The arrival at Angel Tower is the turning point for Breath of Fire III. With it we move into the second half of the game and make some progress plot-wise while loosing a whole lot distance-wise. With the tower’s major revelation comes a change that can be either seen as a fun twist that adds significantly to the character of the game or a bullshit way of artificially lengthening the running time to bring it up to “proper” RPG standards. I dare to ask: can’t it be both?
Angel Tower is under the protection of the nearby town of Urkan. Here the religiously devout people claim to be on a mission from god to cleanse all the evil from the world and Garr is treated with great respect for his role in this crusade. It is reveled that Garr is a Guardian, a holy warrior blessed with the power of god to stamp out this evil. What the evil is, the people will not say.
The Urkan give Garr and Ryu permission to enter Angel Tower. Garr urges Ryu to the centermost chamber of the tower where he claims all of Ryu’s questions will be answered. However, at the center Ryu finds a golgotha of dragon bones. Garr reveals that the dragons once had the ability to destroy the world and so god granted the guardians great power to stop this threat (that god gave the guardians strength comparable to the dragons might explain their dragonish appearance but this is a fan-wank theory and is not supported anywhere in the game). Garr claims he’s killed more than two hundred dragons and guess what! Ryu is next. Ryu dragon-morphs and kicks the snot out of Garr. Why, Garr wonders, doesn’t Ryu kill him? And why, if the dragons are so obviously stronger than the guardians (Ryu is just a baby dragon after all and Garr didn’t stand a chance), did they allow the guardians slaughter them by the hundreds. Ryu has no answers, he’s too busy freaking out. Cue fad to black.
Years later a dragon is once again terrorizing the mines from the beginning of the game and Garr has accepted the task of clearing it out. He has his suspicions and after smacking the dragon around a bit they turn out to be correct. The dragon reverts to (a now grown up) Ryu, who presumably has been in dragon freak-out mode for the better part of a decade. Garr apologies for trying to kill him that one time and explains that he’s had a change of heart. He wants to know why the dragons never defended themselves and if they were innocent why god wanted them wiped out. He invites Ryu to join him on a journey to confront god and get the answers (which I think would be more of an extensional quest but this is RPG-land after all and walking up to god and bopping him on the nose is just one of those things you’re expected to do).
So here at the half-way point of the game and twenty some hours in we finally get to the main thread of the plot. In a more traditional RPG the god/dragon conflict would have been apparent from the get-go. BoFIII takes it’s time to build character and world (with a fair bit of nonsense trying to get around a volcano). Unfortunately, now were back at the very other end of the content from where we want to be. All that progress is essentially lost. To get to god we have to traverse all the way back through McNeil, Windia, around the volcano again, and finally past Angel Tower to lands beyond. This is a fairly bullshit move which is tempered only a little bit by the fact that seven or so years have passed and things have changed.
That the game is divided into two parts does add a lot to the character of the game. Aside from the dragon morphing ability it could be its defining trait. Back when BoFIII first came out I might have described it to a friend as “a game that takes place over the course of your whole life so you get to see the guy grow up and also he can totally turn into a dragon.” Of course, you don’t play Ryu through his whole life and thanks to the time skip you don’t really get to see him grow up either. But there is a fair amount of appeal to following the thread of the character from adolescence to adulthood. I just wish the game didn’t throw you all the way back to the beginning in the process and force you to cover old ground. I suppose Capcom wanted to highlight all the changes the world’s seen but it still feels like an artificial way to lengthen the game. And the changes are mundane for the most part. I wouldn’t mind re-visiting old locals if the world had changed dramatically in the second half like the way Final Fantasy VI did (which BoFIII obviously took inspiration from).
But before they can get to any world re-hopping adventures Ryu and Garr have to escape from the mines. They are significantly larger than they were previously and are now filled with monsters. In an example of the types of changes that have occurred during the time skip the big chysm catches that were present in the introduction are all minded out. It’s tangential at best though I do appreciate the attention to detail. At the end of the mines is a terrible boss battle against the ghost of a dragon who’s mad at Ryu for teaming up with a guardian. It’s a long and tedious fight as the dragon inflicts poison and confuse status on Garr and Ryu as they chip away at his HP. It took me the better part of a half-hour and nearly all of my healing items to beat the thing. It wasn’t hard just long and draining.
Long and draining are apt descriptions for the next segment of the game as Ryu makes his way back along the continent re-gathering old friends (which includes Rei who’s been gumming up the gears of that crime syndicate all this time). The plot doesn’t kick into gear again until the party nears their goal and the game enters the third act. It’s a long boring segment but worth playing through because when the game gets good again it gets good.