It's true that Capcom's Breath of Fire saga has had difficulty competing with the venerable Final Fantasy series. Breath of Fire's installments, inconveniently, are always released on systems blessed by Square's gracious hand. Though the various identity crises that the series has suffered throughout its life are due, in part, to the RPG genre's (read: Squaresoft's) overrepresentation of BOF-enabled platforms, Capcom's previous lack of ambition is also largely to blame. In short, BOF games paled in comparison - in all relevant areas - to the high-budget productions unleashed by Square. Breath of Fire IV marks a new era for the series, one in which Capcom begins to fully realize its vision and brings a tangible experience to fans of the series. The game's various systems and elements, in truth, seem more fully realized and well thought out than ever before, providing some RPG fans with the hope of an alternative to the seemingly standard-setting Final Fantasy series.
The story involves the archetypal Ryu and Nina from the series' previous installments. The two characters take part in a series of epic events that are comparable to those that have preceded the game. Ryu, as series followers have come to know, is a solemn youth blessed with the powers of a dragon, while Nina remains spunky and rebellious.
The game's combat system incorporates many of the series' past elements and devises some novel features that make it stand out from the mass of quasi-turn-based systems. In essence, the characters in your party can attack in any order you choose, and you get to swap active characters during encounters. Furthermore, inactive characters' ability points will replenish, which lends the swap system some interesting strategic elements. Also new to BOF4 is the combo system. While combo attacks are nothing new to console RPGs (games like Chrono Trigger and, various titles in the SaGa series have used them for years), their use is nonetheless refreshing, as discovering and executing combos does much to relieve random encounters of their tedium.
Most refreshing, though, is the game's aesthetic quality. Vaguely reminiscent of Xenogears, the game features emotive 2D character sprites that are superimposed on vibrant, complex 3D backdrops. While the environments seem, at times, less than practical for the purpose of traversal, they are inspiring nonetheless, hopefully hinting at more cohesive things to come.
On a slightly lighter note, the Breath of Fire series' perennial minigame, fishing, makes a return - in all its splendor - to the series. This time around, though, you'll be able to use AgeTec's specialized fishing controller to maximize your experience.
Breath of Fire IV will be released stateside in late November. So keep your eyes here for a full domestic review. For now, check out our import review, which, for all intents and purposes, should be perfectly relevant.