Breath of Fire is, by Capcom’s own admission, their “best known and most successful role-playing game.” Despite the franchise being over twenty-five years old, it’s still celebrated as a quintessential example of how great the RPG genre can be.
Let’s take a look at the series to see what Breath of Fire is, and how they became, according to IGN, the fourth greatest Capcom franchise of all time.
Breath of Fire on the SNES
The first game in the series, originally released as Breath of Fire: The Dragon Warrior, was released for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1993. It would later also have ports to the Game Boy Advance (2001), Wii U (2015), Nintendo 3DS (2016), and Nintendo Switch (2019).
Breath of Fire takes place in an unnamed, medieval-esque world. It’s populated by humans, but also “clans” of anthropomorphic animals. The odd one out of those two groups is The Dragon Clan, whose members appear to be human but they can transform into dragons.
The Dragon Clan was split when a goddess named Myria (who, in alternate translations, is also known as “Tyr,” “Maria,” or “Miria” in Breath of Fire II) promises to grant them any wish. Currying favor with her sowed division between the groups who would become the “Dark Dragons” and the “Light Dragons,” and they would eventually go to war, which Myria encouraged.
The “Goddess War” brought the world to the brink of destruction, but a Light Dragon managed to imprison Myria using six magic keys and seal her away for good. This officially ended the war, but the Dark Dragons continued to hunt their rivals and drove them into hiding. The Dark Dragons have no idea that the Light Dragons also sealed away their powers long ago.
Breath of Fire focuses on a young Light Dragon man named Ryu, who is living in a village of other peaceful Light Dragon survivors. Orphaned as a child, he was raised by his older sister, Sara, a priestess who can summon powerful magic.
One night while sleeping, Ryu dreams of a dragon who warns him of impending danger. And when he wakes up, his village is on fire, attacked by the Dark Dragons. Sara uses her magic to draw their attackers away from Ryu and the villagers, but she is taken hostage.
The Dark Dragon Emperor, Zog, announces that it is the birthright of the Dark Dragons to conquer the planet. And in order to do so, he intends to find the six magic keys and release Myria.
But Ryu knows that this means Zog might destroy the world instead of conquering it. He decides to leave his village and go on a journey to stop Zog from collecting all of the keys and save his sister, along with the rest of the world.
The game had some “considerable success” during its initial release in Japan, and in both Japan and North America was well reviewed by critics. Metacritic shows it having an aggregate critical score of 79%, meaning “generally favorable reviews.”
Breath of Fire II (Breath of Fire 2)
After the success of the first Breath of Fire, it’s no surprise that Capcom was interested in releasing a sequel ASAP. And so Breath of Fire 2 (originally released in Japan as Breath of Fire II: The Destined Child) came out, also for the SNES, in 1994. It would also later be ported to the Game Boy Advance (2001), Wii U (2013), Nintendo 3DS (2016), and Nintendo Switch (2019).
The only game in the series to be a direct sequel, Breath of Fire 2 takes place five hundred years after the first Breath of Fire. It centers around another young man named Ryu, six years old at the beginning of the story, who lives in a village called Gate with his sister Yua and his father Ganer, who is a priest for the Church of St. Eva.
Ryu’s mother had disappeared years earlier when demons started coming out of a hole in a mountain on the outskirts of town. That eruption of demons was eventually stopped by a dragon who sacrificed its life to save everyone else.
One day, Ryu goes to visit the lifeless dragon on the mountainside. But when he returns, his family is missing, and nobody knows who he is. The townsfolk, who think that he’s an orphan, send him to live at the church with Father Hulk, who has apparently been the acting pastor for years.
In the church, he meets Bow, a fellow orphan who convinces him to run away to a big city together and live as thieves. They leave Gate and are on their way to the closest city when a storm overtakes them and they seek shelter in a nearby cave.
But in that cave they find an enormous demon named Barubary, who says that Ryu is the “Destined Child,” and then knocks them both unconscious and peaces out.
The game then skips ahead ten years, where Ryu and Bow are both members of a Rangers guild in HomeTown who have been told to find Princess Mina of Windia’s lost pet.
When they return from completing their task, though, Bow is accused of stealing from a local rich man named Trout. Bow says that he was framed by a mysterious “winged thief,” but that’s not enough, so Bow and Ryu together flee the town the next night.
Bow remains in hiding, but Ryu emerges, now on a quest to find a way to clear his friend’s name… and maybe along the way he’ll also learn what happened to his family all of those years ago, and his connection to the dragon that once saved his town.
The game, particularly in North America, received mixed to positive reviews, with some critics praising the length and complexity of the game’s story, but others said it lacked originality, and didn’t love the quality of the graphics or music.
Ultimately, though, it still was the seventh highest selling game in its first week, despite coming out the same week as the Sony PlayStation console, and it went on to sell a total of 350,000 copies by the end of 1995.
Breath of Fire III (Breath of Fire 3)
Breath of Fire III (the only game to not have a subtitle in the Japanese release) was released in 1997 for the PlayStation, and 2005 for the PlayStation Portable. It’s the first game in the series to have 3D graphics and voice acting. It’s also the only one to not have a main antagonist, instead only featuring several minor villains throughout the story.
In a chrysm mine at the edge of the world, a rare and powerful mineral is being collected from the fossilized remains of the dragons. The miners use dynamite to crack open a huge deposit of the mineral, but inside they find a preserved baby dragon who now wakes up.
The terrified miners attack the dragon, and the dragon is forced to defend himself by killing everyone who rushes in to attack him. But the rest of the miners manage to surprise him and knock him unconscious, at which point they stick him in a cage and put him on a train to be taken to a laboratory for study.
On the train, the dragon regains consciousness. He jostles his cage off of the train and falls down a hill to the outskirts of a large forest. The ordeal causes him to lose consciousness again, but just before he does, he transforms into a young boy. He is later found by Rei, a member of the Woren clan and a fellow orphan.
Rei believes that the young boy is just another abandoned child, and invites him to his home in the woods. There they meet Teepo, Rei’s friend and partner-in-crime, and the two of them agree to let the boy into their operation.
The only thing the boy can remember about himself is that his name is – you guessed it – Ryu.
The three of them commit a few crimes together. But when a Nue (Japanese spirit monster) is terrorizing a local village and they kill it, they come into the villagers’ good graces. The Nue had been trying to get food for her children. But the villagers knew that her children were already dead, and didn’t tell her for fear of causing her to massacre the town.
Shortly after that, the three boys steal from the village’s mayor and re-distribute the money to the people of the town. But unbeknownst to them, the mayor is part of a crime syndicate, and he hires two hitmen, Balio and Sunder, to take them out.
Balio and Sunder find the boys’ hideout, burn it, beat them up, and leave them for dead. But a short while later, Ryu wakes up being cared for by a woodsman named Bunyan, who hadn’t found any trace of Rei or Teepo.
Ryu still believes that they’re alive, though. So he embarks on a quest to find, and maybe save, his friends. Of course, that’s made harder by the fact that Balio and Sunder know that he’s still alive and stay hot on his trail.
Similarly to its predecessors, Breath of Fire III received good critical reviews in Japan, and average ones in North America. But, again like the ones before, it still had solid sales, with 425,000 copies sold in Japan.
Breath of Fire IV (Breath of Fire 4)
Breath of Fire 4 (or, in Japan, Breath of Fire IV: The Unfading Ones) was released for the PlayStation in 2000. In 2003, it was also ported to Windows PCs, but only in Japan and Europe.
Well before the game begins, Emperor Muuru was dealing with unrest and civil war in his empire. He summoned the god Yorae to help him handle it, but the summoning wasn’t done right, so the god was split in body and time. The god who did appear was called Fou-Lu, and he did help, managing to unite the western part of the empire over the course of ten years.
With his summoning having been botched, though, Fou-Lu shortly afterwards fell into a sleeping state while trying to unite the eastern part of the empire, and it brought the civil war to a deadlock.
One day the other half of the god will arrive, and Fou-Lu will awaken again, having recovered his powers.
When the game begins, there is already a team searching for someone. Nina, the Princess of Wyndia, and Cray, leader of the Woren clan are going to a town called Synesta to get information about a woman named Elina, who is Nina’s older sister and Cray’s love interest. She had gone missing several weeks prior on a diplomatic mission.
On their way, they are attacked by a dragon, and their sandflier crashes. Nina is forced to go to a nearby town for spare parts while Cray guards their vehicle. On her way, Nina comes across a large crater with a dragon inside. When she confronts him, he turns into a young man, by this point in this article, you should know what his name is.
Nina convinces Ryu, who remembers nothing but his name, to accompany her on her search for her sister.
Meanwhile, the ancient Fou-Lu reawakens in his tomb, and he says it’s time for him to retake his throne. But, newly awakened, he is still deeply vulnerable.
He comes across Yohm, a general in the Fou Empire’s army who knows about Fou-Lu’s prophesied resurrection and wants to kill him before he can carry out his plan. Yohm attacks Fou-Lu and overpowers him. Fou-Lu falls down into a ravine and is left there.
Back with Ryu and Nina, they manage to run afoul of a Fou Empire captain named Rasso, leaving them unable to get the spare parts they need. They escape the Fou Empire soldiers and make their way back to Cray.
Fou-Lu reawakens, being cared for by a man named Bunyan. After some recovery, Fou-Lu leaves Bunyan’s home and makes his way down the mountain Bunyan lives on, just to find Yohm blocking it.
They fight, and Fou-Lu is forced to turn into a dragon and try to escape, saying he has to find his other half: Ryu. Yohm manages to overpower him again, though, and Fou-Lu falls, crashing into the forest.
Ryu, Nina, and Cray continue to travel on their quest, but they keep coming across Rasso, who really seems to be after Ryu. They escape him again, but continue to run into other troubles.
The game ultimately follows Ryu as he helps search for Elina while also trying to figure out who he is, how to stop an angered Fou-Lu from endangering the world, and what to do about potentially being a god.
With an aggregate score of 83% on Metacritic, Breath of Fire IV did the best critically of any of the Breath of Fire games, both in Japan and North America. Additionally, it sold particularly well, being the best seller of July 2000, and moving enough copies to qualify for Sony’s “PlayStation the Best” label.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
The only Breath of Fire game to retain the subtitle in the English release (although Japan did keep the Roman numeral, making it Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter) the fifth entry in the series was released in 2002 for the PlayStation 2.
Dragon Quarter is vastly different from every other game in the Breath of Fire franchise. Where all of the others take place in a fantasy world, Dragon Quarter is decidedly post-apocalyptic sci-fi, taking place entirely in underground bunkers a thousand meters below the planet’s surface.
Also, the game is designed to be replayed multiple times. With the Scenario Overlay (SOL) system, there are plot points that can only be accessed if a certain stat is high enough. That’s only achieved by playing through everything and then restarting using SOL: Restore, which sends the player back to the beginning but with all of the skills and items accumulated.
Before getting into the story, it’s necessary to explain the existence in this game of “D-ratios,” the main determinant of social status. Expressed in fraction form, where lower denominators are always better, the highest D-ratio that a human could have would be 1/4, the titular “Dragon Quarter.” For reference, at the beginning of the game, Ryu’s D-ratio is 1/8192.
Since everyone in the world of Dragon Quarter, the people with higher D-ratios (and therefore, higher social status) live towards the top of the underground bunkers, closer to the surface. Those with lower D-ratios are forced to live roughly a kilometer underground.
High status people live closer to the top because the air is better there. For those unlucky enough to be at the bottom, the air is stagnant and polluted. The plot of Dragon Quarter begins with Ryu, as a low-level citizen, deciding to rebel against his government and escape to the surface with Nina, who is unable to survive underground.
Nina had an experimental surgery done on her to turn her into an air purification machine, and now it’s killing her. Nina and Ryu work their way to the surface, fighting enemies and monsters along the way, accompanied by the extremely watchful Lin.
There are also two big subplots that help drive the story forward. One is about the six rulers of the underground world. They have an incredible ability to get and then act on information of all kinds. It’s through them we hear about a prophecy saying that a boy with the power to turn into a dragon will bring the world back to the surface.
The other subplot is about a self-centered jerk named Bosch.
Bosch has a pretty high D-ratio, 1/64, and he wants to use Ryu as his lackey to achieve an even higher rank. However, he quickly (and inadvertently) releases Ryu’s ability to turn into a dragon, and then becomes obsessed with defeating him in battle.
Critics, many of whom had commented on the series’ lack of originality in the RPG genre in the past, generally saw Dragon Quarter favorably. They almost universally lauded the combat system, graphics, and the game earned Weekly Fanmitsu’s silver award.
But they also acknowledged that this is a sequel that was so completely different from anything else in the series that it “will likely tear the Breath of Fire fan base apart.” And considering the low number of gameplay hours (roughly ten) they pointed out that will either love or absolutely loathe the replay structure of the game.
Breath of Fire 6
Not everyone knows about it, but there was indeed a Breath of Fire 6! Designed specifically for touch-based PCs, smart phones, and tablets, it was an online multiplayer game that launched in Japan in February 2016. (The iOS version was delayed, though, until July of that year.)
Taking place a thousand years after a massive, apocalyptic battle between the Light Dragons and the Dark Dragons, which only ended because of a “mysterious young man.” The Dragons’ immense power caused the entire world to become a desert, though.
Since then, the people of the world have created new communities, leading to a much more peaceful world. But the Insidia Empire has started quietly conquering the small countries in its area, slowly trying to take over the world.
The player creates a hero character, who is customizable in appearance, gender, and skills. That hero is the sibling of Ryu, who is the young mayor of the town in which they live, Dragnier. One day, the town is attacked by the Insidia Empire, and Ryu goes missing.
The hero is found by a wandering bard, Peridot, in the ruins of the town. Together with the other surviving townsfolk, the hero and their companions need to rebuild their lost land, find Ryu, and stand up to the Empire. And they might just learn a little something about the ancient Dragon clans along the way.
Breath of Fire 6 was deeply unpopular. By June 2017, it had a rating of 1.7 out of 5 stars in the Japanese Google Play Store. And finally, by the end of September 2017, all Breath of Fire 6 services came to a close.
Considering the fate of the last game in the series, it seems unlikely that we’ll get a new Breath of Fire game anytime soon. But the first five aren’t going anywhere anytime soon! The franchise is still loved and lauded by RPG fans everywhere. If you’re looking for a great old game to replay, you won’t go wrong with (almost) any of the entries in Breath of Fire!