Breath of Fire (Series): An Analysis of Bad Design

Discussion in 'Games' started by Xylia, Oct 26, 2017.

  1. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    So I've been playing Breath of Fire 1 for about a week now. I first acquired this game a long, long, LONG time ago during the good ole days of the SNES and it has been a staple amongst my RPGs. I don't hear a lot of people talk about it, because most people who talk about the BoF series, it is usually #2 or #3 or how bad Dragon Quarter was.

    Now, about Dragon Quarter... given just how bad of a trainwreck that game was, I'm not even going to talk about it (that, and you know, I couldn't play more than 15min of it because the game was simply THAT bad).

    So... Breath of Fire, for those of you who have never played it, is a series of 4 games (excluding Dragon Quarter) done in the traditional J-RPG format. It had turn-based battles, and they were pretty standard fare. There were several staples in the games' worlds, and the main draw to the series is the fact that the Hero in each game was from the Dragon Clan, and had dragon-related powers. In #1, #3, and #4 the Hero was capable of full-on changing his body into that of a dragon and in #2 he could merely summon one for one round. I rather like the game's series despite its "blahness" that people usually complain about, but yet the series isn't perfect.

    This thread is meant to discuss some of the series' many design flaws that you find in the various games.

    Breath of Fire 1:

    This is the game that started it all off. Developed and made by Capcom and published by Square, it was a solid but samey J-RPG. It didn't really offer all that much new to the JRPG scene; it was more of the same. Back then, J-RPGs were just starting to take off, and this was one of many that were released on the platform. It was a tried-and-true style J-RPG, using many of the conventions that you'd expect. The game was overall good, one of my favorites on the SNES even though many people didn't care for it much. That doesn't mean it didn't have its problems, though...

    Problem #1: Physical Attackers were useless. Anybody who has played BoF 1 will remember how it takes simply forever before you can do any meaningful damage with physical attacks. Magic (and of course, dragon forms) are King in this game, as you will never kill a boss with physical attacks once you get past the 2nd boss. The game's developers seemed to have understood this as they gave you an infinite-use item right after the 2nd boss that allows you to deal 30 damage. Yes, 30 damage. And yes, that 30 damage is better than your Hero, a physical attacker, can do to any boss through half of the game. Even when you got later into the game, and got people who should have been crazy strong with physical attacks, such as Ox (he's a giant minotaur for pete's sake!), you will still find yourself doing minuscule damage to many enemies. Later on, this will improve once your Hero approaches that magical 255 Strength stat and gets his 2nd and especially after the 3rd boomerang (at which point, everything that's not a boss just falls over) but until then, it's a rough ride.

    Problem #2: The XP Penalties. Oi. Where to start with this one... BoF has a total of 8 characters that join your group. Most of them are physical attackers, and most of them can't do anything BUT physical attacks (Mogu, Ox, etc). So you already got a group full of people who are samey. Well, to add insult to injury, XP gained from monsters is divided amongst your group members. So not only do half of your group members take up space, but they also soak up your XP gains too and it makes you take forever to gain levels once you fill out your group. This has to be the one single thing I hate about BoF1. It is so bad that about a third of the way into the game, just after finding your 4th group member (Karn), there's a dungeon where Gold Slimes come out. The best fight there yields 3600XP if you can kill everything on the first round. The best XP fight in the game is 4800XP, but you don't run into those until after you've gotten your 8th group member. Therefore, leveling your first 4 group members up to ~60 is faster and easier than doing it at the end of the game. Since your Hero, your Healer, and one of your main attackers is in the group at the time, they can carry you through the rest of the game despite what everybody else's level is, if you grind there a bit when you get there. The problem wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for.......

    Problem #3: Unbalanced XP gains. Seriously, I don't understand what it is with the BoF series as a whole. You'd think that harder enemies should yield more XP, right? Nope! Not in Breath of Fire. You'll attack one enemy and it will give, say, 120. You'll attack something else that has more health, can heal itself, and has far more agility and it will only yield 90. And then you will run into something that is so pathetically easy it is ridiculous and it will yield a whopping 240 for no explainable reason. There's no rhyme nor reason to why the XP gains are set the way they are, and you will go through most of the game earning <1k XP from most fights except for a select few enemies. You start running into 60-120XP fights early in the game, and near the end you're still only gaining 300-500 but yet the enemies are more than 10x as strong. In the same dungeon, you can run into battles that give 500 and ones that give 4,000+ in the same dungeon and they are usually of comparable difficulty.

    But other than that, I consider #1 to be the 2nd best of the series.

    Breath of Fire 2:

    Breath of Fire 2 came out a bit later, and this time it was made and translated by Capcom. They switched a bunch of things around, some for better, but many for worse. Some of the design decisions I really cannot wrap my head around. But, let's get started...

    Problem #1: Horrible, horrible, HORRIBLE translation. Probably one of THE worst translated J-RPGs ever. Spelling errors all through the game, some things that some people say just don't make sense, etc. People like to gripe about Final Fantasy 4's US translation, but dude, that has nothing on this. How many people remember the game asking them to equip their fishing "lod"?

    Problem #2: Where's my heals!? Seriously, Capcom does not like healers in J-RPGs, apparently. This is a problem that starts in BoF2 and carries itself all the way through BoF4. Apparently someone at Capcom thought that Nina from BoF1 was somehow overpowered or something, because they seemed to have decided that we should not get any dedicated healers in the group. BoF1's roster was chock-full of useless physical attackers, so instead of doing something about that, they decided to get rid of the healer instead. What we have in BoF2 (and 3, and 4!) instead are hybrids. In BoF2, there are only 3 "healers": the Hero (I will talk about him here in a minute), Bow (who is the only decent healer), Rand, and Spar. Bow, for plot reasons, is missing for a good third of the game. You see him briefly, then he disappears, and rejoins you (and he is severely underleveled!). He has average MP, but is more a physical attacker than a healer. Rand is a tank and physical attacker who has an impressive list of heals.... but dirt-poor MP max. He runs out of MP after a few spells and that's that. And Spar... he has nice MP, and is obviously a caster... but he's a hybrid offensive caster with a few heals. His heals are weak (because he only has 1 or 2 tiers of the heal spell), so he's useless as a healer except for out of combat. So, you end up grinding up gold for healing items rather than using MP to heal because MP in this game (and the ones to follow!) is so precious that you dare not waste it. Carry many stacks of herbs!

    Problem #3: The Hero. Ugh. Okay, so the Hero was a wee bit overpowered in BoF1. In BoF2, they changed it so that he doesn't change into a dragon, but rather summons one for one round. One. Round. He dumps ALL of his MP into one attack (ONE. Attack.) and the damage he does is dependent upon whether or not you used the right element (the only way to find this out, is to have another caster test the elements or look it up on an FAQ) and how much MP he had. If you had 50% MP left, he does 50% damage. This means you cannot use the Hero's MP for anything, and you must hope that he doesn't gain a level before the boss of a dungeon or he will do less-than-optimal damage with his signature ability (that, again, can only be used once).

    Problem #4: Capcom hates MP-heal items. So BoF1 had MP-heal items, even though they didn't heal for much. There are MP-Heal items in BoF2 but they are exceedingly rare. This, along with the other problems this game presents, makes MP so precious that you dare not use it on anything which kinda defeats the purpose of caster-heavy characters. So instead of having a game where Magic is King, we now have a game where you dare not use magic unless you absolutely must.

    Problem #5: A lack of transparency/mechanics explanation. Until people hacked the ROM, most people had no idea what half of their stats even did. The game offered no explanation as to what the "GUTS" stat actually did other than "occasionally get back up when killed" (it does more than that IIRC), and there were other stats and mechanics that were not explained whatsoever, not in the manual, nor in the game itself.

    But, despite these problems, BoF2 is still a memorable experience, the story is a bit more interesting, and some of the mechanics and things have been updated so that it doesn't seem so old-timey. Let's move onto the next...

    Breath of Fire 3:

    So now we move on up to the Playstation, and what a huge difference it made! This game is MUCH better done, the translation is far better, the graphics are far better, the story is better, the game had a rather nice soundtrack. It isn't completely without problems, though....

    Problem #1: Still no heals... So basically, just like BoF2, we still have a lack of dedicated healers. This time, you gotta wait clear until about a third of the game before you finally get someone you could (loosely) call a Healer: Momo. And just like some of the other characters in BoF2, her MP maximum is only average, and she's more of a physical attacker who has the option of using elemental attacks with a "meh" defense. She's your only healer, though... so most likely you're going to be doing that Herb thing again.

    Problem #2: The Hero. They did better this time around, we're back to dragon transformations again.... but they cost MP-Per-Round, after the initial cost to transform in the first place. I feel the MP cost is a bit too expensive, though and it takes a long, LONG time before you can use your dragon form for more than a few rounds unless you use the absolute weakest forms. Usually if you are going to use a dragon form, you're doing it because you need elemental attacks. You have the genes to make awesome-looking dragon transformations, but they are either useless or too expensive and you end up defaulting to the "whelp" form until/unless you get the Warrior gene. Then it's Warrior+Element. Everything else is just sub-par. Nice system, but poor implementation. I feel they needed to reduce the MP penalties for adding more genes, and they needed to give the other dragon forms more abilities that are actually useful, to set them apart from each other to give you actual choices.

    Problem #3: MP-Heal Items. Yup. Still very few MP-Heal Items. You're still going to be physical attacking most stuff yet again, and healing up with stacks and stacks of healing items.

    Even with these problems, I consider #3 to be the best of the 4. Easy.

    Breath of Fire 4:

    So now for the final game. You'd think that after the last 3 games, they would have gotten it right by now (but then, Dragon Quarter happened and killed the series dead). But of course not...

    Problem #1: I give up on trying to get a heal... Yup, again. No dedicated healers. Hybrids, physical attackers, magical attackers, but no healers. And also like the previous games, MP is still that ultra-rare precious commodity that you must not use except for dire emergencies. Again.

    Problem #2: XP Division. AGAIN!? Seriously, Capcom. You removed it from BoF2 and BoF3, but you brought it back for BoF4? *sigh* At least this time around, there's an area you can go to that forces the Hero to be solo and has your group members wait so you can at least level your Hero there faster than you could level the group anywhere else for a very long time. XP Division only makes players wish their group was smaller so they could get better XP.

    Problem #3: There's nowhere good to levelup! Once you get to the final dungeon, you hit this ginormous roadblock. The enemies inside the dungeon are far too difficult without some level grinding. But yet, there are no enemies to actually levelup on at anything I'd call a respectable pace. You can fight for hours and only gain a level or two and it feels like a huge grindwall that was dumped in front of you. Even if you could kill the enemies in the dungeon decently, they still don't give that good of XP to make up for the sudden difficulty spike.

    Problem #4: The Hero. *sigh* They still can't get it right. Now, the Hero only has 1 transformation (but the powers are different depending on which you used). He's got 1 and only 1 form this time around and that's just boring. And yes, it still costs MP over time. I don't get what was so hard about making dragon transformations interesting, but not entirely overpowered.

    Problem #5: The "Dragons". Pretty much none of the "Dragons" in BoF4 actually look like "Dragons". They are some of the weirdest creatures I've ever seen portrayed in a video game. I am seriously interested in hearing what kind of substances the art team was on when they came up with them.

    So I would rank this game, probably tied for 3rd place with BoF2. Eh, second thought, I tend to enjoy BoF2 more than this one. I've only gotten to the end of BoF4 once and that was only because a family member helped me with the endgame grind. I've tried a couple other times to reach the end, but I hit that grindwall and I just lose interest because I don't feel like doing more grinding than I spent playing the whole game up to that point.

    So there we have it. Long post, I know, but still. I was bored and decided to rant a little. Agree? Disagree? Let's have your thoughts on it.
    777JackOfBlades likes this.
  2. D.M.G.

    D.M.G. Master Astronaut

    I see.

    Welp, was wondering about wether or not give the franchise a shot

    Ain't tempted
  3. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    I don't want you to misunderstand; the series *is* a pleasant experience... but yet there are flaws as there are in any other game. For example, the Final Fantasy series I could write an even longer list of flaws.

    I would at least recommend trying the first couple games as they are easy to find on ROMs if you like J-RPGs. If you can find a copy of #3, highly recommend that one too. #4.... eh. You could skip that if you wanted. And don't even bother with Dragon Quarter.

    The thread is meant to be an analysis of what they did wrong, not "why you shouldn't play the games". It's meant to point out the flaws for anybody out there who might be considering tinkering around with something like RPGMaker, some of the things to NOT do in J-RPG style games.
  4. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    So, just as an update, I decided to give BoF4 another shot. It's been some years since I gave it an honest try, so maybe it will be different this time. Maybe because I'm older I'll have more patience with it, maybe I can work on the XP grinding in bite-sized chunks, or maybe I was just being an idiot and missing something, who knows.

    That is, assuming the game works with my emulator (so far it appears to).. I know earlier versions of the emulator had a hard crash in the middle of the game where it was impossible to progress, but that was several versions back and I've not found any information newer than that having to do with it, so it could have been fixed.

    So here's hoping!

Share This Page