Title  : Breath of Fire II
Platforms  : Game Boy Advance, Super NES
Publisher  : Capcom
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 8.4
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Role-playing games are possibly the most perfect genre for a handheld system. RPGs offer lengthy gameplay that can be enjoyed in stretches of hours, or moments at a time. 

Capcom, publisher of the classic RPG series Breath of Fire, continues to make the Game Boy Advance an excellent RPG system with the release of Breath of Fire II. 

Ryu, a young boy with an idyllic life, awakens alone one day in a world in which he and his family never existed, and a mysterious new deity holds a powerful sway on the world's faith. 

Though the story then fast-forwards ten years and progresses at a slower and more normal pace, this nightmarish, Silent Hill-type opening is a startling introduction that immediately piques the player's interest. 

BoFII is a classic, turn-based RPG. Ryu lives in a 2D world filled with caves, castles, and coliseums. He is joined by a cast of friends, each with unique skills, who will help Ryu discover his own dragon heritage and save the world. His party of fighters constantly changes as heroes come and go with their own problems and quests. A unique feature is the ability to fuse individual party members into more powerful combinations. Players can also build their own town and populate it with the people Ryu meets, creating a custom community (a feature also found in Dragon Warrior VII). 

Both Breath of Fire games for Game Boy Advance were originally released nearly a decade ago for the Super Nintendo. Though BoFII is an inherently good game, Capcom seemed disinterested in making it a great one. The handheld edition of this classic RPG uses the same text translation that was criticized on the Super NES. The game and manual exhibit unusual wording and punctuation that isn't exactly wrong, but is also neither natural nor clear. Dialogue scrolls slowly, but the characters themselves zip along — a boon for gamers anxious to get from one place to another. A quick-save option allows temporary abandonment of a quest, whether in the midst of a dangerous dungeon or just out in the field. 

The 32-bit handheld does an impressive job of replicating the presentation of the original 16-bit experience. The sprites are small on the GBA screen, but exhibit more detail and special effects than on the SNES. Magical spells will consider their environment, such as a wind-based attack that kicks up a storm when cast in a desert. The music is occasionally dramatic, but more often somnolent. 

It's disappointing that Capcom didn't take advantage of this reissue to tweak a good game into a great one. Regardless, Breath of Fire II remains the same game it was seven years ago: not scalding hot, but at least worth warming up to.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 29-Apr-02