For those of you who missed the Breath of Fire series during its heyday on the Super Nintendo, Capcom's GameBoy Advance port of the original may have seemed a little complex, elaborate, perhaps even tedious. With random battles raining down like a monsoon, it drove a number of my friends to distraction, despite my will for them to enjoy it. Fortunately, as 16-bit veterans will recall, the second in the series was a much sleeker adventure, offering a far more agreeable range of characters, a more interesting plot and a total of about 30 hours of enjoyable turn-based role-playing gameplay. And fishing. Oh yes.
Thankfully, BOFII does not require an intimate, or even casual knowledge of its predecessor - it's a standalone adventure. As usual, the game's star is named Ryu, and unlike the first game, which threw plot at you by the barrel-load from the very outset, to begin with he's your average ignorant RPG lead. The story is woven for him creatively and at a manageable pace, as he walks along on the low-res world map and through typical cartoony environments, dispatching enemies in random turn-based battles, and gradually learning about the White and Black Dragon Clans. He also gathers friends around him until you have a nice selection of characters to take into battle, and the variation in their fighting styles is enough to place importance on party arrangement. Although random battles still grate, the more experienced you become and the higher the levels you reach, the less encounters previously explored areas will throw up.
BOFII has aged better than its predecessor, although it's still quite a slog at times, and the lack of improvement for the new handheld version is a bit irritating. Like the first GBA BOF, you can trade items via link cable with other adventurers (if you can find any), but elsewhere you can only pick a character name of up to four letters and the graphics look more GBC than GBA. With role-playing games like Golden Sun available on the system, this pales in comparison. That said, as a tale of intrigue and as an RPG it's a solid accomplishment, just as it was when it was first released. The game is littered with wit and diversions, including the aforementioned fishing game, which I spent more time playing than I did adventuring back when SNES games were £60 a throw.
If you enjoy heavy duty turn-based role-playing games along the lines of the early 16-bit Final Fantasies, and the slight technical inferiority doesn't put you off, Breath of Fire II is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure which will take many hours to complete. In the absence of too many RPGs in the West, this is perhaps the next best thing to Golden Sun, and makes whiling away the muggy, humid hours of a British summer all the more bearable.