Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
Longtime Breath of Fire fans are in for a shock--this fifth installment of the always good (but rarely great) role-playing franchise abandons nearly every gameplay element the series is known for. A giant kingdom to explore? Nope, Dragon Quarter takes place exclusively in a cramped, postapocalyptic underground cave-no forests, rivers, or mountains to traverse this time. What about the giant cast of lovable characters? Sorry, you'll only get three party members to play with here. OK, at least you'll be able to relax by fishing, like in the past four games, right? Not a chance. The only water you'll find here is flowing through a trash-strewn sewer.
So, what does Dragon Quarter offer? Well, something entirely different. It's a survival-RPG that blends traditional role-playing concepts with gameplay ideas straight outta survival-horror games like Resident Evil. You still have the basic tenets of RPG-dom, including hit points, experience points, equipment, magic, and turn-based battles. But now those old-school ideas are coupled with such a severe level of difficulty that you'll be forced to avoid overly difficult battles, conserve healing resources, and find items in order to save (much like RE'S typewriter ribbons) just to stay alive. And if you do die, you're forced to make a colossal decision that could send you all the way back to the start of the game (scope the sidebar for the scoop).
Conceptually, it's truly groundbreaking stuff, but it's so daring that some of the leaps don't exactly work smoothly. However, if you're in the market for something funkily fresh and devilishly hard in the RPG realm, investigate Dragon Quarter.
I've played through a lot of RPGs over the years, so it's awfully hard for anything in the genre to surprise me. Well, Dragon Quarter did just that, throwing me for a loop and leaving me for dead with its obscene difficulty and whacked-out gameplay innovations. Be prepared--this game is insanely and unfairly difficult by design. Normal enemies will overpower you, healing items are a scarce commodity, restorative spells are nonexistent, and even saving your game is an arduous prospect. Chalk it up to the blasted Scenario Overlay System (SOL), wherein you restart the game from scratch and keep all your experience and items after you die. The game doesn't force you to SOL, but realistically, you'll have to do it in order to beat the game. You even get rewarded with extra cut-scenes when you replay via SOL! In my opinion, it's a cheap trick that ekes extra replayability out of a fairly short (less than 20 hours) RPG. It's a shame that the game is so damned tough, because I genuinely like every other aspect of it: The attractive cel-shaded visuals are car-toony yet dark and edgy, the soundtrack rocks, the bleak plot unfolds nicely, and the strategy-heavy battle system is among the best I've ever experienced. If only all of these elements could migrate over to a normal, more-fun RPG, I'd be in heaven. As it stands, Dragon Quarter remains a broken attempt at changing the RPG rules. Try before you consider buying.
I knew full well going into Dragon Quarter that I was going to die and have to restart--it's just a component of the gameplay. Perhaps this is why I never became frustrated like grumpy oP Shane. In fact, I kinda liked being able to start over at any time in order to replay areas with built-up stats and check out additional cut-scenes. The SOL system captured my attention, and the insanely cool, ultrastrategic battle system sucked me in further. Honestly, I don't think I've ever had as much fun with RPG battles before. The soundtrack rocks, too. The game may be a little out there, but seriously, this is just what the genre needs.
I will admit right now that when I first started playing Dragon Quarter, I hated it. Yes, the game's graphics are gorgeous, the character design is amazing, the music is fantastic, and the unique strategy-battle system rocks the house, but the game's scarcity of save points, clumsy inventory system, and seemingly impossible difficulty level made me wanna holler. Never before have I played a game that was designed to make me level up, make partial progress, and restart the game better prepared than before. While coming to grips with this system was initially frustrating, I stuck with it and saw it through to the rewarding end. A sleeper.
Download Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
It's nice to see the occasional role-playing game that isn't formulaic, something that shows the developer took some time to create a plot worth living in a game worth playing. Dragon Quarter: Breath of Fire does that so surprisingly well and in so many different ways, it almost transcends the RPG genre.
In Breath of Fire you take on the role of Ryu, a ranger in the buried world of Deep Earth. In Ryu's world a persons importance is measured by their D-Ratio which both identifies who they are and their latent potential. Unfortunately, Ryu's is exceptionally low ' until me meets the dragon that infuses Ryu with special abilities and cranks up his D-Ratio. Unfortunately, as the game progresses the D-Ratio increases until it finally kills him, unless you can stop it.
The game is set in a rich 3D environment created with beautifully drawn cel-shaded characters and well rendered backgrounds. Most of the game is played from a third-person perspective, zooming-out during combat phases to allow for a wider view of the battleground.
One of the big pluses of this RPG is that you don't have to engage every single creature or bad guy you see, and none of them appear out of thin air. You can try to rush through or past bad guys or even use Ryu's ranger abilities to lay traps that can damage, kill or immobilize the baddies while you sneak by. Combat in Breath of Fire offers several new twists to typical RPG frays. If you swipe a monster during your dungeon crawl before it touches you the game rewards you with a bonus attack in combat. Once in combat you use action points, which vary depending on character, equipment and levels, to maneuver your characters and choose attacks. Breath also offers combo attacks, allowing you to string together a chain of different skill level attacks to multiply the amount of damage.
This incredibly lengthy game is made much harder by a difficult, and at times frustrating, save system that only allows saves at certain spots in the game and only when you have a save token. Unfortunately it's relatively rare for these two events to both occur at the same time, which means you have to play very cautiously and not take on everything you see. Luckily, the game allows you to run away from most battles, with just a loss in money. The game also allows for temporary saves, which means you can save the game to go to sleep, but when you restart in the morning it will erase the data after it is loaded.
Another interesting new twist in Breath of Fire is something it calls the Scenario Overlay System, which basically means you can start the game over with your saved characters. Better still the second or third time through the game allows you to access areas you couldn't get to the first time around and gives you a chance to see new events. It's a clever way to build in replay value that works.
Dragon Quarter: Breath of Fire is a role-playing game that manages to capture all of the magic and addictiveness of RPGs without all of the repetitive and annoying elements that seem to perpetually plague this genre. This is a game worth owning, playing, replaying and keeping.