Robert Boyd, creator of Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, is quite the RPG connoisseur; at least, I’d imagine that anyone who makes a blog about game design theory and references Vay is more than merely dabbling in the genre. Seeing a game made in the classic JRPG style from someone who knows his stuff is refreshing. BoDVII is a game that revels in the old-school JRPG experience while always keeping in mind what other JRPG developers seem to forget: that the old model can be made better.
The game starts out by explaining that the world is no longer populated by humans, thanks to a huge war that eradicated life as we know it. Instead, we live in the age of undead prosperity. Zombies, Skeletons, Ghosts, and Vampires live together peacefully. Suddenly, ‘evil’ is coming back to the world, and it’s up to Dem, the skeleton knight, to stop… the evil. It’s a little abstract, isn’t it?
Okay, so the story isn’t going to blow your mind. In fact, BoDVII does the “suddenly reveal everything at the end” hooplah that I’ve always found to be too sudden and rushed to enjoy. I don’t think it was really meant to change the world, though. Instead, Breath of Death VII is meant to bring laughs and poke fun at the RPG genre (in case it wasn’t obvious by the name). This is mostly accomplished in two ways: by satirizing RPG tropes, and by using a lot of cheap nods to other RPGs.
The latter is really not my style. For one, it’s a bit alienating for people who don’t play a lot of RPGs. For example, I wonder how many people will undersand the “Langsong” reference? Additionally, they just rely entirely upon the player knowing the reference to be funny; in other words, they are generally not funny in the context of the game.
The weirdest thing is that Breath of Death is hilarious. When it focuses on satire, the writing really shines. Thankfully, there’s plenty of good humour, and the throwaway references don’t feel like a crutch in the place of solid jokes.
The gameplay in general mimicks the old Dragon Warrior-style of RPGs; there’s a bird’s eye view world map where everything looks happy, some beautiful towns, dark caves, and a solid black combat screen comprised mostly of large menu boxes. Combat also builds upon the Dragon Warrior style, with basic fight/magic. The wonder of the gameplay lies in how streamlined it is, though.
Dem can move around extremely quickly on the world map, in dungeons or in towns. The encounter rate is vastly better than most JRPGs, which works in tandem with Dem’s super speed to give players a sense that they’re actually making progress in a dungeon. Each dungeon also has a ‘random battle counter’, where after a certain quota of random battles has been met, players can walk through the dungeons freely (although players can choose to fight a battle through the menu).
It’s funny how just a few things like this can take an otherwise stale, monotonous genre and do a lot to make it more enjoyable. Breath of Death keeps the pace moving fast and keeps the game proportionally short. The game abstract on Xbox Live Indie says “4-6 hours of gameplay”, and that seems about right. I don’t need – and rarely want – a long, drawn-out epic adventure. I’d rather just have a good experience, no matter how long it is, and I feel like BoDVII would agree (if it could be personified, of course).
Combat is only troubled by one thing, though, and that would be the difficulty. To be frank, it’s a very easy game. As long I made sure to fight enough battles to buy the latest equipment in towns, I was able to steamroll every enemy I came across. It’s too bad; there’s a cool level-up system where players have to pick and choose between certain abilities or stat bonuses.
There’s even a combo meter, which counts the number of attacks the party has made during a fight and uses that number to amplify the damage of certain attacks. It all seems for naught, though, when every random battle can be finished by flipping out on the ‘A’ Button, and boss battles can be finished in about two turns.
And yet, Breath of Death VII: The Beginning still manages to be impressive by adding just a few subtle touches that aren’t seen in commercial JRPGs. Combine that with some genuinely funny dialogue, and we have ourselves a solid game. The lack of challenge is regrettable, but this is more of an inherent problem with vanilla turn-based combat than it is a serious blunder in design choice. Robert Boyd knows his stuff. I’m willing to bet that when he really tries to innovate a combat system, it will be a sight to behold. For now, though, Breath of Death serves as a wonderful sneak preview of good things to come.
Gamer Limit gives Breath of Death VII: The Beginning a 8/10.