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   Breath of Death VII: The Beginning - Staff Review  

Dem Bones
by Alex Fuller

Platform
PC
BATTLE SYSTEM
4
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
3
MUSIC & SOUND
3
VISUALS
2
CHALLENGE
Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
Less Than 20 Hours
OVERALL
3.5/5
+ Easy-to-use but deep battle system
+ Strong dungeon layout.
+ Excellent script.
- World and story are lacking in content and character.
- Underwhelming visuals.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   It can only be a compliment to the work of Zeboyd Games that the biggest difficulty the PC version of Breath of Death VII: The Beginning has is the inevitable comparisons to its successor, Cthulhu Saves the World. While Cthulhu may have those little extra touches and experience, its predecessor still proudly stands tall right next to it. A very enjoyable experience from start to finish, Breath of Death easily provides far more entertainment and depth than its price would logically suggest.

   Breath of Death VII is set in a future where humanity has been wiped out thanks to a nuclear war, their place now taken by the undead. The game follows the skeletal hero Dem as he takes on the role of silent protagonist, a role he is suited to by having no tongue. Fortunately this affliction doesn't affect players very much, as Dem's companion Sara can hear his thoughts, letting players learn both the original thoughts and Sara's slightly different interpretations of them. As with Cthulhu Saves the World, the story is focused much more on humour than any underlying narrative. While the actual plot outside of the humour is lacking, the excellent writing in the script certainly makes up for it. The occasional reference may be a bit forced, but on balance the humour moves along at a good pace and keeps the enjoyment rolling. Dem and his three companions are entertaining and their dialogues are a pleasure to read. While the NPCs don't generally have much to add outside of a few jokes, those that are involved in the story also have their moments.

   The premise of the undead world is an interesting one; unfortunately, outside of this, the world has very little setting it apart. Despite being welcome as rest points and breaking up the dungeon-crawling, towns do suffer from a lack of character and inhabitants, and while the dungeon settings are at least varied, there's not much that remains memorable about them. The layouts of the dungeons, however, are generally very good and one area where Breath of Death does have the edge over Cthulhu. Dungeons never feel too long and are enjoyable to explore, featuring many branching paths and often having more than one potential route to the exit. Being a very linear game in terms of story, the world map doesn't have as much freedom as the dungeons but does contain some optional dungeons to reward the players who do trek slightly off the linear path.

RPG Article 4: Clear hints will be given for an upcoming boss fight. RPG Article 4: Clear hints will be given for an upcoming boss fight.

   Breath of Death's first-person-view battle system is one that looks simple at first glance, but has an excellent amount of hidden depth that requires players to think about their moves. The game uses a simple turn-based format, enemies get stronger each turn, meaning players can't rest on their laurels and simply grind out victories. Even random battles will provide a good challenge and defeat those who become complacent. The party has a good number of skills and spells to choose from, each with their own special effects. In addition to single character skills, there are Unite skills that allow multiple party members to link up and perform even more powerful moves. The game also makes use of an interesting Combo system, which powers up certain moves as the count gets higher (although using one of these moves will reset the Combo counter).

   Health is automatically restored after battle, along with a bit of MP, which helps to circumvent the lack of usable items and keep things moving along at a brisk pace. Battles themselves are also able to move along quickly, with minimal animations and instantly displayed battle messages, going at a pace dictated entirely by the player's button presses. The only usable items in the game are in the form of potions that fully restore a character's health and act as welcome emergency backup for when battle isn't going quite to plan. Random battles are usually well spaced and don't intrude much onto the dungeon exploring, in fact serving to break it up fairly well. Each area has a limit on the number of random battles, but players can force-start a battle even if this limit is reached. It's an excellent system, also seen in Cthulhu, that helps the game cater to both those who like to keep on battling and those who wish to explore every nook and cranny. Players do get to choose from one of two bonuses when leveling up, allowing for some limited customization of the party. It is a nice addition that keeps everything simple and flowing, but also lets players mold the party into being more effective with their preferred tactics.

   Despite being mostly the same game as on Xbox Live Indie Games, some very useful improvements have been brought from Cthulhu Saves the World into the PC version of Breath of Death. Players are now able to save anywhere in the game, not just the specific points dotted around that also serve to restore MP. This greatly helps to keep the flow of the game going and allows it to be even more user-friendly. In addition players can also get rid of old equipment, which helps prevent the limited equipment system and process of switching equipment from becoming anywhere near as awkward to use as it was previously. Cthulhu's 1ups are not one of the additional features added to Breath of Death so losing a battle will always see players returning to their last save point, although as saving is now available anywhere this isn't a big loss.

RPG Article 9: All technology-inspired locations will have glowing tubes. RPG Article 9: All technology-inspired locations will have glowing tubes.

   Breath of Death VII isn't likely to eat up too many hours of time, and should come in at between five and seven hours for completion. The difficulty balance of both random and boss battles is very fair on normal difficulty, preventing players from becoming complacent, but without ever making things feel unfair or reliant on luck. There are multiple difficulty settings, so players who completed the game have the option to test themselves on a higher difficulty. Also included is the same Score Attack mode found in Cthulhu Saves the World, which awards points for defeating the game's bosses at a low level.

   The sixteen-bit visuals of Breath of Death are fairly charming, and one area where more of Cthulhu's improvements would be welcome. It is slightly disappointing that the battle screen always has a completely black background, and some of the environments are cluttered. Enemies are a lot more generic than the game's Lovecraftian counterpart, as well as the town and dungeon architecture. The lack of these visual features certainly don't distract within the game itself, but they are noticeable when coming into the game after Cthulhu. The music selection is good and serves to complement the rest of the game well and, although sounding somewhat generic, is enjoyable to listen to.

   Breath of Death both harkens back to the simple days of sixteen-bit graphics and a classic turn-based battles, but also looks to the future with some nice innovations that break the mold. It is both easy to pick up and deep enough that the gameplay appeal should fit across all levels of RPGamers, and the excellent writing only furthers its striking universal appeal. Breath of Death certainly has room for improvement, most notably in fleshing out the world and story, but along with its sister game, Cthulhu Saves the World, Zeboyd Games has earned plaudits that are very much deserved.

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