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CONSOLE: Xbox 360/PC DEVELOPER: Zeboyd Games PUBLISHER: Zeboyd Games
RELEASE DATE (NA): April 22, 2010 GENRE: RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Care for a mint?

NOTE: I am reviewing the PC (Steam) version of this game, but both versions are essentially similar.

Breath of Death VII combines pretty much every trope and cliché in the RPG universe into one game. And it does so purposefully, not necessarily to mock the ruts we've fallen into, but to emphasize how each stereotypical aspect of RPGs has become engrained in our culture. At least, that's how I see it. They may very well be making fun of its ridiculousness. Everything in Breath of Death VII emits nostalgia. The battles are directly reminiscent of the classic Dragon Warrior series with its black background and turn-based unanimated action. The characters make obvious references to video game culture; the names of the towns, such as Motherbound (Mother + Earthbound, Mother being the Japanese name for Earthbound) and Lufestpolis (Lufia + Estpolis, Japan's Lufian equivalent), are an equally strong indicator of the creators' affection for the nostalgic. The game even breaks the fourth wall on occasion to tell you directly that you cannot progress without first falling prey to another RPG stereotype, such as collecting crystals or visiting a sewer. Even the game's title is a satirical take on the plague of sequelitis. Breath of Death VII self-deprecating and parodical, and that's their goal.

The storyline itself is also reminiscent of games past: simple and sometimes tacked on. You play as Dem the Skeleton Knight, a slightly pessimistic undead warrior who, along with various individuals who tag along on his team, discover well-hidden secrets from the past. Okay, they're actually very poorly hidden, as they can all be found just by wandering through caves, but they had to come up with something to push the game along. I never truly understood the characters' motivations for digging up these secrets, but I guess in an old-school game of this nature, there really isn't any need for clarification.

But to say that Breath of Death VII relies solely on other games would be a misstep. This game introduces new game mechanics to the genre, some of which I wish would be adopted by other RPGs. Of all the RPGs out there, I'd say Breath of Death VII is among the most fast-paced. Battles are no-nonsense, straight-forward brawls to the death. Your options are attacking, using technical skills or magic spells, using a potion (picked up in seemingly limited numbers), or using a Unite skill in conjunction with another party member (possibly a take on Chrono Trigger's combos). That doesn't sound new at all, and it isn't. But the combo system is original; the more you use attacks, the higher your Combo Count will be. Certain skills' effectiveness will be modified by this count; the higher the combo, the more damage you will deal. Another odd inclusion is that, with every passing turn, the enemy's strength increased by 10%. Maybe that part shouldn't be passed on to the next generation of RPGs.

All the aspects of a classic RPG are here. Except for a living hero, of course.

Now here's a mechanic I want to keep: when you're in the field, you can select "Fight" to just go right to a battle. There's no need to walk around in a circle, waiting for the next encounter. Just do it. Just get right to the fight. This is an efficient way of grinding that requires only a fraction of the normal time. This is particularly useful in dungeons because, if you bring up your menu, you'll note that there is a limited number of battles in each area. That means that when you're walking around, you'll experience up to that many random encounters. Once you've fought that many battles, the random encounter oasis dries up... unless you choose "Fight" from the menu, in which case you can spar to your heart's content. I recommend using it a lot to level up. And when you DO level up, the game gives you two bonus options, be they additional stat bonuses or new spells. Once you select one, the other won't be coming back later, so choose wisely. I found that, by Level 30 or so, the options both become the same for eternity (+10 to each of your stats). Another new feature is that, after every battle, your HP (and a little bit of MP) is restored. That even includes dead party members. Heck, they get the experience points even if they died. Healing outside of battle is completely unnecessary (and impossible, I believe).

But life isn't all about fighting. Nope, you get to visit towns as well. And what boisterous towns they are, usually consisting of an inn where you can stay for free, a weapon/armor salesperson, and... well, that's pretty much it. There are other people standing around, but they have little of importance to impart. I suspect the towns are there solely because RPGs always have towns. I'm done saying the word "towns".

While the game is fun, it doesn't sparkle. Playing this on my PC, I found the field graphics to be stretchedly pixelated at times, no matter what resolution I used. You don't notice it as much in battles featuring larger sprites, but this still made the game seem a little less appealing. This is apparently not the case with the XBLA version, as per the screenshots on the Xbox Marketplace website. They are, however, very classic in nature, sticking to pseudo-8-bit-era artistry for the most part, not unlike a Dragon Warrior or a Final Fantasy from the NES days. The music isn't exactly full of excitement, save for the battle themes, but they do suit their various environments. It's a shame when the background music fades out after playing a couple of times before restarting again. The songs are obviously not looped, and it doesn't bode well for the overall presentation.

RPG fans will enjoy this game. Even those who aren't familiar with the genre can find something to like. For those who are seeking a full-fledged epic adventure, however, you will be disappointed. Breath of Death VII can easily be finished in between four to eight hours. It can potentially be a Saturday afternoon activity for enthusiasts. (Being able to save anywhere, anytime is a blessing for those who don't have such an afternoon.) But for the low, low price you pay ($2.99 for a combination pack with Zeboyd Games' second release, Cthulhu Saves The World, or 80 MS Points on Xbox Live Arcade), you certainly get your money's worth.

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