Breath of Fire III PSP Review
A classic PSone dragon-loving RPG makes a comeback – in portable form no less. How does it stand against the test of time?
Sticking with simplicity, BoFIII uses pretty, 2D sprites reminiscent of Chrono Trigger or Star Ocean on equally pretty isometric backdrops. This renders the controls a bit stiff however, as your characters can only move in the four compass directions and not directly up or down; a characteristic that no doubt shows the title’s age a bit more than the stylistic approach. Keeping things basic allows for some nice effects to be granted to the spell effects; some spells have 3D animations or complex light patterns that set off well against the basic level design. Functional and well-styled enough to be cutesy rather than too dated (although the PSP can clearly do a lot better), but let down by the subsequent controls.
Well, well, what have we here? A boy named Ryu (or whatever you choose to call him)? And he can turn into a dragon? Haven’t I played this somewhere before? Yes, BoFIII follows suit with its predecessors in that you play a reluctant blue-haired hero who mysteriously has the power to transform into a dragon. For anyone that has slogged through the first two games on the SNES or GBA, this news could be enough to leave well alone already; which would be a shame, as BoFIII is actually a lot more fun than either of its forefathers.
The game is, at heart, a standard turn-based RPG; you travel from location to location on the world map, chat to villagers to find out what problem you need to overcome next, and take part in various random battles. What makes the game interesting is the charming nature of the story; what starts out as a tale of childish pranks quickly turns into a tragedy that sees Ryu reacting on a personal level as well as the obligatory “Must save the world” subplot. There’s actually quite a lot going on in this storyline spanning several years, which really sets it apart from the two previous games and should hopefully ignite the interest of RPG gamers in general. The dialogue, while still a little stilted, is also much more relaxed and colloquial than the previous games and stops the talkie sections from becoming too tedious.
Along his journey, Ryu meets up with several allies – all of which have different skills ranging from magic use to projectile weapons and melee attacks. This will affect the formation of your team, and the damage they are able to inflict upon the enemy ranks; naturally, melee fighters will need to be at the front of the action while magic users will be safely sheltered from blows at the back. These different characteristics are important when choosing your team mates, and mean that they should all be levelled up at some point. Some battles, for instance, will be ridiculously hard unless you’ve designated one of your team as a “tank” to absorb damage and resurrect your other characters. This is where the most immediate problem arises; the load time before and after every battle (and there are a lot of them) is abysmal. While it lasts, realistically, probably no more than about 5 seconds, it’s noticeable enough and really drags down the game play. This makes levelling up quickly a nightmare and really is going to be the issue that stops more people enjoying this game.
A nice detail added to what is otherwise a rather bland battle system is the ability to train under different masters in order to personalise your characters’ skills. Different masters will teach you different abilities, from spells to special combos and healing magic. Obviously some characters are better suited to some skills than others, so it’s important to experiment and find the best combination. You can also learn certain abilities by observing monsters, and teach them to different team members adding an even deeper level of customisation.
The crux of the battle system is inevitably Ryu’s transformation skill, which can be customised in significant detail by the player. In order to transform into different dragons, Ryu must collect special glyphs dotted around the world, each of which contains the essence of a different dragon race. While each can be applied individually in battle, they can also be combined to make larger and even more powerful hybrid races, which can devastate the enemies’ lines (or really cripple Ryu’s power, depending on the splicing technique you have applied). Naturally, these larger forms require more MP to maintain and so can’t be used as long, but can really swing the tide of battle if you have made an effort to find them.
Several enjoyable mini-games are available in BoFIII, some of which are so addictive that they might stop any game progress for some time. Fishing is the usual culprit; once he has a rod and some bait Ryu can go to one of many fishing spots on the world map and try his hand at landing the big one. The fishing mini-game is reminiscent of arcadey fish-em-ups such as Sega Bass Fishing, and is surprisingly good fun for such a simple concept. As one would expect, different bait yields different fish as do different fishing spots; likewise, different fish have different effects in and out of battle. If you’re running low on Gald, it might be a good idea to catch some healing items instead of buying them.
The second mini-game worth mentioning sees you taking control of a fairy village, ordering them to build, cultivate and maintain various enterprises for your benefit. While there isn’t too much to it – each fairy is programmed to like certain activities and hate others (some hating to do anything) – it does provide a welcome distraction when the main story missions have become too trying. It also provides a useful place to buy items at a discount and rest your party.
Fairly non-descript BGM is the flavour of the day; anyone who has ever played an RPG before will be on familiar ground. Bold beats for boss battles, heart-wrenching melodies for the sadder moments…we’ve heard it all before. This doesn’t render it ineffectual in any way, but it really is nothing to remark upon. Similarly, there is no voiceover – the occasional battle cry is all we hear out of our comrades. It’s all fully functional, but doesn’t break any boundaries.
As far as mammoth RPGs go, BoFIII is certainly up there; first play, with a lot of time spent on the side quests and levelling up, clocked in at around 75 hours for me, so this is no light undertaking. At the same time however, it manages to keep flowing reasonably well, with only a few tedious points that one longs to complete to get to the next section. While it’s not in the calibre of, say, Final Fantasy VII, it’s a relatively enjoyable story with plenty of other things to do when the going gets tough. Provided, of course, you can get past the battle load times.
The title is a neat little RPG that’s showing its age around the corners, but is still more engrossing than some of the PSP’s newer titles. Well worth the patience to see the story pan out, but probably one for the dedicated RPGer.