As the overall 1st Breath of Fire game I’ve played, I bought a Playstation Store port of it on my Playstation 3 shortly after being introduced to the series by online conversations. Granted, I procrastinated from beating Breath of Fire IV for years but then used my latest account to repurchase the Playstation Network port and replay it from scratch; though it is the series’ 4th numerical entry, the game has it’s plot take place prior to the the other three installments (Breath of Fire I, Breath of Fire II, and Breath of Fire III) as you you take control of an amnesiac Ryu Bateson accompanied by Nina, Cray and other characters in a quest to save humanity from destruction by an Emperor that has a narratively deep relationship to Ryu Bateson himself.
Breath of Fire IV recycles the series’ tradition of isometric overhead Action-Adventure gameplay albeit in the context of a mix between 3D areas and 2D characters. In-game navigation is performed in the context of a relatively liberal camera while combat is performed in the context of turn-based sequences like the Final Fantasy series. Like it’s predecessors in the series, the in-game world has a mixture of influence by both European and Asian folklore.
In the context of navigation, you can interact towards CPU-controlled characters and objects, gain knowledge about the surrounding in-game world, and earn clues on how to progress the story. Per playable character, there are field skills that are to be used for destruction of obstacles and puzzle-solving in the context of navigation.
In the context of turn-based combat sequences, the player will have a maximum of three characters at the front row and maximum of three reserve characters in the backrow. Whereas the front row has characters do the fighting for you and thus have them directly affected by combat, the backrow has a passive role that can replenish health or magic for invulnerable reserve characters. Strategically, you can switch frontrow and backrow characters. During battle sequences, you have freedom to choose in which order a character will perform an action.
A combat sequence is complete when every CPU on-screen opponent is defeated or when you have no playable character left alive. If you complete a battle sequence, experience points will be provided per character to help them level them up, which in turn statistically boosts (attack, defense, and other properties being increased) them and unlocks more skills; an in-game innovation is the Combo System, where extra damage and other effects can be performed when particular spells/skills are used in a precise order. For example, using two variations of the same element could produce a stronger variation of that element or you can mix two attacks based on two separate elements to produce a stronger attack. Finally, combos also can manifest in the context of a singular attacks that otherwise have multiple effects.
The videogame brings back the village building feature from Breath of Fire III (where you can command fairies to build special villages that in turn unlock new features) and the series’ overall traditional minigame of fish hunting; like it’s predecessors, there are sidequests irrelevant to the in-game story but can provide extra goods to the player; recycled from Breath of Fire III, the Master System permits the player to customize their characters by giving them apprenticeship under a variety of masters that who in turn will grant extra skills and unique statistical boosts to your characters if you complete particular tasks.
From both a story perspective and gameplay perspective, Breath of Fire IV served me as a good introduction to the series. As a videogamer of mixed European-Arab background, the in-game world provided me a cultural click analogous to the 1st Assassin’s Creed game; the videogame was an ideal way to break what was previously a personal hiatus from playing isometric overhead Action-Adventure videogames and gave me a quick refill of turn-based combat gameplay; the final battle is a unique tradeoff that gives you the choice between fighting the Emperor or fighting as the Emperor himself. If you fight the Emperor and defeat him, the videogame’s true ending will be earned but if you play as the Emperor and defeat the heroes, you will receive the videogame’s hypothetical “what if” ending. As soon as I completed the final battle in the old-fashioned way (fighting the Emperor), I beat Breath of Fire IV for the first time and sat down for a while in self-pride as I watched the true ending played out in front of me but the experience was worth it.