Thursday, June 30, 2016

Neutopia (TG16) Review

Written: June 27th-30th, 2016
Year: 1989, 1990 | Developed by: Hudson Soft
Published by: NEC

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  On February 1986 Nintendo unleashed Zelda no Densetsu on the Famicom Disk System in Japan which got localized in North America and Europe as The Legend of Zelda in 1987, with a Famicom edition coming out in Japan in 1994.  While far from the first action-adventure game ever made, at the time (emphasis on "at the time") it was a breakthrough hit and a bestseller for Nintendo and it was highly lauded by many thirty years ago that it partially set the standard for action-adventure games to come.  And as is true with every successful product another company would attempt to cash in on said product's success and try to have its own cake and eat it to.

On November 1989 Hudson Soft created a game made from the same exact ilk as The Legend of Zelda in the form of Neutopia for the PC Engine in Japan which would end up getting an American TurboGrafx-16 release in 1990 courtesy of NEC; Europeans would get a chance to play it for the first time on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console in 2007.  And when I say that today's game is a direct Zelda clone, it is a direct clone of the first game.  Normally when it comes to clones and knockoffs you just cannot top the original even if it is good; but could today's title be the rare exception to that rule?

Deep in the night in the land of Neutopia an evil being named Dirth has captured and abducted Princess Aurora who has been watching over the people during its peaceful prosperity in the Sacred Shrine.  Not only that, but the eight spiritual medallions (representation of the ancestors who sealed Dirth into stone) which were used for good by Aurora were scattered across Neutopia's four different spheres by Dirth: land, subterranean, sea, and sky.  Enter young warrior Jazeta who arrives at the Sacred Shrine and is given the medallion-powered charmed compass and is beckoned to retrieve the eight medallions, defeat Dirth in the Climactic Castle, restore peace to Neutopia, and rescue Aurora.  Only you can right this wrong.

"Your name is Jazeta which sounds so much like
Vegeta it's not even funny!"
Neutopia has you take control of Jazeta, who uses the sword with the I button and utilizes the secondary item with the II button; both options also have the turbo setting to use them swiftly and consecutively by just holding them down.  And since it apes the structure of the original The Legend of Zelda that means you can only walk left, right, up, and down.  The Run button has you view the charmed compass and access your other items that you can use throughout your adventure.  One of the ways you can defeat your foes is if you lunge your sword at them and once in awhile they might leave behind an item which you can take by walking towards it and/or reach with your lunged sword (gold, one of a few single-use or multi-use secondary items, and cherries to replenish one block of health--the last ones very rare to come by).

Enemy vanquished
This top-down action-oriented adventure comprises of a multitude of screens, and likewise with The Legend of Zelda the only time there is any scrolling occurring is when Jazeta transitions from screen to screen regardless of any of the four directions you emerge from.  During the overworld sections there's a multitude of NPCs that will either converse with you or help you in any way (i.e. merchants or healers); and they can be accessed by entering a door-shaped hole in the wall (sometimes required to blow up with a bomb), pushing a stone or eradicating all enemies onscreen to make random stairs appear, or by entering stairs concealed by objects which you can burn down with the Fire Wand in stow.  By thoroughly searching the current sphere you're in you'll be able to get places and possibly find a vital item that'll help you in your journey.

Y'know for a real pudgy dragon he sure has got
disproportionately skinny arms  =/
Each sphere has got two labyrinthine dungeons with the individual medallions being guarded by one of Dirth's minions inside the crypt section of the labyrinth which will only open if you found the key to it beforehand.  In each dungeon there are a few chests if you search thoroughly; one of them will comprise of an equipment upgrade for Jazeta (sword, armor, or shield), one of them will have a crystal ball which will reveal on the map rooms you've been to and have not been to, and in a secret room (usually not tracked with the crystal ball) there will be a chest with a vitality potion which will restore all your health no matter how low.  Occasionally you might also find a poor elder chained up to a wall who may talk to you.

Sentient spiked fungi?  Oh no!  That's worse than
Poison Mushrooms!  ={
If there's a secret room or passage nearby your charmed compass will go haywire when you access it via the Run button; and as was the case with the overworld said secret room (or stairs or normal door) might be accessed in the same manner in that you either defeat all enemies or push a block.  While in the overworld it's pretty obvious which spots can be bombed it's much more subtle deep in the dungeons which means making due with some trial and error (but only if you have enough at your disposal).  Once you've claimed the medallion you'll be whisked back to the Sacred Shrine and earn yourself an extra block's worth of health capacity.  By collecting two medallions in the same sphere you'll be on your way to the next one which you can transport yourself to by walking towards those stairs.

Australia???  O.O
Also, your head is shaped like an onion!  Just sayin'
Neutopia's soundtrack is not very big, but what is there is decent to listen to in its own right.  Composed by Tomotsune Maeno, who also provided music for other Hudson Soft fare Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom and Tengai Makyō: Ziria, its sound samples and compositions are quaint despite the songs' overall brevity and each sphere has got a distinct theme that sets them apart from the rest.  The sky sphere's theme sounds appropriately elevated given how high up above the clouds it takes place and the land sphere theme does its job adequately.  The NPC/shop/Sacred Shrine theme sounds too perky for this kind of game though (considering how frequently you'll enter these rooms), but it is made up for with the rich moodiness of the labyrinth when you explore below ground which is actually my favorite song from the game (even if at times said moodiness does get cheesy) and the boss themes work well.  =)  Sound effects are all right, such as the flaming sounds of the Fire Wand that you use and the "shing" sound of the sword when you use it, though I could've done without the obnoxious bloop sound any time an enemy touches you or the annoying as hell constant beeping sound any time you're dangerously low on health (of all the things you had to derive from The Legend of Zelda, Hudson Soft, why did you have to have that as well?  Better question, why does Nintendo keep using it in their Zelda games despite the general public's annoyance by it???  Seriously, do you want us to yank our own ears out; what, is, the, deal????).  x_x

Jellybean blobs, of course!
The visuals in Neutopia are solidly sharp throughout and the color schemes are decently chosen.  The land sphere's grass is vibrantly green with well-drawn stone murals on the walls (easily discernible on flatscreen TVs than rounded standard TVs), the subterranean sphere has got an interesting ground décor with crystal-like props, the sea sphere is Atlantis-like with water all around, and the sky sphere oversees a sky with some clouds as you roam the castle halls.  The dungeons all have bricked patterns albeit with different color palettes; some will have green and blue hues with certain rooms that have water while others will have brownish hues with red lava in certain rooms to name a couple examples.  The inside of the NPC rooms sometimes have water that waves smoothly.  =)

Firing this room up
Jazeta is designed decently for he has got okay walking animation when he moves, and his sword-lunging and item found sprites are cool; though when he loses all his health he spins around like The Legend of Zelda but unlike The Legend of Zelda it culminates in him lying on the ground with a halo on his head as if he was pre-Mario Jumpman in Donkey Kong and the Arabian prince in (Super) Arabian.  My nitpick is that his left and right sprites are flipped which means his sword and shield magically switch hands when they shouldn't; why couldn't today's game be more like the Ancient Ys Vanished diptych or Lagoon where these things stayed in their proper place regardless of the direction you're facing?  =(  Oh, that's right, Lagoon didn't exist yet when Neutopia was made, never mind.  -_-  One thing I'll say is that I like all the differently colored armor Jazeta finds in his adventure (starts out gray and everything that follows is more colorful) and there's no armor color choice I object: at least there's no brown cape that meshes with the main character's hair as was the case with Nasir in Lagoon and it is much better than going through the bulk of the game with puke green armor like Alex would in Dragon View, ugh!  XP  The various shield designs are good, and even his sword changes color with each upgrade.  =)

Horned skeleturtles
Funny thing about Jazeta though is that he's virtually the only human character that actually incorporates animation throughout, while the NPCs you meet up with are like motionless statues (seriously, they don't move a muscle or alter their position); the exception to this is Princess Aurora whom you save after you defeat Dirth, but by then it's too little too late.  Among the roster of enemies you'll bout in your journey there are blobs, sentient armor, iguana men, bats, skeleton turtles, reptilian soldiers, bouncing crickets, and more.  The bosses are designed nicely but have okay animation; some examples being an upright blue dragon, a giant crustacean crab, a three-headed skeletal turtle, and a pair of eight-way knife-throwing gargoyles.  Dirth has a neat design too, and when they're defeated it culminates into a big and brief explosion.

Game cover image from Wikipedia; happy 25th anniversary game I have not played
When Neutopia did really good Hudson Soft created the sequel Neutopia II which came out for the PC Engine on September 1991 (two months prior to Zelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Toraifōsu on the Super Famicom) which had you take control of Jazeta and Aurora's son which saw an American release in 1992 by NEC (the same year The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was localized for the American and European SNES market); and just like its predecessor Europe would play it for the first time in 2007 on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console.  Reportedly it received a lot of good praise and apparently improved upon its predecessor on pretty much every aspect but ultimately did what games such as Ardy Lightfoot and Equinox did and promised an upcoming sequel that never got made (and never will be made since Hudson Soft merged with Konami back in 2012).
 
"You see what happens when you attack bats all
the time??  You get Yooka-Laylee's release delayed!"
In the Summer of 2008 I only downloaded two games on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console (five less than the previous Summer): the first one was the original Neutopia and the second one was the very first Super Famicom game I played which partially inspired me to import games from Japan DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibōken.  I recall having been curious about it given I heard that it was a blatant Zelda clone, which it is.  Although if I have to be frank I was never a fan of the original The Legend of Zelda in the first place (I acknowledge its place in video game history, but I don't feel it's aged well by today's standards), I didn't grow up with it (I first played it in 2007) and I personally found it to be far too cryptic even for me (which is why I like most everything else that followed as they were easier to follow and fun to play, including Zelda II: The Adventure of Link which I actually prefer to the first Zelda; A Link to the Past spoiled me).  There's a fair share of people out there who find Neutopia to be an improvement over the first The Legend of Zelda, which I honestly found to be the case.

Create an entrance to the neighboring room
The best I could do with the original Zelda is get past the first dungeon and then find myself hopelessly lost from there on account that there's no guide on hand (even when I try to give it a genuine chance), while Neutopia made it a little easier for me with easy to understand NPCs (who were sometimes subtle) and I could actually manage to get farther than the first dungeon because it was so much easy to follow in and out of comparison.  That said, back when I first played it in 2008 I had gotten up to the sea sphere and got stuck in the fifth dungeon because ... well, I'll explain in detail why that was and the problems surrounding this game ... but because I found said sphere to be huge because I wasn't familiar with it at first and didn't want to go in with half my health I just stopped my progress altogether.  But I didn't dislike it from what I had played and it was a superior game to the first Zelda in my opinion; so fastforward to March 2011 and I decided to give Neutopia another go from the top... and this time if I felt lost I consulted VGmaps and GameFAQs (and when I saw the sea sphere map on the former site I was surprised at how not far the route to and from the fifth dungeon was from the Sacred Shrine).  I ended up beating it as a result, which I'm glad did.  I didn't do it as much on my recent playthrough (it's been five years since I last played it) but all the same it wasn't so bad an experience.

You know, blobs in games like these are so common
that they've become a staple to the genre
That said, there are problems which wind up lessening the experience (the annoying constant beeping sounds when you're super low on health has already been addressed): from the onset Jazeta walks at such a Ruin Arm-esque pace (if even that) but once he finds these special boots in the sea sphere he walks at a faster pace which is much more bearable.  Any time you're at the Sacred Shrine or a room near a dungeon with an elderly mother figure you're given a password--a needlessly elongated and complicated (but not The Legend of the Mystical Ninja complicated) password which ironically also involves a save file.  Um, what???  o_O  So, in order to continue your progress if you were to play Neutopia on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 console (and not the Virtual Console which alleviates that problem) you had to load one of four save files and then input a password?  What sense does that make???  >=(  Whoever keeps asking for long complicated passwords in their games or (more likely) whoever assumes people want long complicated passwords in their games: stop it, stop it now!!!

Secret stairs revealed in Atlantis
When it comes to action-adventure games or A-RPGs I'd personally rather play ones where the main character(s) have the freedom to roam around in all eight directions; that's not to say I won't play games where you only move in a four-square direction, because I do sometimes--among them Ys Book I & II, Lagoon, SoulBlader/SoulBlazer, Ys IV: Mask of the Sun, and even Brandish, all of which I personally enjoy.  <=)  In Neutopia Jazeta can only move in four directions (just like Link did in the original The Legend of Zelda) which isn't so much a problem so much as faulty enemy mapping and collision detection.  I'll elaborate: say that an enemy was in front of Jazeta as he was facing either West or East, obviously if an enemy collided or shot a projectile at Jazeta directly in front of him he would take damage; what should not happen but does anyway is Jazeta taking damage from an enemy while said enemy was a step or two to your left (up or down) or your right (down or up) while in any other game that would not transpire.  Most enemies are okay to contend with but there are some who'll move constantly that can easily hit you if you're not careful or rather yet be caught offguard by a non-land enemy spouting a projectile lest you're careful.  This makes for a slightly broken gameplay structure even though the gameplay itself is not bad.

"You look a little cold, let me warm you up!"
Most of the time you're constantly relying on having two vitality potions at your stead because half the time you'll lose damage because of that unfair structure I just covered (though the Fire Wand makes for a great long-distance weapon to a point), but the problem is that vitality potions cost a lot which means that if you're low you have to money farm in order to procure them (lest you find one in a secret room for free).  And should you lose all your health not only will you lose half your currency (figures) but you'll be brought back to the last "saving" point (if you could even call it that) with a low set of health (unless the last "saving" point was the Sacred Shrine in which case your health will be filled all the way), and unless you're familiar with the spheres' layout and design it can be easy to get lost and confused as to which NPC rooms are shops, which are warps that take you back to the Sacred Shrine (in exchange for money), and which are rooms with young soothsayers that heal you all the way; especially since enemies leaving behind cherries to heal one block of health are few and far between.  While the Fire Wand is the preferred weapon of choice, it's the close-ranged sword that causes the most damage and that's only lunged ahead of Jazeta while the Fire Wand can be shot in any which direction.

Vermin all over the place
Which leads to the main issue that Neutopia suffers from the most and that's the fact that it can get quite repetitive more often than not.  You lose all your health in a dungeon you must walk all the way to it and start it all over again 'til you get to the boss in the crypt room and hope that you have a sufficient amount of health to survive, and if you're out of vitality potions and in some cases bombs you're reduced to money farming to the point that you can afford them before you can get to said dungeon again to prolong your chances of survival.  Add to the fact that you have to maneuver and avoid the unfair collision detection lest you want to lose health cheaply and it's just grating since it takes the fun out of it all.  =(  But if you're getting by with confidence then it does get better, it just could've been so much more.

Welcome to the Subterranean Sphere
Neutopia is a decent Zelda clone that actually manages to be better than the very game it's aped its structure from (in my opinion), but it's not without its slew of problems that wind up dragging its quality down some; but if you can look past most of them it can become fun at times.  The land and subterranean spheres are simple enough to explore but by the time you get to the sea sphere the maps become bigger and complex; the dungeons are good to navigate the first time around (and some rooms do require you to be careful; i.e. don't step on the switch unless you want an arrow flying in your direction) and it's fun to bomb some walls to see if there's a secret room nearby.  Some items can be very helpful in your journey like the Ring which can turn most if not all enemies in the same room into weaker versions of themselves for your benefit (namely if you're surrounded or overwhelmed) and the Fire Wand which you'll find yourself using liberally (the higher your health the more powerful and far-reaching it is, but if your health is very low you're kinda screwed as its power has waned so much).  Plenty of the bosses are simple enough to combat with easy to follow patterns but a handful of them may take some challenge and require vitality potions at your stead; plus your shield can deflect most projectiles your way (should it be positioned properly that is).  If it wasn't so repetitive and unfairly structured at times it would've been a great game, but alas it wasn't meant to be.  But I do like it, moreso than the Zelda that started it all, so that's something I guess.

But for my money, egregious amounts of level grinding/money farming/level requisite equipment buying and equipping and mostly disappointingly short boss fights aside, Micro Cabin's Ys clone Xak: The Art of Visual Stage is a much better clone of the first The Legend of Zelda than Neutopia is as far as sword-lunging controls are concerned (sucks that it's the only installment on the Super Famicom, though; also originally a 1989 title).  =)  Its gameplay and structure was good, it was fun to explore the dungeons and overworld areas as Latok Kart moved at a slightly swift pace, its world was engrossing, not to mention you can move in all eight directions which was a plus and overall is a really good game (even if its item handling and usage was quite particular).  Also its soundtrack is kickass=D
I'd also rather play Lagoon than Neutopia, and while a lot of people didn't come out liking that Ys clone in particular I did find it to be more involving and reasonably structured than Hudson Soft's take on the action-adventure genre.  No, it's not devoid of problems; yeah there's the close-proximity consecutive sword swipes which upset many, but if you had the proper magic and crystal combined you could shoot magic projectiles to your enemies far away from you (except during boss fights which involves the sword all the time).  If you took damage you could hold still as your health replenished itself gradually and like Xak you could save in most any part of the game to your heart's desire (beats having to search high and low for the place to save).  Its scarce usage of sound samples also gives it a sometimes eerily quiet and atmospheric feel for it as there's not a sound for when you're taking damage, when you're dead, or when you're severely low on health (take notes, The Legend of Zelda and Neutopia).

Entrance matches the respective environment
The period from January 2007 (when I got a Nintendo Wii console) and May 2009 is when I downloaded games on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, and by the time I gave Neutopia a second chance I was more into buying physical SNES games for I had moved on from digital downloads.  I never played Neutopia II, and my chances of catching up with it are extremely low because I don't own a PC Engine or TurboGrafx-16 console (I'd only own one if it had the yellow-white-red AV cables and not that annoying A/B switch you had to fiddle around with in the back in order to get picture perfect quality on your TV--yeah, remember those?  I do, unfortunately) and Nintendo Wii Points cards are no longer made since the Nintendo Wii U started its Virtual Console downloadable service (and I don't want to expose information from my credit), and the handheld equivalent of NEC's console Turbo Express is too expensive.  I guess I just didn't want to jump into the sequel immediately because I only got halfway in the first game; which is too bad, because I had the opportunity to download it and I didn't take advantage of it.  Both games have been made available on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console by Konami in 2014, but only in Japan though.  =(  Still, I'm lucky I did experience some PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 (Bonk's Adventure, Bomberman '93, Bonk's Revenge, the original R-Type, Dragon's Curse, this game, Detana!! TwinBee) and PC Engine CD/TurboGrafx-CD (Ys Book I & II, Star Parodier) titles during this period.

Almost rock solid, but better than the game it
borrowed its structure from at least
I know it's not fair to judge a game by its age (and I don't wish to take it away from anyone), and people born in the '70s and early '80s will likely have a bigger appreciation for The Legend of Zelda because for them it may have been one of the first (if not the first) adventure games they played, while those born after 1986 (I was born in 1991) are more prone to play through its sequels (easy to follow) than the original Zelda (far too cryptic) because in my case I don't quite get what the fuss is about (I played it late in life and not as a kid like I did A Link to the Past, my foray to the Zelda series) but do understand how it partially helped set the standard for these types of games and kind of view it as a product of its times.  Neutopia's aged slightly better than the first Zelda for me, and while quite flawed it is fun during moments where it doesn't get cheap and repetitive.  If you like action-adventure games this game is decent on its own terms, but if you don't wish to put up with cheap structure and needlessly long passwords or repetitiousness there are far better games in the genre you could be playing.  It's worth playing through once, maybe twice; it could have been so much worse, but Hudson Soft found a way to make Neutopia an all right Zelda knockoff (but still no A Link to the Past).  <=)

My Personal Score: 7.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Flashback credits sequence and ending visual is good and all, but I much preferred it when HAL Laboratory did it with Alcahest, another eight-way roaming action-oriented adventure game that's better than Neutopia!
 
P.S. 2 If you grew up with this game and loved it and expected it to get a higher score I'm sorry to disappoint you, but its flaws were far too apparent for me to overlook them.  The worst thing I probably did with this review is inadvertently invite people to make wrong assumptions that I only like playing games from 1991 onward; not true, I do also like playing games that came out before I was born sometimes.
 
P.S. 3 One of Neutopia's assistant programmers Toshiro Kondo shares the same last name as veteran Nintendo composer Koji Kondo.  I'd speculate if there's any relation, but the last thing I want to do is misinform people so I'll just leave that be.
 
P.S. 4 On the subject of "topias", time to revisit Zootopia on Blu-Ray/DVD, it's going to great!  =D
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Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great Summer, take care!  =)

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!  =)

*SLAM*
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
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Speaking of Bonkers,
that's a good Capcom platformer, huh?  ...  Yeah, I admit that was... forced.........  v_v
I'll... see myself out now.