Breath of Fire 2 turns 25 this week. We also learned this late SNES Capcom RPG is coming to the Nintendo Switch Online service on December 12. I ask you: Coincidence? Yeah, probably. I don't think Nintendo pays much attention to B-tier game anniversaries while it floats above the gaming landscape Dr. Manhattan-like.
I'm excited about the arrival of Breath of Fire 2 because it was my introduction to the deliciously blasphemous concept of killing God. When I said as much to USG Reviews Editor Mike Williams, he said, "Oh, like every JRPG, right?"
Honestly, yes. And a lot of anime, too. But as the colloquialism goes, "You never forget your first time disassembling a false church." Besides, Breath of Fire 2 wasn't just the first time I killed YHWH. It was the first time I'd seen capital-G God come up in a Nintendo game, let alone the concept of icing Him. By the time Breath of Fire 2 came to the Super Nintendo in 1995, Nintendo loosened its strict censorship policies ("No God, no Church" being a big rule), and that's how I wound up playing an RPG that starts with a demon telling mortals they must sacrifice themselves to become "God's strength."
My memories are made stronger by the fact Breath of Fire 2 doesn't turn you into a God-slayer on an empty narrative. There's a genuinely good story at the game's heart… if you can decipher it.
Here's the tragic thing about Breath of Fire 2: its narrative about heroes facing off against a vicious God who feasts on the souls of its worshippers is still interesting, but the game's translation is atrocious. It's a shame, because when I rented Breath of Fire 2, I unexpectedly chose a great entry point for the "Let's go on a fun journey to kill Jehovah" story trope. The characters speak nonsense English and the localizers treated punctuation like a suggestion, but I can still look back on the game's events and say "Yeah, that was a cool moment," or, "That was actually a good story idea."
It helps that Breath of Fire 2 plays its story cards more slowly and carefully than other God-killing JPRGs. Outside of the opening moment with the demon encouraging worshippers to continue feeding into God's strength, it takes a while for you to learn the true nature of "Saint Eva." The game's half-dragon hero, Ryu, enjoys a pleasant childhood under the care of his father, a kind and devoted priest in the service of Eva. There's a suggestion the Church of Saint Eva seemingly sprung up out of nowhere to push out the pagan Dragon God, but otherwise, the new Church seems charitable and treats its worshippers well.
Then come the moments of unease, starting with Ryu waking up from a nap to discover his father and sister are gone, and that nobody in his village recognizes him. (You don't find out until much, much later this is indeed the Church's doing, but even without context there's something genuinely frightening about people you've known all your life suddenly treating you like an orphan and a stranger.) One event that still stands out to me involves the Church attempting to talk the mother of another character, Rand, into selling her land so they can build a house of worship on it. She "disappears" after refusing the Church repeatedly, but not before a high-ranking Minister named Ray is sent to talk to her—which he does with kindness and patience despite the blaspheming, pan-waving resistance of Rand's mother.
Like Ryu's father, Ray is a genuinely good-hearted believer of Saint Eva who sticks his neck out more than once for the party as well as common folk. He comes to a sad end when he's forced to sacrifice himself for the good of Saint Eva. In Ray's mind, it can't be helped; his race is a feared relic of the distant past, but the Church still raised him with kindness despite knowing his secret. He regards his reluctant struggle against Ryu as his last stand to protect a loving parent.
Breath of Fire 2 isn't short on stirring story points, and not all of them are woven directly to the struggle against the Church. Learning the secret of the dragon sleeping in the back lot of Ryu's hometown still hits me where I live, as does seeing the turmoil Nina's "cursed" black wings causes her family. Learning about Sten's past is also interesting; it's just a damn shame the game's translation spells his rival's name three different ways.
That's what you deal with when you play Breath of Fire 2: A great story's been chewed up and spit onto your plate. But '90s kids like myself diligently sewed the pulverized bits of story meat back together because it was our first journey to kill God, and it was a good one.
Well, mostly. I've already been asked if Breath of Fire 2 is worth playing through once it hits the Switch. I can't offer up much beyond "Yes, but no." Shoddy translation aside, it's frankly a pain in the ass. Your walking speed is a crawl, the encounter rate is insane, and the difficulty of its encounters is as off-kilter as a dragon with an earache. It's worth a try if you already have Nintendo Switch Online—it's free, after all—but don't be too disappointed in yourself when the garbled text and agonizing dungeons chase you off.
That said, Breath of Fire 2 tops my personal list of games I desperately want to see spit-shined and re-released. Some quality of life improvements and a whole new translation would make it much easier for me to recommend this cute dragon-boy's long, emotional quest to stick a sword in God's eye.
Header image via The Cover Project