The tiny handheld that powers Breath of Fire II has to be one of the
most fertile grounds; not for new genres, ideas, or visual splendor.
No, it excels at rekindling old titles of yonder because for every
sensational original title that comes out on the GBA, there's another
one that is a lifeless rehash of an old game. I wouldn't be complaining
about this, however, if they were all as a good and astute as Breath of
The original Breath of Fire focused on dragon lore and the traditional
archetype of a hero, destined to succeed, arising from nowhere to defeat
the evil that plagues the land. Its follow-up sequel doesn't look or
sound too dissimilar but its premise is wildly different. Rather than
assuming the role of someone who comes across, to quote Dickens, great
expectations, here's someone who merely is out to make a name for
himself with a few chums who happen to be along the way. In that sense,
Breath of Fire II is superior to its predecessor; it's not steeped in
too much fatalistic literature.
The best thing about Breath of Fire II is its attention to the
original's flaws. An easier learning curve to slip players in, Breath
of Fire II starts with a dramatic black and white flashback sequence for
the protagonist, Ryu. The protagonist here is assisted by his childhood
friend Bow whom you'll meet in the flashback sequence. The real plot
starts off tepidly when Ryu and Bow are basically looking for work. The
first job is a simple chore to find a cat and the ball starts rolling
from there. Over time, Ryu and his companions practice the old
requisite of 'levelling up' and move on from one setting to another.
The last Breath of Fire game had a weird trait where the protagonist was
able to fish when wandering around in the landscape. Now, Bow and all
of Ryu's friends will have superpowers both during the adventure phase
and inside the turn-based battle modes. Some, like Ryu's uncanny knack
for metamorphosis, helps make the battles more interesting and the
development of the characters more fruitful. In the last game, every
character was locked into mages, fighters, so on and so forth. The
companions here are far more memorable that you'll think twice about
dropping them for someone else.
On almost all accounts, Breath of Fire II is more flexible than the
original. At one point in the game, you're able to effectively build
your own town, much like what happened in Baldur's Gate II; although the
ramifications are far less dramatic here. Furthermore, the developers
have added a helpful auto-save which basically emancipates the game's
reliance on save points. As to how difficult a game it is, Breath of
Fire II continues its predecessor's easy-going nature. It's not too
rushed or too difficult. Death is never a finality that causes
frustration or distress.
Obviously, there are limits to how much improvement you can endow on a
vintage title like this. While the accessibilities are appreciable and
basically makes the game friendly to non-RPG enthusiasts, it is still
hampered with language problems both in content and presentation. Often
times, the conversations are lethargic, with awkward diction and copious
amounts of ellipses. The latter is a unique feature of Japanese RPGs.
Ellipses by definition indicate dramatic moments but the over the top
drama is frustrating on the GBA since the font size only allows for one
or two lines on the screen. This makes for a cumbersome and
uncomfortable reading. It's difficult to ascertain why these problems
aren't fixed, especially since things like automatic battles, a save
anywhere feature are obviously nods in the right direction.
Lengthy in nature, Breath of Fire II will keep you busy for quite some
time and the story is more interesting in this rendition, with a
colorful, and at times, zany cast. If you haven't had a chance to play
the original, this is a superior title through and through. Capcom is
big into remakes the last little while, even on next generation consoles
like the Gamecube. Hopefully, this is won't be the bulk of their 'new'
work that we'll pass lazy summer afternoons with. Insofar as novelty
goes, I think the sight of SNES classics on the GBA is, alone, no longer
the only reason for people to pick this up. It's still got charm and
you can't say you'll ever go wrong with a title of this calibre but
Capcom's modest effort ex post facto of this game, or any Capcom game's
original release is starting to grow a little long in tooth.