Originally published on Pixelitis.net on April 2, 2013.
(Editor’s note: From Alundra to Wild Arms, everyone’s got at least one videogame tune stuck in their heads. Enter Liner Notes: a Pixelitis feature in which our writers discuss their favorite videogame music.)
Given how Capcom’s first Breath of Fire on SNES served as the catalyst for my enjoyment of JRPGs and their music, its sequel could only make that flame grow all-the-more furiously.
And that it did. I flipped a lid when I discovered the existence of Breath of Fire II in an early ’96 issue of GamePro. I finally got it for my seventh birthday in March of that year and I was treated to a surprisingly dark story and a musical experience that still resonates with me to this day.
While Capcom’s first massive RPG outing featured several composers from in-house band Alph Lyla, Breath of Fire II’s soundtrack was left to a lone composer: Yuko Takehara, who had previously worked on Mega Man 6 and X and would later handle Street Fighter Alpha, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Mega Man 7 and 10. Takehara continued with the classical and orchestral flair of the first game, while also breathing in her own style in the form of rock-hard battle themes that call to mind her work on Mega Man.
Doom and gloom
Breath of Fire II is considerably darker than its predecessor in its plot and characters, and the music reflects that in many moments. Although the game dabbles in some light-hearted events (flushing yourself down a toilet, for instance), the game’s music handles the more serious plot points incredibly well.
Right from the get-go you have the title screen music, “The Destined Child,” a track that starts ominously with a brooding, synthesized orchestra. This builds up to a brief rest before exploding into a hair-raising flurry of string and horn instruments, now with a decidedly more triumphant feel to it.
The ominous tone continues even after you start a new game, where “A Voice Calling from the Darkness” ushers in the appearance of a freaky, pulsating demon eye that’s going on about “Praising God” and “becoming God’s strength.”
Speaking of God and the like, given the game’s take on Catholicism in the form of St. Eva’s Church, it makes sense for Takehara to add a tinge of organ-infused music in her work. This is done so with tracks like “Please God” and “God of Decadence.” The former represents the benevolent side of St. Eva’s Church, and the latter is the complete antithesis, serving as the theme for the game’s villain, the evil and brooding Deathevan – the malicious core of the Church. The synthesized soprano adds an extra layer of madness to the piece.
Following the events of the game’s prologue (where things go south for poor, young Ryu), the player is treated to slow, scrolling text set to a rising backdrop of Infinity, the game’s final dungeon and home to all the evil demons of the world. The chilling “No One Knows” plays here, fitting perfectly with the mysterious and moody feel of the game at this point. Following this is the reprise of “The Destined Child,” with the two halves of the game’s logo clashing together before the triumphant bit, which rekindles hope within the player and perfectly foreshadows Ryu’s eventual overcoming of his fears. This is how you kick off an epic JRPG.
Tunes to save the world by
The first Breath of Fire featured battle and world map themes that changed following pivotal moments in the plot, a nice touch that BoFII continued.
The game’s normal battle music, the upbeat “Cross Counter” could have easily found a place within any SNES Mega Man X title. Despite its brevity, it’s a rock-solid (pun intended) theme that features an impressive load of layered guitar riffs and harmonies. Halfway through the game, this theme changes to “Dying Corpse,” an even faster track with impressive drum work. I especially love those thrash metal-style blast beats.
The boss themes deserve praise too. Boss theme “I’ll Do It” had me at its shredding guitar intro, while “Clean Hit” is a great alternative for the more plot-centric battles, with the keyboard synths, grooving bass, quick drum fills and string backing creating a wonderful unison of dramatic tension. “Critical Moment,” the theme of the game’s second-to-last boss, Barubary, is another adrenaline-fueled tune that captures the sense of urgency and dread of fighting such a formidable foe.
Talk about epic! This glorious piece blasts through your TV speakers through Ryu’s more epic maneuvers, such as setting out to prove his friend’s innocence and/or furiously charging towards a sadistic demon god who just murdered your friends while avoiding his barrage of fireworks.
The music you hear before that random encounter
BoFII has three overworld themes in total. “We’re Rangers” serves as a chirpy traveling tune that represents the sort of naivety of Ryu and his canine partner-in-crime Bow’s early adventures.
Following the acquisition of the Phantom Thief who framed Bow for a theft he didn’t commit, the overworld tune changes into something very familiar for fans of the first game. “Breath of Fire” is an arrangement of the original game’s overworld music, retaining its triumphant melody whilst utilizing different instrumentation. There’s a bigger emphasis on the marching snare and flute in this version. I remember my young self getting insanely ecstatic about this one making its way into the game. Takehara may have seen Mari Yamaguchi’s piece as a main theme for the series, which makes it all-the-more unfortunate that the composers from BoFIII and onward did not adapt it in any way.
The final overworld theme, “Our Journey,” serves as a majestic piece for the last third of the game, featuring some beautiful flute playing. While epic in scope, it has a subdued melancholic feeling that seemingly preps you for the successive bouts of tragedy that occur throughout the remainder of the story.
One of the most calming tracks in the game lies in the mystical “Wanderer,” whose soothing pan flute backed by a soft-sounding synth and light, rolling crashes evokes a sort of Japanese folk influence.
Respite from those random encounters
When not having to worry about entering a battle after two steps, BoFII sports some fine situational music. Tracks like “Clumsy Dance” and “Fly Pudding” are chipper and whimsical. The latter’s harpsichord gives it a fitting touch of regalia.
This tune is the theme of Dologany, the final dwelling place of Ryu’s dragon-shifting ancestors. It’s situated as the halfway point of the game’s final, grueling dungeon, Infinity.
I can’t tell you the relief I felt the moment I knew I could save my progress after a seemingly endless stream of random encounters. “Crooked Ladder” carries a marvelously whimsical melody, and its ongoing harp arpeggios in the background gave an extra sense of comfort. In many ways, it’s like a calm before the impending storm that is the last half of the final dungeon.
Get your handkerchief ready…
As I have mentioned before, BoFII features some truly tragic and dark moments. Players witness some heartbreaking moments and experience some heartfelt conversations between the game’s protagonists and those they cherish. Tracks like the sullen “Left Unspoken” and “Daybreak” play during those specific points in the game, and they can cause quite a stir of sudden emotions within me when listening to them.
One of my favorite melancholic tunes is “Memories,” a music box-esque lullaby that plays near the beginning of the game as you guide a young Ryu through the thick brush in the backwoods of his hometown. Prior to this point, the game maintains a black and white hue to denote that it’s a flashback, however once you guide Ryu out of the brush into a clearing of butterflies, the game’s true colors come to light in tandem with a rolling crash that brings in a beautiful, simplistic orchestral melody that conjures up, (believe it or not), some magically nostalgic memories within me.
After all is said and done, the game’s ending credits music plays the game off in a spectacular and satisfying conclusion, tying themes like “Breath of Fire” and “Our Journey” together in a grand finale, regardless of whether the ending you got was grandiose or woefully depressing.
If there’s any constructive criticism I can give for the game’s soundtrack (and so I can look like less of a fanboy), it’s that there aren’t as many tracks as other games in the series, and some tracks feel underdeveloped in their brevity. The game could’ve used more town and dungeon music, especially when you notice that the oft-repeated “There’s Something Here” dungeon music loops frequently and is merely comprised of a few chords played in succession with one key change.
Having an appreciation for Breath of Fire II’s music as a whole may prove to be an acquired taste, particularly those who haven’t experienced its usage within the game. Nevertheless, there are a plethora of memorable tracks to take away from it, and shouldn’t be ignored by any JRPG or Capcom soundtrack afficionado. Breath of Fire II’s music carries a lot of emotional weight despite its brevity, and still manages to be a wonderfully epic experience.
Top Five Tracks:
Also check out:
- “Century of the Patriarch”
- “Grab the Tail” (compare the main melody to Breath of Fire’s “Black Dragon”)
- “A Whale La-La-La”
- “Let Me Sleep So I May Dream”
- “Sandy Slumber”
- “White Wings”
- “Lethal Dose”
- “The Closing of the Dragon’s Eye at the End of the Tale”