I wonder in a way if I’m completely qualified to review Breath of Death VII. I never finished Final Fantasy VI, never even touched a Breath of Fire game and haven’t given a JRPG serious consideration since Tidus set the fashion world on fire with his banana-shaded belly shirt.
Stories about laboriously trudging through endless hours of Final Fantasy XIII and ridiculously stylized characters have soured my opinion so greatly that I nearly forgot that I once actually enjoyed the genre. I wasn’t always Captain McGrumpypants. Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star IV are cemented in my gaming hall of fame, and Breath of Death VII manages to combine what was so great about those games with some oodles of charm and hilarious homages.
The game’s brief intro reveals pretty much everything you need to know about the game’s story: some cataclysmic event ravaged the planet and it’s your job to fix it. It’s the genre’s bread-and-butter yarn of a young hero working his way from obscurity to alter the fate of the planet. Not exactly original, but that’s kinda the point.
Breath of Death’s charm is evident right from the start with immediate references to games such as Fallout 3 and Mega Man. The references to both classic and modern games are prevalent throughout Breath of Death VII and speak to the appreciation the developer has for videogames. The writing is phenomenal and the narrator frequently breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the player. It is imperative to fully explore towns and speak to each inhabitant because the dialogue is full of in-game jokes, which make light of the some of the sillier aspects of the genre.
The references to other games, comments from the narrator and mocking jabs at the genre somehow make the game almost feel more social; it’s like we’re all in on the gag together. I only wish there was more story and more of the quirky, fun dialogue amongst the characters.
The game borrows most heavily from the Phantasy Star series. The visual style, color palette and combat make this game feel like a lost, albeit eccentric, entry into the beloved Genesis franchise. Characters march in a cavalcade through dungeons, across overworld maps and around towns just like in Phantasy Star, and the combat is also from the first-person perspective.
Random combat is the bane of the JRPG experience for me. There is nothing more jarring than walking four feet and then having the screen flash bright colors, rotate around and transport me to a battlefield with a bunch of people bobbing up and down awaiting their turn. It is one of the primary reasons I lost interest in the genre, along with over-the top characters, nonsensical stories and artificially padded lengths.
That being said, I really don’t mind the never-ending parade to that plain black backdrop that serves as my killing floor. The turn-based combat is fairly standard for the genre but contains a few flairs that keep it interesting. A combo meter grows with each hit and some tech moves can unleash major damage once the meter is powered up. There are also combination attacks between characters similar to Chrono Trigger
Enemies are colorful, varied and original. Sure, there’s the standard leveling bait such as bats, rats and golems, but the game also features cyborg frogs, killer cars and anthropomorphic lab coats. The enemies do a pretty good job of scaling to your level, but sometimes the combat becomes an exercise of mashing the A button so everyone attacks and you can finish as quickly as possible. Why is Phantasy Star IV the only game to have macros for combat? I would love to hit one button to command my entire party to attack.
One of the worst parts about old JRPGs is that barely surviving a fight all-too-frequently means dying in the very next brawl a mere 5 steps later. Running out of potions, struggling to return to town and hovering outside of villages to grind completely bogs down many games and is a total waste of time. Breath of Death VII avoids this folly by restoring everyone to full life at the end of combat. This little addition always keeps the game flowing and you never have to think about returning to town to buy more items or heal; the game is always moving forward and you are always progressing.
Still, there were a few times when I cursed the occasionally infrequent save points and the inability to save while on the world map. Replaying dungeons is tedious and the kind of thing that would derail a lesser game. But the occasional tedium was rewarded with a satisfying experience that is unlike anything else on the Indie Marketplace.
Breath of Death VII flows perfectly through its 5-ish hour timeframe and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I’ll probably never muster the gaming fortitude to make it through a real JRPG again, but this game is a fresh reminder of what I love, and a comedic reminder of what I loathe about the genre. Anyone with even the slightest tinge of nostalgia for classic RPGs unequivocally must play Breath of Death VII.
Breath of Death VII was provided for review by the developer and the reviewer completed the full game before writing the review. It is available for 80 MS points ($1).