Encounter countless challenges, mysticism, and healing potions in this action-packed RPG adventure! – Back of the game box.

I’m not quite sure why they couldn’t think of a better word than healing potions in that sentence, but the rest of the game holds up rather well to that statement.

Breath of Fire V is the latest of a long running series, now 10 years old and counting. While the older games were your traditional fantasy RPGs, this one delves into a more unusual sci-fi type setting. It’s a drastic change in the series, and for the most part it’s a rather interesting one.

The story is a change from the usual as well though – there is no evil ‘bad guy’ trying to take over the world, there is no great land to save, heck, there are hardly even any bosses of the traditional sense. The story is simple, and a nice change – it’s just you, lost after a mission gone bad, stumbling into this strange winged girl. Between the pair of you, and another female you come across later on, your goal is just to reach the surface of the world after spending your entire life so far underground.

It also sports a very interesting tactical battle system and the most original gameplay mechanic to grace a console since Chrono Trigger’s ability to restart the game with your powered up characters on the SNES – the SOL system. More on that later.

In the end though, is there a good game buried inside? Let’s find out, shall we?

Sporting the graphics fad of the year, cell shading, this game avoids the cartoonish look used in other titles and goes for gritty realism. Dark corridors, flickering lighting, and a strange industrial world await your exploration. While it doesn’t hold up against the pre-rendered worlds of Final Fantasy X (and then again, what does?), I am very impressed in the amount of detail the designers have been able to put into their creation. Little touches abound in this underground labyrinth, something new to look at in every corner.

Using this cell-shaded technology, the characters are large and detailed, covered with impressive looking texturing, and the whole thing is dynamically light sourced with the environment around them. The characters are capable of a wide arrange of emotions on their faces, capable of showing their fear and concern for each other easily, and they are also aware of the area around them, able to turn and look at creatures nearby that you (the player) might not have seen. A wide range of animations and poses round out the entire package. While they have the standard animeish look (oversized heads for the most part), they look rather realistic.

The creatures and other monsters that you’ll face in your battles ahead have been given the same treatment as well. Some sit there, flapping their wings lazily, while others just creep along the ground, searching for their next meal. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors, capable of easily telling the player which is the leader of a pack of critters. Unfortunately the staple of all RPGs, the slime, doesn’t make an appearance in this game.

One last note – there is a very well done hand-drawn intro and ending to this game. Make sure you watch it a few times and give the graphic artists some credit for their hard work.

In the music department, Capcom has done a pretty good job. The soundtracks are energetic and pleasing to the ear, keeping the gamer going through those long play sessions. Your requisite boss soundtrack is there, as well as a few reoccurring themes that you’ll hear as you play. Done by some of the acclaimed masters of the genre, their other titles include the musical greats Final Fantasy Tactics, Chrono Trigger, and Vagrant Story. Best of all, there is a way to be able to listen to all the musical soundtracks at any point. You just have to find it.

In an interesting move in the sound effects area, Capcom decided to leave in the original Japanese voices in every instance. Not wanting to risk what little speech there is in the game (none short of the attacks you make and the ending cinema) to a horrendous voice dub, all voices are true to the original Japanese game. Just subtitled where appropriate. Is it better because of it? Yes. On the flip side, you have your basic assortment of footsteps, canned swings, slices, and gunshots. Nothing too special here.

The control scheme is simple and to the point. A few button layouts are available for those who want to try something different, although I highly recommend the one where the ‘pick up item’ and the ‘swing your weapon’ are assigned to two different buttons. It will make your life that much easier.

The game, while it has an automatic camera, offers full manual control as well. This is almost required, as you’ll need to be able to see what’s around that corner before you stumble upon it more often than not. In and outside of battle, everything is within easy reach of a single button.

While most RPGs don’t require you to be quick on the trigger, this one is an exception, so having a good control system is a must. Fortunately this one has it.

This is going to get long as this game is a rather large departure from the norm as far as RPGs go.
What makes this game so different? First off, the battle system. Utilizing what they call PETS (Positive Encounter and Tactics System), every battle is completely different from each other, and each could be your last if you do something horribly wrong or get caught napping at the controls.

What makes this different is that there are no random battles. All battles can be seen on the level you’re on before they start. Based on how close you are to a pack of critters, you can engage only a single monster, or the entire group. But how do you draw them out? With traps. Your goodies in this area range from simple pieces of food to things like bombs, poisonous mushrooms, and others that will make your enemies fall asleep. At that point, you can run in, take a swipe at them, and start off with a free round of combat.

Now that you’re actually in combat, you have a myriad of options available to you. Every weapon and spell has an AP value, which is based on your level, your equipped weapon and armor, and if you had any left over from last round. Moving, swinging your weapon, and casting spells all drain this meter. Combos can be formed while you fight, each additional hit doing more and more damage.

But what if you want to use simple hit-and-run tactics? You can. Want to set up a trap and kick your opponent into it? You can. Have a bomb sitting on the ground, with an enemy nearby? Hit it with a spell and detonate the thing. Have a bunch of enemies clumped together thanks to your use of a trap? Hit them all with your choice of area based spells and attacks. Your options are almost endless.

Onto the other interesting facet of gameplay – the SOL system. Short for Scenario Overlay, in a short, means that you will not see the entire game the first time through. Yes you read that right – it’s impossible to see the entire game on your first run. Instead, you’ll be able to play through the game time and time again, each play opening new scenarios, new places to go, and further discussions with the characters and the plot itself that you won’t see on your first attempt. This is something that I haven’t seen in a RPG before, and it’s pulled off very well.

What makes this unique however is that you can restart the game at any time. That’s right – if you have yourself buried deep inside a dungeon, surrounded by enemies, and out of healing items, you either simply restart your game back at your last save point, or restart the game itself with most of your goodies intact. Can this be abused? Somewhat. The game does penalize you in other ways however by doing this, so keep that in mind.

Other things to keep track of is your D Counter (Dragon Counter). Passing turns in battle, using your ultimate ability to transform into a dragon, and simply walking around all increases this meter. When it hits 100%, the game ends right then and there as your character’s humanity is simply no more. On the flip side of things though, the dragon transformation is absurdly powerful, capable of taking down bosses in a single hit, so it had to be reeled in somehow. The whole game is a careful balance about using your powers (and losing your humanity in the process), and knowing when you can get by without them.

All in all though, is this a good thing? Yes. This game is filled with highly original concepts, and is currently the only RPG where I finished the game, and then restarted and continued to play like I hadn’t finished it.

One last thing – for such a complicated game as far as the restarting feature goes, one needs a good explanation on how things work. The manual does not provide this. While you learn quickly what the advanced features do, you won’t know the specifics until you do them.

This RPG is unusual in the fact that it’s a very short game. Capable of being finished in 15 hours or less the first time through (including viewing cinema scenes, which can be skipped at any time), this game is very short on the time scale of things. However, since you will only see about half the game on your first trip (and the plot that is revealed is very interesting the second time through), odds are that you play this game again and again.

Expect to play through this game at least three times, if not more, in your quest to see everything that it has to offer. Thankfully this is a very good game, or else players simply wouldn’t spend the time to beat it again.

This highly unusual RPG is an original offering by Capcom. Taking many risks with this game, the designers have made a unique game that is worth playing multiple times through, just so you can see all that you’ve missed. This game is well worth the purchase in my book, and is worth the time investment as well.