Time for another rant that even I admit doesn’t matter in the slightest. That's, what 3 in the last month? Or 336 in the last 11 years, depending on your perspective? But what the hell, I have thoughts and the screen has space for text. Let’s do this.
You know what’s weird? Breath of Fire 1’s cast.
Well, okay, I mean, obviously it’s weird. It’s made up of a human dragon, a winged princess who falls through time and gets amnesia (hurr hurr spoilurz for the 20+ year old game), a fox ranger, a fish man who can become a super fish, a big ox man, a naga sorceress who voluntarily spends 99% of her existence in a coma, and a tiny mole man. I think the last job the lead artist held before being hired by Capcom might’ve been an art booth at a furry convention.
So, yeah, obviously Breath of Fire 1’s cast is weird. I mean, sort of. Weird from most people’s perspectives. From the perspective of a guy who’s played over 300 titles of the gaming genre with the highest saturation of Weird Characters per capita, though...well, this motley assemblage of Deviantart refugees is just my Monday morning.
What does make them odd for even me, though, is how most of these characters function in combat. To whit: they actually just don’t. Half of the party members of Breath of Fire 1 actually don’t really serve a purpose in combat.
Here’s what I mean. On the 1 hand, you have Ryu, Nina, and Bleu (or Deis; personally I liked the original translation name better). Ryu is combat-relevant, because his special ability in combat is to turn into a big honkin’ dragon and tear enemies’ shit up. Nina is combat-relevant for the game’s entirety, because she has a whole gaggle of healing and status effect spells that she keeps learning throughout the game’s course. And Bleu/Deis is combat-relevant, because she learns combat spells over the game’s course that put the hurt on enemies nearly as much as Ryu’s dragon forms.
But then you have the other half of the cast, and they’re...well, they’re really only good for attacking. Like, okay, Bo, the Ranger Rick wannabe? He seems pretty good when you get him early in the game, because he comes with a set of offensive spells, and a Cure spell. Handy! Except that, much like the Genie from Defenders of Oasis,* Bo never learns any spells beyond this initial set. For context, that’d be like a character never learning anything beyond Fire 1, Ice 1, Bolt 1, and Cure 1 in a Final Fantasy game. They’d be handy for a short amount of time, but it wouldn’t take long before they fell to the wayside, and that’s what happens with Bo as a spellcaster. Hell, it’s been a while since I played, but I seem to remember that even before the plot arc involving Bo’s hometown is finished with, his spells are starting to lag a bit. Pretty soon, Bo’s only real utility in combat is basic attacking. Which he’s good at, mind you, his physical attack stats are high. But that’s not serving a combat role that any other character couldn’t.
Similar deal with Gobi. Gobi has some attack spells that are actually pretty useful, and he learns a few more as he progresses in levels. But the problem is, they all only work underwater! I mean, okay, yes, makes a certain amount of sense, him being a fish man, but...well, there’s a decent-sized part of the plot which takes place on the ocean floor, so he gets a good amount of time in which he’s useful in combat, but once you’re done with that part of the game, you’re, well, done. From then on--and this is the substantial majority of the game--you’re encountering enemies on land only, and as such, Gobi’s only combat utility is to poke things with his trident. Like Bo, he’s only there to hit the Attack button, or maybe use an item now and then.
And it just gets worse with Mogu. Mogu’s a little mole man, and the game didn’t even try to pretend that he can do anything special in combat, like it did with Bo and Gobi. Mogu’s 1 and only ability outside of regular attacks is that he can use Dig, and dig a hole out of combat. So, basically, he can guarantee that your party can run away from battles. Uh...great. Yeah, Mogu’s 1 defining trait as a party member is to do what most games accomplish with an equippable accessory. It makes even less sense when you consider that Mogu is the final party member to join you! The guy joins, what, halfway through the game? 60% of the way through? Being able to guarantee an escape from combat is an ability for early in the game, when you’re still getting the hang of the game’s balance and battle system, and when you have fewer resources and options to draw on to survive random encounters! Unless a game has outright flaws in its balance, by the time you’re halfway done with a game, you should be pretty well past the point of needing guaranteed escape abilities! So once again, you have a character who, if he’s in the active combat party, really is just there to do basic attacks and nothing else.
And lastly, there’s Ox. Ox sort of has a use in that just being a big lug who absorbs damage and hits stuff is meant to be his thing. The tank of the team, as it were. Unfortunately, BoF1 was made back in the days where you couldn’t really do much of anything to direct your enemies to attack a specific character, so the utility of a tank character isn’t really all that impressive--having him there won’t cause the less durable characters to be hit any less. Also, he does have a couple of very useful healing spells, but he has so little MP that he can cast them like twice before he’s out of juice. So in the end, Ox seems at first like he’s sort of properly designed for a role as a basic attacker and damage sponge, but the game itself isn’t advanced enough that he’s actually substantially more than Bo, Gobi, and Mogu.
So yeah, that’s 4 members out of 8 who, in combat, don’t really have any specific role in their party. They exist solely to hit the Attack button, and nothing else. It’s very weird, honestly. Usually when you have a party whose members can be swapped out during battle and allows you to reconfigure its makeup as you like, there’s, I dunno, some difference between what they can do. In Final Fantasy 10, for example, every character has a clearly defined and unique skillset and function, at least until you’re, like, at post-endgame level of Sphere Grid unlocking. Even in Final Fantasy 6, some characters do maintain useful individual skills through to the end of the game, even if most of them let their skills fall to the side in favor of everyone getting Ultima.
And yeah, there certainly are plenty of characters in RPGs who also intentionally exist solely to use basic attacks. Aguro in Lufia 1, for example, does literally nothing but attack and use items for the entirety of the game. But this isn’t just a single boring party member in a game which doesn’t offer the player a choice in which characters to use (and frankly, Lufia 1’s not usually a good game to model yourself after in any regard, anyhow). This is half the cast who don’t have a reason to be in the active party except to fill in when Nina, Ryu, and/or Bleu get knocked out.
Also, I should just mention for the record, I’m just criticizing the cast on their value in terms of gameplay mechanics (which, if you know me, is just a minor nitpick which in no way actually affects my opinion of them or the game itself). As characters, they all have adequate reason to be on the journey, several do fulfill decent plot and interpersonal roles, and all of them do have their gameplay purpose outside of battle (Gobi is useful for traveling under the ocean without running into enemies, Mogu can dig through certain spots to find treasures and pathways, etc). Basically, what I’m saying is that this is JUST an inconsequential nitpick of an odd design decision that occurred to me.
So, it’s weird. But is it a flaw? Well...I’m not actually sure it is. See, if you’ve been doing the math, you’ll realize I’ve spoken of 8 characters, yet have only described 7. There’s 1 other member of the party named Karn. Karn’s a thief, and at first seems to be the very least combat-relevant of all of them. Even Mogu has his stupid escape ability, but Karn learns not a single spell or ability on his own! But, Karn CAN learn 4 abilities from some NPCs hidden throughout the game. Each of these abilities power Karn up (and give him some out-of-combat abilities, too), making him incredibly powerful. Sure, he’s still just a physical attacker, but with one of these abilities activated, these regular physical attacks of his are the equal of Bleu’s spells and Ryu’s dragon form!
What does this have to do with Bo, Gobi, Ox, and Mogu, you wonder? Well, Karn’s abilities are all fusion spells. Essentially, each of his 4 abilities fuses him with a combination of Bo, Gobi, and/or Ox, making them unavailable to the party, but using their stats to enhance Karn as he shapeshifts into various hybrids of fox, fish, and ox people.** Karn’s final and most powerful fusion, Puka, is a fusion of himself, Bo, Gobi, and Ox all at the same time, which effectively removes those 3 from the party, and makes Karn absurdly powerful.
Mogu is still useless.
So, you see, it’s kind of hard to say whether Bo, Ox, and Gobi’s lack of combat relevance is really a flaw, so to speak. After all, if they were actually viable combatants, it would be a tough decision, whether to risk losing their versatility in exchange for empowering Karn. But since they’re all basically just Attack machines by the time Karn can start playing with fusion, there’s no conflict--fuse the spindly little pickpocket up, and fill that fourth spot in the party with someone who can actually break some skulls! Maybe it was planned that way, or maybe Capcom just wanted to cover its own ass after it realized that half of its cast was never going to see active duty past a certain point, but in the end, it does work toward a functional purpose for 4 of the 5 otherwise useless characters (counting Karn, since he’s pointless on his own).
Still a weird way to set up your party’s combat dynamic, though.
* Somewhere, a hipster just got a boner and doesn’t know why. That’s how obscure the reference I just made is.
** Is it really any wonder why there are so many furries online these days? My generation and the generation after me were fucking bombarded with anthropomorphic animals from all media angles. You don’t put this pantsless wonder in the instruction manual for your game and then expect a kid to grow up with no interest in catgirls.
Oh, and while I’m at it, thanks a fucking lot for Bleu, Capcom. I really needed to be a lifelong snake woman enthusiast.