Breath of Fire II
Breath of Fire II
January 21, 1995
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When looking back, I must admit that I have only fond memories of playing Breath of Fire II on the SNES; the captivating story with its mythological duality, the diverse cast of anthropomorphic protagonists, and the straightforward, classic RPG feel were all essential contributions to one of the most wondrous tales that emerged from that era. Such parts of a whole determined how a game would turn out: all the pieces must be there, each with there own unique shape and quality, each designed in preparation to fit into the greater picture. And thus, integral too was the musical score, beautifully complimenting all of the aforementioned aspects in a way that heartily strengthened the structural foundation of the game and paved the way for the enthralling presentation of one of the video game world’s most memorable adventures.
While the first Breath of Fire game was scored by four members of the former Capcom Sound Team Alph Lyla, the second iteration of the series was handled by Ms. Yuko Takehara. While the two share similar characteristics for consistency’s sake (and even the brief appearance of a theme from the original game), Breath of Fire II still maintains an overall different feel from its predecessor.
From the driving ferocity of the title music, “The Destined Child”, the player is immediately aware that his or her journey will be one of epic proportions, one that tests the minds and bodies of the heroes to their limits — and often beyond. Everything here is golden for the most part; the charming, delicate village theme “My Home Sweet Home”, the highly catchy and baroque-inspired “Fly Pudding”, “Kingdom” with its classical orchestral feel, the dark organ and choral fugue “God of Decadence”, and the solemn and mysteriously tragic dragon theme “Daybreak” all come to mind. Rather off-kilter sounds (for RPG music, anyway) are detectable at times as well, such as “Century of the Patriarch” which mixes some nice string colors emplying open fifths and minor third modulations, while the mystical “Let Me Sleep So I May Dream” plays flute and oboe in a harmonious duet over quiet strings and lovely harp glissandos. The three Overworld themes all do their jobs too, especially the title piece “Breath of Fire” with its striking main theme and the grandiosely dramatic “Our Journey”. Throw in some excellent and rocking battle themes like “Cross Counter”, “I’ll Do It!”, and “Dying Corpse”, and you’ve pretty much sealed the deal for a great RPG album.
While all of the other tracks weave there way into the game fitting scene and emotion well and precisely, there’s one in particular that was presented in such an attractive fashion that it deserves a little extra consideration. So, let’s take “Memories” and its corresponding scene: as the player advances through the first village into the grasslands behind, black and white tones hushing the modest 16-bit graphics, a soft, innocent music box melody begins. The player makes their way to the edge of the tall grasses, the melody continues. And then, upon reaching the edge of the field, a blossoming suspended cymbal leads out of the echo of the music box and into the heart of a warm, rich, and simplistic orchestral passage as the color scheme takes full bloom; it’s at that point that the game comes alive, the drama of the brilliant direction inspiring genuine awe.
Realistically speaking, there is very little content here that can be considered musically novel or inventive by any means. However, it would be essential for me to point out that, while there is indeed nothing compositionally groundbreaking, the model archetype of the stereotypical SNES role-playing game soundtrack is one that cannot be entirely superimposed onto the score of Breath of Fire II. The reason for this is simple, but elusive: the music just has something more. While this could be any number of things, I am positive of the existence of something unseen, something that boils silently beneath the surface to keep the music alive and meaningful. Maybe it is the psychological tie with the experience of the game. Or, perhaps, it’s that graceful cymbal flourish here, that carefully written grace note there, the sensitive chord progression in this piece, the perfectly timed resolution in that piece… you get the picture. It’s in that nameless detail that I fervently believe in this soundtrack’s effectiveness (just as I do of the first Breath of Fire soundtrack), and where I draw the means from which to recommend it as an RPG music classic.
The single negative issue I have with this album revolves around Capcom’s rather irritating and perplexing decision to not include all the music from the game (a mistake unfortunately repeated for the next installment’s soundtrack release). What makes even less sense is that the disc as a whole only clocks in at around 50 minutes — they could’ve easily fit a handful of additional tracks in, and that would’ve easily been enough to make it a complete soundtrack. Fortunately the tracks that made it represent most of the good portion from the score. While the presentation might diminish the value of the album, you’re already going to be paying a large sum of money for this out-of-print gem. It may therefore be better to head for the Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box for a complete version of the score.
As previously described, upon listening to this album you will be witnessing a legend being born from beginning to end, only without the visuals. But a story delivered entirely with sound has its own value, one that I’ve come to know over time through the musical narratives of countless games, this one included. If you’ve played the game, you’re experience of this album is certain to be enriched; and if not, perhaps it’s not a worthy listen for you. Ultimately, however, I won’t deny the value of Breath of Fire II‘s soundtrack: dark and yet light, energetic yet elegant, simple but epic. And thus, a classic is born.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Joe Schwebke. Last modified on January 23, 2016.