Breath of Death VII: The Beginning might be the best $3 I've ever spent. On a game, at least. It's brief, but makes up for that by being a funny, nostalgic, solid overall RPG experience.
First and foremost, this game is oldschool. It's patterned off of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Mother/Earthbound on the NES, and has the archaic features of all those games - 8-bit visuals, random encounters, no backgrounds or animations during combat, and very few modern customization elements. There are only two equipment slots on each character, for Pete's sake.
It's not all-oldschool, though. The game adds a few interesting elements of its own to the ancient turn-based formula, notably branching level-ups, a combo system, and a timer. Level-ups: whenever a character gains a level, they up their HP and MP and the player chooses between one of two bonuses for them. These bonuses can be increases in stats, a new skill, or upgrading an existing skill. Party member #3 is notable in that many of her levels force a choice between an attacking build or a spellcasting build while #4 will be a tank no matter how you build him; most of the time his levels are the choice of more power or better defenses.
The combo and timer system are unique among old-style games as far as I can tell. The game features a combo counter that increases with every hit. Multi-hitting attacks, no matter how weak, build it up the fastest, while all-hitting attacks are the same as a single-target skill. Combo boosting skills scale in damage the higher the combo counter is, and the combo counter clears back to zero if you use a combo breaking skill, which include many healing spells and a few powerful attacks. All combo boosters, as far as I could tell, were also combo breakers. The timer system isn't a real timer, but acts like one. Every turn in battle, all enemy stats other than HP increase by 10%. The longer you take, the stronger they get, and the more danger you're in.
So that's how the battle system works. You attack, build up your combo, clear it with a booster, work it up again. Your characters also have your typical RPG skills, such as healing, stat-boosting, all-hitting, multi-hitting, and elemental techniques. Really, it would fit in just fine among later NES RPGs such as Dragon Quest IV or Ultima V if it weren't...
a big joke. The whole game is a 4th-wall-shattering, hyper-referential, hysterical riot. You're a group of undead un-living in post-apocalyptic earth going on a quest because that's what heroes do. All four playable characters are twists on RPG stereotypes, with the main character somehow managing to be a silent protagonist and a snarky, unwilling anti-hero simultaneously. I could go on, but I'll spare you. Bottom line: this game is a hilarious parody of old RPGs.
What's even better is that this game was made by a tiny indie studio (Zeboyd Games) that originally made it as a $1 Xbox Live Arcade title. Its free demo had an extremely impressive 2/3 conversion rate to buyers of the full title, and Breath of Death's success led to a second game by Zeboyd made in the same style: Cthulu Saves the World, which I'll be playing VERY soon. Well, to be specific, I'll be playing the special edition of the game, Cthulu Saves the World: Super Hyper Enhanced Championship Edition Alpha Diamond DX Plus Alpha FES HD - Premium Enhanced Game of the Year Collector's Edition (without Avatars!). Yup.
Games Beaten: 2011 Edition
1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
As mentioned earlier, everything else I'm playing is going on hold for the second Zeboyd RPG. I'd repeat its title, but it takes up two entire lines of text.