The sequel to Breath of Fire likes to tug at your heartstrings. A lot.
I loved Breath of Fire. I really, really, do. That game always made me smile with its charm. When I found out that Capcom was going to put out a sequel… well, words can’t describe how excited I was to read that! What would they add? How will they continue the story? Well, while they’ve certainly made Breath of Fire II way bigger and badder than the original, that came at a cost… yea, more on that later.
Taking place about 200 years after the first, the world has forgotten about the frightening threat of the Goddess of Destruction, Myria. Sadly, the same can be said of the Dragon Clan, who mysteriously vanished one fateful day, and the number of people who worship the Dragon God were few and far between. People were turning to a new God for salvation, St. Eva, and churches were springing up everywhere.
One day, young Ryu, the son of the local St. Eva minister, goes through the bushes of his hometown of Gate and took a nap beneath the head of a mighty Dragon who saved the village several years ago. When he wakes up, no one in the village knows who he is. His father and baby sister, whom he spoke to mere hours before, have vanished. Taken in by the weird St. Eva minister Father Hulk (who’s DEFINITELY not your dad), he meets a young thief name Bow, and the two of them leave the village, only to get attacked by a massive, scary-as-hell demon in a nearby cave.
Fast forward ten years, and the boys are now grown and working as Rangers in the town of… er… Hometown. They’ve just been getting by doing the odd job, and their newest one wasn’t any different: find a missing pet. As it tends to happen, this simple task will trot things along slowly and eventually snowballs into an epic adventure where Ryu will not only discover his true heritage, but ultimately, his destiny of saving the world as the Destined Child.
More Megabits Means More Pretty Pixels
Weighing in at a whooping 32 Megabits (that was HUGE for the SNES!), Breath of Fire II went balls to the wall for presentation. The world map, geographically speaking, isn’t larger than it was previously, and many towns of old have ceased to exist. That said, it’s still just as pretty as before, with lots of new places to explore.
As before, we have “Chibi mode on maps; large sprites in battle”, and the battle sprites are even better than before. All sprites are animated as appropriate (Katt moves her tail and wiggles her ear!) and the animation in general is very smooth and slick. Spells are bigger and crazier than before, and enemies are just as awesome-looking.
And the music is just as great. Like the previous game, the music in the overworld and random battles change once you’ve reached a certain point. The tunes are memorable, toe-tappable, and evoke the right emotions at the right times.
Gone is the icon menu from Breath of Fire; replaced by your run-of-the-mill text descriptions and menu options. At least the descriptions for items make a bit more sense this time around 😕 Still… I kinda miss ’em.
As with the previous instalment, you’ll gather up eight companions during your journey, each with their own special ability to use on the map… or, rather abilities, as some characters have more than one (Spar can lead you through forests and speak to the Wise Trees, for example). Two of the returning map activities, fishing and hunting, got a facelift and are now a mini-game (and much more challenging). You can change whom amongst your party members is in the lead by hitting the L or R buttons. Sadly, you’re only travelling with a four-person party and the only way to switch members is via the nearest Dragon God statue. I know that’s the norm, but I miss travelling with all my buddies like you did in the first one. But I guess someone has to keep an eye on your new hometown and make sure none of the citizens are out of line.
New hometown? Oh yea! A new feature in Breath of Fire II gives you the chance to build your own town from the ground up. You’ll be able to invite one of three carpenters to build your houses, each with own unique style (ever wanted to live in a treehouse? Here’s your chance!). But having a bunch of houses is useless without people living in them. You can invite people to come move into your new village (if you speak with an NPC who happens to have a name, then you can invite ’em). Most of these folks will provide you with some helpful services, such as weapon and armour shops, while others… aren’t that helpful at all. Though there are 27 different people out there looking for homes, you can only invite six, so choose carefully: once you invite someone, they’re with ya forever. What’s worse is that several of them are vying for the same house, so you might run into someone who might be useful, but the house they would’ve lived in is taken, so they won’t come with you. BAH! When your carpenter finishes building houses, he’ll then open up a lil’ business of his own that might be of some help to you.
The battle system got a kick in the pants, too. First off, I gotta address the lil’ goblin fella dancing up a storm at the top of the status screen (check the Bleu screen grab up there to see ‘im). He’s your enemy alarm system: the faster the bugger dances, the more random encounters you’ll have in that area. So yea, keep an eye on him!
As for fighting, well, you have some new tricks up your sleeve. Like Combat Formations. You’ll be able to choose one of four different formations for your party that will have an effect on offensive and defensive power.
Something else you’ll notice is that each character has their own special ability that they can do in battle. A lot of these will get you out of a serious jam (Ryu’s Guts ability can restore a lot of his HP, for example), while others are only useful in certain situations (Spar’s Nature can only be used if your outdoors). But that’s not all…
Now Everybody Can Transform!
Ryu isn’t the only one that gets to transform! Hidden around the world are Shamans that you can fuse with that will either augment your stats or transform you into something completely different. Or, your attempted fusion won’t work at all because the Shaman combination isn’t compatible with your chosen guine– er, party member. If you do get a transformation, your party member will be a walking death-dealing machine until you choose to separate them from the Shamans… or if they run low on HP, at which point their new form becomes unsustainable.
The only downside to the Shaman System is that you won’t be able to find most of the Shamans until quite late in the game, so you won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of Uniting until then.
Since I brought up transformations, this looks to be a good time to talk about…
I AM DRAGON, HEAR ME ROAR!
Ah, the Dragon System. Ryu will once again be able to learn three sets of Dragon Powers, but rather than fighting in shrines to prove his worth, he gets them automatically as part of the story (except for the second set: you can miss it entirely if you don’t know where to look). And, of course, there’s the Ultimate Power that you get at the end of the game.
Remember when I said the Dragon System made Breath of Fire stupid easy? Well, using Dragons in Breath of Fire II is… well, stupid.
Choose a Dragon, Dragon comes on screen in dramatic fashion, unleashes an attack that does a set amount of damage dependant on Ryu’s current AP… and poof. Oh, and Ryu’s AP plummets to zero.
Guess Capcom figured out that staying in Dragon Form for as long as you want with no repercussions was silly, so this time around they decided to turn the Dragons into a one-shot blast that deals non-elemental damage (no, I’m not kidding: despite there being different elemental Dragons, they all do the same amount of damage regardless of enemy elemental weakness. EH!?), with the amount of damage dealt depending on how much AP Ryu has left (full AP = Max Damage), which then sets Ryu’s AP to zero, forcing you to stuff him with AP-replenishing items until he gets back to max AP, just so he can dish out another Dragon attack.
Writing that last paragraph made my head spin. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea? I mean, yea, there’s a consequence for using the Dragons; making it a Hail Mary play an’ all… but it seems a lil’ extreme! Plus, it just treats the Dragon Attacks like regular, run-of-the-mill magic spells. Ooops, I mean attacks, since there’s nothing magical about them at ALL.
This is probably my least favourite of the Dragon Systems in the series. Just… bleh.
… Dat Grammor iz teh pooper!
Guess I danced around this issue long enough, eh? Capcom hit a lot of right notes with Breath of Fire II… with the exception of one:
The localization was ass.
Sorry for being so vulgar, but there isn’t a word strong enough to describe the absolutely horrible job that was done! Unlike what happened last time, they decided to release the game themselves instead of through another publisher. I have no idea why no one at Capcom US looked at the translated script and said, “Um… this is terrible.” Because of this huge and sloppy job, there are parts of the game that just doesn’t read well at all and is awkward. Think of it this way: it’s like they passed it through Babelfish if Babelfish was a thing back then.
Ya know what the kicker is? Just like the original Breath of Fire, Capcom released a Game Boy Advance port of Breath of Fire II in 2002. There was some new art and cut scenes, which is nice an’ all… BUT THEY KEPT THE SHITTY LOCALIZATION.
… WHY!? You had the chance to correct the damn text, and you just left it as is!? Are you high!?
*sigh* Sorry about that. It’s just so infuriating that they were essentially given a second chance to do right by the game by giving it the localization it deserves, but instead they did nothing.
Fortunately, there are fans out there who wanted to do justice to Breath of Fire II and started to re-translate and properly localize the game on their own. The one that’s all the rage is the one done by hacker Ryusei (who did an interview with Destructoid, which you can read here). If Capcom ever decided to do, say, an HD remake of Breath of Fire II, I hope they would have the good sense to contact Ryusei and his team and get the okay to use their translation as the official one, or as a base. It really is THAT good (you can see videos of it in action on YouTube). If Capcom doesn’t… and you really want to play it BoF II, but not the horrible Capcom translation… well… I don’t usually advocate going after ROMs for a game that you can get easy enough (Breath of Fire II is available on the Wii Virtual Console), but…
This game was meant for kids?
The ESRB rated Breath of Fire II as K-A, meaning that it was acceptable for all ages, which is surprising when I think about it. The tone of the entire game is dark; with some shocking scenes (more on that in a minute), not to mention that an important part of the plot revolves around the subject of religion. Back in the NES and SNES days, games were edited to remove/minimized religious imagery/references. Breath of Fire II remained intact with everything, which is awesome for us because we get to see and play through everything the way it was intended. Still, I’m shocked that this actually made it through as is, not to mention the rating it got.
Why is Breath of Fire II So Endearing?
Despite the horrible localization, Breath of Fire II remains one of my all-time favourite RPGs. Why? This game has a lot of heart. You can see it shining through in every scenario: the cooking contest at SimaFort (and having to eat the results); the running joke about not getting Patty’s name right. Those moments, silly as they are, can put a smile on your face. That said, this game is also knwon for doing the exact opposite thing:
It will make you cry.
As I mentioned in the “4 Heart-Wrenching RPG Moments” Feature, Breath of Fire II has got to be one of the saddest games out there. I cried a lot back then playing RPGs, but I don’t think there was a game that made me cry so much in such a short period of time. The first Act is fairly light-hearted; looking for Patty the Thief and trying to clear Bo’s name. The second Act gets more serious, as the demon you and Bo ran into as children has re-appeared near Gate and the trees start dying.
Then there’s the third and final Act, where you take the fight to St. Eva’s church… and shit hits the fan. It’s like getting punched in the gut and then getting piledriven into the ground after every single major scene. So many characters sacrifice themselves for the greater good, the game just guts you and doesn’t apologize for gutting you. Your box of Kleenex won’t survive the third Act of this game.
As mentioned earlier, Breath of Fire II has a dark tone that I didn’t see much of back then. This certainly wasn’t kiddy stuff they were dealing with! I think that, above all else, made me appreciate the game even more.
Guarding the Gate of Nostalgia
I was around 15 when I first played Breath of Fire II. And like its predecessor, I rented it several times, played for countless hours, from 5 in the morning to 1 in the morning the next day, grinding, cursing (damn you, K. Sludge!), and crying. It, too, was a regular in my ol’ SNES, until I was fortunate enough to buy a copy from the local rental store (the same one I got Breath of Fire from)!
The story touched me in ways most SNES games didn’t, characters were memorable and with some of the most memorable scenes in a game ever… I held a lot of games up to Breath of Fire II in terms of emotional impact for a long time.
In all seriousness, this is one game that I hope you’d be willing to check out, as it is one of the great SNES RPGs out there that really deserves a lot more love than it gets.
Have you guys ever played Breath of Fire II? Share your memories of the game in the Comments Section!