Every Monday, we’re going to take a short look at a classic game that redefined, embodied, or perfected a genre.  This week, we revisit Breath of Fire.

Breath of Fire, released in Japan in 1993 and in North America in 1994, is a perfect mashup of 8-bit and 16-bit era RPGs.  Gameplay, story and story progression, visuals, sound design…it takes the best of both eras, and makes an RPG stew.  Containing signature elements from Capcom (who developed it) and Squaresoft (who published it in the US), Breath of Fire eventually saw rerelease on the Gameboy Advance, bringing with it minor graphical improvements and a modified save system. 

Breath of Fire’s narrative is mostly devoid of wild plot twists, and although it won’t throw anything unexpected at you, it’s still done extremely well.  Here’s a short synopsis of the plot, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Set in a fantasy world, Breath of Fire follows the journey of a boy named Ryu [I always name my character "Bram" when I play through it], one of the last surviving members of an ancient race with the ability to transform into mighty dragons, as he searches the world for his sister. During his quest, Ryu…comes into conflict with the Dark Dragon Clan, a militaristic empire who seeks to take over the world by reviving a mad goddess.

Standard RPG fare, but it’s an engrossing and epic tale nontheless.  I started playing through Breath of Fire again after nearly 10 years, and I’m honestly amazed at just how effective the story is even in 2011.  Its intensity and serious subject matter defy the cartoony visuals and occasionally comedic dialogue.   Breath of Fire was released in the middle of what I consider to be a major reneissance for RPGs, so this shouldn’t be all that surprising, but even without the nostalgia lense getting in the way, its story still manages to impress.

Beyond its story, there’s a certain special quality to Breath of Fire that isn’t present in other RPGs from the era.  The aforementioned mashup of 8-bit and 16-bit RPGs isn’t giving it enough credit…true, Breath of Fire certainly pulled inspiration from titles like Dragon Quest and some of the earlier 2D Final Fantasy titles, but there’s an intagible emotion that permeates the entire experience.  Guiding the blue-haired hero to success is as much a journey for you as it is for him, one that will leave you drained and (for lack of a better word) breathless.  Breath of Fire isn’t necessarilly difficult, but you certainly aren’t going to breeze through it; you’ll gain a rank or two in “RPG gaming” by the time you reach the conclusion.

Honestly, it’s difficult for me to put the Breath of Fire experience into words, so I’ll end this far too short retrospective with the following: get yourself a solid 3-day weekend, make sure you have absolutely nothing going on, and prepare yourself for a Breath of Fire marathon.  The game is available on SNES and GBA, and can be found relatively inexpensively on eBay (roughly $25 for the SNES cart, or roughly $18 for the GBA cart.)  It’s worth every penny, so get a copy today.