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Excerpt: “Beauty, Dragons, and Isometric Horror: Revisiting Breath of Fire IV”

Breath of Fire IV concept art

By the time of its release, Breath of Fire IV was competing in a JRPG genre that had changed drastically in a very short period of time. Final Fantasy VII ushered in a new era of 3D worlds with visuals that focused on cinematic storytelling and unique set pieces. In contrast, Breath of Fire IV feels like the continuation of 16-bit style JRPGs from a universe where Final Fantasy VII was never released. Its use of brilliantly drawn and animated 2D sprites is nearly unrivalled even today, and they manage to convey a broad range of character and emotion that reminds me of Square’s best work from the 16-bit era — like Chrono Trigger or Super Mario RPG, which really showcased how talented pixel artists could leverage their work for storytelling — but upgraded to the nth degree. This is pixel art perfection.

As tech continues to evolve, we’re reaching ever closer to the point of photorealism, but in many ways I’ve never felt so disconnected from the visuals in my games. Instead, I think one of the main reasons I’m drawn to older games is that they require a marriage between the game designers and the player. These games hold whole worlds within them, but you can only display so much detail at 240p resolution. And so the game reaches out to the player by offering a level of abstraction and asks them to bring their own interpretation of what they see on screen. The sprites here are not photorealistic, but they’re realized, and that, to me, is more immersive than photorealistic models and animations that teeter on the edge of the uncanny valley.




A blog about old games, JRPGs, and gaming as an adult.

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Aidan Moher

Aidan Moher

Hugo Award-winning writer with work in Kotaku, Wired, Uncanny Magazine, and He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and kids.

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