Breath of Fire Review II (SNES, 1994)
You can tell this one came out only a year after its predecessor, as Breath of Fire II is very similar to the series originator from 1993. This game improves on the first one in many ways: Better visuals, better music, better story and writing. And yet it doesn't quite reach for the top of its genre. A horrid encounter rate unfortunately drags this one down to another exercise in patience.
Breath of Fire II (in japan with the subtitle "The Chosen One") starts off very promising. In fact it does so with one of the better RPG opening sequences I have experienced. The events in the intro are very eerie and dreamlike, so much that even after beating the game I never quite developed the feeling that I wasn't playing a dream. After a 10 year time skip the game begins proper. It takes a long time for the plot to build up and connect to the events of the opening, but the subplots leading up to the climax are all very well written. Unlike the first game this one has a strong emphasis on each of the playable characters, as they all get their own story arcs and developments. The plot as a whole could be snarkily reduced to "An ancient evil has awoken", but I feel there is a not so subtle meaning behind the events of Breath of Fire II that holds value not even, but more so, today than at the time of its initial release.
But despite the vastly improved storytelling, graphics and music the gameplay barely differs from that of the original Breath of Fire. Once again each character comes with a unique skill to be used on the overworld and on map screeens. However the amount of secrets hidden behind the use of these has been reduced a lot. Despite its open world Breath II feels significantly more straightforward than is predecessor. The protagonist's dragon transformations are now single-use skills that deal major damage in exchange for all of his MP. However there are shamans hidden all over the world that can be combined with the other characters. Some of these combinations result in entirely new appearances, it's quite reminiscent of fusions in Dragon Ball Z. But what sounds cool on paper does very little in terms of gameplay. Fused characters are merely stronger versions of their normal selves, there is not as much customization as one would believe. There are few moments in the game where the player has the opportunity to teach skills to a character of their choosing, but this is the extend of that Breath of Fire II allows in terms of character customization. The gameplay experience feels as static as it did in Breath of Fire. Unfortunatly the encounter rate has only gone up. Many dungeons force you into an encounter every two to three steps (I wish I was exaggerating!). The last dungeon alone took me no less than 5 to 6 hours. At least the developers loosened the leveling curves a little, so it no longer takes forever for some characters to gain new levels.
The game has a town-building mechanic that I'm sure was quite impressive for an otherwise regular RPG of its time. However much like the fusion mechanic this is just a neat addition to an otherwise medicore game experience. It's a cool idea that doesn't save the game from its tedious dungeons.
Everything said Breath of Fire II is much like its ancestor a game only for hardcore fans. If the gameplay wasn't as brutal I would heartily recommend it for its story and characters, but with still lackluster character customization and random encounters almost every step I find this to be a hard sell for most people. The Game Boy Advance port may have improved on the aspects that bring the original SNES release down, but I can't comment on what I haven't played.