Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter

Ecological disaster has forced the human race far underground, where they gradually rebuilt their civilization in the depths of the earth. While on patrol, a security guard named Ryu and his friend Bosch have a run-in with the terrorist group Trinity, where they get separated. Ryu soon afterward encounters a mysterious, silent red-winged girl named Nina. Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter follows Ryu’s journey through the vast underground civilization in search of Bosch, Nina’s purpose, Trinity’s motives, and maybe even what lies above ground. Though vastly different from its predecessors, Dragon Quarter proves to be a solid and unique experience.

Countless foes wander the game’s vast underground corridors, with Dragon Quarter featuring the Positive Encounter and Tactics System (PETS), where Ryu or his allies can set traps to distract or damage the enemy and/or attack them to get an extra turn. Enemies, though, can attack the player and get an extra turn, as well. If the active character is powerful enough, attacking an on-screen enemy might just kill it instantly, leaving behind Party Experience distributable among all three playable characters (Party Experience, alongside normal experience and money, is also acquired from battle).

In most instances, however, attacking or being attacked by an on-screen enemy will trigger a battle, where, after the player or enemy executes their extra turn, your characters and the enemy will take their turns based on speed. When one of your characters takes their turn, they can move around in a circular area, with each step from their starting position consuming AP. They can also use AP to execute three different levels of attack, respectively consuming 10, 20, and 30 AP. Characters can chain different attacks together into combos for additional damage, and enemies, occasionally, can do the same. A character’s turn ends either when they run out of AP or the player ends their turn. After all characters and enemies have taken their turns, their AP gauges refill one full level, with your characters able to stock up AP to up to two times their default AP.

Each character can also use as many items as desired from the player’s inventory during their turns, and can either retreat by going through a door into a different room or do a penalty retreat that consumes some of the player’s money. Furthermore, Ryu eventually gains the ability to transform into an ultra-powerful demi-human form, although using this form will raise his D-Counter, which, upon reaching 100%, means Game Over. Ryu also has a special Dragon Dash ability outside of battle that lets him dash past enemies without encountering them, which also increases the D-Counter. If enemies completely kill the player’s party, they’ll lose half their money and all their items (except those stored in the locker), so it’s definitely best to play cautiously.

Mercifully, Dragon Quarter isn’t a terribly difficult game, especially given the ability to use unlimited items during a character’s turn, with the latter portion of the game being a cakewalk, as well, if players conserve Ryu’s dragon powers. Even so, the last few battles are certainly playable even without using his dragon powers as long as players keep a decent supply of items. There really isn’t much to complain about the battle system, except perhaps for the slight uncertainty of character and enemy turn order, but otherwise, the battle system is very enjoyable.

Dragon Quarter’s menus are easily navigable, with the only major interface issue being limited inventory and storage space, the former increasable through occasional backpack expansions gained from treasure chests. True, resolving this issue would certainly alter the game’s economy, though it might’ve been nice to not have to discard items constantly with a loaded backpack or storage locker. Players can perform permanent saves at terminals scattered throughout the underground world with a limited number of Save Tokens, although anywhere else, players can quit the game with soft saves that delete when loaded. Players can also “Give Up” and restart the game from either the most recent save terminal or the very beginning, keeping items stored in the locker and Party Experience. Overall, interaction is passable, though the issue of limited inventory space is certainly annoying.

Though Dragon Quarter retains elements of the Breath of Fire franchise such as Ryu, Nina, dragon powers, many enemies, and so forth, it contains countless gameplay innovations, many of which have yet to be copied by any RPG to date. Love or hate it, Dragon Quarter is one of the most original RPGs on the Playstation 2.

During an initial playthrough, Dragon Quarter’s story might seem pretty barebones, although depending upon your performance, your D-Ratio will possibly increase once you’ve beaten the game, which in turn unlocks a few additional cutscenes and extra areas to explore. The extra cutscenes do include some backstory, although even if you play through with the highest D-Ratio, the plot still leaves some questions unanswered, such as what the world above ground was like before the disaster that forced humans underground, and Ryu doesn’t exactly have much backstory. Overall, a bit of the story’s potential is wasted, although with the Scenario Overlay System, it can be a bit of a driving factor in consecutive playthroughs.

Hitoshi Sakimoto, with a little guidance from Yasunori Mitsuda, provides Dragon Quarter’s soundtrack, which creates an excellent ambience for the game with many fitting dungeon tracks and some nice cutscene music, such as the touching “A Small Departure.” Capcom, moreover, left the battle voices and voicework during the ending cutscene in Japanese, which not only saved the localization team money, but also spares players the horror of hearing their typically-terrible English voicework. Overall, a superb-sounding game.

The cel-shaded visuals very well abet the game’s atmosphere, with nicely-designed characters and monsters alongside clean environments (though they do show some slightly-sloppy texturing when seen up close). Cel-shaded CG movies open and end the game, as well, and overall, the graphics, in conjunction with the music, create an excellent ambience for Dragon Quarter.

Finally, Dragon Quarter isn’t a terribly lengthy game, with a single completion, if players know what they’re doing, possible in a little over five hours. However, if players wish to go all the way and try for a perfect 1/4 D-Ratio (which will certainly require a few jaunts through the game’s extra dungeon, Kokon-Horay), they can spend well up to over a hundred hours playing.

Overall, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is a game that successfully dares to be different from its predecessors, with a solid battle system, interesting story, superb presentation values, and plentiful lasting appeal. It certainly won’t appeal to those expecting it to play like the first four Breaths of Fire (and the gamers of Japan and America seemed to agree, given that there hasn’t been an original installment in years), although those looking for something different should definitely give this a look; even if it’s to be the final Breath of Fire, it’s still an excellent swan song.

The Good:
+Solid battle system.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Gorgeous graphics.
+Endless replay value.

The Bad:
-Inventory can fill up quickly.
-Save system can be irritating.
-Story could have been better-developed.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 10/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 5-100+ Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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