theuselessgod's Breath of Death VII (PC) review

A fun throwback that gets too close to the tropes it lampoons.

The Short

Pros

- Entertaining JRPG parody that lampoons both the genre and other retro games

- A solid JRPG in its own right, with an interesting and unique "escalating enemy strength" mechanic

- Looks straight out of the NES era

- Dialogue is entertaining and its story is wonderfully stupid

- Music is decent, with a solid battle theme

- Only $1 on Xbox Live Indies

Cons

- Only about three hours long

- Random battles are frequent, and can get dull (except bosses)

- Some of the dungeons seem unnecessarily long and poorly designed

- Wish there was more dialogue and less of me wandering around stupid dungeons

If you've played Dragon Warrior on the NES, this might look a little familiar.

The Long

The minute I saw the title of Breath of Death VII: The Beginning I knew something was either very wrong or very right. When I booted up the game to an intro with captions about "20XX" I knew I'd made a right choice. Breath of Death VII is an entertaining if somewhat simple parody of ye olde JRPG days, and it does a lot right, a little wrong, and a bunch just ok. But for $1 and three hours of your time, you can't really go wrong.

Now that I've done my concluding paragraph as the opening paragraph, let's do the now-redundant innards of this review.

This is really startin' to look familiar

Breath of Death VII's story is just about as nonsensical and silly as Final Fantasy VII's story (ZING!). In the bleak future of 20XX, all people are dead, and all that remains are...the undead? Yep, everybody in this game is a dead and some variation of ghost/zombie/skeleton/vampire/etc. Bleak future, I guess. Anyway your skeleton, Dem (as in "Dem Bones?") doesn't ever say anything except "..." (mostly because he doesn't have a tongue or voice box or any other such stuff...making him a literal "Silent Protagonist") and he sets off with a group of people to um...make things right? The story has a super-goofy story where it uses as many excuses as possible to lampoon tropes of the genre, all the way down to the melodramatic, totally absurd final plot twist. While not all the jokes are instant classics, for the most part they at least elicited a chuckle out of me, some causing me to laugh out loud. It's clever enough to push it forward, which is exactly what it needed.

Battle are straight out of Dragon Quest II/III, with a few twists.

Battles are the usual turn-based affair, modeling themselves after the NES Dragon Quest games but with a few modern additions. First off is the monster strength system. Every round that passes, all monsters gain 10% in strength. So your goal is to get done with battle ASAP, least that boss be double-powered very quickly. The second neat addition is the combo system, where certain special moves will gain bonuses based on the number of hits that landed before it, and "Deathblows" will reset the combo but deal massive damage if its high. You could say the combo system is meant to counteract the monster strength one, and it works.

Leveling up is very quick and very rewarding. You gain a set number of boosts, but then you have two choices for what extras your character will get. These allow you to build characters in different ways. Do you want a multi-hitting combo machine or just deal all damage at once? Do you want a mage specific in healing one person well, or all people just decently? Because levels are so fast you can change your specs pretty quick, and just going nuts doesn't screw you over since you can just level to the next boost and fix your mistake.

Branching skill paths aren't exactly unique to WRPGs, but in JRPGs it's kind of a new thing.

While the core concepts are well and good, the game does stutter a bit. The random encounter rate is insanely high (but thankfully each area has a limited number of encounters; after it drops to zero you are free to walk around in peace unless you manually force an encounter) and in the later levels the limited number is so high it might as well not be there. Once you do knock that number down you'll find lots of them are long, obscure mazes, with stupid thinks like branches or bushes forcing you to maze about one way or another. It's an amateurish move to pad the length of the dungeons, and while I'm willing to tolerate it early on, the final dungeon is just so stupidly long it is borderline absurd. I can understand it's hard to draw graphics for multiple dungeons (I did make several pixelated traditional JRPGs in my day, you know), but the drag gets really frustrating really fast.

This isn't helped by the fact that battles have a weird balance. Sometimes just mashing attack will win, while other times something random will go wrong and you'll get completely blasted. I suppose it would be my own fault for not using abilities (it even gives you mana after battles so you are encouraged to use them), but the fact that the difficulty can spike from "easy" to "death" between identical encounters indicates a balance problem. It's either really easy or really hard, and once you find a routine you can just plow through 90% of the enemies without thinking. Level grind just a little and this game is cake.

The graphics have a retro charm, but they could still have done better.

The graphics are retro but not fantastic. It seems they aspired to the Dragon Warrior look of the NES rather than the Castlevania look (meaning: they picked a bland game for their pixel art inspiration rather than a good looking one). Enemies look fine but out of place, clearly not actual pixel art, and some parts of indoors areas have the same issue: they are drawn, and not pixel-by-pixel. The straight pixelation stuff is a bit bland, and while I can forgive a lot as it fits the theme, it could have been done better.

Music is excellent throughout, completely original and faithful to the genre it draws inspiration from. The battle song is catchy and fast (and has a kickin beat), and some area song are actually very moody. They aren't Nobou Uematsu or anything, but they work, and work well.

Not too bad for an indie game.

Is Breath of Death VII worth your time? Well, it's a buck on XBLA games for a few hours of entertainment and old-school JRPG fun, so I'd say if that's your thing than absolutely. It's a bit more on Steam, putting you back $3 instead, but I still think that's a fair price. That's about $1 an hour, which is about the same deal you'd get on a game like Skyrim, so judge accordingly.

You can bury a lot under nostalgia, throwbacks, and parody (hey, look at No More Heroes), but there is a limit to that. Breath of Death VII just barely makes it (probably due to its short length) so it's still worth checking out, just know it hasn't exactly beaten the tropes it lampoons so heavily.

Three out of five stars.

Or maybe some better dungeons.

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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Other reviews for Breath of Death VII (PC)

    3 Hours of Nostalgia 0

    Breath of Death VII is an indie title released back in 2010 on the XBLIG service, where it and its compatriot "Cthulhu Saves the World" noticed decent to okay success. With its rerelease on Steam for a meager $2.99 with CStW it exploded, and how could I resist? So I plunged into the depths of this RPG knowing full well I was in for a 16-bit RPG...and boy does it satisfy.   Sort of.   Where the game shines is its humor, fast-paced and enjoyable combat, and music. The humorous aspect of this game ...

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