Breath of Fire Series
Capcom’s Breath of Fire series is a critically acclaimed series of medieval RPGs, spanning 1993’s Breath of Fire for the Super Nintendo to 2002’s Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter for the PlayStation 2. Whereas most RPG series developed in quite a linear way musically, each of the five scores in the Breath of Fire series is very different and there is little thematic or stylistic conservation between them. Each score is is highly interesting for different reasons: the unwarranted ambitious scores of Yamaguchi’s Breath of Fire, the rich classical orchestrations of Takehara’s Breath of Fire II, the carefree jazz innovations of Kaida’s Breath of Fire III, the conflicted cultural influences of Aoki’s Breath of Fire IV, and the diverse moody soundscapes of Sakimoto’s Breath of Fire V.
Continuing our Breath of Fire-themed month, we analyse the series’ albums below. The series’ has been commemorated with several soundtrack releases, some more complete than others, as well as a definitive eleven disc box set. Check the reviews through the links below. In previous aspects of our coverage, we interviewed and profiled series’ composer Yoshino Aoki, translated the composer and developer comments in the liner notes of the series’ box set, and revealed news and samples about the upcoming title Breath of Fire 6. Check out our analysis and reviews below:
Breath of Fire
Under Yasuaki Fujita’s lead, a team of four composers created music that not only fitted the scenes in the game, but also pushed numerous musical and technical boundaries on the Super Nintendo too. Tracks such as “The Dragon Warrior”, with its conflicting heroic melodies and urgent bassline, or “White Dragon” with its sweeping piano and harpsichord counterpoint, are certainly among the most sophisticated and emotional compositions created for the console. Away from these defining compositions, there are tracks such as Yoko Shimomura’s sole contribution “Trade City” with its mellow soundscapes, “Beginning of Battle” with its upbeat Rockman vibe, and the samba “Song and Dance”; while none are exceptionally impressive on their own, they collectively come together to create a diverse and mostly fulfilling soundtrack. It’s certainly wonderful that it has been released at last and the exclusive tracks here are definitely the best ones.
Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box (complete)
Breath of Fire II
Of all the scores in the series, Breath of Fire II‘s has the most noticeable continuity with its predecessor. Among the similarities include the focus on orchestral elements, the use of RPG staples, and the employment of similar synth samples. One theme, “Breath of Fire”, even offers a delightful arrangement of the overworld theme from the first game, providing one of the only examples of thematic continuity in the series. That said, Yuko Takehara’s offerings here are not always progressive; the top-heavy orchestration of pieces such as “The Destined Child”, “Century of the Patriarch”, and “Thank You, Everyone” is striking, but somewhat obnoxious and uninspiring, while the rock-tinged battle themes like “Cross Counter” and “Lethal Dose” are average in nature and awkwardly clash with the rest of the score. Nevertheless, the composer’s talent does shine through in tracks such as the two-tiered “Kingdom”, contemplative interlude “Left Solo”, and awe-inspiring invention “God of Decadence”, all of which are among the best in the series.
Breath of Fire III
On the PlayStation’s Breath of Fire III, new composers Akari Kaida and Yoshino Aoki turned tradition on its head, daringly abandoning the orchestral sound in favour of frivolous jazz tracks. The fruits of their labours are reflected in delightful themes such as “Without a Care”, “Half Done is Done”, and “My Favorite Trick”; with their catchy xylophone-led melodies, funky bass lines, and frivolous development sections, these tracks are extraordinarily different from RPG norm and prove strangely compelling too. There is some diversity away from the headlining themes, whether the melancholy main theme “An Offering to the Dragon”, the smooth jazz interlude “Eden”, or the rocking final battle theme “Self-Determination”, the results are usually satisfying in and out of context. That said, there is a lot of filler in the full release and sometimes the jazz pieces can sound superficial and uninspiring.
Breath of Fire IV
For Breath of Fire IV, Yoshino Aoki took the sole composing duties of this title and focused on portraying the two contrasting scenarios. Much of the soundtrack restores the orchestral focus of the series, but with more elaborate and better synthesised compositions. This is perhaps best reflected by the normal battle theme, “It’s An Easy Win!”, an initially straightforward composition that develops through some incredible secondary sections to demonstrate Aoki’s might as an orchestral composer. Further colour and emotion is reflected in the modest, yet increasingly elaborate, arrangements of the contemplative main theme, “The End and the Beginning”, including its heartbreaking recapitulation at the ending. In addition to such orchestral tracks, Aoki portrays the scenario of the antagonist Fou-Lu with ethnic instruments, wild rhythms, and malicious dissonance. When the characters finally clash in “A Raging Emperor’s Banquet”, the hybridised resultant final battle theme is spectacular.
Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter
Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter is title is the only game in the series to be scored externally and, in fact, also the first to be composed solely by a man: Hitoshi Sakimoto. The composer once again turns the series’ tradition on its head to offer the most dark entry in the series and probably his most stylistically diverse score to date. There are plenty of tracks that maintain the action-packed orchestral sound he developed on various RPGs — for instance, “Attack”, “Imminent Crisis”, and “Barbinger” — to delightful effect. However, there are others that are reminiscent of his experimental ambient creations on Vagrant Story, such as the multi-tiered “Waste Shift”, and those that enter new territories, such as the gorgeously layered electronic-ambient theme “Power Supply Building”. Thanks to the outsourcing of sound production to Procyon Studio, the various tracks are also impressively implemented and all the more immersive as a result. There are a few blips, most depressingly another weak vocal theme, but everything else in this release is surprising and wholesome.
Breath of Fire V -Dragon Quarter- Original Soundtrack (complete)
Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box (complete)
Posted on May 26, 2014 by Chris Greening. Last modified on May 27, 2014.