Title :Breath of Fire III
Platforms :Sony PlayStation
Publisher :Capcom
Game Rating :7.9
Review by :Ken Gagne

It seems diversification is the key to success in today's market. Square, once known solely for role-playing games (or RPGs) such as Final Fantasy, is now developing fighters and shooters. Just the opposite is true for Capcom: famous for Street Fighter and Mega Man, this publisher has occasionally dabbled in RPGs. The latest is Breath of Fire III, for Sony PlayStation. 

The original Breaths appeared on the Super Nintendo. Although characters, setting, and plot are often similar from title to title, there are no direct connections. All games occur in a world of mixed races of talking animals and people, in which the hero, named Ryu, is a member of the dying Dragon Clan. 

In this installment, a young, and apparently the last, dragon is found while excavating a mine. He assimilates into the human world and soon finds himself involved with some shady characters. 

The game starts slowly with a mundane plot. None of the people or events are as exciting as one would expect from a fantastic world of magic and dragons. It isn't until about halfway through the game that the pace picks up, but only for players patient enough to get that far. 

Unfortunately, the plagues of the plot are shared by the game's other traits. The graphics are not exceptional, harkening back to the series' 16-bit roots. Attacks and major spells are accompanied by little fanfare. Exploration occurs from a diagonal, 3/4ths perspective, often leaving corners beyond the realm of vision. Hidden items take advantage of this disadvantage, though the screen can be temporarily, and only slightly, rotated to reveal such secrets. Only the characters are lifelike, displaying several emotions, reactions, and frames of animation. 

The music is equally simple and generic. A dragon's roar or the bellows of a foe are enjoyable, but perhaps some digitized speech would have been more effective in bringing these folk to life. 

Breath of Fire II was renounced by many RPG connoisseurs for its shoddy translation from the original Japanese into English that was, at times, barely coherent. The improvement in Breath III is marked. One problem with the text is that it is displayed in small boxes, and so conversations are either limited or require constant button-pushing to scroll through. 

Action is conducted through standard turn-based skirmishes, which occur right where the party is, rather than switching to a battle-specific screen. There are no random encounters at all on the world map, on which players travel from place to place. They may wish to step aside to a woodland designated precisely for seeking conflicts, or to rest by the water and go fishing. 

Capcom advertises the Dragon Gene System, which Ryu employs against powerful enemies. By combining up to three dragon traits — such as Flame, Defender, or Thorn — he can morph into a variety of powerful lizards. The experimenting necessary to find effective combinations can be tedious but surprising, and rewarding. 

The first six hours or so are a cakewalk. None of the enemies offer any true threat, and puzzles (far too rare for this gamer's taste) offer little challenge. Then the monsters become powerful and players must tread lightly, choosing either to run from encounters or taking time to increase their party's strength. The change is sudden, but for the better. 

The Breath of Fire games have a history of offering solid gameplay and an enjoyable quest without going out on a limb to create anything new. The third RPG in the series is no different: this is a "classic RPG" in many senses. The game continuously improves as it progresses, but that is no consolation for players expecting to be captivated from the start. Those looking to spend a few days on a fairly uncomplicated quest can do so with Breath of Fire III.

This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 08-Jun-98