Retro Review: Breath of Fire II (SNES)

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So Breath of Fire II is today’s retro review. I first played the Game Boy Advance versions of the first two games when those editions were new. I hadn’t heard of the original SNES games prior to my first playthrough of these games, but I am heavily into RPGs, and liked the idea of playing more at the time. This time, I’m playing the original SNES version on the Nintendo Switch through the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app, which is available to Nintendo Switch Online members at no additional charge. Since I played the Game Boy Advance edition as well, I will make note of some of the differences between versions throughout this review. So, let’s get started.

Breath of Fire II is a turn-based RPG featuring anthropomorphic animals as the heroes. The game is mostly typical of the genre at the time, but one of the more noteworthy features was that each character can perform a special action out of battle, usually to help the player move throughout the game world. This can include characters that can hit obstacles, or another that can cross small gaps indicated by poles that he can grab.

BreathofFire2fish
This fishing mini-game is one way to get more items. Only Ryu, the main character can do this.

The unique look of the game is also more impressive than most RPGs of the time. Every attack is fully animated, plus every enemy and party member has an idle animation. When comparing this to early Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, this is a clear improvement. In both of those games, enemies were just still images, and for the most part, only magic was animated fully. Dragon Quest in particular didn’t even have the party members visible on screen, as it was shown from a first person view.

BreathofFire2battle
The graphics are quite clean for an old RPG.

However, as nice as the graphical presentation is, this game like many old RPGs has slow pacing. This happens for many reasons. The basic movement speed is slow in the SNES version (though there is a dash option in the GBA version). There is a fair amount of backtracking early on in the game too, which is rarely fun, given that the game has a fairly high random encounter rate.

Many of the game’s dungeons are very maze-like, and it can be hard to know if you are about to miss a treasure, or if you should backtrack to gather what you missed. The final dungeon in particular is one of the lengthiest on the SNES, and may take a few attempts to get through it.

Perhaps most difficult to deal with is the need to use every party member at some point in the game. Other than when you recruit the character, it is hard to know who you need ahead of time. Unlike this game’s predecessor, you have to switch out characters at save points, so you will have to choose who is being used quite carefully so that no one is under leveled. You almost have to know the game front to back to know when to use everyone for the smoothest experience.

There are a few other issues here too. Inventory management only allows up to nine of each item, though you can have multiple batches of nine in multiple inventory spaces if you like. Oddly, some items you can only have one of in each space, greatly limiting what you keep or don’t keep. Also odd is that the most common item that replenishes AP (stands for ability points which allow you to use magic, which most RPGs call MP) also deals some damage to the user, which requires the use of more healing items or spells.

Perhaps the worst part of the game is its awkward translation. Many characters don’t talk as cleanly as they should, and character motivation gets murky because of it. There is some story here that is worth noting, such as this being one of the earliest games to feature a “god is evil” plot, which became overused later in the genre’s history.

That being said there are a few other neat features that set this game apart, at least to its contemporaries. There is a town-building aspect of the game which allows you to recruit townsfolk that supply some useful services. You do have to choose wisely, as you can’t undo the progress you make in building your town.

BreathofFire2fuse
The shaman fusion system is one of the few ways you can customize your party members.

There is also the “shaman fusion” system that has magical shaman combine with your party members, making them more powerful, and sometimes giving them new actions in battle. This feature is fun to tinker with, but the best results aren’t available until very late in the game. Some of the shaman are quite hard to find, and may require backtracking or doing an odd task to acquire them.

In the end, Breath of Fire II is a good retro RPG. The game is best for hardcore fans of the genre who want to play something a little different from the typical Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. This game is also graphically superior to other RPGs of the time. However, this game is not ideal for newcomers to the genre, as the game feels a little slower than most other RPGs, which is already as slow genre to begin with.

Here are some differences between the SNES and GBA versions:

The GBA version has:

  • A much cleaner user interface, particularly in battle.
  • The option to dash, speeding up the game.
  • An option to share items between other players.
  • A quick save feature, allowing you to save anytime

However:

  • The game’s translation is identical.

Here are some gameplay recommendations.

  • Use each character a fair amount, so you don’t have to level them up when the characters are mandatory to progress.
  • Buy extra healing items, just in case.
  • Similarly, use the “clean” option to sort your inventory.
  • Try to find all 6 shaman, and use them late in the game.
  • There is an optional party member to recruit, if you like.
  • Store your money in the game’s bank, in case you fall in battle and lose half your earnings.
  • Try to get the good ending by defeating a certain boss a certain way, and find a particular NPC. Viewing both endings seems unnecessary.

Pros:

  • Solid RPG gameplay.
  • Good graphics and animation.
  • Characters can solve puzzles.
  • Shaman fusion system is fun to play around with.
  • The custom town can also be fun to try out.

Cons:

  • Movement is slow (fixed in the GBA edition).
  • U.I. in somewhat inconvenient (also fixed in the GBA edition).
  • High encounter rate.
  • Unused characters don’t get experience points until they are used and are mandatory in some portions of the game.
  • Final dungeon is maze-like and long.
  • Inventory is a little clunky.

Verdict:

7.9/10 A Good Retro RPG

Breath of Fire II is not a good intro RPG, as the game moves slowly, and is sort of difficult. The poor English translation makes it harder to get into the story. Those who like the genre might like the game more than the rest of its players. The game’s range is about 6.5-8.0 with all this in mind.


So what did you think of this game? Did you like the Shaman fusion system? What about the custom town? Would you like me to write a game story case study? Let me know in the comments below! If you enjoyed this review, then click that like button and share on social media. To keep up with That’s All Games, you may also subscribe via email. Until next time, have fun gaming!

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