Review by Infinity Dragon
Reviewed: 02/23/03 | Updated: 02/23/03
An excellent, unique, and rewarding game
There had been quite a bit of controversy revolving around Breath of Fire V the few months before its release. There were those who wouldn't touch the game with a ten-foot pole and there were those willing to give the game a chance-I happened to fall in the latter category, and I'm glad for it. BoFV is a truly unique game that combines multiple elements seamlessly into one very rewarding experience.
This is the single best aspect of the game. The game play is essentially Valkyrie Profile, Xenogears, the Breath of Fire Series, Tactical RPGs, and Parasite Eve (Or Resident Evil, so I've heard) all fused into a single engine. Worry not if you haven't played all those games, I'll go into more detail later.
Breath of Fire V is made up of two main aspects, PETS (Positive Encounter Tactical System) and the SOL (Scenario Overlay) System. Mastering both of these systems are vital to your success.
In the PETS, dungeon exploration is combined with active encounters with the enemies. The gist of the system is to allow you a to start battle with a positive advantage in battle over the enemy. This is done mostly by setting traps to lure/repel/damage the enemy. When you think you're ready for battle, you strike them with your character's weapon (ala Valkyrie Profile) and start the battle with a one turn advantage for the character who stuck the enemy (Its in your best interest to choose who you want to initiate the battle). A word of caution: If the enemy strikes you first, the enemy that struck you will gain a free round on you.
The SOL system seems confusing at first, but don't let it discourage you. When you get the hang of it, the SOL becomes extremely powerful and useful.
First, you will want to know that there are two types of Saves you can make. A Hard Save is done by using a Token Coin at specific save point. A Hard Save is a permanent save of the game to which you can overwrite later. A Soft Save is done by selecting 'Quit' from the Main Menu screen, however, as soon as you load a Soft Save, the save is erased. This means you can't use Soft Saves as preparation saves, their purpose is to give you a chance to save should you want to stop playing for a while.
Now the SOL System itself, when you die, you have the option of starting the game over from the beginning or starting from your last Hard Save (Or you can accept your death if you don't want to overwrite an older save). However, in both cases you are penalized half your Party Experience and Zenny (The game's currency). All items you had equipped and in your Locker will be carried over as well. LEVELS ARE NOT CARRIED OVER.
Now compare this to Giving Up (Selected at the Main Menu screen), in which you get to keep all your Party Experience and Zenny instead of half. If you start to notice you're low on items, and see little hope for survival, its best to bite the bullet and Give Up instead of risking dying in battle and taking a massive penalty.
In either case, when you choose to start from the beginning, depending on how well you've progressed, new cutscenes will be unlocked. This is the essence of the SOL system, mastering it is up to you.
The rest of the gameplay is survival based. There are no inns and a very limited amount of healing items, you'll need to rely on the above mentioned two systems in order to complete the game. Breath of Fire V is by no means a walk in the park, but at the same time if you play your cards right, its not ludicrously hard either.
Gameplay Score: 10/10
Whew, now that the largest section of BoFV has been reviewed, time to go on to the supporting factors.
Excellent all around. While some of the tunes can grate on your nerves after a while (Especially if you die and you need to go through the level again), in general its nice to listen to. From the opening music in the Ranger Headquarters to the story cutscenes, the music sets the mood perfectly (which is what game music is for). The orchestral feel of the Breath of Fire series has shifted slightly more towards an Industrial sound, but its still all good.
Music Score: 9/10
Graphics and Environments
Ahh, the graphics. Like the gameplay, the graphics were subject to high controversy before the release of the game. The characters, quite frankly, look like members of Anorexics Anonymous. While it may make your eyes bleed the first few minutes, you'll adjust before you start the first dungeon.
Now, where the character design department may be lacking, the environment designs more than make up for it. Even though the game takes place undergound, the dungeons are extremely well detailed and lead the gamer to feel as though they are actually going through ancient railways, mysterious laboratories, and wherever else the plot may lead you.
Graphics Score: 9/10
Along with Gameplay, Story is one of the most important aspects of any RPG (Though I'm hard pressed to call BoFV a traditional RPG). Fortunately, the story is excellent.
You start as Ryu, a low (Very low) ranking character in the underground society. Our friend Ryu is a member of the Rangers, a group that functions as society's military. On an ordinary mission, Ryu encounters the carcass of an ancient beast. From that point on, Ryu becomes involved in a fight for his own soul.
There are a few very nice plot twists and the whole game itself is shrouded in mystery as you play through the game. The story is made even better by the SOL system, allowing you to see other POVs, new cutscenes, and more background information on subsequent runs through the game.
Replay, and Rent or Buy?
The replay value is astronomical. There are numerous goals that make replaying the game fun in of itself and not a chore. You can try to raise your D-Ratio (i.e. Social standing) up to 1/4, unlock hidden cutscences, explore an ancient dungeon, and develop an Ant Farm (Which is managed by a Faerie).
You may want to rent or borrow the game for a day to see if you like the PETS and SOL system before committing yourself to it. Though the game is good enough that I'll warrant you won't be disapointed if you buy it.
Rent or Buy?: Its worth buying, but as said, you may want to rent first if you have any doubts.
Overall, Breath of Fire V is an excellent game. I've enjoyed it more than most other RPGs I've played, let alone PS2 RPGs. While the gameplay systems are not user-friendly, they aren't too difficult to get the hang of, and when mastered, these systems make the game a very unique and rewarding gaming experience. You won't be dissapointed.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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