Breath of Fire III: Searching for Friends

The next major segment of Breath of Fire III follows Ryu as he deals with the consequences of the McNeil caper. Not long after he sets out to find Rei and Teepo Ryu has the bad luck of bumping into Balio and Sunder. Shocked that their mark is still alive they try to off Ryu again, this time with a knife in the back. Mortally wounded, his dragon powers manifest themselves and the two criminals realize they have something special on their hands. As Ryu tries to free himself from Balio and Sunder (escaping from and getting recaptured by them several times) he comes across several new friends.

The first of these companions is another of Balio and Sunder’s kidnaping victims. When the opportunity to steal away with Wyndian princess Nina presents itself the unicorns take it, figuring that she will fetch a nice ransom. Nina and Ryu are the two series constants. In every Breath of Fire there is one blue haired member of the Dragon Clan named Ryu and one be-winged member of the Fae Clan named Nina. Throughout the Breath of Fire series the world’s population is devided into different animal clans. Hence the reason why you have cat-guys like Rei mingling with talking moles, frogs, fish, wolves, and any other number of other anthromorphs. The Fae are bird people–which basically amounts to regular looking chaps but with wings (though in BoFIII’s case the Fae have evolved to the point where the wings are a little more metaphysical). Some players have speculated that the various Ryus and Ninas are direct descendants or reincarnations of themselves but there’s nothing in-game to support this theory. In fact, BoFIII Ryu’s meek personality is a far cry from the more aggressive Ryus in Breath of Fire I and II. If this character was constantly reincarnated one would expect his personality to remain constant even if his appearance changed. I would think it would be obvious that reoccurrence of these characters has more to do with series identity–like Final Fantasy’s various Cids–than any overarching mythology but never underestimate a fan’s ability to come up with a crazy theory.

BoFIII’s Nina is a good match for Ryu. She’s the same age and shares the same trusting nature and youthful innocence about the world. She also bring’s out Ryu’s protective side. Before Ryu meets Nina he’s timid and unsure as revealed by his attack animation. Ryu covers his eyes and wildly swings his sword in hopes of maybe hitting the enemy:

After meeting Nina Ryu attacks with a confident strike (look for it around the 01:00 mark):

This is a great example of how Capcom has defined Ryu’s character with animation rather than dialogue or exposition. As a silent protagonist one might expect Ryu to be a blank slate like the Ryus in BoF I and II (or Crono or Serge or any Dragon Quest hero or…), but not only does he have a personality but also one that changes over the course of the game. That’s pretty neat.

While fleeing Balio and Sunder the two kids meet a hermit scientist named Momo. She’s some kind of rabbit… I think. It’s hard to tell what animal those ears are supposed to represent. Momo’s largely unremarkable. She fits nicely into the Gadgeteer Genius trope and plays the role of the party’s smart guy. But there are a few notable things about her: First, she’s the first adult Ryu meets after leaving McNeil that isn’t corrupt or indifferent to the plight of a little kid. It’s interesting that as Ryu progresses further into the game the world is revealed to be more and more less ideal that the opening hours would lead one to believe and kind-hearted people like Momo are very rare. It’s almost implied that Momo is so caught up in her books and studies that she doesn’t see the real world for what it is. Almost. In her way Momo is just as innocent as the kids. Second, With the introduction of Momo comes the introduction of another plot point, that of high technology and robots. Momo is performing experiments on chrysm and the large amounts of it in her laboratory have attracted not only monsters but robots as well. This is the first point in the game that we’ve seen anything like them. Momo herself even has a tiny little robot helper named Honey. The point of this technology and where it’s coming from is one of the major mysteries of the plot. Lastly, she’s got a really cool magical bazooka.

Momo promises to take the kids back to Wyndia but Balio and Sunder have the roads under watch and until the group can find a way to slip through they’re stuck. While looking for an opportunity to sneak by Momo agrees to help a genetic farm deal with a monster infestation in their dump. Turns out the monsters are actually mutated genetic vegetables. One of these mutants has developed sentience and language. Momo remarks about what an amazing creature it is and then proceeds to open fire. After the battle the mutant claims it “couldn’t control its body” and didn’t mean to attack the party (even though it was clearly a case of self-defense). The mutant then demands the party kill it (because clearly nothing like it is meant to exist) despite the party’s protests (why did they attack it then?). Nevertheless, they respect its wishes and send it to the bottom of conveniently near-by lava pit. The whole scene is pretty dumb and rather embarrassing. However as a parting gift the mutant leaves behind a cute little onion (“as a reminder to never make another like him”) which Nina dubs “Peco.” Peco plays the role of the party’s mascot, cute but inconsequential. However, from a gameplay perspective Peco rocks. He starts out extremely week and it’s tempting to never place him in the active party. But with a little love he grows fast, especially his HP and defense stats. In a neat little subversion the weakest and least imposing character turns out to be the party’s tank.

The last character that Ryu meets is the most important in terms of plot. Captured again by Balio and Sunder the party convinces the hit men to let them participate in yearly Contest of Champions, a fighting tournament that Balio and Sunder sponsor. The winner of the tournament gets anything they want as a prize and the party figures they can win their freedom. Balio and Sunder know that betting on them will bring in large profits because who’s going to bet on a couple of kids? They also know that Ryu’s dragon power will take them far, yet not far enough to beat the reining champion, Garr. And they’re right! Garr proves to be too much for Ryu and is declared the winner of the tournament. For his prize Garr asks for Ryu and pal’s freedom. Turns out that Garr knows something about the dragon clan (now fancily called “The Brood”) and requests that Ryu join him on a journey to “Angel Tower” where Ryu will discover the truth about himself. And maybe he’ll learn more about Teepo and Rei on the way–even though Garr insists they’re dead.

Like Momo it’s hard to define what Garr is. He’s got big leathery wings and horns. It might be possible to classify him as a bat if you squint real hard. But if there’s anything that Garr really looks like it’s a dragon…

With the rest of the game’s playable characters now assembled Breath of Fire III enters its length second act. The journey to Angel Tower is twisty and several roadblocks do have a side-questy feel. It’s no wonder that many fans feel like this the point that the game looses its way. And while much of the second act feels like it’s just padding out the length it does do a lot to build the world and the mythology and to lay the groundwork for the moral choices of game’s final act.

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