You know, when I first build my Raspberry Pi, I had these grandiose visions of going back and discovering the thousands of games I never knew of and/or had the money for as a kid. But the more I actually go through the library of recommendations, the more I feel I can sum up every review as follows:
1. The only systems worth playing were the NES, SNES and sometimes the Playstation.
2. With the exception of a handful of Castlevania games, the only games worth playing were games I owned.
3. You cannot enjoy a platform game unless you possess the prepubescent naivete to think you have absolutely nothing better to do with your time than spend 20 hours of game time doing the same thing over and over because you keep failing and can’t progress.
4. You cannot enjoy a JRGP—a truly Japanese-style RPG—unless you have a masochistic disdain for your own life that enables you to spend 20 hours of game time doing the same thing over and over because you keep succeeding and the game tells you that repetition is progress.
Which leads us to today’s game, Breath of Fire, a grindy, slogfest of a game in the style of the early Dragonquest games, or Final Fantasy I through III, released for the Super Nintendo. It’s a bit like those marketing schemes that offer you an upgrade to your internet service if you bundle it with cable TV and a landline—and then you have to pause Netflix and call them on Google Hangouts to tell them, “I appreciate what you think you’re doing for me, but you might need a compatibility upgrade with modern technology.
So I know there’s some sort of cultural difference between western and eastern audiences. We like games with some attention to plot and pacing, a little variety in gameplay. That’s why Final Fantasy has traditionally done well in the U.S.A. Eastern culture is different. They like to get right to the point. You do one thing. Do it a lot! No breaks! Enjoyment is for losers! Why do you want a story? You spent fifty dollars on a game just to read a book? No. Here’s a monster. Press A to kill it. The monster is dead? Here’s another one! Don’t stop to eat. You can go home when the game is finished.
I should really back off…I’m going to have flashbacks to my work environment in Korea.
I could go on a short rant about the plot. Standard fantasy fare. The hero’s villain is destroyed. Important person kidnapped. He is the chosen one. There’s an evil emperor. A good princess. Blah blah blah. Except for an unusually vengeful attitude toward seafood, Breath of Fire has all the standard tropes of a fantasy RPG, just none of the plot or story introducing them. Characters joining the party tends to be a staple of fantasy storytelling, but it usually has at least some semblance of ration behind it—Luke found Obi-Wan because the hot girl told him to, then they found Han and Chewie because they needed a pilot, and later on Lando shows up when Han needs a place to lie low while the cops are after him. Breath of Fire, on the other hand, assigns characters to your group like a school project and the teacher wants you to teach the dumb kids for them.
And that’s a pretty apt metaphor. Of the eight playable characters you’re given, only about four of them are worth anything. The other four spend the entire journey just wasting time, asking you to pull over so they can pee, stop at a gas station, or demanding you let them drive for a while. Other RPGs of the time like to differentiate characters by giving them specific uses in battle. Not Breath of Fire—that would ruin the delightfully monotonous rhythms of selecting “fight” nine hundred times in battle. Instead, they each have their own special ability that activates on the overworld when that character is in the lead spot, so you constantly have to open the menu and shuffle around your party to activate their ability and then getting them out of the way because they’re useless in battle. So years before the first walking simulator (a term I’d like to remind you used to be used derisively), Breath of Fire gave us the first getting-up-to-pee-from-an-airplane-window-seat simulator.
These characters are so useless that one of them is just straight-up a fish. And he comes with all the power and might of just a regular goddamn fish. There is a somewhat extended underwater section of the game, but about 90% takes place on land, where he’s about as useful as a magicarp, but without the promising of leveling-up into something you’d actually want to use. Sure he’s something of a wizard in the water, but considering none of your other characters have any problem functioning while wet once you affix them with a shiny new pair of gills, you might as well progress through the game with an actual goby in your pants.
So there’s boring repetitive gameplay, no story, frustrating menu navigation and useless characters. It took me a while before I realized why there was any value in finishing the game at all. Even the RPGs I like tend to struggle with repetition problems. So I think Breath of Fire is the RPG to play to remind myself why other people don’t like RPGs.
Ahh. That explains things. Shakespeare, he is not. A spoonier bard, this one is.