Where’s the Dragon Love?
There is one particular Capcom series I hold near and dear to my heart, Breath of Fire. I feel the series has been brushed aside for years and to this day I am not entirely sure why given its millions of sales and incredibly loyal fanbase.
Originating on the Super Nintendo in 1993, the Breath of Fire series makes up for a total of 5 games. It’s a simple, timeless JRPG, notable for its recurring characters and ambiguous continuity. To this day it is not known if the 4th game in the series is set in an alternate universe or is a prequel or sequel to the first 3 games. Capcom claims the series is their “best known and most successful Role-Playing games” but the series has been left as a “resting IP” with seemingly no desire to continue it further.
Breath of Fire Characters
The main character of the series is a blue-haired boy named Ryu who has the unique ability to transform into a variety of dragons, which you have control over in combat. His backstory and personality changes from game to game. One minute he’s trying to save his village & his older sister from an evil clan of dragons, the next thing he’s a crying child weakly swinging his sword at Goo monsters. In some games, he is in complete control of his powers, and another he’s nuking a corrupt army for slaughtering a village of children. You never get the same Ryu in each of the main games.
The same can be said of Nina, a winged princess from the kingdom of Wyndia, who often serves as the mage of the party and Ryu’s love interest. Sometimes she can cast offensive spells like fire and blizzard, while in others she’s primarily the healer. In one story she’s an outcast because it was prophesied she was to bring ruin to her kingdom, in another, she’s trying to prove to her overbearing mother that she’s more than just a princess. Often being the heart of the group and Ryu’s moral compass, she is just as important to these stories as Ryu is or any of the other characters you meet.
Outside of a select few characters, there is little crossover of familiar faces. There are times you’ll see old party members as NPCs wandering around or names will pop up that you’d recognize from another title. In spite of that, villains are consistent. The big one is Myria, who in one game is trying to destroy the world, the next control it. She can be a pretty golden-haired lass or an eldritch abomination with a melting face.
But regardless of the villain, there is always an overarching theme flowing through each game. The big one usually boils down to “The Power of Friendship shall Overcome!” but even then it gets fleshed out in the later entries in the series. In Breath of Fire 3, the very first game in the series I owned and easily count it as one of my favorite games ever, Ryu’s main story goes along with responsibility & discovering yourself.
Breath of Fire 3 Background
At the start of the game, he’s a baby dragon freed from crystal & wreaking havoc on the miners who dug him out. Following this, he is launched off a train into the arms of a tiger boy and his purple-haired adoptive brother who think “working” is mugging & robbing people. At that point he’s scared, he covers his eyes when attacking in battle and has nowhere to go. So he goes along with their hair-brained schemes. Eventually, their trouble-making ways catch up to them & Ryu is left all alone with those who took his family away.
He makes the choice not to run, but to leave the comfort of familiar land to find Rei & Teepo, his brothers. Though they weren’t always the smartest or kindest, they still took him in when no one else would. He’s still scared. Still swinging his sword wildly screaming & crying. But he’s trying to be better. To take more responsibility for his actions rather than letting someone else do it for him.
Through a series of unfortunate events, he’s captured & arrested in Wyndia. He meets Nina. She decides to help him despite not knowing who he is, just that he doesn’t deserve what’s happened to him. In the course of it, she’s captured by the same villains who took away his family. Using his untapped dragon powers he escapes and challenges them. From then on regardless if you win the fight or not, Ryu’s stance changes in battle. He doesn’t cover or back away from a fight. He stands strong and swings his sword with confidence, eyes wide open. His attacks are more precise, stronger. He’s taking control of a situation rather than running away. He has grown as a character as he fights to protect those that need him.
It’s a powerful message as you traverse this beautifully designed game as Ryu, watching him go from child to man & see all the things he experienced in his quests.
Breath of Fire 4 Differences
Alternatively in Breath of Fire 4, Ryu’s role is somewhat diminished. It more ramps up the story with a unique dichotomy in Ryu’s “older brother” Fou-Lu whom the player controls at different intervals throughout the game. While Ryu is struggling in one way, he has his friends to keep him balanced and see the good in this world. Fou-Lu meanwhile is off on his own and throughout the course of the game is beaten down, chased, and forced into seeing the crueler side of humanity. Anyone who dares try to help him is taken away in torturing ways. A yin and yang kind of situation occurs where both can not exist at the same time. The balance must come through both sides coming together, which culminates in their final confrontation.
Fou-Lu is the final boss of the game, he isn’t truly the villain as he is just as much a victim of the horrors as Ryu is. Through their different experiences over the course of the story, they complement each other and in the end work together to try to make things better for everyone. The power of friendship trope is still present, but it has a stronger meaning to it.
The first four games in the series are very well-beloved amongst the fans. My life has forever been changed thanks to this series. It helped strengthen my love of dragons. A lot of characters I envisioned for my own writings, came from these games. This series even led me to make some close friends and was the first major conversation I had with a close friend who would go on to be my boyfriend.
“Why has this series gone the way of the dodo?”
Part of it is due to the last 2 games in the series. Breath of Fire 5 known as Dragon Quarter for the Playstation 2 was, in all honesty, not good. They took a lot of confusing risks with this game like being in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting rather than the typical fantasy with sci-fi elements like the previous titles. They strayed completely from the gorgeous sprite work they put so much detail into prior for the generic 3D polygonal style of the time. The aspect of the dragon transformations, one of the main staples of the series, was reduced to one transformation compared to multiple and was almost considered a punishment to use rather than as an aid in tough situations.
Even character-wise everyone was reduced in personality, and a lot of the humor and charm of the series was scrapped to appear edgier. The previous games were dark, but they had a levity to it that kept you still going even when all hope seems lost. This game just dragged on more than anything.
Breath of Fire 6
It was around this time sales started to lower for the franchise. It wouldn’t be for another 14 years until Breath of Fire 6 would come out. Except for this time, Capcom again took a completely unexpected route by making it a mobile MMO. It only ever reached Japan before being shut down completely a year later due to lack of interest. Fans were dissatisfied with this direction & didn’t want to play. Why make it an MMO when it has its roots in JRPGs.
The plot of the game was different as well. You were asked to hunt your brother Ryu, so you weren’t even playing the well-known character everyone was familiar with. Add in microtransactions & it’s no wonder this tanked so badly. After that, no news of the franchise has resurfaced with Capcom mainly keeping the IP despite other companies voicing interest in rekindling the flame.
Up until these drastic changes, this series was running high. Over 3.2 million copies sold worldwide. People to this day fondly remember these games: the characters, the music, the sprite work, the stories. I myself have the art book showcasing all the dedicated work & love that was put into making this what it is today. Pure Again, the end credits song in the 3rd game, is one of my most listened to tracks on iTunes. Breath of Fire 4 was so popular in Japan that it had its own manga created. It is a beloved franchise that draws comparisons to the Final Fantasy series and yet it’s treated like this.
While it is not certain a new title would generate enough hype, the prospect of porting the first 2 Breath of Fire games to modern consoles would be a good idea.
All I can say at this point is to check this series out for yourself. The stories & characters are ageless, the music is easily some of the most beautiful soundtracks you’ll hear on the original Playstation. You will laugh, cry, maybe be inspired to write your own stories, who knows? Just make sure you don’t let some random gargoyle dude take you on a worldwide vacation to meet his God.