Not so long ago, it dawned on me that it had been awhile since I had played through a Playstation 1 game. It being one of my all-time favorite consoles in addition to sporting a library full of all kinds of absolute classics (many of which I’ve only played relatively recently, meaning they hold up without nostalgia), I took a look at previous reviews and was blown away to discover that my last review of a PS1 game was almost two years ago. Deciding to finally rectify this terrible injustice, I went through the games I own that remained unplayed and quickly settled on Breath of Fire 3, assuming that it would be an enjoyable stroll through familiar jRPG territory. After all, Breath of Fire 1 and 2 have many similarities despite being very different games, and an online review I ended up watching made it sound like the high point of the entire series. It’s not, though. In fact, it’s one of the most arduous, painful RPGs I’ve ever had to fight my way through, and I accuse the nostalgia-fueled apologists whose glowing reviews led to me playing it of looking through rose-tinted glasses rather than attempting to judge the game from a more objective viewpoint. Point being, Breath of Fire 3 doesn’t hold up, and I fail to see how it was ever fun in an age when games like Chrono Trigger had long since discovered ways to avoid the tedium of the genre.
Let’s talk about the awful story
One of the things that stands out about the first two Breath of Fire games is that they give you reasons early on to continue playing. In Breath of Fire 1, your village is burned to the ground and your sister Sara is captured. That’s an immediate reason for the main character to continue on. In Breath of Fire 2, your father and sister suddenly disappear, and no one in your starting village even remembers who they are. As if that’s not enough reason to move forward with the story, you suddenly get beaten by a giant monster thing, grow up, and have your best friend wrongly accused of theft. All of this happens in the first 30 or so minutes, with most of it happening in the game’s opening minutes/scenes.
Contrast that with Breath of Fire 3, which sees you slaughter a few people in a mine as a dragon, befriend some thieves, and then get sent to kill a monster. Once the monster is slain (and this is around 30 minutes or so in), none of the characters have any reason to continue getting into trouble. They just happen to be stupid enough to take an ill-advised break-in job from someone named Loki—no, really—and then fall afoul of some gangsters who beat them up and cause them to be separated. Several hours into the game, the closest thing the playable character has to a reason to go on is the hope of reuniting with these two near-strangers.
From there, the story goes nowhere. You continue searching, making new friends while avoiding the pair of gangsters and doing busywork for just about everyone in the entire world. It seems that everyone has a problem, and it very often requires lame minigames (which I’ll get into later). By the time you reach the end of the game, you still only barely have any reason to be doing what you’re doing. In fact, the only motivation pushing the game’s characters along can be summed up in a single sentence: “your dragon people were probably, possibly wronged by god, so let’s go meet god.” Of course, in practice it’s more like, “let’s go meet god—oh, wait, we can’t get a boat, so let’s help this guy with his relationship and now we can—oh wait, now we have to make this guy a sandwich so that he tells us where this guy who can help us is, so we’d better go fish for ingredients and do the well minigame to get vinegar and—oh wait, now we have to manually assemble it for some reason because no one can do anything for themselves in this game!”
Some of the worst characters I’ve ever seen
It’s no exaggeration to say that the entire first half of the plot revolves around the stupidity of the characters. Their innate dumbness is one of only two things driving the story forward (the other being frequent checkpoints that block off areas and force your characters to do random jobs for strangers for no other reason than there being nothing else to do), with spectacular breaches of common sense—such as letting gangsters out of jail because they promise to be nice—being the norm.
They don’t even manage to be likable. Early on, main character Ryu and his two near-stranger friends break into a guarded home, only to murder the guard dog who didn’t detect them because someone told them to. None of the characters have interesting arcs, either, with characters like Garr doing nothing but constantly doubting their past actions while other characters like tech genius Momo merely state and restate their entirely conflict-free reasons for traveling with you. There’s virtually no growth or change, with the one exception being series staple Nina becoming slightly less naive after the mid-game growing up the characters get. Funnily enough, that passage of time only visibly ages her and Ryu, with the other playable characters remaining exactly the same in both looks and attitude.
Worst of all, however, are the characters who remain unexplained, or who display abilities that make no sense. For example, as you near the exit of a volcano area, an old man stops you and accuses you of following him despite you never meeting him before this point. Then you kill him and it’s never referenced again. An early dream sequence includes a grown-up version of a character at a time when they were still young despite this—and the content of the dream sequence—making no sense whatsoever. Again, this isn’t explained. Later on, a minor NPC character saves Nina by suddenly displaying the ability to fly. This, too, is never addressed again, and the game is filled to the brim with this kind of unexplained weirdness.
BOF3: the padding superstar of the world!
I can’t recall another game I’ve seen filled with quite as much meaningless padding as this one. As mentioned earlier, you have to make someone a sandwich in order to progress. This isn’t side content, but a mandatory part of the game where you have to track down a bunch of ingredients (some of which can only be acquired by playing through the game’s many atrocious minigames) and then assemble the sandwich using obscure instructions. This kind of thing happens all the time, approaching levels of fluff rivaled only by Lufia & The Fortress of Doom, which is apropos given the fact that the encounter rate is similarly ridiculous. Expect to do a lot of running around for absurd reasons, interrupted only by one of the million random battles that hound you throughout the entire game. In fact, the game has been designed so that steps taken in an area without random encounters count toward the probability of you having one, so you’ll almost always have a random battle within your first few steps after transitioning into an area that has them.
The worst minigames ever conceived
One of the most consistent ways Breath of Fire 3 pads itself out is by turning virtually everything into a minigame. This starts off innocently enough with a wood-chopping minigame that isn’t that bad, but eventually devolves into minigames like in the above clip that are luck-dependent rather than skill-dependent. Basically, the turns are randomized and you have to keep the number around the same for both you and the computer-controlled character, but the game sometimes decides that he should get several turns in a row and ruin things without giving you a chance to make up the difference. Even when the minigames are fair, they’re completely pointless. Take the case of a boss fight on a ship midway through the game. Rather than just letting you start the boss fight like in any other game, one of your characters remarks that you’re too close to the edge of the ship and a minigame starts where you have to retreat to a safer part of the ship to fight the monster.
All of these minigames come with long, boring explanations and weird rules, such as a well-using minigame where you have to press triangle exactly as many times as it took to lower the well bucket with the X button, but can’t wait too long between presses or else the game automatically fails. They’re the definition of tacked-on content that exists without purpose, and they don’t actually accomplish anything but to add to the game’s ubiquitous, already groan-inducing amounts of tedium.
Every little thing is hidden out of sight
I’m not going to pretend that I liked Breath of Fire 3 by the time I discovered its love of hiding items necessary to progression outside of the camera’s sight, but this is the point where my notes changed from lowercase rambling to uppercase profanity. There are no words to accurately describe the absurdity of making a game where most of the important things you need to collect to progress are hidden out of sight in order to artificially lengthen play times and force the player to run around aimlessly. All of this is the result of the new isometric camera angle that allows objects to cover other objects, something the game designers clearly thought was the coolest invention ever because of how much of the game relies on it. At one point, you enter a room full of gas that automatically forces you out after a short length of time (I want to say something like 15 seconds). All you know is that somewhere in the building is something that will give you a hint about a computer’s password, so you can—and I did—wander aimlessly around the building for 20-30 minutes, having to put up with dozens of annoying random battles while looking for something without knowing what that is. As it turns out, it’s hidden in the gas-filled room behind an upper-level bridge (this is pictured in the screenshots), and this is just one of many examples of this throughout the game. Later on you’re forced to find ship parts to repair a broken-down ship, and almost all of the pieces (of which there are more than 10) are hidden where you can’t see them.
In the game’s defense, you can turn the camera slightly to peek at these areas by holding L1 and pressing a direction. However, you can’t actually move your characters while you’re rotating the camera, the angle you can turn the camera at is incredibly restrictive, and the camera defaults back to its ordinary (and useless) position once you let go of L1. This makes it pretty much worthless, leaving you to just tap the X button repeatedly whenever you’re out of the camera’s sight just in case something important might be hidden back there.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too
This game is so flawed that I ran up against the character limit in my phone’s notes twice just trying to detail all of the game’s many mistakes. That’s something that’s only ever happens in huge, sprawling RPG epics full of details and intricate systems, which should tell you something about just how many missteps Breath of Fire 3 makes. For example, let’s take the fact that you have to level up all six of your usable characters despite only three being usable at a time. Other games in the genre allow you to discard the others and focus on the characters you like the most, but many characters become mandatory party members out of nowhere, with the game suddenly saddling you with someone comically underleveled for the area you have to use them in (and often leaving you with no option to leave and find a more level-appropriate place to obtain experience).
This is annoying, but it’s not the first game that’s done this. In fact, Breath of Fire 2 does this with Sten, and while it certainly happens far more often in Breath of Fire 3, fairness demands that I point out that both games are guilty in that regard. What makes the third game so much worse is when it doesn’t give you a mandatory party member, but instead leaves you to run through an area with your preferred party, only to reach the very end and discover that you can only progress if you run all the way back, switch your party so that the needed character is present, and then run through the entire area again (random battles and all) to get to the end and finally be allowed to continue. Mandatory party members may be frustrating, but having to run through a dungeon-type area twice in a row because the game didn’t tell you that one of your party members was necessary to progress is so much worse, and this is a frequent enough occurrence to be completely inexcusable.
No day/night cycle
This is a lesser complaint, but the day/night cycle was such a staple in the previous two games that its absence is notable. In previous games, days would pass as you wandered around the overworld map, and areas could be entered either during the day or during the night (which is a feature perhaps most notably used to sneak past sleeping guards in the first game). It was inventive and unique, so unlike other games of the time that it helped the series stand out in a time when it seemed every developer was making jRPGs to cash in on the genre’s popularity. Instead, the overworld map in Breath of Fire 3 is covered in perpetual daylight, with nighttime seemingly only existing for the sake of occasional campfire scenes that serve no purpose but to give characters a chance to ramble on about nothing important. The random encounters on the overworld map are also gone, however, which is actually one of the few things I felt was changed for the better.
The lovable weirdness is gone
The first two games are filled with all kinds of madness, from the first game’s key-operated earthquake machine (a personal favorite of mine) to the second game’s flying town, fly pudding, adventures in whale innards, and so much more. The third game has none of this, instead trying to be a more serious, grounded game by filling the world with both magic and technology, but never really giving the machines (on which there’s a great deal of emphasis) a real reason for suddenly being so prevalent where before they never were. This change from affable fantasy craziness to techno-seriousness—which is almost immediately undermined by character stupidity and lack of growth anyway—makes Breath of Fire 3 feel entirely different than its predecessors, rendering it a bland, generic jRPG with nothing particularly unique or memorable about it.
It’s nothing more than a generic jRPG
Combat is something you’ll find yourself in for most of the game because of the abominable random encounter rate, and yet it proves to be entirely uninspiring. True, it’s almost identical to earlier games (though you can learn special moves by spending the turn watching enemies and hoping they use something good that your character is actually capable of learning), but it also feels a bit off. That’s something that’s hard to describe, so here’s an example: early in the game, Ryu was hitting almost everything and combat was bearable enough. Then suddenly Nina joined my party and Ryu couldn’t hit enemies anymore, missing a bunch of attacks in a row. I asked in my notes if his hit percentage was being dragged down by her lower level, but I still don’t know what was going on behind the scenes to facilitate such a crazy drop in accuracy. I found that characters were a bit more capable of connecting with enemies once I leveled them up a bit, but they still missed enemies with surprising frequency, even after some serious grinding.
Speaking of which, grinding is more necessary than ever in this game. Thankfully, you enter a volcano area a few hours into the game where you can use fire spells against a certain enemy to boost their level, then cut them down with ice spells to gain a lot of experience quickly. That won’t do anything to help you avoid the million random encounters that constantly drag the game’s pacing to a screeching halt, but it’ll at least save you some time that’d be spent grinding otherwise.
The graphics and music are just terrible
The graphics and music are the most obvious departure from earlier titles. I don’t mind changes so long as they’re for the better, of course, but both have been changed for the worse; character designs aren’t anywhere near as memorable as in earlier games, with Nina being a generic magic-user rather than flying in battle as in earlier games, and other characters being similarly bland. Mostly, the characters have no edge to them. Rei is the token cat-person and looks like he came straight out of a Disney movie (complete with a campy, family-friendly catchphrase), very much unlike Katt from BoF2, the patron saint of beating things to death with a stick. Momo looks like the male main character of Grandia for some reason, which works for that game, but is less effective here. Garr is a big dragon-looking guy, but he’s really only distinct for his size, which ends up being annoying because of how often it causes him to get stuck on the environment thanks of the game’s terrible pathfinding. If I’m unenthused about the characters, though, I’m devastated about the environments, which have gone from colorful places to dull, brownish areas that all kind of look the same. There are a few slightly more colorful areas toward the end of the game, but the vast majority of the areas are phoned-in.
And the music is worse than all of the graphical changes combined. The first two games had to work within the constraints of the Super Nintendo’s limited technology, overcoming them by using a number of really unique-sounding instruments—especially when it came to the strings—and having them do a bunch of really complex things (look up “Decadence of God” from Breath of Fire 2 for an example). Breath of Fire 3 is none of that, using a bunch of instruments that seem more suited to MegaMan Legends (the two games share sound effects, so it’s within the realm of possibility) to play songs much less complex and memorable than in previous games. In fact, many of the songs actually sound more dated than the soundtracks in previous games despite being on more capable hardware.