Breath of Death VII: The New Beginning Review

Wait, why did I decide to do all of Zeboyd’s games in a week?  That sounds pretty repetitive, and boring for people who do not like RPGs.  Whatever, I’ll just talk about Zeboyd after the jump.

Back in October of 2009, Robert Boyd, with the help of his wife, made an interactive novel known as Epiphany in Spaaace,  that had about an hour’s worth of material, and put it up on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, a pit of mostly rubbish titles, but it has some very impressive and very cheap gems.  They followed it up with Molly the Were-Zompire, which was technically a visual novel in the same way that a child’s finger paintings are technically art.  Both of these titles were worth the dollar I paid for them, but you can pick up the second one on the Zeboyd website for free.  I found both of these games to be pretty well written, with a lot of unique paths to explore, but they offer little replay value, since once you read all the paths a story can go in, there isn’t any incentive to read them again.  Which I suppose can be said about all books, and that’s pretty much what these two titles are, small choose your own adventure books.  But the title that caught my attention, was a game Mr. Boyd made with Bill Stiernberg, Breath of Death VII: The New Beginning.

Breath of Death VII: The New Beginning Review
Release Date: 22/4/2010
Platforms: XBIG(Reviewed), PC
Price I Paid: $0.99

Taking place some time after a massive war that exterminated the human race, the world is now filled with skeletons, nagas, vampires, zombies, ghosts, sentient cars, living sand, and many machines of a forgotten era.  This is probably just due to the fact that one of the guys made a game about a very similar world, but it does tie in with the very simple plot.  After a very clumsy beginning where you are given little in terms of backstory for a monologuing skeleton warrior named DEM, the first party member in this… um, how do I put this?  Japanese style/Console RPG?  This game, we are thrust into the battle system, which I originally described as Dragon Quest on drugs, which it is too a certain extent.  

Combat is pretty much just some sprites of the enemies, with some white menus over a black background.  It is not the best looking thing in the world but it is functional.  You select your attacks, see the enemy flicker and take damage, and then have them shake the screen as it changes from white, to green, to red whenever a party member dies.  But where it stands out, is in just how quickly the game goes through battles.  There are pretty much no animations, just an 8-bit chime for every attack while numbers are displayed on the information section of the screen.  Again, the Dragon Quest example shines through, but it does do a few things differently.  There are no items that can be used in battle, just potions that you find and need to ration, since I never used one until the final boss, and I had 47.  But they also work as a revival item, and bring back all your health.  You take damage a lot more easily, but you restore all your HP after every battle, and some MP based on how short the battle was.  

And since the game’s battles are about 5 times faster than a normal RPG of this nature, the battles take little time in terms of both the actual number of rounds, with most of the random encounters lasting less than a minute.  Although, the difficulty of the encounters is pretty loose, meaning that it can be easy one battle, and a bit harder than expected in the next one.  Take with this a level system where you get one of two rewards, which range from equally good upgrades, too a stylistic playstyle, to just common sense.  Since there are only handful of bosses, the only enemies who you will really use a lot of MP on, it is just logical to get an extra hit on your normal MP-less attack.  And healing moves that apply to every party member a pretty invaluable later on.  But things like getting a permanent 20% buff to either attack or defense is a tough choice, since the enemies keep getting stronger the longer a battle wages on.  But if there is one thing that could be improved upon, more than anything else, is to let me check my stats before I decide which level up perk I want.  I actually had to keep my own notes regarding this, even when all you’d need to do is put numbers on the screen.  Throw in a combo system, moves that are boosted by the total number, and a combo breaking system that works whenever certain abilities are used, and you have a pretty interesting and unique combat system.  And it move so fast, but if you do not pay attention, bam!  And this game uses save points, which was very aggravating during one section.  In a sewer area, after a reused deserted town location which took 4 minutes to traverse, partially due to an annoyingly long subway system, there is a mini-boss that can appear as a normal enemy, and he would have been a normal boss about an hour ago.

And I could go on, from the streamlined system of only having 5 weapons and armor pieces for every character.  Or the fact that random battles are limited to a given number in every dungeon, and even the overworld.  But I want to go back to the more narrative based aspects.  The actual characters are surprisingly appealing and actually have some personality that differentiate the four, more so than, say, Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light.  And you might say that I didn’t spend enough time with the game to say that, but it is 6 hours here compared to 12 or so with that game.  Yeah, 6 hours for a game that cost $1, and Mr. Boyd had the characters joke about the shortness of the experience in one of the amusing little conversations you can trigger whenever you want.  There are only about eight of them, but they all made me grin a bit, namely the one where the designated white mage historian, and designated asskicker with a 4-hit standard attack, SARA, sung the original Pokemon theme with altered lyrics.  Well, the singing was implied, this is just text after all.  

Oh, and it is nice too see some minor story being tied with the gameplay with some of the dual character combination attacks getting unlocked.  Which worked in Chrono Trigger, but I found it to be somewhat forgettable here, even though the gun wielding Vampire mage, LITA, could get a double damage, defense ignoring attack.  Or how DEM and the late introduced ERIK, a zombie frenchmen who serves as the tank of the group, but has the very handy regeneration spell, and pretty much needs to be upgraded to apply to everyone.  Together, use one of the most devastating attacks that I could hope for with a combo meter of 25.  

But as I mentioned before, the writing made me smile fairly often, I found the interactive novels to be humorous, and the same quality has been applied here.  I actually enjoy talking to everyone, since the worst the dialog gets is a hint to go to one of the two or three optional dungeons in order to get some better equipment.  And this is more of a parody than anything, so there are some silly enemies, like the living cars I mentioned before, random looters, even living chemistry sets and lab coats.  And there are a ton of tropes, right down to some relationship points, a feature that I really love seeing, but never is used more than a one time joke.  Inns always have a contrived reason to let you stay and restore your MP.

And the visuals, they are an odd mix of 8/16-bit RPGs, general pixel art, and it looks great.  The designs are a bit on the bland side, with all of the characters lacking some form of polish, if the boxart did not tip you off.  But the designs are funat the least, menus are well laid out, and I found myself to enjoy seeing the two frame animations of the characters overworld sprites as they went through recycled caves, which are all pretty big, but treasure is easy to spot, and your run speed is amazingly fast, with random encounters keeping a large distance between one and other, so much so that you actually have an automatic battle option in the manu, rather than walking in circles, waiting for some mobs to come and drop some gold that they ate.

I do not have much in terms of nits to pick, there is a bit of a difficulty bump about 60% through, but it was welcomed, since the majority of the game is not too difficult on normal.  Unless you don’t keep tabs on your current stats, since the game does not share them when you go too choose your level up option.  Except for the last boss, who has about thrice the HP of the previous group of 4 simultaneous bosses, who were pretty cake for me.  And while there is a score attack mode that challenges you to battle the bosses while you are underleveled, gaining a level and a half from a boss already makes me feel like I was underleveled, rather than overleveled.

But my minor problems are pretty negligible due to the fact that the game is a buck, and is a good 5-6 hours long.  It is a pretty interesting simple RPG that emphasises strategy, and with a very unique leveling system, it allows characters to develop different builds, increasing the total replay value.  From the oddly satisfying speed of the combat, too the pleasingly vibrant color pallet.  There is a very odd sense of joy that a good, screw it, JRPG can scratch, and  Breath of Death VII: The New Beginning sure did just that after the disappointment that was Final Fantasy XIII.  It might just be my desire for a quick paced game after Pokemon Conquest and Borderlands.  However, despite a bit of a lack in terms of polish with my favorite aspect of this game, the leveling system, I can safely declare that Breath of Death VII: The New Beginning is the best game that I bought for a dollar.

An impressive product, won’t always astound due to a fair number of flaws, but is very enjoyable and worth a purchase.

And if someone gets on my plums about calling the Xbox Indie Games crap, here are some games that I’d like to point out Wizorb, Curse of Crescent Isle, Twin Blades,I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, Fatal Seduction, Miner Digger Deep, Johnny Platform’s Biscuit Romp and Tempura of The Dead.  And trust me, I’d love to do an indie game bundle plug week, where I write about those games and more.  But I do not own a good chunk of those, and do not plan on doing that super week of indie lovin’, since I do not have an audience large enough for that too have any significance on their sales.

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