It's a good day to be a dragon. Breath of Fire III (specifically, the PSP port released in Japan and Europe back in 2005 / 2006) is now available on the North American PlayStation Store.
While the European version of Breath of Fire III PSP spawned some tittle-tattle about the quality of the port -- load times are reportedly an issue -- the third chapter of Ryu the dragon-boy's saga is pure candy for anyone starving for a basic JRPG game.
The fights are random and menu-based. The mellow, jazzy soundtrack stays with you for years. The characters are endearing, and at times, they'll break your heart. Oh, and the whole game revolves around having a beef with God. It's solid JRPG fare all 'round.
You can also tool around with "dragon genes" to let the game's protagonist, Ryu, get in touch with his dragon-side and undergo a multitude of enemy-roasting transformations. The designs for Ryu's secondary forms are so cool to look at, you'll find yourself summoning them regardless of how useful they are. From the slippery, slug-like Pygmy to the multi-coiled Tiamat, you can occupy yourself for ages stomping out low-level Gongheads with your world-ending powers.
The appeal of Breath of Fire III's dragon transformations ties into another reason to play the game, albeit a shallow one: Its graphics are fantastic. More than that, Breath of Fire III's colorful and fluidly-animated sprites can probably be regarded as a showcase for a bygone era in video game visuals.
As you move through farms, fields, and towns, it's impossible not to appreciate how much detail went into the NPCs. People water their crops, sit in freshly-threshed fields to have a smoke, talk to friends, and drink at cafes. In one town, you'll even spot a canid Grassrunner fishing for his pet cat, who waits patiently for her meal.
We're fortunate to exist in a time when many game developers aim to re-capture the magic of retro titles, and there's no shortage of games that utilize sprite-based graphics as a result. However, Breath of Fire III's standard-definition characters, all built-up and animated pixel-by-pixel, are from a moment in time that will never be perfectly recaptured.
("OK, so Breath of Fire III looks great, but how does it play?")
Well, that's where things get a touch more complicated. Breath of Fire III's overarching story is interesting enough to keep you going, and fighting foes is generally fun thanks to the game's gorgeous spritework and myriad battle options (including magic spells, skills you can learn from masters, and the aforementioned dragon genes).
But there's also no denying Breath of Fire III has some moments that go beyond "tedious" and drift into "wearying" territory. Once you wander into the seaside town of Rhapala, go on and make yourself comfortable with every brick, every corner, and every scuttling sea louse. You revisit the joint over and over again while you perform endless fetch quests in hopes of getting the machine guild's stupid ship fixed.
About midway through this unfortunate series of events, you start wishing your party could just swim across the sea instead of waiting for passage (Ryu, buddy -- one of those dragon forms has to be water-proof, right?).
There are other snore-inducing moments in Breath of Fire III, too. If you've never played the game, you're not familiar with the word "shishu." If you have played the game, you're probably groaning in the grasp of a painful memory right now.
Here's the nice thing about Breath of Fire III, though: There's always something fun and cool to keep you going, whether it's a neat monster design, a particularly charming character sprite, or a chance to apprentice yourself to a master. It's a flawed game, but it invokes powerful JRPG feelings -- now more than ever, thanks to those gorgeous sprites.
Also, you can fish for whales.