Breath of Fire had menus ahead of its time

I want to add “for a Super Famicom era game" to this post's title, but as I find myself pressing select in Final Fantasy 9 to back out of deep sub-menus — and failing —, I have to realize how often these twelve or so buttons buttons we have are not utilized. Breath of Fire makes a few mistakes here and there, but I am constantly being surprised by how well they handled all of this. The main point is that X, Y, L and R can be set to any of the sub-menus. Even having them hard-locked to something would have been nice, but they are completely customizable. With a tap of R I can select spells to cast. L gets me to my equipment and X to my items. If I just want to see my character’s stats I can tap select. From there I can press A to see the remaining menus.

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Select is the most powerful button in the game. Deep within the sub-menus I can tap select and it backs out. Entirely. This does not work in shops, which is an unfortunate miss. The biggest failing is easily not having an automatic-sort, making the item menu unforgivably clunky. Little details such as using L and R switch which character was changing equipment or casting spells or a button to check the selected item’s description would have been a huge welcome. Item details could be seen, but this had to be done through a specific sub-menu. If the spells also had the descriptions that would have been a huge time saver.

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But those details were rarely found in the games of its day, so I have to applaud Breath of Fire for doing everything else that it did. Navigating RPG menus is rarely as nice as and fast as it was in the original BoF. Capcom had some great ideas here. Unfortunately, it seems like they fucked up Breath of Fire 2.

To be continued...?