard during the final segment of the introduction is downright menacing and dark and the final notes really send a chill down your spine, Tunlan's theme is very catchy, the story theme after Sara has been kidnapped by Jade (Judas in Japan) is haunting, the underwater village of Prima sounds different from everything else yet sounds very wonderful and relaxing (Yoko Shimomura's only song in the game), and there is a theme heard once in awhile that's very emotionally composed and rather poignant in its own right during the emotional moments.  ='(

Trekking down the forest
The various dungeon themes are memorable, the Misty Forest theme is mysterious with that fun sense of jazz, and the cavern theme is atmospherically ominous.  As good as the soundtrack is, the weakest songs I feel (as is the case with most turn-based RPGs) are the two normal battle themes (each one heard during one half of the adventure); that's not to say they're bad, they're actually okay to hear one time or two, but after awhile of listening to the same song over and over during each and every normal battle it can get quite annoying (I'm starting to have the impression that Final Fantasy IV, Arcana, and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest are the only Nintendo 16-bit games in the genre where the normal battle theme was not the weakest song in the soundtrack).  Luckily to make up for those are the boss theme which is intimidating as well as the epic do-or-die final battle theme (oh, that riveting string work), and the beautifully combined ending and credits theme is enough to make an RPG fan cry for it is so rewarding to listen to when the adventure is over with the good ending (it is that powerful).  =')

United they stand, divided they fall
Breath of Fire is a dialogue-heavy game, and at the time Capcom had no experience translating such amount of dialogue to the West; so SquareSoft got involved when it came to its North American distribution when Ted Woolsey decided to help translate it (his first and only contribution to a Capcom game).  By the time this RPG arrived in America Woolsey had become a household name, known for his translating prowess evidenced in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Final Fantasy Legend III, and Secret of Mana; and as usual he does not disappoint.  =)  There are a couple of blunders (not overt ones) but overall he wrote the story and dialogue in a way that is easy to follow and make you feel engaged; but because Western letters took up more space than kanji did this resulted in a lot of (sometimes awkward) abbreviations when it came to items and equipment, in fact the central characters' names had to be up to four letters because of this (it would explain some of the name changes).  I only wish he and SquareSoft remained on board when Capcom jumped ship and translated Breath of Fire II on their own (because its translation was shite); but if they had then American gamers would've thrown a hissy fit over Chrono Trigger not receiving localization or (worse) be translated poorly, and Chrono Trigger is a much better turn-based RPG than Breath of Fire II... actually a lot of turn-based RPGs are better than Breath of Fire II-_-

Good thing Plok is not here, otherwise there would be
h----OH, they're not those Fleas, never mind then!  >_>
After each battle has been won you'll receive a varying amount of experience points and GP (your currency), occasionally they might leave behind an item which may either be useful or can either be sold; and each time your character levels up they become more powerful than before (a few in number might learn a new spell); what's cool is that even if a character is in the back row (or simulated) they'll still level up regardless--makes leveling up fun this way, unlike a certain sequel (*cough*Breath of Fire II*cough*).  And just like Drakkhen the day/night system isn't just a prettifying gimmick as it's also a beneficial tool for you to make progress as you wait 'til night (like sneaking past the Dark Dragons in the doomed village of Nanai with that one pub you'll never ever enter in-game; or looking at a combination from the back of Tunlan's bathing princess), and later on you'll procure an hourglass (HrGlas) which can speed up the process if you don't wish to prolong the wait.  Awesome!  =)

When it comes to the battles when it's one of your characters' turns, when they perform an action--whether you make them attack, use magic, or utilize an item--it is done in such a swift and concise manner (literally no time flat) that it makes the battles go quicker this way... I want you to remember this when you play Breath of Fire II because in that RPG it is not the case.  Another neat aspect is the way most bosses will experience a second wind after losing lots of damage and won't go down just yet (with their health bar currently comprising of one red wafer-thin line), which makes these battles exciting as you get to see how many hits it'll take for them to truly bite it.  =)  Unlike Final Fantasy post-IV you can take as long you want to make a decision without worrying about receiving damage during the fact, and at random times your character can double their attack power and successfully dodge an enemy attack--unfortunately the opposite also applies so it's best to exercise caution.

Ryu down 33
Throughout the game you'll procure contents from inside chests (and occasionally drawers), whether it be inside safe buildings, dungeons, caves, and forests; and the cool thing when it comes to equipping any one of your characters is that it's done in a way that's not time-consuming; simply select the equipment of choice (weapon, shield, armor, helmet, something for two empty slots) and it'll update itself right away as it trades places with the old equipment in question.  It's satisfying as you don't have to go through a hassle.  The dungeons have plenty of surprises in store for you and are vastly designed in such a way that thorough exploration is key to garner some of its treasures; you also never know if there are trapdoors you'll fall through, switches that'll render the inner walls of a labyrinth visible or invisible, warps that'll teleport you to different parts of a dungeon (or outside), switches that'll rotate the perspective of the room, or even traps that'll wind up summoning monsters who attack you.  It's great because it ends up keeping you alert and on your toes!  =)  Should the party fall during a battle you'll be brought back to the last Dragon Lord statue you saved in front of; you won't lose the new items you got along the way, but your current GP will be reduced by half (as you do).

(O.O)  ......... You would be a perfect fit for a Mega Man
Robot Master!  =D
In 2001 this game got ported to the Game Boy Advance by Capcom in Japan and America and saw release in Europe for the first time in this format by Ubisoft, whose involvement as European publisher makes about as much sense here as it did for SoulBlazer and ActRaiser 2 on the SNES (that is, not really).  I forget how I found out about Breath of Fire one-plus decade ago, whether it be by learning about it on FlyingOmelette's outdated Top 100 Favorite Video Games list or through a little blurb of it on a 2002 Nintendo Power magazine (the same one that had 3D Mickey from Disney's Magical Mirror starring Mickey Mouse on the cover), but regardless I do recall being curious about it.  I didn't own an SNES console at the time thus I decided to ask for the Game Boy Advance version on Christmas 2006, at the time not knowing the handheld's shortcomings.  I was fifteen and at the time I wasn't too big on turn-based RPGs, not to mention I was inexperienced in the genre (I didn't grasp the concept of equipping until a year and a half later when I played it properly; I was more into action and platformers); but I did manage to play it up to a certain point: the General, the second boss fight in the game.  What took me by surprise was how hard he was, so much so that I was scared to touch GBA Breath of Fire again until 2008 when Hurricane Ike hit.

Incidentally, that Summer I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, my first Indiana Jones experience on the big screen since the first three came out before I was born, and one line from it stuck with me (but not for the right reasons): "I like Ike!"  But the context was different because it was a 1957 period piece (I knew Indy was referring to President Eisenhower), but it's hard not to think of that movie line without being reminded of the Hurricane of the same name that hit months later (very awkward coincidence, that was).  =$

Facing off against Death's distant relative
Something I deliberately left out so I could talk about it here is that Breath of Fire is a difficult turn-based RPG, mainly attributing to the majority of boss battles themselves.  If you're not leveled up enough or if you don't have the best equipment up to this point you might end up losing to them if you're not careful; buying a bunch of healing and curing supplies is also a must; some ways in which the battles are slightly alleviated are when Karn battles as a simulation or when Ryu transforms into one of several dragon forms (after you earn them, that is).  On one hand the hard difficulty I find to be rather refreshing for it keeps you steady and alert throughout and demands that you be careful, but on the other hand its difficulty probably scared off gamers who had little to no experience in the genre (like myself almost a decade ago) which didn't exactly help because difficulty was in general one of the reasons Americans were not as experienced with these kinds of games like Japan was during the early '90s.

So anyway, during 2008's Hurricane Ike (house and family was fine, don't worry; we were out of power for two weeks, but everything was fine) I decided to play GBA Breath of Fire on my Nintendo DS, and this time I would do it properly; and when I got past the General boss its world was beginning to open up to me and progressively got better and better, even as I got into the habit of equipping my characters and looking everywhere for treasure chests.  I was having a lot of fun with it, and after countless hours I ended up beating it: both with the good and bad ending (I do not recommend going for the latter, it is time-consuming as all hell), making it the very first turn-based RPG I ever beat.

But in hindsight, the Game Boy Advance was not exactly an ideal format for this port of a Nintendo 16-bit title; sure it enabled you with the ability to dash by holding the B button (the original Breath of Fire came out before games like Robotrek, Chrono Trigger, and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars allowed you to both walk and run; I'd also include Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, but let's face it: blatant Adol Christin wannabe Maxim is already moving at fast speeds), used new designs and cutscenes, and used the simpler battle interface from Breath of Fire II, but that's where the implementations ended.

The Game Boy Advance had a very bright color palette, the aspect ratio was uncomfortably cropped, the music sounded tinny and flat (which was wont to happen when SFC/SNES titles were downsized to GBA format) due its terrible sound samples (comparing music from both the SNES version and GBA version on YouTube is what made me hate the concept of SFC/SNES-to-GBA transitions as an audiophile, which was hard because I used to have high respect for the handheld), and despite the fact that it came out in 2001 (when the internet paved the way to numerous resources) the translation was entirely copy-pasted from the original Nintendo 16-bit format--which is lazy if you asked me.  I didn't play the GBA version of Breath of Fire II, but something tells me the same thing happened there.

Since finding out the hard bombshell that the Game Boy Advance may not have been as great a system as I once thought, and after having been loaned an SNES console two days before 2009 I wanted to someday experience Breath of Fire as it should've been experienced; in excellent-sounding square-ratio format on either the SNES or the Virtual Console service.  The problem with the last option (at first, anyway) was that SquareSoft handled the promotion and advertising for Capcom's RPG in preparation for its 1994 American release; so even though Capcom technically owned the rights to this game, Square owned just as much because of this.  So the Nitnendo Wii Virtual Console downloadable service came and went without this game being available in the West (but in Japan it was); in 2014 and 2015 Capcom and Square have thankfully come to an agreement and decided to release Breath of Fire in all its original 16-bit glory on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console in Europe and America respectively, and all I have to say is thank God=)

After Breath of Fire became a Capcom hit it ended up spawning a Super Famicom sequel on December 1994 with Breath of Fire II: The Destined Child (with most of the same people involved from the first game), which when converted to NTSC SNES format the following December in 1995 was shortened to Breath of Fire II, and despite the first not seeing a release in Europe in the '90s this follow-up ended up getting the PAL treatment (courtesy of Laguna) on April 1996 with no title change to disguise the fact--you know, at least when Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistals was released in Europe Neverland smartly changed it to Lufia because Lufia & the Fortress of Doom didn't see a PAL release (even though it's a prequel, so the title makes no sense; add to the fact that Lufia isn't in it, and it doubly makes no sense).
Despite having come out fairly late in the console's lifespan its translation was absolutely horrid and hard to take seriously (with lots of misspelled words, incomplete sentences, and improper wording and structuring); Capcom probably felt confident enough to do it by themselves after SquareSoft helped them with the first Breath of Fire, but the sequel's translation was so incomprehensively bad you wonder why they even bothered.  You could forgive something like this in 1991 or 1992 even (when there were little to no resources) but not 1995; though I hear in recent years there has been a "Retranslated" version which hit both emulators online which also got transferred to physical repro carts.
But badly translated or no, it does not change the fact that Breath of Fire II is a disappointing and severely inferior sequel, and a lot of that is attributed to how longwinded and padded it is.  Level gaining took long periods of time because the experience points were divided by the current number of people in your party, the only people that leveled up were ones currently in your party (and having to switch them up every now and then in front of a statue is a neverending rollercoaster of tedium), the attack and magic animations took a long time to get to the point, the soundtrack was forgettable (if it didn't make me feel antsy it made me want to fall asleep), there were far too many sidequests to undertake that took forever to accomplish, and it felt very unbalanced (especially when certain fruit consumption depletes you of your health).
The battle interface was simpler and easier to use and it admittedly did have better visuals and animation than the first game (with clouds and shadows in the overworld), but that's part of the problem: I think Capcom focused so much on exploiting the visual aesthetics that they didn't care about the gameplay itself.  And personally I found this second iteration to be very boring; I just did not have the same amount of investment and enjoyment for it as I did the first Breath of Fire.  I tried on several occasions to give this turn-based RPG a chance (I swear to God I tried) but every single time I wind up losing interest because I feel no compelling reason to continue with it.  This game simply failed to make me care, something the first game succeeded in doing.
Pedo Frog
But jarringly I found that over the years there are many people who actually prefer Breath of Fire II to Breath of Fireo_O  What???  Why??  How?  Actually, never mind "how", I know the answer to that one (it got more exposure than its superior predecessor); but why do people like this sequel so much, after all the problems I stated that it's got?  I don't understand it, and maybe I never will; I don't wish to take it away from them if they do, to each their own, but I could never get into it no matter how many times I tried (I normally don't wish that I never played a Nintendo 16-bit game, but this is one of those exceptions; I could've been better off without this sequel on the Nintendo Wii VC).  Please don't ask me to give a full-length review of Breath of Fire II, this is the closest you'll get to read my opinion of it.  Disappointing.  -_-
Images from Wikipedia
In 1997 and 2000 the PlayStation One received the next installments Breath of Fire III and Breath of Fire IV, both of which incorporated 3D environmental elements and enabled you to rotate the camera (the former seeing a PlayStation Portable remake in Japan and Europe in 2005 and 2006, with an American release arriving via PlayStation Network this year; and the latter seeing a Windows and PlayStation Network release in 2003 and 2011 plus inspiring a series of Japan-only mobile phone games from 2003 to 2008), and in 2002 and 2003 the PlayStation 2 unveiled Breath of Fire (V): Dragon Quarter which was different than previous installments and ended up dividing fans of the series and RPG gamers in general.  It seemed we had heard the last from Breath of Fire,
Image from Wikipedia
...until this February when Capcom released Breath of Fire 6: Hakuryū no Shugosha-tachi for PC computers and Android, which is the first in the series not made for consoles and vied for a more action-oriented RPG flavor this time around, which sees a release on iOS formats this Summer, but currently only in Japan.

It seems to me that even though the original Breath of Fire was successful that there are less and less people that like it with each passing year, which I find to be sad.  =(  This game might not be important to a lot of people, but it's important to me.  Never mind that the GBA handheld had its shortcomings as a whole, Breath of Fire is where I learned to play this genre properly and habitually equip powerful weapons and protection, and it made me want to play more turn-based RPGs.  Had it not been for this game I would not have played Chrono Trigger, Arcana, The 7th Saga (a futile experience, though the Japanese version Elnard is better balanced), Robotrek, Final Fantasy IV through VI, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, EarthBound, or even Lufia II (to be determined) to name some; and I would not have played Super Mario RPG (technically the first turn-based RPG I played in my life as a child, but at the time I didn't do good in it) through to completion.  Breath of Fire means the world to me, I love it so much; there are people who like the first game and I'm one of the few that do.

Awww  =(
I thought the story was very compelling and the world in today's game was worth being engrossed and invested in.  Sometimes there were brief still-shot cutscenes with well-designed anime characters (especially for Ryu's Rudra and Agni transformations), I cared about what happened to its characters and the stakes were high, some moments of dialogue were humorous ("Do you want me to say 'Simon Says'?"; "Well, excuse me!"), and it wasn't devoid of genuinely emotional moments--namely the scenes with Ryu and his sister Sara and the scenes with Alan and Cerl (Carla in Japan) which culminated in their tragic fate were quite emotional.  If it wasn't for Ted Woolsey the original Breath of Fire would not have worked as well as it did, God bless that man and his translating talents!  =)  The Alph Lyla sound team's soundtrack also effectively added a huge sense of atmosphere and easily gave you compelling enough reasons to feel for and become invested in these moments, so that's a positive too (one that the sequel Breath of Fire II will never lay a claim to)!

Also, the optional Chun-Li cameo is much appreciated.  =)

These flying bird sequences are good, but I much
prefer the ones from Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma  =)
Best game ever!
I really liked the fact that each character had their own specific ability which could be utilized when not battling as they take the lead: like Bo who can literally walk your party through trees, Karn who could unlock any door and disable a treasure chest that had a trap in it, Gobi who could transform into a big fish underwater, and Nina who later on can become a giant majestic bird and fly anywhere your heart desires.  =)  I especially appreciate Breath of Fire's sense of replay value regarding if you could find all the treasures and special items and depending on if Ryu can transform into Agni (after having completed all his training and procuring all the Dragon equipment) there are two different endings; and the good ending is naturally the best of the bunch.  And when you reveal Tyr's true self the battle can be quite epic (even as you watch after enabling the automatic battle option).

Puka is best chibi-fish-duck-dragon-thingy  ^~^
Downloading the SNES edition of Breath of Fire last April was a real eye-opener for me as I not only got to re-experience this game but I re-experienced it in a format that it should've been presented.  In my recent playthrough, according to the total logs on my Nintendo Wii U, I beat this game in roughly twenty-one and a half hours (though it may have been a few hours more since one time I played it until there was a brownout; miraculously the SNES data was saved but the Wii U progress wasn't).  If you love a little challenge in your turn-based RPGs Breath of Fire has got plenty in store for you, but if you're afraid of challenge there are easier games in the genre you could play, and if you're looking for an RPG that's got longevity this will deliver sublimely; and if you're searching for a good story and translation as well as likable charm there's tons in store.  Breath of Fire holds a special place in my heart, and no one can take that away from me.  =D

My Personal Score: 8.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. The majority of screenshots I took last May, with the exceptions being the title and end message (which I retook), the dragon from Ryu's dream, and a few others (you can tell due to slight quality difference).  My only regret: not enough screenshots.
P.S. 2 Tatsuya Nishimura provided the sound effects for the game and a bit of music (but was left uncredited); the sound of the Fife that you use to access Krypt would be used again in Capcom's Disney's Aladdin.
P.S. 3 I warned you that I wouldn't be nice to Breath of Fire II.  Four down, five to go!
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  Have a great Summer, and take care!  =D
Speaking of Bonkers,
that's a good Capcom platformer, huh?  ...  Yeah, I admit that was... forced.........  v_v
I'll... see myself out now.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Super Earth Defense Force (SNES) Review

Written: May 12th-13th, 2016
Year: 1991 | Developed and Published by: Jaleco

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  Now my strong points when it comes to video game genres are platformers and RPGs (turn-based and namely action-oriented) but if there's one genre I don't consider myself to be really good at all the way is shoot'em ups (horizontal and vertical); it's probably got to do with the fact that these are precarious types of games for me in that I have to maneuver the ship around as I try to avoid a screen-full of enemy ships and enemy bullets (sometimes coming in right behind you).  But I figured today I may as well talk about one of the first horizontal-scrolling shoot'em ups I ever played during my childhood and am somewhat good at playing (to a point, that is): Jaleco's Super Earth Defense Force.

Shooting up in the sky, going up twice as high
Originally an arcade game in 1991 simply known as Earth Defense Force, the game (or rather its gameplay structure) got ported as Super Earth Defense Force to the Super Famicom on October 1991 which saw an American release on January 1992 until finally it received a European edition that same year.  And while the original coin-op edition had a two-player option and significantly different stages with unlimited continues (I should know, I got a chance to experience it years ago on one of my cousins' MAME CD), the Nintendo 16-bit release was exclusively rendered a single-player entry with only three continues at your stead amidst different stages.  So what is the first serious shoot'em up I'm covering on my StarBlog like?

What a nice space colony, I hope nothing bad
happens to it... oh, right, shoot'em up  =(
It's doomed  ={
Since this version in particular is slightly different than the original arcade counterpart, so too is its story.  The arcade Earth Defense Force takes place in the year 20XX where planet Earth is attacked all of a sudden by the alien Azyma Empire, whose sole purpose from its flagship the Orbital Satellite Buster is to wipe out all living beings on the planet.  Earth's only hope rests on the XA-1 and XA-2 space fighter ships sent forth from the organization E.D.F. (which stands for Earth Defense Force).  In Super Earth Defense Force, the Azyma Empire has established its own quarters on the dark side of the Moon, where it's revealed that after they attacked Earth they have a secret weapon on said Moon which could destroy the planet and all who inhabit it in one fell swoop.  It is up to the XA-1 space fighter ship sent from the E.D.F. organization to take these enemy forces out and obliterate the secret weapon before it's too late.

Attack this malevolent machine
Super Earth Defense Force is a horizontal-scrolling shoot'em up, and in it you take control of the XA-1 fighter ship, and regardless where you move around and maneuver it your ship will always face the right direction.  Liberally holding down the B button will allow you to shoot nonstop (both the ship and the two gun turrets), the A button will allow you to toggle the function of the two gun turrets around you, and the X button will change the speed of your ship (one arrow is the slowest and three arrows is the fastest; but I rarely bother changing the ship speed outside of the middle option).  Before you start each stage and after you lost a continue you have the choice to choose one of eight various weapons which you'll have to stick with until the end of the stage; I always opt for the Homing weapon because it's a very convenient feature and honestly all the other weapons I find to be useless by comparison and not quite as convenient (despite the variations in power, speed, and rapid fire).

Because this game is Darius now
Something that's quite innovative for this genre is the way that you have a shield stock as opposed to dying after being shot once (in the Config screen you can set it up to three).  Essentially taking a hit alleviates one stock from you, and once they're all gone you lose a continue (since a continue is the equivalent of a life in this particular shoot'em up).  Another neat innovation is how you could actually level up the weapon of your choice after shooting down a lot of enemies and/or garnering points which will fill up the level gauge, and once that's filled up you will level up your weapon up to Level 5, and once you fill up the bar any time after the fact you'll garner one extra shield stock.  Something of note is that how leveled up you are also enables certain functions of your two gun turrets; when you start the game the only options you can achieve with them are staying by your side or having them circle around you, but later on will also come their ability to either follow you around in a lined up fashion or get right up close to your targets (the best function of them all).

Neatly subtle sunset effects
Visually Super Earth Defense Force is decent to look at, and even though it's not anything to write home about there are some neat-looking segments here and there.  The first stage transpires above a sequence of parallax scrolling clouds which seamlessly turns from day to dawn in the most subtle way possible, for instance; the second stage has nice city lights below a starry atmosphere, and both the fourth and fifth stages have got a cool Mode 7 moment (the former of which has a space colony slowly zoom in to the side before it looms in the same playing field, and the way the Azyma Empire's Moon base rotates and scales in at the same time in gradual fashion during the latter is an impressive sequence).  =)  And when you turn on the game there is a greatly detailed XA-1 and gun turrets on top of a skyline transpiring behind the huge blank "E.D.F." letters which slowly pan to the left amidst a black screen; it does get you prepared for what's to come.

And now we have an enemy mech from R-Type,
because of course it has one such similar enemy
The XA-1 and its gun turrets are designed decently in-game, and the Azyma Empire's forces that you deal with have got varying designs that look cool; among them round cannons, fish-like mechanical enemies who could easily belong in a Darius game, and creatures made out of ice.  Any time you approach the main boss there will be a lightning strike to signify the event and many of them are huge; such as a giant mechanical swordfish, an ice worm, and even a huge mecha creature with a radioactive canister used for its fuel.  And after enough hits have been dished against them they're still functioning but look in worse condition thanks to their detail (and when they explode it's quite satisfying).

Well, that machine sure is crabby today
The music in Super Earth Defense Force is one of the best things about this game, for not only does it augment a sense of atmosphere in each stage but it also sounds really good in terms of composition and nature; too bad that it often gets obfuscated by the very loud same-sounding shooting sound effects (with some occasional explosions and during the fifth stage shattering ice effects) throughout.  Why did you do that, Jaleco, why couldn't you be more like Lagoon where there are little to no sound effects affecting the background music (thank God for the sound test combined with the fact that pausing will still have the music playing)?  =(

I'm outnumbered
As for the songs themselves they are fun and catchy to listen to, in particular the themes for the second stage, fourth stage, and fifth stage.  I like the way it's composed with its sound samples and how intense it could sound like during the boss theme, even during the final two boss fights within the same stage; and the credits theme ain't so shabby.  =)  The original Earth Defense Force arcade was composed by Tsukasa Tawada (who also worked on the first Ikari no Yôsai localized as Fortified Zone for the Game Boy), but the music that was done for the Nintendo 16-bit take Super Earth Defense Force was provided by Yasuhiko Takashiba (whose other main contributions for Jaleco was the first Rushing Beat which as a whole was woefully altered when localized for the Western release Rival Turf! and the one on one fighting game Dead Dance which got localized as Tuff E Nuff), and I have a fondness for this soundtrack since listening to it as a child whenever I played it during visits at my relatives'.

Icy salamander in your midst
The thing about most shoot'em ups is that one hit usually results in you dying and when that happens you either usually start from the beginning of the stage or the closest spot where you died; Super Earth Defense Force's inclusion of shield stocks alleviates that sense of worry although when you do lose a continue you must start over from the beginning of the stage where you lost all your shield stocks at (which is no problem really since they are not very long).  The game is actually fairly manageable even for me to play during the first three stages which is not a problem (especially since enemy pattern memorization is key); where the difficulty starts picking up for me (and likely everyone else) is the boss at the end of the fourth stage.  If you were to play this on say the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console (if you did not have confidence playing this kind of game) you would probably abuse the save state feature from this point onward (because the bullets and enemy fire are flying fast at you), but there is a way where you can still play legitimately without resorting to that measure as much... although it may disrupt the flow: pausing and unpausing, over and over.  It might not be 100% fullproof, but pausing is the equivalent of stopping the action and unpausing is the equivalent of resuming it, and the former especially helps when you can exactly pinpoint where the bullets are flying and where you should maneuver your ship.  When did pausing a game suddenly become a way to alleviate some challenge?  <=(

Sooo much flashing and wearing down
Super Earth Defense Force is not a widely regarded shoot'em up, and the developer Jaleco isn't a generally well-liked company as not many people seem to like them or their games (as far as I noticed).  During the console wars of the '90s the MegaDrive/Genesis dominated as far as this genre was concerned as opposed to the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo, and there's a reason for this: while Sega's 16-bit console did not have good sound samples or a plentiful color library it did have a fast processor which meant that games could go at fast speeds with no problem, Nintendo's 16-bit console had great sound samples and a huge color library but at the expense of being a slow-processing machine.  This basically meant that any time a lot was going on onscreen or when things were becoming hectic there would be graphic slowdown; and early in the Nintendo 16-bit console's lifespan gamers largely did not react well to Konami's 16-bit foray in the form of their 1990 sorta port of 1989's Gradius III, Taito's console-exclusive Darius Twin, or even Irem's Super R-Type because of this fact or because they didn't offer as much speed and/or challenge as people would've liked, and by the time today's game came out there wasn't much confidence with the shoot'em up genre as far as the Nintendo 16-bit console was concerned (the only exception during 1991 being Capcom's sorta port of their 1989 arcade adaptation of Area 88 in U.N. Squadron which was positively received).  But some of what came after from 1992 onward did renew some confidence as they were better received in and out of comparison.

Great formation, here's your award!
I remember first playing Super Earth Defense Force during either 1997 or 1998 when I was six or seven over at my one of my cousins' house whenever I visited them, and suffice it to say it left an impression on me when I was young (that opening especially and even the entrances of some bosses) and I could really only get up to the fourth stage before I lost all my continues.  It was one of the very first games I played in the shoot'em up genre, and admittedly for the first half it does make for a pick-up and play kind of game (especially since your power-up can level up and your ship has a shield stock of three, and the soundtrack is really catchy).  Each year I went and visited this would always be one of the games I wound up playing as I do find it fun (one of my cousins who owns it loves it and has beaten it a few times), and while it's true there are amounts of graphic slowdown I didn't feel it detracted from the fun to be quite honest (in fact, sometimes I saw it as a benefit).  =)  A common thing about shoot'em ups is not touching the upper and bottom surfaces or even stationary obstacles otherwise you'll either lose a life or health, but in this case you don't have to worry about that until the final stage.

Skeletal swordfish sure are waterproof
For years I had always meant to procure my own copy of it since I had fun childhood memories of today's game, but being a collector meant I was curious about so many games, so because of this games that I was largely curious about ended up catching my attention (and add to the fact that I'm indecisive and basically collecting games is hard in a nutshell).  Last Summer I decided to download Super Earth Defense Force on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console (released by current license-holder Hamster), and while I would not have objected to owning a physical cart (since it doesn't cost much on eBay) I did have enough points to download it on there so I decided to use them.  =)  And while it's not without its problems I do personally find it to be fun to play once in awhile, and it was during this time that I discovered the pause-unpause solution.  And yeah, while I do find myself using the save state from the end of the fourth stage onward I do try to get by with the pause-unpause trick (as it is bound to get you places); but hey, at least in Wild Guns I only start using the save state during the final stage.  But, you know, apples and oranges (Natsume's game is a shooting gallery, today's game is a shoot'em up).
If you're searching for a decent shoot'em up to play then Super Earth Defense Force is not a bad choice to play once in awhile.  If you don't desire graphic slowdown when playing this genre you're better off playing something else which admittedly is better.  But if you're forgiving of the slowdown and would like to see how Jaleco attempted their take on the genre during its heyday then it's fun while it lasts (or until you run out of continues), and if you like innovative features in your shoot'em ups such as leveling up your weapon and shield stocks you may end up liking it for what it is.  It's not great Jaleco entertainment but it's solid Jaleco in my book, and I'm normally not good at shoot'em ups.  =)  Make of it what you will, for your mileage may vary.

My Personal Score: 7.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. If there's one game I'm worse at playing that I start using save states earlier than either this game and Wild Guns it's Castlevania: Dracula X; but I am far from ready to talk about that one.  That title is neither Konami's finest nor is it in league with the 1993 PC-Engine classic that the 1995 SNES action/platformer is misleadingly named after (they're not the same game, despite the same setting and controls).
P.S. 2 Sweet, I got my third title that I promised I would talk about this year in my 2016 Video Game Reviews Bucket List done, now I only have to talk about six more left!  =D
P.S. 3 And in a total non-irony, Jaleco would return to the shoot'em up genre for the Nintendo 16-bit albeit as publisher of the North American version of R-Type III: The Third Lightning for Irem... because they couldn't publish it themselves for some reason.  =/
Happy 25th Anniversary,
(Super) Earth Defense Force!!!!!!!!!  =D
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  Have a great Summer, and take care!  =)