At this point in Breath of Fire III Ryu has joined up with the badass dragon-bat-thing Garr and told that if he wants to learn who he is he should travel to the enigmatic Angel Tower. So the game get’s right to the point and moves the action quickly to this edifice, right? Of course not. What kind of JRPG would it be if it did that? Up to this point BoFIII has largely avoided obscuring the main line of the plot (though there are some exceptions). Here the game missteps and forces the player through a series of side quests while not allowing them to move forward. It’s a little cruel and a lot annoying. Angel Tower isn’t that far away but it takes a whole lot of effort to get there.
At first it seems easy enough. Angel Tower lies on the other side of a volcano and luckily there’s a pass over it. However, upon reaching the pass Ryu and his friends are turned away. Apparently, a recent eruption has blocked the road and until the lava is cleared the pass is unusable. Instead, the party will need to travel to the nearby town of Rhapala and charter a ship to take them along the coast. Not that any such thing would be so easy. In Rhapala the team learns that the lighthouse is broken and no ships can come home to port. Worse, the lighthouse is infested with monsters and no repairs can be made. It would be a simple matter for Ryu’s party to clean out the lighthouse but it’s owned by the local shipping guild and the by-laws state that only a guild member can gain access. The guild’s choice for the job is burley dunder-head Zig but he’s too busy posturing for the guild captain’s sexy daughter. So it’s up to Ryu to train Beyd, the bookish guild secretary, until he’s strong enough to beat Zig and thus prove he’s the right choice to repair the lighthouse and maybe win the love of the captain’s daughter. In order to move forward the player has to visit both the volcano and Rhapala (speaking to many NPCs to confirm neither path is available), learn about the Beyd/Zig situation (speaking to more NPCs), connivence Beyd that he needs the Ryu’s help (more talking), and then participate in a tedious training mini-game.
The training game has Ryu’s party fighting with Beyd to raise his stats. The more Beyd is hurt the higher his HP grows and the more he attacks the more damage he can inflict. The training battle consists of the player hitting Beyd with a weak attack, healing him, and attacking again. Each training battle lasts 20 rounds and it takes at least three battles before Beyd is anywhere close to strong enough to face Zig. This means that the player must engage in 60 rounds at minimum to complete the mini-game. Because Beyd is so delicate he can’t survive anything but the weakest of attacks. Should the player accidentally hit Beyd with more than he can handle or randomly hit him with a critical strike the battle will end prematurely. To start another one the player has to re-enter Rhapala, track down Beyd, and tell him to train again. While it’s conceivable to get Beyd fully trained in 60 rounds it’s far more likely that it will take many many more.
Even fully buffed up Beyd still stands no chance against Zig. During their fight Zig will sometimes get distracted by the sexy daughter and give Ryu a chance to heal and buff Beyd. But if the Beyd decides to attack Zig and bring his attention back to the fight before the player’s turn Zig will see Ryu cheating and end the battle. This means another round of entering Rhapala, tracking down Beyd, and restarting the fight. To avoid this the player has to be absolutely sure of the turn order and understand how Beyd’s AI works. It’s likely that it will take the player several tries fighting Zig before they learn the nuances of Beyd’s AI. I took me seven training fights and four battles against Zig before I passed this part. It’s monotonous, slow, and brings the pace of the game to a screeching halt. And to add insult to injury Beyd is too beat up after he wins the fight to enter the lighthouse and gives Ryu permission to do it instead. The whole mini-game is completely pointless. The party is going enter the lighthouse anyway but someone on the development team thought that this training game was clever and should be mandatory. If the game was shortened (only one night of training) or even cut in half (help Beyd cheat to win and get rid off all the training stuff) it could be dismissed. But forcing the player to go through all this effort just to enter a dungeon is inexcusable. And the dungeon isn’t even very fun.
After Ryu and team turn on the lighthouse they discover it was infested with monsters by a tribe of fairies. They wanted the light off because it attracts a monster to their village. While waiting for the boat to come back to Rhapala the team decides to help the fairies with this monster problem. The monster is a bizarre ausie-slang speaking dolphin. Again feels like someone on the development team had a wacky idea and it got shoehorned into the game. I can understand that this piece was to introduce the fairies for the optional fairy village mini-game that pops up later but it doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the game and still feels out of place.
Returning to Rhapala from the fairy village the team learns that the boat still hasn’t returned and Beyd gives them permission to take the secret path through the volcano. That’s right, the whole sequence (finding the paths blocked, training Beyd, turning on the lighthouse, fighting the dolphin) is pointless. It’s the worst kind of JRPG fetch-questy excess and easily the lowest point in the game. I suspected that when people criticized Breath of Fire III for “having too many mini-games” they were specifically thinking of this mess (and the desert, but we’ll get to that later). The rest of the mini-games aren’t bad and work as short little asides to the main fight-battles-solve-puzzles-explore-towns RPG gameplay. But here the mini-game is long and boring, has no tangible reward, and ultimately leads nowhere. All this merely to gain access to the game’s obligatory fire dungeon. At least it’s a good one. The dungeon gives the player lots of fire damage reduction and absorption equipment and by the end of it the player is no danger of any of the baddies or even the boss. In most RPGs the player normally doesn’t get these types of items until near the end of the game. It’s empowering to have them so early. It’s nice but it in no way makes up for the preceding hours. While the game does get a little long in the tooth during the second half it never hits the low of the Rhapala Region. I can’t help but feel that Breath of Fire III would have been more fondly remembered critically if the whole sequence had simply been cut.