Monday, January 8, 2007

The Breath of Fire Series's Innovation

Well, today's disappointing, as it seems that VG Mix's ETA of January 8th for their grand return was a little too optimistic. Looks like the world is stuck with the bad taste, lesser quality, and immense slowness of OCR alone for a while longer for video game remixes. Sigh. Well, on the bright side, being more bored than I had anticipated means I finally am doing a rant! Joy, or something.

So, I was trying to figure out the other day just what exactly it is that makes me such a fan of the Breath of Fire series. Because, really, it has confused me for quite a while. I mean, sure, they're reasonably good RPGs, but none of them are really exceptional. I could pass off liking Breath of Fire 2 as being entirely based on the fact that Katt is in it, but that wouldn't explain why I like the other 4 in the series so much, and why I go out of my way to get a new BoF any time one comes out (which has sadly not been for some time).

I think I hit on it today, though. I like the Breath of Fire series because of its innovation. Each game's got something about it that's new and interesting, but in a quiet, subtle way, usually. It's almost like an unassuming originality, I guess.

Now granted, the series doesn't start out very unique. Breath of Fire 1 is about as much a textbook RPG as you can get. Evil empires, swords and magic, dragons, world that needs saving, long distracting quests with only a vague attachment to the plot, boring and silent protagonist, it's got'em all. Still, it had that spark of interest in that the cast is physically more varied than just about any game of its time save the first 2 Shining Forces. You control shapeshifting humans, a winged princess, a naga, a mole-person, a shape-shifting fish dude, and so on. The game establishes a world of very rich diversity in its inherent species, with more than just the usual boring bunch of humans, semi-humans, and imbecilic elves (seriously, when are elvish societies NOT a huge bunch of pain-in-the-ass idiots?).

With Breath of Fire 2, though, you get the same kind of varied cast (including Katt, whose powerful No Pants Fu was too great for even Nintendo of America censors to stop), but with a plot that has quite a few elements of interest. (Spoiler warning, though, really, you should all expect this sort of thing from me by now) Okay, yes, essentially, it's another story of "Christian-Esque Religion's God Is Actually Evil And Wants To Stab Your Heart, Eat Your Children, And Steal Your Shoes." But back when the game was released, this was still a relatively new and interesting idea in video games, before Squaresoft ate a full buffet of it and then shat it all into one single game (Xenogears) that made it both the trendy and tiresome RPG theme to have. BoF2 handled it all with a pretty good level of dignity and skill--the demons lived up their titles often, being nasty and evil to a high and even creepy degree, and the game never seemed to be screaming at you "RELIGION IS THE BADZ OK." It was an interesting theme to have.

A few years later, Breath of Fire 3 came out. Great example of an innovative plot, there. You can pretty much find my sum-up of it in a previous rant, so I won't bore you further with a repeat of it. But it's definitely an interesting idea, not often used, to make a game's central focus into a choice between an uncertain future of independance, and a safe, comfortable one of limitations and essentially stagnation. Many people, maybe even most, aren't interested in playing an RPG that's not about saving the world or universe or something else of importance, but rather just exploring a theme of humanity. But that doesn't make it any less creative and interesting.

Then there's Breath of Fire 4. Now, this game threw me for a loop. See, you essentially play through a regular RPG of guiding a bunch of stupid young hero types along through the world and all, but you also, for short stints throughout the game, take control of the villain, Fou-Lu, and watch over him (not that he really needs it--he's Main Villain-powerful already) as he makes his own small journey to power. That in itself is pretty original, but it also sets the stage for Fou-Lu to become one of the best developed RPG villains ever, too. You get an idea for his personality so much more clearly than you do for nearly any other RPG's villain, and you even get to see many of the events that shape his final views. Experiencing them from the perspective of actually playing the game with him really makes a big difference in how well they deepen his character and your understanding of it, rather than the standard of just watching a few quick scenes (at the very most) to familiarize yourself with whatever daft reason the Evil Pretty Boy of the Day has for wanting to kill things.

Of course, it did kinda backfire a bit, in that by comparison, the actual heroes of the game aren't really very interesting. But that's not really relevant; the point is that the game's very innovative in how it does its villain. It's quiet, but impressive.

Then there's Breath of Fire 5. Or Dragon Quarter, I guess. I don't know why Capcom suddenly decided that the series was too cool for numbers any longer, but I care just little enough to call it BoF5 and not BoFDQ. Anyway, BoF5 has a REALLY neat setting--long post-apocalypse, 1000 meters below the surface of the planet. They really play up this interesting setting well, creating a whole social order of the people living in this sub-surface world, a reason for this order originating in their being there to begin with, etc. It's really very cool and unique, a totally new, urban-style (something few RPGs have even in a normal sense) setting that has terrific story-telling potential. Sadly, the plot's a little hard to follow at times (as in, there are aspects of it that even I just can't quite reason out, and lord knows I think about and ponder RPGs probably more than any person healthily can), probably due in part to a not-quite-great translation and localization (something the entire series seems doomed to). Still and all, this short installment to the series, with its original setting, skillful use of said setting, and really odd but manageable system of game restarting that's actually a natural part of playing the game, is a really unique entry to the world of RPGs.

So yeah, I think that's why I'm a solid fan of the Breath of Fire games--because, whether good or just kinda blah, its installments can always can at least always be depended on to give you a little something interesting and out of the ordinary.

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