Saturday, May 1, 2010

Indie Game Review -- Breath of Death

I know I'm truthful with my readers (all two of you), but just to reassure you, I'll be honest with you here. I'm a huge nerd. No no, it's okay. I'm not ashamed to admit this. It's something I've come to terms with long ago. Unfortunately, it's tainted my sense of humor in ways I can't reverse and I'm stuck hoping that there's some dorky reference in whatever is trying to make me laugh. The good people at Zeboyd must be able to read my mind and, with the information they gathered that didn't have anything to do with Shannyn Sossamon along with their unbelievable ability to craft games from ones and zeros, created Breath of Death VII, also known as one of the best RPGs on the 360 (in my opinion the best on the system) and definitely the funniest.

Breath of Death VII is a Japanese-style RPG that reminds players of the days of the early Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior games. This isn't a coincidence, as the game is part homage and part hilarious parody. The game is set in a post-apocolyptic world where humans have long since nuked the planet clean of life; various kinds of undead roam the land instead. You start the game with Dem the Skeleton Knight and eventually meet up with three other party members to do your normal RPG deeds of gaining levels, finding treasure, and beating large bosses. Instead of your normal epic "beat the empire" storyline, however, you're presented with tongue-in-cheek quest of exploration and a ton of dork-friendly humor and memes. So, essentially, they made this game for me. Thank you, Zeboyd Games. It's beautiful. You really shouldn't have.

I've got a huge soft spot in my heart for pixel art, and so I may have a slight bias toward BoD's graphics. Regardless, the game's art style puts a smile on my face from start to finish. Surprisingly, I don't care that I'm playing a game that would've looked at home on a NES on a huge HDTV which makes the pixels as big as Lego blocks. I don't think the visuals are as well done as other highly rated retro art title Soulcaster, but being second to that is damn good. Also, there's a ghost car. That alone makes the visuals awesome. The soundtrack makes me just as happy, and captures the 16-bit RPG era perfectly. I was a huge fan of the music while in the caves, even catching myself saying aloud, "$#!% this music is good."

Control in an RPG is like plot in kung-fu film. There's not much to making it passable. That said, nothing is missing, and I'm incredibly grateful to Zeboyd Games for having the Run button cause you to blaze along faster than every Olympic speed skater combined. Makes those long stretches of dungeon or cave fly by fast so you can get to the next battle or town.

Now, with any RPG, I hate something. It's just how I am. Well, I don't know how, but they managed to keep me from flat out despising any one aspect of this game. I'll get the one thing out of the way that I didn't like: the fact that you can't save on the overworld map. It's not a huge issue, but it also forces some backtracking if you don't want to risk having to redo an hour or so of dungeon crawling on a bad call (this happened to me twice). There. Now that we have that unpleasant part out of the way, let's get to the good stuff. First, selectable difficulties. Want a harder adventure after you're done? You got it. Want one where you control when you have random battles, encouraging you to keep your level lower for a higher score? You have it. Being able to choose one of two bonuses you get upon leveling up? Done. Stopping random battles after a certain amount of fights in an area, but allowing for forced battles when you want to grind? Holy crap too awesome and done. Add to this a slew of tried-and-true features, such as the Unite attacks like in Chrono Trigger and ultra-fast battles (THANK YOU), and some seriously strategic combat that always starts off with your party at full HP, and you have one of the most satisfying JRPG experiences I've seen in all my many years of gaming. It's also one of the more legitimately difficult ones, allowing for different strategies and some risk/reward resource management. Your MP regenerates after every battle, but not using your MP means your battles are a little more difficult and might end up with you dying. Also, one of your party members sings a re-worded version of the Pokemon cartoon theme, and that alone makes the game a must-buy.

One run-through of Breath of Death VII will last you 5-8 hours (which alone is more than enough to warrant a purchase), and it's enjoyable from start to finish. So enjoyable, you'll want to go through again on either a harder difficulty or the Score Mode. You may very well put 20+ hours into this game that costs you a mere dollar and is, right now, the #1 rated indie game on the Live Marketplace. In short, I can't recommend this game enough. If you have any interest whatsoever in any kind of JRPG, go buy this game.

Breath of Death VII from Zeboyd Games is available on XBox Live for 80 MS Points. Played through Normal Mode, laughed more at this game than I have at 99% of the other games I've played, and then played a little bit of Score Mode before realizing I should review the game before I get sucked in for another 8 hours.

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