The 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.
Failure 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!
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.
But 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!
… 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.
- 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!