Saturday, February 18, 2012

GOT 'IM - Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (Hard mode)

This entry to the list would normally count as a replay and a cop-out, but I did it on Hard difficulty and sweet Moses it was quite a bit more challenging as a result. Let's revisit Breath of Death VII: The Beginning.

I wrote a detailed review of BoD7 last year, and if you want to learn about the basics of the game you can read that review here: Twenty Three . Back? Cool. Now on Normal difficulty Breath of Death VII's challenge level is fairly reasonable. Some dungeons are much more challenging than others, but by the endgame if you've done some incidental grinding and gotten most of the endgame equipment, your team is much more powerful than anything you'll face. Not so much here. The game starts out manageable, and by the time the final party member joins, you'll be escaping battles a LOT and saving your game after every four or five victories.

The core of the game hasn't changed one bit - combo system, same branching level-ups, same story, dungeons, everything. And that's just fine. Breath of Death VII is still hilarious with nearly every line of dialog, still competent in its adaptation of classic JRPG mechanics, and still colorful and interesting for most of its playtime. I still wish there were fewer "ruined city" dungeons (there are two, and they're my two least-favorite parts of the game) and more extra content (just a few side dungeons and a Score Attack mode), but those are nitpicks at worst. I really, really liked this game, which ought to be obvious as I was compelled to replay it.

The only changes in Hard mode are that enemies have roughly 50% more health and deal ~25% more damage and that your characters recover MUCH less MP after every battle. You see, in both of Zeboyd's recent indie RPGs HP is healed to full after every battle - enemies deal a LOT of damage, even in normal difficulty, and this full-healing thing encourages you to use your MP more for offense and less as a heal-spell-bank. MP, however, only recovers a little bit after each combat- a few characters have level-up options to boost their MP regeneration, which is a useful ability indeed. Conserving MP is the probably the most important aspect to dungeon-crawling in Breath of Death VII. Rest points that restore MP are rare, and if you have MP problems then your team will wipe out hard.

I wiped out hard. A lot. I mentioned saving every few battles earlier? Sometimes I would camp around a rest point and spend my MP like gangbusters fighting random battles, restoring it at the rest point every so often, until I had exhausted that stage's number of fights (each stage has a maximum number of random battles, to curb powerleveling a bit). Afterward I'd explore the dungeon battle-free until the boss. That strategy sounds like some bullshit, but it's exactly the kind of bullshit I had to resort to in order to survive Hard Mode. I ended up overleveled compared to my first playthrough, but I struggled nonetheless. Still not sure how I survived the optional boss that gives you Dem's best weapon.

Hard Mode's difficulty level was extremely frustrating at times, but it wasn't insurmountable if you were careful and and a little exploitative. The other thing that set me back was my team's general makeup. Breath of Death VII has character customization via branching level-ups. Each time you level, you choose between two bonuses or abilities. Trying to make this playthrough a little different, I mixed it up a bit by having Dem focus less on support and more on offense, Lita go physical instead of magical, and Erik go more tank and less power. I kept my Sara build basically the same, because I'm terrified to think of how I'd survive with her as anything other than a healer/mage with crazy MP. That setup could have worked just fine in Normal, but Hard is another story.

Erik might've been a little better this go-round, as his poison and regeneration were stronger and extremely useful for big fights - the only drawback was that his Smash dealt less damage. Dem and Lita were worse for wear. Dem's support skills, while not really necessary in Normal, might've saved my ass in Hard if I had focused on them more. Lita can be developed with a physical or magical focus in theory, but mage-Lita is way more useful than gun-Lita. Poor girl was actually pretty good in most random battles, not requiring as much MP to use, but in high-stakes fights she paled in comparison to the mage version. Sara is probably the game's MVP in any difficulty. Her offensive spells are every bit as good as full-magic-Lita's, and her healing spells are crucial. Bottom line of that long story: sub-optimal builds are fine for normal, but can make your life much more frustrating in Hard. Thank goodness you can save anywhere.

One last meditation on Breath of Death VII's difficulty, I promise. The three most important things in RPGs are, in order of importance: Not being broken/unpolished/unfinished, making the player feel powerful as he progresses, and having appealing characters. Breath of Death is a well-executed game and I obviously love its characters enough to yammer on about builds, so ding and ding. The game's difficulty makes you feel helpless at times, but I stuck it through and by the time your characters get their final levels (neighborhood of clvl 28-30) Hard Mode turned into Cake Mode. The real challenges were the midgame dungeons, the special hidden cave, and the hidden boss - BoD7's final zone (which is a very well-put-together dungeon) was my team cutting a bloody swathe through zombies and robots. A little anti-climactic, but the game's ending and epilogue are unique, interesting, and even sort of touching. Great stuff.

So that's that. I beat Breath of Death VII: The Beginning again, and I still loved it. I laughed at all of the same jokes and references (I actually understood the Mass Effect joke this time!), I was cool with the oldschool dungeon crawls and modern twists, and my enjoyment deriving from the game's nostalgic aesthetic was further enhanced with my familiarity with the game. Breath of Death VII may have reached Seiken Densetsu III or even Chrono Trigger status with me - it's RPG comfort food that I can play every year or two and love every time. In the words of SNL's fake Nicolas Cage, that is high praise.

Games Beaten: 2012 Edition

1. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
2. Radiant Historia
3. Mass Effect
4. Mass Effect 2
5. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (Hard mode)

Targets: 1/12


Still playing Grandia II (should beat it this week) and Star Ocean 2 (no idea how long this one will take). I'm thinking of starting up a second playthrough of Cthulhu Saves the World now, but I think I'll at least wait to finish Grandia first. Happy gaming, everyone.

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