I am not a big fan of JRPGs. Most of them consist of pressing the A button repeatedly until the game ends. It’s like trying to read Lord of the Rings while someone is constantly vacuuming and throwing small rocks at you, except that might still be worth it. Final Fantasy is an especially good example of this sort of thing, where the battles feel almost totally unrelated to the story, and all you want to do is GET IT OVER WITH.
Surprisingly, one of my favorite JRPGs is the original Dragon Warrior (well, technically I played the GBC remake of Dragon Warrior, but it’s pretty similar), mainly because it doesn’t try to fool you into thinking you’re getting some amazing, life-changing, War and Peace-esque story. It pretty much tells you that, yes, you’re going to have to hit A repeatedly to get anywhere, but god damnit, being a hero is hard work. In fact, it’s one of the few games I’ve played that actually makes me feel like slaying a dragonwould not be very glorious at all, and mostly consists of the training and preparation. And when all is said and done, you still have to walk home.
So when I heard about Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, an Xbox Live Indie Game , which is usually described as a parody of an old school JRPG, I figured I’d waste some time on it. It’s only a dollar, after all. Most of my purchases have more than a dollar in taxes alone.
Oh boy. What a surprise this game has been. If Dragon Warrior is a six course meal with dessert at the end, Breath of Death is six courses consisting of ice cream, cake, cotton candy, and rainbows. Then ice cream twice more. It takes all the tedium of out of battling and exploring, and replaces it with excitement and near death experiences.
Let me explain.
The main draw of BoD is…battling. Every battle, at least on hard mode, has the potential of killing you violently if you’re not on the ball. On top of the fact that every turn will, if you’re properly leveled, deplete about 1/3 of your HP, your enemies also get stronger each round of battle. Finishing a battle quickly is no longer a response to being bored, it’s necessary for your continued survival.
To make up for the fact that you’re barely surviving many battles, at the end of every conflict, your HP is fully restored and all deceased party members are revived at full health. You also gain a little bit of your MP back, more if you finished the battle in fewer turns.
“Now wait a minute,” I hear you saying (Zach), “where’s the challenge in that? It sounds like there’s no attrition or resource management whatsoever!” Here you are wrong, sir or ma’am. While you do gain some MP back at the end of a battle, it’s not much. And when the key to your existence is finishing a battle quickly, that MP is more precious than gold.
This is true of Dragon Quest as well, except it translated into healing after every battle, which was boring. BoD eliminates this by just healing you for free, but preserving the idea that MP is more important than anything else. It’s beautiful.
In essence, it makes every fight feel like a boss fight. You must plan carefully for every battle, and use your resources wisely. However, each battle is also relatively quick and you will either live or die within about 2 minutes at most, depending on how long you take to decide things.
“So if battle is the meat, then what about everything else?” you rudely interrupt. Alright, well, the dialogue is superb. The setting is post apocalyptic, but only because everybody is dead, and the undead (with no explanation as to where they came from) have rebuilt society. The main character is a skeleton who is a silent protagonist…because he has no tongue. Luckily, you can read his thoughts, which are extremely verbose and oftentimes hilarious, and parody the strong, heroic types most JRPGs focus on. In fact, the game is more than parody, it’s a loving joke. It’s not laughing at JRPGs, it’s laughing with them, as any good parody should do.
More stuff:there’s no boring inventory management beyond buying and equipping better stuff, there’s a run button, the encounter rate is tolerably light, you level quickly, there’s easy and powerful character customization each time you level (sometimes you even get to pick between two different versions of the same spell), the achievement system is an epitaph of your (un)dead hero…I could go on and on. I mean, seriously, I have had to edit out two paragraphs of praise, and I could write even more.
The only downers: The music is awful (please go with chiptunes next time!), and there aren’t enough people to talk to. There is a nice “chat” function in the menu that allows your party members to talk amongst themselves, but it doesn’t have as much content as I would like.
That’s it! That’s the only bad stuff I can think of!
I can’t recommend this game enough. I’m not finished yet, but it reportedly has about 6 hours of game play. AND IT’S A DOLLAR. IT IS LUDICROUS TO NOT BUY THIS GAME.
Do it! FREAKING DO IT! I am dead serious. I will be disappointed if you don’t buy this game, unless you don’t have an Xbox 360. That’s the only excuse.
To summarize: Breath of Death VII is the best dollar you will ever spend, ever ever.