Tag Archives: breath of fire

FGC #489 Breath of Fire 2

BREATH OF DEMONS!Breath of Fire 2 is the story of Ryu, an orphan adventurer who starts out by rescuing a pig from a hungry old man, but eventually graduates to killing god. Pretty typical JRPG stuff. Though there is a bit of a twist on the JRPG formula here: god is bad. Yes, god is usually bad when he’s the final boss worthy of an assault of chainsaws, but, in this case, there is no question as to Deathevan’s intentions. His name is Deathevan, for crying out loud! And his “secret origin” is that he is a deliberate “scar” left by the final boss of Breath of Fire (1), and has no other purpose other than to fester, grow, and eventually wipe out humanity. The whole “god” angle? He’s no more a god than any other JRPG opponent, he simply set himself up as the head of a religion in order to suck up sacrifices. Though perhaps the same could be said of all religions.

So, yes, in the end, Ryu and the gang are putting down a boss monster. The end. They’re not killing god anymore than Cloud, Ashley, or even Mario (give or take Culex). They save the world from a creature lurking in the depths of the underworld, and return to the light of day to find a beautiful, appreciative world waiting for them.

Or… nobody notices they did anything.

They saved the world, but did anyone even notice? Let’s take a look at the world of Breath of Fire 2, and see if there’s a single person on that planet that would have noticed the death of an evil, wannabe god.

The not-so-good churchWe’ll start with the obvious source of all this trouble: Evrai, the holy city of the Church of St. Eva. Evrai is a small town attached to a gigantic, magic-powered church/fortress. It is the base of operations for the whole of the St. Eva religion, and, likely because they’re responsible for recruiting people to worship an evil god, the place is just crawling with monsters. And church services are led by Habaruku, a Lovecraftian squid dude that apparently kills enough people during services that his congregation doesn’t even bat an eye when a tiger person is struck down by unholy lightning. The whole premise of BoF2 is that the St. Eva church has been masquerading as a benevolent organization this whole time… but there sure is a lot of blood splattered around their base.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter anyway, because the party needs a friggen’ magical bird to scale the sheer cliffs that surround Evrai. If nobody is making it back to the home office, it doesn’t matter if the religion is obviously a death cult. That’s been working out for the Republican Party for years, so it would undoubtedly work in a world without videoconferencing.

Oh, and also related: Ryu blew the whole church, city, and presumably every follower in it straight to Infinity when he rescued his dad from a magical eyeball machine, so it’s kind of a moot point. The explosive end of Evrai probably made more of an obvious impact on the world than defeating Deathevan, but it’s not like anyone was going to visit that freshly smoking crater anyway. Package delivery was probably screwed up for a week, but then all of Habaruku’s mail started forwarding to Gate, and business returned to normal.

This guy might be evilAnd if you’re curious how anyone ever even gets to Evrai, there’s Bando Church, which supposedly takes the most dedicated believers to their grand home. The only issue? Bando Church is actually led by a skeleton demon that zombifies his followers, and then sends them out into the wild to be slain by adventurers hoping to gain a few zenny for herbs. Naturally, Ryu takes care of this issue through unrelenting dragon blizzards, and the one place on the planet that was offering direct flights to Evrai is also left abandoned. So, just to be clear, long before he discovered the secret truth of Deathevan, Ryu really did a number on church infrastructure.

But let’s stop focusing on the malevolent Church of St. Evan. The whole point is that they A. are evil as hell, and B. they’re infiltrating otherwise “good” towns and growing their followers. Ryu was inevitably going to wipe their bases off the face of the Earth (or… uh… “Earth”), so let’s look at some population centers Ryu didn’t completely obliterate.

I don't buy itWe may as well start at the beginning, so HomeTown is first up. This is the adopted hometown of Ryu and Bow (oh, I just got that), and it’s a surprisingly affluent area for a pair of street urchins. The only two rich guys on the planet live here, and HomeTown is also home to the only school, magic or otherwise, anyone will ever see in Breath of Fire 2. There’s a church, too, but it is by no means the center of the city. It’s slightly left of the center. But HomeTown’s biggest problem is the same as Gotham’s: the local Joker Gang is menacing random townsfolk, and it winds up being Ryu’s responsibility to stop their attempted kidnapping. He does so through some light genocide, and HomeTown returns to a peaceful life, give or take one of the two rich dudes turning out to be a greed demon. But it’s not like the townsfolk care about such a thing. The wealthy always have strange hobbies.

The director of HRThough if we’re talking about strange hobbies, we may as well hit Coursair. Coursair is home to a coliseum (and, depending on your transliteration, the whole place is just plain called “Coliseum”), and it’s a town that lives for bloodshed. Violent battles are held here as often as the plot demands, and gigantic lumberjacks can roughhouse with catgirls to their heart’s content. And it’s all a secret front for that evil church to get people to pray. Or… something? Look, there isn’t a clear connection between “church that publicly is all about peace and love” and “thunderdome”, but somehow it all works out for Deathevan and Augus, the local two-headed wolf monster. Ryu defeats Augus, but it’s not like anyone knew there was deception afoot. The coliseum isn’t even closed for renovations after Augus’ defeat, so Coursair is going to be business as usual before and after Ryu’s adventure. At least Katt has a job to fall back on.

Dammit, momBut Coursair is where Ryu finds his horse-friend, Rand. And Rand’s hometown is FarmTown. FarmTown is interesting, as it is one of the few places that does not worship the Dragon God (good!) or St. Eva (bad!), but St. Namanda, an earth god. Daisy, Rand’s mother, appears to be the mayor (or… something?) of this town of horse folk (not centaurs. Never centaurs), and there is much concern about messengers from St. Eva attempting to get a foothold in FarmTown. Do they succeed? Well, they successfully forge Daisy’s signature (and kidnap the poor woman just for funsies), but that winds up being the inciting incident for Rand and Ryu invading Evrai and blowing the whole organization sky high. Dangerous blunder! In the end, Daisy winds up dead anyway, and it’s unclear why that wasn’t just everybody’s first move. I’m not saying murder is always the answer in real estate dealings, but when you’re running a death cult, it sure does seem like a viable option. Regardless, thanks to a shakeup-by-swordpoint in St. Eva management, FarmTown’s church never gets built, and the residents probably just went ahead and anointed Rand as Daisy’s successor, anyway. Back to plowing the fields, Shell Clan, the rest of the world needs you to drop turnip prices.

Thanks, RayAnd speaking of places where the church has meddled (and everyone got over it), Capitan seems to be home to one of the few actually successful St. Eva operations. This tiny village has a well full of monsters (mostly of the face-hugging variety, which never ends well), and Ryu assists Ray Bradoc, a priest of St. Eva, in saving the town. And that’s pretty great! Ray has magical powers that are generally divine in nature (even if they originate from a slightly different god), and his helpfulness and heroism is clear for all the townsfolk to see. He’s a good guy! St. Eva must be full of good guys! And if he wasn’t literally the only good guy to ever be associated with St. Eva, he might trick our good guys, too. Unfortunately, Capitan doesn’t seem to have any particularly exciting plans for Capitan: they’ve already got a church, and there are, like, nine people living in town, so building another church just seems gauche. Maybe there was some blank that was to be filled in later on this plan before the “profit” step, but it sure seems like all we’ve got here is a well full of dead monsters. One way or another, that’s not going to put a crimp in the average villager’s day. Well… until they die of the magical equivalent of lead poisoning, at least.

Nothing going on hereAnd speaking of terrible plans, it seems like the bad church has a number of bizarre irons in the fire. Is the traveling circus sowing discord by showing children turtles? Is Whale Cape’s titular whale frozen in rock so the local children can keep selling disgusting cakes? Does Guntz, home to the Iron Ogre Clan, not have anything to do with anything, so why even bother? St. Eva has one clear goal: gain more followers. How is trapping a grass man in a cage or threatening some dolphins going to help achieve that? Who knows, but it does mean there are a number of places on the planet that don’t even know they were ever being menaced, left alone that Ryu saved them from an evil god.

CroakBut maybe we’re not thinking big enough! We need to look at the real players in this world! We need to look at the kingdoms! Like SimaFort, a castle full of frog people living in the middle of a moat. What resources do they have? They’ve got a lot of cockroaches, worms, and flies! Is their national army powerful? No, they’re mostly just fun-loving, artistically oriented amphibians who would rather host a cooking contest. Is there absolutely anything of value in SimaFort? Well, there’s supposed to be a magically powerful sword in the basement, but, like SimaFort’s own Prince Jean, it’s very likely to make you croak. Regardless of having absolutely no strategic merit, Kuwadora attempts to infiltrate and conquer SimaFort through guile and trickery on behalf of St. Eva. Ryu defeats the fake prince via swords/vomit, and life in SimaFort continues on as normal, complete with Prince Jean wandering off again. At least the local battle princess feels better about the situation.

MONKEY FIGHT!And speaking of princesses, distant Highfort is being menaced by another usurper, Shupkay. This demon is taking a much more direct route, and has earned her position of leadership through leading the Highlander Tribe (monkeys, not immortals) as a general in many wars that you think you would see some evidence of somewhere else in the world. Maybe this is why the whole continent is a wasteland? Regardless, Shupkay threatens to take over Highfort through word and deed, and attempts to gain control of Highfort’s lost technology (I’m sensing a pattern here). This time, Shupkay is thwarted by party member Sten, who fakes his own death along the way because he missed two mortgage payments while he was out adventuring. It was the only way. Oh, and there isn’t a church or clergy to be found within Highfort, so no monkey is going to miss that meddling god.

Toot tootYou know what? Screw these Johnny come lately kingdoms, let’s look at the big boys that have been around since Breath of Fire 1. Now here are some locations where a Ryu made a difference! Like Tunlan! Back in Breath of Fire 1, Tunlan’s matriarch fell in love with the evil emperor, and the party had to commit a daring robbery to save a kingdom from the poor decisions of its own ruler. Surely, BoF2 offers a scenario that is just as thrilling and… Oh. Uh… apparently Deathevan made the queen fat. And I guess there’s a multipart quest that involves finding a weird old man, mushroom medicine, and eventually shrinking down and fighting Fatties hiding within the queen’s bloodstream. Huh. Apparently cellulite is the proper punishment for not giving the evil church enough advertising in your kingdom. “Cursed to be fat” sure is a moral everyone loves to see…

Fly awayBut Windia! There’s an old standby! And the Princess of Windia isn’t weighing down your sidequests, she’s an active member of the party! And there’s this whole, ancient prophecy about a princess being born with black wings, and how that will destroy the kingdom! And the king has been poisoned by the church, and he only gets better during the finale, after sealing Deathevan! So chalk this one up to a win for the party! Everyone in Windia is going to notice that the king is better!

Except… the party kind of turned the other princess of Windia into an unintelligent, giant bird in the quest to stop Deathevan. And, thanks to that prophecy, Nina was hidden from the public from a young age. So all the population knows is that their former future ruler is mysteriously missing and presumed bird-brained. And it’s not like anything was done to avert or satisfy that prophecy about Nina destroying the kingdom, so she can’t very well pop up in the public eye now. “I’m your princess! Don’t mind the death wings!” It’s not gonna fly. So, the king might be feeling better, but Windia has got bigger fish to fry when Nina flies home on her massive, avian sister.

And… that’s everybody, right? The whole of the world, and, at best, some towns maybe notice that the local church isn’t getting as much mail as it used to. God is dead, Ryu killed him, and life goes on. Maybe that’s the real moral of Breath of Fire 2: your chosen deity might be good or evil, but what really matters is what people do in their lives. Ryu changes the world not through slaying a mysterious spirit hiding at the center of the planet, but by changing the lives of people globally for the better. God can live or die, but as long as people keep making the world better, there will be good in the world. We don’t need change any more dramatic than that.

Oh, except in Gate, where Ryu smashed an entire flying town into another town in an effort to seal Deathevan forever. Those people probably noticed something had changed.

FGC #489 Breath of Fire 2

  • Tony the tiger!System: Super Nintendo, then Gameboy Advance, and now available on the Nintendo Switch. There was probably a Wii version somewhere in there, too.
  • Number of players: Ryu and his six or seven companions can only be controlled by one player.
  • Favorite Character: When I was first playing this game on the cusp of adolescence, I preferred Katt, as she was a woman that notably did not ever wear pants. However, as an adult, I prefer Rand, the big, reliable horse-man who can roll around the world map without random encounters. Any person or thing that can stop random encounters in this game is a godsend.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This was one of my absolute favorite JRPGs as a kid, but it is rough to play as an adult. The encounters happen roughly every three seconds, and it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of “place” in some of the larger dungeons as a result. The final dungeon is a nightmare, and I’m not certain I’ve ever determined the exact dimensions of the closing area as a result. That said, BoF2 oozes personality, and, somehow, you know everything you ever need to know about characters like Bow or Spar from like three dialogue boxes. In an alternate universe where BoF2 was a runaway success, people are still taking online quizzes telling them “which BoF2 character are you”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I want to say I got this game for Christmas at the same time my dad received the Queen’s Greatest Hits 2-CD set. As a result, while I can dimly recall any BoF2 musical track, what really plays in my head when seeing any screen from this game is likely Bohemian Rhapsody or Fat Bottomed Girls. I have no complaints about this issue.
  • Flowers for this jerkFeeling Bleu: Bleu/Deis, an immortal sorceress that recurs over the Breath of Fire franchise, is a hidden character available for your party. This is the only BoF where she appears but can be completely missed, and I’m still considering how I feel about that. On one hand, it is really easy to miss her “secret town” and then the additional unlock condition of scooting over to an area you’re unlikely to revisit again. On the other hand, it’s the kind of “secret” that, once you know the trick, you will literally never forget what to do (which is something that cannot, for instance, be said of the “true ending” conditions for Persona 4). So… I guess it works? Still, I would like to see more active Bleuing in any given Breath of Fire.
  • Favorite Shaman Combination: Jean the frog can upgrade from slimy little loser to handsome frog prince of destruction thanks to the combination of the Holy and Water shamans. He’s… still not all that useful, but he can randomly kill literally everybody in a strike if he feels like it. Not bad, toady, not bad.
  • The Sad Tale of Patty: Ryu’s sister is lost at the top of the game, and apparently grows into the “bat-winged” thief that the party spends like half the game tracking. There’s a really interesting parallel story there… and BoF2 never follows up on any of it in any way. This is the biggest reason I’d like to see a “Breath of Fire 2 Remake”, because, dammit, I want to know more about what happened to Yui. She could have been the destined child, too, guys!
  • I know him!Further Sad Tales: This is the only videogame I’m aware of where you can unknowingly, accidentally kill your own father. That’s usually slightly more telegraphed.
  • Did you know? Eichichi is the technologically savvy ogre woman that is essential to getting your flying town off the ground. Unfortunately, like another Capcom heroine, her whole name is a breasts-pun, and her original dialogue involves questioning her about her “dimensions”. And her full name (available during the credits) is “A Titi Efcup”. Capcom horny, Michael.
  • Would I play again: Definitely, but with cheats. Game Genie has a “turn off random encounters” code, and I want to say that would make the game about 90% more enjoyable. And I still have to try that “real” translation patch…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dig Dug for the Atari 2600! I was just saying I wanted to try Dig Dug again, and here we are. Thanks, ROB! Please look forward to it!

Big problems
2020 state of the USA in a nutshell…

FGC #282 Breath of Fire 3

Pictured: WinnersThe first thing you see when you boot up Breath of Fire 3 is a mural of the heroes of Breath of Fire 1. This mural depicts everyone in the original BoF party fighting Myria, a nefarious goddess that threatened to destroy the world through war and destruction. This opening seems to say, “Here, player, here are the heroes you remember, who triumphed over impossible odds and won the day with guts and swords.” Breath of Fire 3 starts by showcasing the gallant and daring heroes of a previous BoF adventure, a group that literally saved the world and everyone in it.

So it’s kind of a shame that the heroes of Breath of Fire 3 are such failures.

Breath of Fire 3 is the story of a world in decline. Deserts are overtaking forests, wild animals are becoming scarce, and nobody vacations on that island with the flute girls anymore. This seems to be epitomized with Nina’s people. The Wing Clan is a race that, during the time of BoF1, could transform into gigantic birds. By BoF2, the Wyndians had lost this ability, but could still flutter about with their large wings. Now, in Breath of Fire 3, the “Wing Clan” possesses wings that are merely decorative, and are about as useful for flight as flapping your arms. This degradation seems to have spread to other clans as well, with many of the old “standby” kingdoms and people of previous Breath of Fire adventures completely missing, and the last remains falling into unrecognizable states. Rei the kitty cat man is in danger of outright devolving into a beast, and your resident plant-dude is practically a Pokémon. And the Dragon Clan? Well that’s where things get really sad.

In Breath of Fire 1, the Dragon Clan threatened to destroy the world. And they weren’t even trying! The Light and Dark Dragons Tribes were just fighting over some magic keys, and the rest of the world had the pleasure of hosting the battleground for people that can transform into mammoth, fire-breathing monsters. It… didn’t end well. Then, during Breath of Fire 2, while the Dragon Clan had mostly retreated underground, remaining dragon people still had enough strength to seal away Anime Death Jesus (it was a weird game), while the rest of the races of the world couldn’t even plink that dude’s front door. And the dragons, “the Brood” are still powerful in Breath of Fire 3! They’re just powerful as… fossils. Basically, all of the dragons are dead by the time of Breath of Fire 3, and their remains are being used as an energy source that only creates horrible mutants about a third of the time. And, side note, dragons aren’t dead by accident; that nefarious Goddess Myria ordered their complete extermination a couple years back. But there are a handful of dragons remaining, and Ryu, the undisputed protagonist of BoF3, is one of ‘em. Go, Ryu, save the world in the name of your departed brethren!

Or fail at absolutely everything you do. That’s good, too.

Damn you guysFailure is an integral part of most videogames. Even before Dark Souls and alike made “death” a fundamental mechanic, there was always a learning curve. Everybody died to those opening goombas at least once, and everyone learns from that experience and changes Mario trajectory accordingly. You fail, death happens, you get back up on that Yoshi and try again. Meanwhile, JRPGs often make failure an essential and inevitable part of the narrative. You need to collect the six mipmaps or the nefarious ULTRA EVIL DEMON will awaken and destroy the world? Well, I’ve got some bad news: you’re probably going to collect those six mcguffins, but they’ll be stolen by the bad guys at the last minute, and you’re going to have to fight ULTRA EVIL DEMON anyway, because, come on, we didn’t design that three-screen high sprite for it not to get used. Besides, failure is basically a requirement for any game with a modicum of story. 90% of these tales are based on the basic “hero’s journey” plot outline, and what’s the point in winning if it’s not a comeback from some insurmountable defeat. You have to lose to rally and win, win, win!

Nobody wins in Breath of Fire 3.

Here’s a brief plot summary of Breath of Fire 3: Ryu is an orphan who teams up with two other orphans, Rei and Teepo. The trio decides to help out the local town through a Robin Hood-esque caper involving stealing from an evil Scrooge McDuck and distributing that wealth to all the downtrodden peasants. This plan technically works, but it turns out the richest man in town can hire some damn good security, so a couple of reverse-centaurs show up and tear Ryu’s life and “family” to shreds. Ryu survives, but Rei and Teepo are missing, so he sets off on a quest to find his missing friends. Ryu makes new friends along the way, including a failed princess, a failed scientist, a failed science experiment, and, most importantly, a man who has lived for centuries and is a literal dragon slayer. Their “friendship” goes about as well as you’d expect, and Ryu is knocked out for a solid decade. Ryu eventually wakes up again, decides he’s going to look into this whole “the world is dying” thing, finds his way halfway across the world (literally), and eventually traces it all back to the goddess that screwed with his ancestors. In the end, Ryu defeats Evil Goddess, and is rewarded with the knowledge that, as sucky as the world is, “Evil” Goddess was the only thing keeping it just that sucky, so good luck living in an endless desert, stupid!

Dammit!Oh, and somewhere in there, Ryu had to kill Teepo, because of course he did.

But don’t worry, Ryu isn’t the only ultimate failure in this party! Nina is the princess of Wyndia, and she has no idea how to be a person and a royal sovereign… Actually, that’s probably a pretty typical failing of royalty in JRPGs. What else we got? Well, there’s Rei, who apparently spent most of his teenage/adult life trying to avenge a pair of kids that were actually alive… oh, and then he fell over dead at the finish line. Doesn’t that just beat all? We’ve got Momo, who has spent her life following her father’s research, and she winds up exploited for her knowledge (and eventually finds out the answers to life’s mysteries are “a wizard did it” anyway). And Garr… good ol’ Garr the Guardian… was born and bred to kill dragons, and decided to ask “what if… not kill dragons?” of the goddess that created him. That… did not end well for him. Basically, every “hero” in Breath of Fire 3 is stuck in an unwinnable situation practically from the get-go. Nina wants to be a better person? Bad news, lady, you’re not going to get there by pounding slimes with your magic wand.

But, maybe, sometimes being a failure is okay.

For being a JRPG, Breath of Fire 3 does a pretty good job of presenting that “gray area” of morality. In BoF1, Goddess Myria might put on a nice face, but she is unequivocally the Goddess of Destruction. In BoF2, Anime Death Jesus, Goddess Myria’s only begotten son, has started a religion that has a tendency to kill you and your loved ones over and over again. That’s bad. But BoF3 Goddess Myria really is a benevolent goddess. She’s done bad things, but she’s done them in the name of protecting the people of the world. The Dragon Clan were alright blokes, but they could also kill everybody with a misplaced sneeze, so they had to go. Yggdrasil was a wise ol’ spirit of the forest, but its anti-Myria sentiment could lead to wars, and that’s not so great, so time to stop feeding the tree. And modern technology just means modern bombs and bioweapons, so maybe we could tape that back down to something more medieval. Myria committed a few sins, but that’s the price of being a leader. Myria sees herself as the mother of all humanity, and sometimes being a mother means exterminating all ice cream from the universe. It’s for your teeth. You’ll thank me later.

This is cuteBut Myria is the antagonist of Breath of Fire 3. This is a JRPG, and, in the end, you need a final boss you can hit with a sword. There isn’t going to be a solution where you talk this one out, and Myria has got to go out in a way that makes the player justified in overleveling and collecting all the best equipment on the planet. These are the rules. But thou must.

And, in most games, that complete lack of choice is often contrary to the premise of the adventure. Aside from narratives where you are a puppet is the moral, most modern games (and “modern” in this case meaning “any game made after 1992”) seem to revel in the choices available to the player. It’s a different experience every time! You never know how the story is going to go! You are playing a game wherein you play a role! You are the hero! … Except, it’s bullshit, because, whether you make important choices or not, one way or another, it all ends in the same place. You always fight the final boss. You always make it to that finish line. Even if it’s not in the way you may have expected, you always succeed, one way or another, in accomplishing something.

In Breath of Fire 3, Ryu and his gang do defeat the goddess. … But… Do they win? And, more importantly, would you expect this gang of failures to win? The ending of Breath of Fire 3 was an anomaly in an age of JRPGs that traditionally featured twenty minute FMV finales. All we have at the end of BoF3 is the surviving party members walking through the desert, and Peco the Plantémon sprouts a leaf. The end. Thanks for playing. This is clearly intended as a statement of hope for a world now without a goddess, and, coupled with the party’s earlier “we’re like little kids” speech, is supposed to indicate that humanity (or whatever passes for that in a world with kitty cat people) has now entered its own adulthood, free from the shackles of an overbearing mother-goddess. The kids are going to be all right!

Move along… Except, this entire tale was one of unintended consequences and… failing. Had Ryu and his band of thieves succeeded in their first task, they’d be legendary, and happy, local heroes. Had Ryu found his friends in a timely, less fatal manner, they would have returned home and lived happily. If Nina was a worthwhile princess, she could have been, ya know, a princess, and lived happily. If Garr could be content with the function he was literally made for, he could have retired happily centuries ago. Ultimately, if the heroes of Breath of Fire 3 could just stop failing for ten seconds at any point in their lives, they could have had a happy ending that didn’t involve deicide at pretty much any time. But, no, they’re failures, so they collectively wound up on a path that would change the world.

Every inevitable failure in their lives contributed to a final, humongous task that may have itself, been a failure.

But it did change their world forever.

Mural or not, I guess maybe failures can be heroes, too.

FGC #282 Breath of Fire 3

  • System: Playstation 1 here in The States, but you could also play it on PSP in every other region on Earth. … You can probably still import the PSX version to Vita, though.
  • Number of players: JRPGs are solitary affairs.
  • Favorite Dragon Gene: Every time Ryu gets transformed into a Pygmy Dragon, I have to laugh. He’s just so rolly-polly!
  • Regarding the Wings: This might be my favorite Nina in the series. “Rambunctious Princess” is basically the collective Nina archetype, one way or another, but here it really feels like she’s a spoiled brat playing at being a hero for her childhood, and then a slightly more mature version of that for her adult form. Slightly. All the same, Young Nina comes off like a magical girl, and that’s a lot more amusing than the more dour Ninas elsewhere in the series.
  • Slum it with us!Feeling Bleu: Deis, the snake-tailed goddess, doesn’t join the party for the first time in the franchise, and gets stuck in a room by her lonesome for most of the adventure. She deserves better! And, no, getting stuck in a sentient suit of armor is not an upgrade.
  • Did you know? There’s a dummied out item called THE MOCHI that cures petrification. The reason it was dummied out is because “stoned” has never been a status effect in the Breath of Fire series. Oops?
  • Would I play again: Probably not! I didn’t get around to mentioning it, but I have an extreme fondness for this doofy game (and the entire series). Something about the Breath of Fire franchise has always clicked with me, and I’d love to see a modern revival, whether it be more “old school” or “Dragon Quarter”-y. … Just not a cell phone game. That said, replaying BoF3 is sobering and exhausting. There are random encounters every seven feet. It’s… tiresome. And I’d rather play Breath of Fire 4, anyway. You don’t have to train some bloke to beat Bluto in that one. So, sorry, BoF3, it ain’t happening.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Paperboy for the N64. Let’s deliver some papers! I guess! Please look forward to it!

I want you back

FGC #095 Demon’s Crest

Everything is on fireDemon’s Crest might be the weirdest video game out there.

Now, of course, there are a number of “weird” video games for a number of different reasons. Within the last sixty or so posts, I’ve looked at a game where Tarzan gets turned into a fire-breathing monkey to battle a techno witch doctor, another where a magical guitar from space is able to repel Elvis the Bee, and whatever the hell was going on in Fester’s Quest. And that’s just looking at the “weird” of plots and enemies without even considering stuff like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem as weird with its fairly unique gameplay mechanics, or WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! which is pretty dang weird in every conceivable way.

But compared to Demon’s Crest, all those other games are fairly surface level. Demon’s Crest is, by the numbers, one of the weirdest things to ever grace the Super Nintendo.

1. This Happened

First, let us remember the old days of the Super Nintendo, and Nintendo’s apparent “religious” policies.

Many people remember Nintendo of America for being distinctly puritan in its aversion to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll in any game produced for its systems. “Pubs” must be “inns”. All references to alcohol must be expunged and modified to be… soup? Any depictions of sexiness or remote lewdness must be covered, so no bare ass for Siren. And (perhaps most oddly of all considering who is usually responsible for this kind of censorship) any references to “real” religions must be demolished or at least modified so heavily that they’re unrecognizable. A cross is cool, as long as it’s a boomerang or has a billion little points sticking out. A spell may not be “holy”, let’s go with… pearl.

Capcom, whether it was through Nintendo’s influence or internal policies, seemed content to follow the restrictive standards of the time. Final Fight modified genders to circumvent the concept of men punching (and piledriving) women, and crosses were changed to ankhs in Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Things seemed to improve by the time DIE!Mega Man 7 allowed “damn”, or the cast of Breath of Fire 2 battled Jesus to the death, but Capcom would remain skittish up through the Playstation era, when Breath of Fire 4 dropped any pants dropping for the American release (also some decapitation).

And then, from the same company that brought you Disney’s Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse and Mega Man Soccer comes the story of a demon from Hell battling gelatinous eyeballs and corpse monsters. What the arremer?

2. Firebrand… evolves

This game wasn’t completely out of left field; it was the third in a trilogy of games starring Firebrand, presumably the titular demon of Demon’s Crest.

But if you actually play Firebrand’s previous adventures, you’ll notice a distinct shift in graphic style and general plot. Yes, you’re in the Demon Realm, and, yes, you’re a red, winged demon, but the general tone is markedly different. Firebrand’s original Gameboy and NES sprites are probably best described as… jaunty. Firebrand may be a demon, but he walks around like Popeye fixin’ for a brawl, and appears to be just about as threatening as Olive Oyl. The gameplay also places a premium on very measured platforming: you have wings, but for most of the games, you have limited flight capabilities, effectively making your “flight” a very long jump. Many of the stages appear to be challenges straight out of Mega Man, with long gaps and floating platforms that must be properly vaulted to proceed. And, obviously, Firebrand’s various fireballs distinctly recall Mega Man’s jump ‘n shoot gameplay. Firebrand is the Blue Bomber with a new paintjob, nothing scary about that. Add in some JRPG-esque overworld exploration areas, and you’ve got a game that’s a little bit Mega Man, a little bit Final Fantasy, and all fun. Firebrand’s Adventure.

Drums?Similarly, the plot is very “medieval hero”, so, while Firebrand is still demonic, he’s acting as (almost literally) a king’s knight. He’s not flying around to menace preschoolers or bargain for souls and fiddles, he’s just a dude trying to save his kingdom, the same as 90% of video game heroes. Again, taken as a whole, Firebrand seems to have more in common with a stuffed plushy than a demon of yore, and, ultimately, that’s how you make Satanism palatable: only the most adamant of old church ladies are going to object to Little Debbie Devil snacks or one of those adorable demons with the diaper and mini-pitch fork. Aw, he tortures like such a lil’ champ.

Really, this all comes from the source material for Firebrand, Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Even at its grossest, G‘nG still featured demons that proudly displayed “♥ Mom” tattoos or cute dances. Firebrand was an (annoying) enemy in those games, and his sprite was only slightly modified for his initial starring roles. The Demon Realm as we knew it was a harsh, unforgiving place, but there were still good odds you’d encounter a zombie that was less a shambling corpse and more “kinda goofy”.

Demon’s Crest forsook all of this. Firebrand was no mere sprite mod of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghost’s Red Arremer, no, now he was… well, take a look at this guy:

Here comes a special boy

The first enemy encountered is a gigantic, rotting Dragon that threatens to devour you whole, and the game proceeds from there through a graveyard where Firebrand is able to headbutt a fellow demon’s upper torso clear off. There’s no question about Firebrand’s demonic origins now. Even Firebrand’s lively dance-walk is gone! The horror!

The gameplay has changed dramatically, too. Firebrand’s flight is now infinite, so, while there are still platforming “challenges”, an area early in the forest level seems to flaunt the fact that Firebrand can now lazily soar over any and all moving platforms. Later, Firebrand gains true flight with the Air Crest, and any vertical issues are completely circumvented. Perhaps to compensate, there is now a greater emphasis on the combat and bosses of each stage, so, rather than worrying about bottomless pits, Firebrand must now fret over life-sapping goo and skeleton cleavers. Of course, your main adversary is much more immediate…

3. The Start Button is your Enemy

Like Mega Man before him, Firebrand’s greatest foe is the player’s own lack of enthusiasm at opening the pause menu.

Demon’s Crest provides all new gameplay features in the form of the eponymous crests, one for each element (mostly). Firebrand is default equipped with the Fire Crest (which allows him to breath fire… and headbutt?), but, as the game progresses, you can earn additional crests to unlock new powers like ground dashing, flying, or swimming. As a lovely flourish, each crest also grants Firebrand a different form, and, aside from Ground Gargoyle being larger than most, the switch is generally merely cosmetic. The only problem with this whole system is that thou must enter the pause menu to switch between forms. This… isn’t any fun, and the game knows it.

The latter stages of Demon’s Crest delight in forcing the player to rapidly switch between forms. A dark passage with spiked walls can only gain illumination through the fire blasts of the Fire Crest, but scaling the room requires the Air Crest. The final boss (well, one of them) floods the room, forcing Firebrand to forgo his primarily defensive or offensive forms for exclusively the Water Crest. And, while it’s not very perceptibly conveyed to the player, each boss has a weakness to a particular form’s attacks, but that attack is not likely to be linked to the form most effective at dodging. Even more obviously, the Ground Gargoyle has a powerful fireball, but you’re constantly forced to switch from the more offensive form to the agile, but weaker, Fire Form.

Conceptually, this shouldn’t be a problem. The forms do not require MP or some finite resource, and switching around requires only the will to stop the action and tinker around in menus… which is a problem. This is an action game, and every second spent away from the action feels… wrong. What’s more, this problem was solved years earlier in Mega Man X, when Inafuking decided to implement those L & R buttons to allow X to cycle through his full weapon complement without ever taking a break. It’s entirely possible to beat the Mega Man X SNES titles without pausing(citation needed), but it is literally impossible to do the same with Firebrand’s quest. Why did the designers forsake this excellent design decision? Was it to accommodate the graphical form switches? To add a little more challenge? Who knows? It’s weird.

4. The Crests don’t make sense

The entire point of Demon’s Crest is to collected the titular crests that “fell to the Demon Realm” in the prologue of the game. Firebrand, prior to the player’s involvement, nearly collected all of the crests, but he was defeated at the last moment by a sneak attack compliments of Phalanx. Phalanx now possesses the crests, and spread them all about the Demon Realm, because, I don’t know, maybe he didn’t have Firebrand’s infinite bag of holding.

The crests, as has already been mentioned, grant Firebrand different powers. For instance, the fire crest allows Firebrand to What?breathe fire, or… tornados? What? How does that make any sense? Shouldn’t that be a facet of the Air Crest? No, I guess that wouldn’t work, because you absolutely don’t need tornado platforms when you already have the power to fly anywhere. I suppose you could no-prize this one and claim that Firebrand is shooting fire that creates a localized vacuum that allows for climbing on tornados. Right? Erm, sure.

Swimming with the Water Crest or smashing rocks with the Earth Crest makes a bit of sense, but then we get to the Time Crest. The Time Crest, to quote the game directly:

Ruling over the past, the crest enables the owner to go back in time.”

Wow, cool! We’re going to be able to rewind mistakes and… no, wait, this isn’t Braid, it’s a Super Nintendo game, we can’t do anything that complicated. Or, wait, the entire Demon Realm is looking pretty ratty, maybe the Time Crest allows Firebrand to jump back to earlier times and collect items in slightly different environments. Or is it more immediately practical, like “undoing” fallen platforms or… Nope, all wrong. The Time Crest allows Firebrand to simulate his older, stronger self, and… take double the hits.

Really, game? “Enables the owner to go back in time” and the best you could use it for is additional armor? It doesn’t even really make sense, either, because the “younger Firebrand” is just the Firebrand that possessed nearly all of the crests… which is exactly what you have done by the time you’ve acquired the Time Crest. What the heck!?

But the weird thing here is that there was no reason there had to be a Time Crest. This game’s crests were all invented for this game and this game only. There’s no, I don’t know, Evil Clock Monster that possesses the Time Crest, or the only way to acquire the crest is through time tunnels, or whatever justification may exist. There’s no reason such a lame, generic ability had to be tied to a Time Crest at all, or why the ToastyTime Crest’s description seems so robust compared to “lets you take a couple extra hits”. This easily could have been the Hard Crest or Carapace Crest or Armor Crest and who would have cared? But, no, Time Crest, because I guess it sounds cool.

And don’t get me started on the Infinity Crest that can “give the bearer unimaginable power”… and it only imparts upon Firebrand skills he already has. Oh boy, now I can swim and fly at the same time, this sure is unimaginable power!

I’d really like to know what the designers were thinking, but…

5. Nobody knows who made this game

Want to check the credits for Demon’s Crest? Too bad, there aren’t any. The “staff roll” for the game is just a greatest hits of Firebrand’s enemies, and, should you defeat the super secret final boss of the second quest, you get an expanded credits that also showcases Firebrand’s various forms and crests, but still no credits for real world people.

Since the release of the game, there was a soundtrack released for the 20th anniversary of Ghosts ‘n Ghouls, and it was confirmed at that time that the music of this game was handled by Toshihiko Horiyama and Ippo Yamada. That’s about it for credit for this game. I want to say that the same fellow that handled the art for Breath of Fire around this time did the concept art for Demon’s Crest, because there seems to be a similar style there, but that’s all I got.

So you’re welcome to ask the designers of this weird game what they were thinking… if you can find them.

6. It sold… poorly

Jump Jump SlideDespite being what I consider to be one of the best games of 1994 (granted, a crowded year), Demon’s Crest sold pretty poorly. How poorly? Well, according to the 100th issue of Nintendo Power, there was a week when Demon’s Crest had negative sales. Somehow, more people returned the game than bought it. We have to consider that this information is unsourced and was presented by the same magazine that once recommended using Crash Bomber against Heat Man, but there’s no reason to believe NP was pulling information straight out of thin air.

Possibly related, around the time of release, there were rumors that there was a parent/religious organization that deliberately purchased the game simply to return it by the crateful as some kind of ridiculous protest of the “demonic” content. This sounds insane (and generally time wasting), but this was the era of Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, so there were any number of concerned old biddies trying to send the message that gaming would destroy us all… or whatever the game plan there was. Look, no one ever said any of these organizations knew what they were doing, or, for that matter, were at all effective. I mean, I suppose we should be glad they were all morons… right? Gaming lives on, even if Firebrand…

7. Killed the franchise, killed the legacy

Whether it was because of low sales or Capcom generally losing interest (this was also around the time G’nG was ignored until Maximo), Demon’s Crest became a forgotten gem of the Capcom library. At a time when even Son-Son and dancin’ cacti were making appearances in Capcom “crossover” games, Firebrand was left to rot back in the Demon Realm. Every once in a while you’d see a Red Arremer cameo somewhere, but any mention of battles over crests were ignored.

“Red Arremer” finally made a return in SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos, a game that, let’s be honest, wasn’t any good. Its Red Arremer was Never seen againalso very much just a G’nG holdover Red Arremer and not the Firebrand of Demon’s Crest. Similarly, Firebrand popped up years later in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but was once again portrayed as merely Sir Arthur’s enemy, and not the calculating, transforming Firebrand of Demon’s Crest. Even when it came time to give the guy hyper combos and alternate costumes that would be ideal for showcasing the DC abilities and forms, everything was ignored in favor of a set of armor that recalled a random Gameboy Advance G’nG remake.

The message to fans was clear: Demon’s Crest was a mistake, and shall be ignored. Firebrand returned to being an effectively mute, generic enemy, and it seemed unlikely we would ever hear so much as a reference to the Firebrand of Demon’s Crest again. Until…

8. Demon’s Crest returns!

Finally, someone remembered Demon’s Crest existed, and the “Red Arremer Joker” that was a “hero of the War of the Crests” returns… in Namco x Capcom, a fanservice-based tactics game featuring a thousand Capcom and Namco characters. But, hey, who cares, Firebrand is back, and someone is finally acknowledging the events of Demon’s Crest! My love for the game is vindicated! Nothing could make me happier!

And then Arthur slays him. They brought back the “real” Firebrand just to prop him up on the bad guys’ team and kill ‘em.

A weird end for a weird hero.

FGC #95 Demon’s Crest

  • System: Super Nintendo, and recently released for the WiiU Virtual Console. Hey, maybe this means we’ll see another Demon’s Crest title! And another Mega Man title! And I’ll get my own pony!
  • Number of Players: One. You know, you can summon mini demons with a spell, it’d be neat if they could be controlled by a second controller.
  • Drown!: I have to admire the (kinda) final boss, Phalanx. His plan against his winged, fire breathing opponent is to flood the arena. It doesn’t work because Phalanx should have maybe recognized the Water Crest might have some countering effects, but it’s up there with “Why doesn’t Dr. Wily just make a fortress out of spikes” for super villain good ideas.
  • Favorite Boss: The Crawler is creepy as all get out and pretty powerful, but he’s manageable once you recognize he’s dependable in his pattern adherence. This is basically what I look for from an action game Pleasantboss, so props to the corpse monster. Second place goes to Scula, who goes the extra mile and chucks his head at you. Man, does that guy get mad if you destroy his brain before his body.
  • Mode 7: Forgot to mention that the “overworld” of the previous games has now become a perfunctory Mode 7 flight mode that could easily be replaced by a Mega Man-esque level select screen. All that said, though, I did always have fun swooping around the Demon Realm, hoping to randomly land on a secret…
  • So, did you beat it? Yes, and I even beat the ultra super deluxe final boss back in the day on the original hardware (so no save states). It’s not that hard when you have five full life potions, a mastery of the Infinity Crest, and you’re in the middle of the biggest blizzard your region has ever seen in your lifetime so a lot of spare time to kill. To think, some kids shoveled snow for actual money. Losers.
  • Did you know? There wasn’t enough Demon’s Crest trivia in this article for you? Alright, fine, how about… The Infinity Crest claims to grant Firebrand all the powers of all the other crests, but it does not unleash a fireblast that is actually fire-based. It’s powerful, yes, but it won’t light a candle or cause a puddle of oil-ooze to blaze up, so the Fire Crest becomes one of the few crests still worth using after acquiring Infinity. Back to basics, even at the finale.
  • Did you know (article related)? The word “crest” is used 67 times in this article. Well, 68 now.
  • Would I play again: Yes. This is easily one of the best games on the SNES, and possibly ever in the history of action-platforming-demoning. It might be weird, but I like it. I like it a lot. I would play Demon’s Crest again. Heh, 69.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Marvel Comics X-Men vs Street Fighter for the Playstation! Hey, ROB, that’s almost relevant. Good job, robot, you’re on a roll here. Anyway, the only thing that can stop the Juggernaut is a dragon punch, and it’s coming up next. Please look forward to it!

Looks painful

FGC #067 Xenoblade Chronicles

LOOK AT MY EYES, HU MONI have a blanket “spoilers everywhere” policy for the site (it’s in the FAQ!), but I want to be absolutely clear what’s going to happen in this article: I am going to spoil the finale of Xenoblade Chronicles. There’s no getting around it, it’s what I want to discuss, and it’s going to happen, but you have the choice of reading it or not. You don’t have to have played Xenoblade to enjoy this article (if I’m doing my job right), but if you do want to experience the game clean, I completely understand, and feel free to come back Friday. Spider-Man will be here, it’ll be nice.

So, again, to be perfectly clear, this article will spoil the finale of Xenoblade Chronicles. Additionally, I’ll be swinging through the Final Fantasy franchise, Breath of Fire, and Xenoblade’s ancestor, Xenogears. When I spoil, I spoil rotten.

Advance at your own risk.