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Breath of Death VII: The Beginning Review

Review; Jul. 20, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Jenner David Cauton
A winner is you!

For some, the old days of 8-bit gaming have a certain charm to gamers who grew up with them, so it’s nice to see some developers create games that still cater to this audience.

The interest in this era can vary from person to person. Sometimes it’s the graphics. In a world of high-definition monitors and TVs, 8-bit graphics have become even more presentable, producing straighter-looking pixels -- or, at least, none of the grainy pixels produced from tube TVs.

Sometimes it’s the story, when developers didn't have to worry about bad voice actors making their otherwise dramatic characters look phony. Other times, it’s the game play, in which gamers can enjoy the game without having to remember any complex mechanics.

And for others, it's the perfect media to be playing to catch up on your Engrish, but unfortunately, your base are not belong to us this time.

Breath of Death VIII: The Beginning ScreenshotsClick the image to view game screenshots

Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, an RPG created by Zeboyo Games, is one of these titles, but while it will cater to those who appreciate the era, it might not impress well enough for the hardcore enthusiast. Originally released for XBLA last year in April, BODVII has hit Steam for $3. (Currently $2.69 as a promotion at the time of this writing.) BODVII is a parody of other 8-bit RPGs. The game has a few new twists, and it maintains the presentation to match the 8-bit theme. However, not all features fare that well. The music is the only part that’s still modernized. You’ll hear fully instrumented music -- no chiptunes here.

The game’s story is simple but still managed to catch my attention -- at least for a little while. It starts off with an intro in the year 20XX (presumably present day) until a nameless evil corporation blows up the entire world (or, at least, everyone but itself), thus ending all life. The dead rise from the grave, and life begins anew as old-world villages are built again with ghosts, zombies, and skeletons inhabiting them. A few modern-themed cites and locales exist (like office buildings), but more often than not, everything is still fantasy.

The main protagonist is Dem, a skeleton knight who is off to save the world from evil. Dem never speaks, but his grumpy thoughts are always translated for the player. Unfortunately, no one else, including the other party members, seem to understand him as they go about their business, often to Dem’s disagreement.

As soon as Dem is introduced, it’s clear the game doesn't take itself seriously, and the story proceeds as clichéd as possible. What might drive players to keep going is the rest of the wacky bunch. During your travels, you will meet a typical, overly cheery spell-casting ghost woman, a spectacle-wearing tech-savvy vampire who wields firearms, and an axe-wielding zombie prince with a French accent. Yeah.

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The actual plot of the game falls flat, but it’s the interaction between your own party members and the many references to other games that remain thoroughly entertaining. For starters, its very title mimics another famous RPG, as well as having the subtitle “The Beginning” when there isn't even a BOD 1-6. A lot of fourth-wall breaking is in here, such as the game’s own narrator telling the player that he has to turn on the speech translator in order to understand Dem. When saving, which takes approximately .01 seconds, the game goes out of its way to warn you not to remove your memory card (chances are you’re not playing on a device that even has one), turn off the computer or dismantle your hard drive. And of course, Dem’s muteness often drives others to believe exactly the opposite of what he’s really thinking, leaving poor Dem to grumble in his own head.

If random encounters turn you off, you’ll want to steer clear of this game. (Although it’s not as frantic as games of the past.) At first glance, battle might look really basic, with just a black background, and although that’s usually the theme here, it doesn't exactly step that far back in simplicity. Combat is turn-based, and usually has you going through all your party members' turns, selecting basic attacks or special skills before a round begins, but this is where the similarities stop. After every round, enemies become 10 percent stronger. At the same time, however, with every normal attack you do, your own combo multiplier increases, and this multiplier is shared among all party members. Some skills will increase this multiplier quickly. To finish the combo, you can execute special attacks that will do damage based on how high your multiplier is. Some attacks will also require you to use two different characters at the same time.

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However, when the blows are being dealt is when the game starts to get grueling. When a monster is hit, he flashes, followed by a text description of who hit him and for how much. But battles eventually have monsters attack in large numbers, and having to read everything that happens, whether it’s someone attacking someone else, someone casting a spell, or being poisoned, etc. can get very monotonous. Every attack looks the same (the monster flashes), so you’ll have to read every line to know exactly what is happening. This is fine, but before you know it, every battle involves reading a novel. Other games made along the same timeline this game is mimicking did this better. A flash of each character’s window, a simple one-worded message of the skill about to be used if it’s a special attack, a flash of the monster, and a simple floating number over him would have sufficed, as well as be a lot cleaner and more presentable.

Leveling up is also different. Instead of increasing stats manually, players get two choices to upgrade their character, and the upgrades vary from level to level. One upgrade might have you choose between increasing your HP and MP by 20 points or increasing all attributes by 10. Another upgrade might give you the choice between learning a special skill or another similar but weaker skill that attacks all enemies. The only problem is that you must choose your upgrade whenever you level up immediately, and the game doesn't provide any way of showing your existing stats and skills before choosing.

With the coming of D&D style RPGs on the computer, full life after every battle has become more commonplace. Endless reading aside, an interesting change to BODVII’s battles is that every character’s HP is restored after every fight, as well as any abnormal status aliments, even if they’re dead. What doesn't come back instantly, though, is each character’s MP. Depending on how fast you defeated your opponents, your MP will be restored accordingly. This small restoration gives the player some incentive to use his or her skills once in a while instead of just relying on simple attacks.

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This feature, however, can be a double-edged sword. Gamers will notice that there isn't an “Item” command in battle, just “Potion.” This is because this is the only consumable item in the entire game. But this potion restores your life fully, as well as cures any abnormal status aliments. However, because they’re so potent, they can’t be bought in stores, only found as treasure. In fact, there aren't any item stores in the game, just armories, and those don’t have lot of choice either. Each character has one weapon slot, and only one armor slot. Stores in towns usually only have one weapon or piece of armor to buy that can be used by a single character, and most of the time, there’s no real reason not to buy them. You can also sometimes find equipment as treasure.  All in all, there doesn't really seem to be a whole lot of depth as far as items and equipment are concerned, which might be a large turnoff for RPG fans, considering equipment and items are a large part of the genre to begin with.

In the end, Breath of Death IV is a nice trip back to the old days of RPG gaming, if not perhaps a little too old in some respects. Still, its shortcomings can be easily forgiven due to its price tag. 

Presentation - 6

The intro and menu navigation are fine, but the text is a bit much to read for prolonged sessions.

Story - 6

Story is a bit stale, but at least you'll be chuckling once in a while.

Graphics - 8

Eye candy for retro-gamers.

Sound - 10

Fully instrumented music that surprisingly goes well with everything else being 8-bit.

Game play - 7

The turn-based battles are great -- if only you weren't reading a wall of text half the time.

Current Stability - 10

Another good thing about playing retro in the current generation of games? No bugs!

Lasting Appeal - 6

The game actually has difficulty settings, an odd but welcome option to RPGs. Finishing the game unlocks a score attack mode, but once again, with the limited amount of items to play around with, one go is all you might be looking for.

*Editor's Note: OMGN received a free review copy of the game for this article.


Review Score

Not Rated by ESRB

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