BREATH OF FIRE III / Capcom / Playstation
Breath of Fire 3 spends equal amounts of time charming and infuriating you. The art is excellent, particularly the large character sprites and detailed animations (even for somewhat pointless NPCs), the odd-but-enjoyable lounge jazz soundtrack is consistently very good, and the game has in general taken a big step forward from the tedious messes that were the two prequels. It hasn't quite taken a big *enough* step forward yet, however; it still has an annoying encounter rate, shitty boss battles, and lots of pointless walking back and forth mandated by the plot.

You play once again as Ryu, a member of the Dragon Tribe. This is the same sort of deal as Link in the Zelda series, every new game is a new-but-samey-looking Ryu set in an entirely new universe that has little to nothing to do with the previous games. Anyway, this Ryu is the last of a dragon breed called the Brood, and is found entrapped in crystal in some mine. After being freed and going on a minor rampage, he's found by a couple of forest ruffians, and this all gradually spins into a plot that will have you tracking down and killing God in typical late 90s JRPG style.

Breath of Fire 3 has the most enjoyable story by far of the original three games; it has a much better localization than the second game, and it doesn't play out like a five-year-old wrote it like the first game. It actually has likable characters who are developed in gradual arcs over the course of the game, and strikes a nice balance between a goofy "this-is-just-a-video-game" sort of tone with some rather dark dramatic undertones.

So what's the problem with it? Put simply, there's still too much time-wasting bullshit. You are constantly finding your path blocked by some dumb RPG contrivance that mandates shit tons of walking and time-filling sidequests. While the encounter rate is better - largely due to the redesigned overworld map now being free of encounters unless you choose them - it's still annoyingly high, and you still get forced into a lot of pointless battles you can't escape. Battle animations are also often overly elaborate, slow as hell, and totally unskippable. And at about the midway point, the game just relies on being cheap as fuck for its challenge. Enemies all start having ridiculously high AGI so that they always move ahead of you, and spam some sort of obnoxious group status effect or instant death constantly (the bosses do this too, and some of them are real nightmares.) And a few key gameplay mechanics are almost totally unexplained/undocumented in-game, such as the "examine" system (used to learn enemy skills in combat), and the "masters" system you use later on to apprentice yourself to various random NPCs.
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