The first Breath Of Fire (BOF) video game was originally a product of RPG giant Squaresoft. However, the ownership rights got shuffled around, and since the first sequel, all BOF games are the property of Capcom. Known for their action-adventure games, Capcom seems ill-fit for the RPG market. However, time and again Capcom has kept the familiar elements of the BOF story, while introducing new features, guaranteeing that playing a BOF game is never boring.
The universal elements are as follows: the protagonist is a blue-haired youth named Ryu, who morphs into several Dragon forms. He is the last of his kind and is the only person standing against the evil force threatening the world. Another series hallmark is Nina, a half-human/half-bird princess, often serving as Ryu’s love interest. No matter the game, these elements are present.
Being the first of the series, BOF introduces many features found in the sequels. Ryu’s position in the party order can be swapped. This switch serves a vital part of the gameplay. Each character has a special ability that can be used on the overworld. When swapped, BOF character Bo can hunt a random wandering animal and gain their curative meat products.
BOF II features a town simulator. Early on the player gains a headquarters, and as the game progresses, can recruit certain merchants to build shops and inventories not found anywhere else.
BOF III features the Master system. The player can apprentice himself to over twenty Masters. Each Master awards certain skills upon leveling up, as well as certain stat bonuses (positive as well as negative). Deciding which Master is best for which character is one of the game's pleasures and challenges.
BOF IV’s uniqueness is its plot. There are two protagonists: Ryu and Fou-Lu. The story switches control between them at predetermined points, providing two different views of the world at large. The endgame reveals that both characters are merely two halves of the same person, and choosing which character to dominate their fused Dragon form decides the game’s ending.
It’s difficult to see BOF V as a BOF game since it strays away from almost all aspects of its predecessors. Of particular note is the SOL System, which encourages players to actually reset the game, carrying current abilities from the previous playthrough. With heightened difficulty and an absurd lack of health-restoring inns or save points, dying and starting over in BOF V is frustratingly necessary.
Some sequels copy successful game elements, coasting on the formula that works without thought of change. Some sequels boast so many new features that there is little of the original left. It’s a fine line that game companies walk with every game, and sometimes companies fall. While not an RPG-experienced company, Capcom has managed to inject new life into every BOF game. It’s up to the player to play the game, but no matter what, you’re in for a unique experience. Have fun.