This Review: PlayStation Portable (2006)
Near-Identical Versions: Sony PlayStation (1998)
Game Length: 40-48 hours
Critic Rating: 67% aggregateThe aggregate critic rating is based on independent review scores from several other websites.
Story, Setting & Characters — 7/10
Breath of Fire III starts in a rather unconventional manner — you play the part of Ryu, an infant dragon (yes, an actual dragon) who has been freed from a fossilized egg by a hapless mining crew. After running rampant for a few brief, glorious moments, Ryu is captured and caged, before managing to escape again where — now taking the form of a human child — he is found lost and afraid in the woods by a kind-hearted rogue and his young accomplice.
Thus begins the first half of the game, an absolutely charming experience following the exploits of the young troublemakers as they steal food, challenge monsters, and cause all manner of headaches for the townspeople and the local corrupt lord. We see the vibrant, colourful fantasy world through a child’s eyes, and this veil of optimism helps to shroud the darker nature of the game’s events.
Needless to say, it’s not all fun and games, and things inevitably go horribly wrong — Ryu has to set off on a journey across the land, meeting new friends and facing dangerous foes, many of whom wish to slay or enslave the dragon-child. While the world leans heavily towards a rather generic medieval/magical fantasy style, there are some elements of technology seen here and there, albeit mostly in the form of relics unearthed from a lost age.
The biggest paradigm shift takes place about half-way through the game, where the plot jumps forward several years and we play as an adult Ryu. With the childlike innocence gone, the plot becomes much more sombre and — in my opinion — far less interesting and far too stretched-out, with a shift towards a more post-apocalyptic world setting which fits poorly with the game’s aesthetic and feels clumsily forced into the story.
For the most part, the setting is fairly generic, the story starts off on a strong point then starts to peter out, but the characters are strong enough in themselves — each having a very distinct and unique personality — to warrant a reasonable score in this category.
Graphics, Look & Feel — 8/10
The graphical style of the game is definitely one of its stronger points — with a largely-fixed (allowing for some small amount of rotation) isometric camera angle, the bulk of the game world is built up from 3D polygons with decent texturing hampered only by the hardware’s limitations, while all the characters, NPCs, enemies and such in the game are rendered as 2D sprites from an isometric perspective. This allows for much more detail and customization to the sprites than would be possible if they were 3D models, and for the most part, the art style is absolutely charming and a pleasure to behold.
The world is — again, for the most part — colourful and vibrant, varied and well-detailed. While the more cartoonish approach to the visuals may not appeal to everyone, I think it fits the mood of the game excellently. The user interface is easy-to-use and similarly well-designed, with a charming simplicity that belies the more complex gameplay beneath.
Sound & Music — 8/10
The soundtrack to the game is excellent — not as ground-breakingly epic as something from a Final Fantasy game might be, but compared to the majority of other RPGs, it stands strong and is a worth addition to the game. Much like the rest of the setting, the soundtrack feels upbeat and charmingly innocent, fitting perfectly with the visuals, evoking a sense of wonder and adventure.
The sound effects are solid and fit well with the gameplay, with each character having a few voice lines while performing special attacks or casting spells. While this can get a little repetitive — you’ll be hearing Rei’s cry of “Itadaki~!” a great deal in the adventure — it mostly fits well with the rest of the game, adding to the generally charming experience. Attacks and magic sound satisfying and powerful, and one particularly enjoyable part is seeing Ryu’s progression from initially flailing his sword with a frightened cry, into becoming a more confident swordsman.
Content & Sidequests — 7/10
The main game’s story is quite hefty in length — at least 40 hours long, likely more — and progresses through a fairly interesting variation of locations. Early-game — largely during Ryu’s childhood — the game features a variety of events and activities, ranging from raiding a nobleman’s mansion and fighting ghosts, to fighting in a gladiatorial arena. Unfortunately, the latter half of the game descends largely into the less-interesting trope of trudging through fairly large, maze-like dungeons, more for the sake of doing so than for any real story necessity.
As far as side activities go, there isn’t a huge amount to speak of here — there’s a fairly enjoyable fishing mini-game which can be skipped entirely but can offer some decent rewards (and is quite fun for its own sake), a rather stilted and poorly-explained village management ‘simulation’ where you must guide a village of faeries towards rebuilding their wrecked settlement (which can result in being given gifts or offered items for sale that are not available elsewhere), and some other minor content such as hunting powerful monsters, or playing hide-and-seek with kids in town.
For the most part, though, the game is largely linear and focuses more on telling a story rather than letting the player off the leash to wander too far. You’ll frequently find yourself constrained to small portions of the game world, and while the fishing and faerie village can be accessed from many locations, side content is definitely treated with low priority.
Gameplay & Pacing — 7/10
The gameplay in Breath of Fire III is largely average as far as JRPGs go — it’s competent and enjoyable, but doesn’t really stand out in any particular regard. One particularly nice point is the way combat is handled — while wandering around the game world, getting pulled into a random encounter will actually have the battle take place right where you are in the game world, rather than transitioning into a separate ‘battle screen’.
Combat has an intuitive and well-designed, icon-based interface for attacking and using items or special abilities, most characters can learn both spells and also learn certain special moves they observe from enemies, and Ryu in particular has the ability to combine a number of ‘dragon genes’ together to transform into one of several different types of dragons, each with its own unique characteristics and abilities.
The pacing is best described as questionable — as mentioned above, I felt as though the child-Ryu parts of the game were fantastic, but once we get to the adult-Ryu storyline, things feel as though they’re dragging on a little longer than is strictly necessary. It’s a minor complaint and may not bother everyone, but I feel it’s worth another mention.
Overall Experience — 7/10
For the most part, Breath of Fire III is a competent and enjoyable JRPG with some interesting and original twists, and an absolutely adorable aesthetic that’s hard not to love. It’s a far cry from perfect and certainly has its fair share of flaws, but as an overall experience it’s something I’d recommend at least trying to see if it appeals to you — after all, there aren’t many games where the main character is a literal dragon.
If you’re looking for a super serious storyline, full of emotional rollercoasters and jarring surprises, then Breath of Fire III is certainly not the game for you. But if you’d like to experience a more light-hearted, vibrant, colourful and charming world with well-written characters and entertaining dialogue, then you can’t go far wrong by giving this one a fair try.
While the PlayStation Portable version is slightly improved over the PlayStation original — particularly in terms of a slightly improved soundtrack — both versions are solid and competent, and near-identical experiences.