Play by Play - Breath of Death VII: The Beginning

By Brian • 9 October 2022

Breath of Death I - VI compilation coming soon to Nintendo Switch.

[Author’s Note: This is another unpublished blog I pulled from the depths of my Google Drive to do the heavy lifting while life has been hectic. It reads more like a review than what I typically write for Bad Enough Dudes, but it’ll do. I hope you enjoy!]

Roleplaying games. They’re a lot of fun, but time is always an issue. Committing to an RPG means putting in some 20 to 80 hours of gameplay, and while there’s a good chance it will probably be one of the better games I have ever played, putting that many hours into a game means I’ll be playing it for the next four to six months (longer if the game has sidequests or cooking and crafting). Come on, RPGs! I want to play you, not marry you. That would be weird, and my wife would be pretty upset, too.

But wait! Did you know that an incredible, old school roleplaying game in the vein of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest exists that will only take you six to ten hours to finish, and it’s also really good? You didn’t? Then stay awhile and listen.

LOOK OUT, a skele—oh, that's you. [Image credit: Zeboyd Games]

Some time ago, Craig introduced me to an Xbox Live indie game called Cthulhu Saves the World, a roleplaying game with 8-bit aesthetics and a charming sense of humor, two traits that will sell me on a game pretty much instantly, especially when their powers combine. Shortly thereafter, I purchased Cthulhu Saves the World on Steam, as part of a 2-pack with a similarly styled RPG by the same developer, Zeboyd Games, called Breath of Death VII: The Beginning. The name screams parody, and the game quickly fought its way to the top of my to-play list. (Relatively speaking—the to-play list is only like 150 games long.) Breath of Death VII: The Beginning proved to truly be the beginning of great things for Zeboyd Games, featuring a streamlined RPG experience, a manageable length, enough RPG in-jokes to give any fan of the genre plenty of delighted smirks and chuckles, and a lot of fun.

Breath of Death VII is the story of a world ravaged by war in the year 20XX, the aftermath of a horrific weapon that wipes out all life on the planet. In time, the undead claim the planet and restore order, medieval civilization, and happiness. Of course, evil decides to show up and ruin everything, so a skeleton knight named Dem takes matters into his own hands (er, bones) to set things right. Joining forces with Sara, the ghostly historian; Lita, a tech-savvy vampire, and Erik the zombie prince, Dem takes on evil in a light-hearted, turn-based roleplaying game.

Might I ask what OTHER RPG gives you the “Call Wolves” command?! [Image credit: Zeboyd Games]

In recent years, a lot of the flaws of roleplaying games of the past have been exposed. Who can forget the endless grinding through legions of monsters for gold and experience in Final Fantasy, or the painfully slow walking speed in Dragon Warrior? At the time, they were just part of the game, but by today’s standards, they feel suspiciously like artificial padding inserted to lengthen the game experience. Can I really say I enjoyed the arduous task of buying 99 heal potions—one at a time—in Final Fantasy so I could survive the next dungeon? It’s something I’d rather forget, and is probably the main reason I tend to play the updated Gameboy Advance version of Final Fantasy today.

The good news is that where previous role-playing games have failed, Breath of Death VII does a lot of things right, namely streamlining the RPG experience. Combat is quick and fun, and all characters have a wide variety of options, including special techniques, magic, and combo techniques similar to those in Chrono Trigger. Instead of relying on piling up recovery items, characters regain all their hitpoints and a few mana points at the end of each fight. (MP can also be recovered at save points.) The pretentious old-school gamer may find this deplorable, but it eliminates repetitive trips to the item shop to stock up on healing potions, and still requires a good deal of strategy in rationing mana points when trekking through a long dungeon. A crafty player might just camp by a save point and plow through all of the fights, but where’s the fun in that?

[Image credit: Zeboyd Games]

Speaking of plowing through fights, there is a set number of random encounters in each area. Players can either let the fights come to them, or they have the option of choosing the “fight” command from the menu and picking a fight whenever they want. The game will either gradually run out of monsters during the player’s trek through an area, or choosing “fight” over and over again can effectively exhaust an area’s population of monsters at the player’s discretion. I found this to be a clever and welcome addition. Finally, Zeboyd solves the age old conundrum of why enemies continue to attack even after seeing hundreds of their ilk slaughtered by adventuring heroes. You would assume they would think better of it after awhile, and Breath of Death VII’s limited random encounters stand in as a sort of creature common sense, saving the lives of so many monsters, not to mention saving players from so many hours of repetitive combat.

On the subject of time, Breath of Death VII is fairly linear and undemanding of players’ available gaming hours. Certain areas, particularly city ruins, are plagued by irritating level design that seems open at first, but actually requires the player to navigate around carefully placed shrubs and other obstacles in such a way that there is actually only one narrow, meandering path through the area, making for some unnecessarily time-consuming adventures. On the plus side, with the exception of a few optional dungeons, Breath of Death VII doesn’t bog the player down with cumbersome sidequests like Chocobo breeding, fishing, or collecting all the golden Skulltulas. I’m a completionist and always get suckered into doing a bunch of sidequests that are more irritating than fulfilling. It was nice to enjoy an RPG without the pressure of finishing a number of optional tasks that aren’t fun, but leave the game incomplete if left unfulfilled.

Dem thinks for silent protagonists everywhere. [Image credit: Zeboyd Games]

Lastly, the game’s sense of humor proved immediately enchanting. Being a skeleton, our main protagonist, Dem, is mocked for his inability to speak, falling into the same mold as many other silent protagonists like Link or Crono. He does have an annoyed, deadpan inner monologue, however, which is brought to the forefront by Sara, the ghostly historian. Sara constantly reads his thoughts and is certain that he is in love with her, irritating Dem to no end. Later, the game notifies you that Dem has gained “relationship points” with Sara, poking fun at any number of romance simulators or RPGs with pedestrian relationship systems. The townsfolk in the various villages offer friendly advice that draws attention to various tropes of the genre, such as bosses being immune to status ailments like blind or silence. Gravestones are almost all adorned with some amusing anecdote or quote concerning the entombed. The game’s cities, such as Motherbound, for instance, all subtly hint at the names of other roleplaying games. I could go on—there’s a lot here to enjoy if you have a sense of humor and won’t be too offended if your favorite game is picked on.

It’s rare when a video game successfully meshes humor with good gameplay, but Breath of Death VII has both to spare. It’s a throwback to the classic Japanese roleplaying game, without the grind, slow pace, confusing menus, or ultra-serious tones. Plus, it’s not every day that you get to play a video game in which you’re the skeleton, instead of the skeleton being one of the bad guys. Give it a shot—I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.