Capcom’s Breath of Fire series isn’t really respected that much these days. The last instalment — the underrated Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter for the PS2 — was a bit too different from previous games and didn’t really make the impact Capcom possibly hoped for.
Compare this to the fanfare that followed the release of the first BoF game all those years ago. Capcom’s first ‘serious’ RPG, the game was a massive success and paved the way for the release of the sequel, which amazingly improved on its predecessor in every way imaginable.
Playing Breath of Fire II today is difficult, because we’ve been exposed to much better RPGs in the past decade or so. BoF2 is unshakeably old school. The battle system, item system and the Western translation all hark back to a bygone era.
Graphically, everything is fine, but it must be noted that the visuals are nowhere near as impressive as fellow SNES classics such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Secret of Mana. The music is also rather underwhelming.
The combat system is your standard turn-based affair, with the only unique twist being the ability to fuse your character with various shaman-types, thus granting your character additional powers during battle.
Where BoF2 really excels is the standard of the story. A very clever take on modern religion, the plot has plenty of twists and heart-wrenching moments; it never ceases to amaze us how attached you become to cartoon-like sprites with only a handful of animation frames.
The story is done a massive disservice by the aforementioned localization, which often borders on the laughable. Sadly this was par for the course back in the 16-bit era, with many quality RPGs being butchered by poor translations.
The Virtual Console is slowly getting more and more decent role-players and BoF2 represents another fantastic addition to current selection. It’s not quite what we’d call a ‘legendary’ RPG, but fans of the genre willing to look past the minor shortcomings are unlikely to be disappointed.