Do you want to sleep in the open?
As a slightly enhanced port of the classic Super Nintendo RPG, Breath of Fire II is as solid a game in its genre as you’ll find. Although Capcom introduced several interesting features in this series, BoF2 isn’t particularly outstanding for any one thing. Rather, it is an all-around good game, short of the epic feel of its Final Fantasy competitors but certainly quite capable in every technical and creative aspect.
If there’s any standout, it’s the graphics. Those who prefer hand-drawn art to the more CG-style of Golden Sun will love BoF2’s high-quality sprites and backgrounds. The special effects are sparse but not at all gratuitous, as they are increasingly becoming in GBA software. Animation is simple but adequate, and there are a very few anime-style stills that look quite nice. The real star here is the color though, which is bright and varied and makes the game easy to see in most lighting conditions.
In contrast, the sound is mostly forgettable. Effects don’t really demand to be noticed, and although the music is not annoying and even slightly hummable, it’s not going to get stuck in your head for days at a time. My only true complaint is one I have with almost all RPGs: there aren't enough songs. After a thirty- or forty-hour quest, that songs get pretty damn old. (To be fair, you do get new overworld and battle songs about halfway through the game...but is it too much to ask for a randomized mini-soundtrack for these situations?)
If you played the original Breath of Fire on SNES or with last year’s GBA port, you probably won’t be looking forward to the sequel’s plot. However, BoF2 surprises with a wildly mysterious intro sequence that isn’t fully explained until much later in the game. After the first fifteen minutes or so, main character Ryu settles into a fairly traditional quest, but the usual save-the-world stuff is infused with a healthy and extremely fresh dose of religion that is quite rare for RPGs released outside of Japan. Character development is pretty shallow, with most of the supporting folks just getting the mandatory hometown filled with NPCs who will rant about how cute so-and-so was as a kid and about how proud everyone is now that so-and-so is saving the world. Along the way you’ll run through a “royal imposter” scenario and a few death scenes. Some of the plot sequences are so clichéd that your attention will be more focused on the game’s bizarre translation. For the most part, the grammatical awkwardness is sporadic (certainly nothing on the scale of Final Fantasy Tactics), but it can be quite distracting in an otherwise serious conversation amongst characters. Except for the religious overtones, Breath of Fire 2’s storyline is much like the rest of the game: solid but not spectacular.
As in most RPGs, a large portion of your time with BoF2 will be spent in battles. However, one of the franchise’s simplest innovations serves to make combat oh so much less painful and tedious than in most other games of the genre. It’s called Auto-Battle, and by pressing left on the D-Pad and hitting A just once, you can command all of your characters to use basic attacks on the (usually) nearest enemy until the battle ends. While the feature was a nice way to save on button presses back in the SNES days, it really shines in handheld form. Now when the phone rings or your favorite music video comes on or someone needs your attention for a few seconds, you can just turn on Auto-Battle and let the game fight for you until real-world matters are resolved. Or, if you’re like me, you can just turn on Auto and veg out for thirty seconds. Obviously having the entire party use basic attacks isn’t very smart for complex or difficult battles, but against weenies in a previous region or when leveling up (not something you really need to do in most cases), there is something indescribably convenient about not having to press A twenty or thirty times just to beat down on a big rock goblin who has assloads of HP but poses no real threat.
Dealing with more dangerous foes can be occasionally difficult, but eventually you’ll boil everything down into two or three simple strategies that can defeat pretty much anything. In fact, if there’s one tweak to BoF2 that just really bothers me, it’s how oddly easy the combat is. At first I thought I had improved as a player since my SNES days, but there’s definitely something going on when ALL FOUR of my characters get a “Special” attack in one round of combat. It seems like about 50% of all attacks end up being “Special”, and Ryu’s “Special” hits will kill many enemies in one hit. I would have preferred if Capcom had turned the random encounters way down and notched up each battle’s difficulty.
Still, the easy combat does keep up the game’s flow, and you’ll be traveling from place to place and mini-quest to mini-quest pretty steadily. This could have made for a short game if BoF2’s adventure weren’t so long. Even with the quick pacing, you can expect a bare minimum of twenty hours to the end. There’s no in-game clock, but I’ve probably spent closer to forty hours and I’m still not quite finished as of this writing. But perhaps I’m a very slow and laborious RPG player. ;-)
It is the ample length that most effectively promotes Breath of Fire 2 into the “buy” category. When you get an RPG, you expect it to be long and involving and not to repetitive on the way. BoF2 is all that and more, and it will last through many car rides and plane trips for those wise enough to pick it up.