Breath of Fire II
Finished! A massive improvement over the dull BOF1 in every way.
My biggest problems with BOF1 were:
- Too easy: You can safely auto combat through much of the game
- Too simple: Dungeons and towns are all very similar without any interesting gimmicks
- Too annoying: Constant random battles against easy enemies and no "safe" means of overworld transportation until the very end of the game ruined the one thing I liked about BOF1—exploring the world for high powered gear
BOF2 improves on all of this. It maintains a decent level of challenge for most of the game, but in a fair way that rewards careful use of battle formations, spells, abilities, and consumables. The dungeons and towns are far more complex and interesting than in BOF1, with some interesting gimmicks and scenarios keeping things fresh. Finally, you get access to overworld transportation that heavily reduces or outright eliminates random encounters fairly early into the game, making it a lot easier to backtrack and find treasures.
I really enjoyed the final dungeon, which is massive and full of awesome treasure. The encounter rate is through the roof here, and I was getting into fights every 3-5 steps. I found that running from battle hardly ever works, so the better option is to use smoke bombs (or the rare Holy Scarf) to reduce the encounter rate. The second to last boss was brutal, and I really had to eke out every advantage possible including using common healing items. The last boss was comparatively easy.
Although it's a clear improvement over BOF1, there were still some annoying things that could have been improved. The random encounter rate is still way too high, but you can use a cheap consumable to reduce the rate somewhat if it really gets annoying. More annoyingly, I found that debuffing spells were completely useless as they hardly ever work on bosses—you are much better off buffing your own characters instead, which reduces the effectiveness of some of the spellcaster characters.
Other than that, I really enjoyed playing through this one. It's balanced quite well as I was able to complete it without having to stop to grind EXP or GP at all.