For five minutes, after the PSP's drive has accelerated and settled into that battery draining hum, the revolutions per minute spinning a scenic tapestry of dark hewn rock, purple half light and cold cave womb around you, Breath of Fire 3 seems delightfully different.
You're one of them: the kind of fire breathing dragon you've slain a thousand times in countless adventures before, each one's plastic case a transparent trophy on your gaming shelf. Left long unknown, silently un-hatched deep underground the game opens with your egg's discovery by treasure hungry miners. They're the kind of RPG people whose hungry shoes you're used to filling. In a flash of loud you're awoken from scaly slumber, virgin lungs itching with trinitrotoluene fire as your crystal eggshell cracks gloopy to their dynamite punch.
Three minutes to go: you crawl out, stretch terror and lumber toward incredulous stares, nostrils flaring in their speed-dilating retinas, bristling with the rush of being monster; Such foul elation to be hatched just for unjust destruction and ruin. As you burn their twitching torsos to ember crisp, lingering smoke trailing hot fingers around your newborn hide, it's good to be bad. You imagine what lies ahead: tearing down identikit RPG villages, ripping out the NPC throats which always existed only to repeat that one line time after infuriating time after time. This could be the ultimate revenge RPG; your chance to wreak havoc upon genre conventions that have grated year after year through developers lack of foresight, insight or bravery.
You're four and a half minutes in, stumbling blind through the cave's hot white exit, squinting to find new prey, expectant excitement spiking synapses red raw.
Then stop. Load. You're being captured. Load. You're being transported away in a cage. Load. You fall off the back of the train. Load. You're lying tumbled unconscious in the forest. Load. You're found by a woodsman. Load. You're a boy now. Load. You have to talk to villagers and be nice. Load. Load. You must travel the world fighting other monsters on your way to find two friends while you uncover an unspeakable evil that only you can possibly defeat in the ultimate showdown. Load. You're in a cliché again. No save.
Breath of Fire 3 is a game that starts really well. Its premise promises to break free from rusty, crusty conventions, pledging freedom for those bored with all that the code-by-numbers Japanese RPG has settled into. But, five minutes in, it's clear that you're walking deep, deep furrowed ground after all. Ryu, your character, does have a dragon form and, while he does get to wreak wanton havoc in the opening scenes, he's mainly just a little RPG boy with the usual turn-based attacks, accompanying companions and orphan zero-to-hero complex.
The game packs the usual random battles (albeit mercifully just in dungeons - on the world map you can choose your fights), a disappointing three-member team set-up during fights (the second BOF game allowed four characters) and the customary set of skills, hit points, action points and learnable specials.
Perhaps it's a little unfair to rebuke the game for being so traditional. This old code was released nearly a decade ago, one of the PlayStation's earliest RPGs ported pixel for pixel here to the PSP. So these theoretical complaints aimed at the caution of script, gameplay and scenario writers are perhaps untimely (although no less valid as we're like, actually playing this game in 2006 you know). However, what, in real tangible objective terms, is a malicious oversight on Capcom's part is the abortive load times punctuating each...word...before...and...after...each...and...every...sentence...and...battle...and oh screw it let's put the kettle on and do something less boring instead.
It's not that we're spoiled ADHD brats weaned from slow burning media onto the sugary addiction of MTV chip chop suey editing technique for five second attention span children. It really is that this game has disgraceful, game-ruining, anachronistic load times that make the PSP feel like a console twenty years its age. Your head is plunged in and out of the game world with such force and frequency that soon you can't catch your breath and you'll be longing again for Game & Watch immediacy.
Still, if you are crying out for a solid traditional RPG and you don't mind a black space commercial break every fifteen seconds then this is the game for you. Positively, the battle sequences allow a pleasant level of freedom for players. Alongside the usual stock attacks and specials team members can use an ‘examine' command on enemies to pick up new skills. Also, the series' core Dragon Gene System makes a return from its SNES forefathers encouraging different combinations of the 18 different collectable dragon gems in order to transform into up different dragon forms. design. Also restricting your freedom is the ubiquity of random battles, which puts you right off any extra-curricular exploration or side-questing.
For players of the original, other than load times, portability and sentimentality, the only PSP attraction is an online fishing mode. In the main game, fishing forms a distraction from the business of world salvation offering the chance to catch different status-enhancing fish such a magic restoring rainbow trout or poison neutralizing blowfish. It's OK fun but really, it's just a little side game and to promote it to PSP USP (with the prize of unlocking pictures in a new gallery mode HELL YES!) seems a little desperate. Some genuine new features or gameplay refinement would have gone a lot further in its place.
There's a dearth of RPGs on the PSP right now, something in part being remedied by ports of PSOne games such as Tales of Eternia, PoPoLoCrois and this title. Weighed against the console's in-house competition, this is a good game, head and shoulders above any of the PSP exclusive RPG efforts. However, played alongside its cross platform cousins and competitors, with nine years of intervening genre development since its inception, this is no wunderkind. Beware rose bespectacled shouty internet men that will seek to persuade you otherwise; those grasping at sweetly remembered gaming experiences often do so with a child's eyes: sweetly blinkered and devoted but wholly without a grownup perspective.