Review: Breath Of Fire: Dragon Quarter (PS2)

Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Teen (Blood, Partial Nudity, Violence)
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 2/18/03

The Breath of Fire series has a storied history. The original, which was developed by Squaresoft, was regarded as one of the better RPGs for the Super Nintendo. For the rest of the series, Capcom decided to drop Square and develop the games on their own. For the most part, they’ve done a good job creating interesting and innovative games that were pleasurable to play. While they certainly weren’t the best games out there, they weren’t the worst either.

Each game in the series has had a different story, but two characters are in every Breath of Fire game: Ryu and Nina. This is an interesting aspect, and I suppose it could mean that they are soulmates, but the characters different personalities in each game, and it doesn’t seem all that important in the grand scheme of things.

The first 3 games in the series were good games, and they were fun to play, but the fourth was a let down after the third, which I consider to be the pinnacle of the series. So for the fifth game, Capcom took it a whole new direction, creating a completely different game from the rest, but the question is, how does it compare to the rest of the series?

Thanks to a giant catastrophe that ravages the surface of the planet, the world’s inhabitants moved underground so that they could continue to live. Since it’s a different world 1000 meters beneath the surface, a group of individuals called Rangers are charged with protecting the people. The protagonist of the game, like with all previous Breath of Fire games is named Ryu, and he is a Ranger, but unlike most Rangers, he has a very low D-Ratio. With a rating of 1/8192, Ryu is near the bottom of the barrel as far as the Rangers are concerned, so Ryu is out to prove that he’s not just a “Low-D”.

In the beginning of the game, Ryu is sent out with his partner Bosch, who has a D-Ratio of 1/64, which makes him a very important person in the Rangers. Their mission is to escort a cargo lift to its destination. Ryu views this as boring work, but it turns out to be much more exciting than he previously thought because a group called Trinity, who is against the Rangers, attacks the lift and causes Ryu and Bosch to be separated. After gaining his bearings, he finds a creature that is holding an unconscious girl with wings. Ryu, being the nice guy that he is, saves the girl and finds out that her name is Nina, which shocks everyone who has played a Breath of Fire game. Since neither of the two really knows where they are, they set off together in search of a way back to civilization.

While the story itself isn’t too bad, it just isn’t as good as in previous games in the series. It’s somewhat disappointing, to be perfectly honest. There is little or no humor to be found in the game, and the story was just apparently thrown together to augment the gameplay, it seems. That’s not a bad thing, because there are many games that do that, but it’s unfortunate that a series that has had really good stories in the past has a mediocre one. In addition, one gripe I have is with text boxes. When people talk, the text boxes are too damn small. You have to read 3 or 4 text boxes just to get through one sentence at times, and the font is small enough as it is. That particular feature could have greatly been improved.

This is one place that Capcom apparently decided to throw out the book on everything they’ve done before and start over. Many ideas are very innovative, while others just make you scratch your head. Hopefully you’ll understand why Capcom themselves considered this game to be a “Survival RPG”.

Battles are one of the most unique things about this game. They remind me of a cross between Xenogears and Vagrant Story. Your character can move and attack within a certain range, and how many attacks they can do and how far they can move is based on AP or Active Points. For example, if an enemy is far away, you can move closer to them, but can use fewer attacks. But if they are next to you, they can be attacked more often. As in Xenogears, there are 3 levels of attacks, Low, Medium and High. By using your AP, you can chain attacks together and make combos. Each consecutive attack you do in a combo will increase the amount of damage you do, so the first attack would do regular damage, the second would do 10% more, the third would do 20% more, etc. You gain new attacks, called Skills, from enemies and treasure chests. Another nice thing is that if you end your turn and you have AP, it will be saved up for next turn. Also, AP functions like MP in other games, and since it replenishes every turn, you don’t have to keep using items to fill it back up.

Battles are not random though, and monsters can be seen before battle is engaged. They added a little twist to this common aspect though. Depending on how the battle is initiated, certain characters will get a bonus turn at the beginning. For example, if you attack an enemy before they attack you, whoever was leading the party will gain a bonus attack. But if the enemy attacked you first, then they get a free turn. Where it gets more interesting is with traps. Traps are many things, but primarily meats and bombs. Fresh meat will attract enemies to it, which serves one of several functions. If you don’t want to fight, it will distract the enemies so you can pass them without initiating battle, but it is also good to get enemies in a group so you can attack them all at once. There is also rotten meat, which repels enemies. There are several types of bombs, but they all do basically the same thing, which is hurt the enemy. It is a good tactic to throw some fresh meat to get the enemies together and then throw a bomb or two at them to lower their life BEFORE initiating battle. Here is where a big gripe comes in though, because battles last so long (battles with a single regular enemy could take upwards of 10 minutes or more) that you’ll WANT to avoid enemies, especially since there are SO MANY of them at times. I think the traps are nice, but Capcom is forcing you to use them to avoid enemies at times by putting so many enemies together. But still, I don’t avoiding battles because I’m the type of gamer that will NEVER run from a battle unless necessary.

With the interesting battle and trap systems out of the way, lets get to some stinkers. First of all, you can only have a limited amount of items in your inventory. The amount goes up as the game progresses, but I’ve never been a fan of limited inventory. Next is Save Tokens, which you use to save the game. This is something that made me want to say, “Capcom, put away the big phatty crack rock!” You start out with one save token, and you only rarely get more. On top of that, save spots are few and far between. Plus, you can only have one save game. This is getting good, right? It gets worse. When you start the game, it generates an ID that is put on the save game, so that if you try to copy the save game to a different memory card, it will not work. So there is only one save game you can make, and there are no backups. Normally that wouldn’t be such a big deal, but if you die and restore the game from the last save, you lose your items and money that you gained, but you keep your levels and skills. These are things that may have been designed to be innovative and challenging, but it just makes the game extremely frustrating. You can also make a temporary save at any time if you are ready to turn the game off, but that save is deleted once you load the game up.

I suppose this is a good time to talk about SOL. The game says that SOL means Scenario Overlay system, but I’ve always heard that SOL means Shit Out of Luck, which is extremely appropriate here. When you die, you are given two options: Restart or Restore. I mentioned Restore above, where you just load the save game, but all you keep are skills, experience and equipped items/weapons. Restart lets you restart the entire game (that’s right, the whole game) from scratch, only keeping skills, Party XP (which serves as an XP pool that can be used on anyone) and items stored in a storehouse. When you do a Restart, there are things that may open up for you like new scenes and new areas to explore. You can even improve Ryu’s D-ratio by Restarting and getting further than you did before.

This is where another problem comes in, because there will be times when you HAVE to restart. Dying is very common for several reasons. First of all, the enemies are challenging, and like I said before, there is a fair amount of them. Secondly, as the game progresses, you gain some special Dragon abilities, like in previous BOF games, but in this one, if you use them too much, you die. Game over. Fin. Ah, but you can at least restart, but still there should be some other limit to using the abilities other than DEATH. The last way probably won’t be used as much, but you can Give Up, which is basically committing suicide, so you can restart. Yea, it doesn’t make much sense to me either, but maybe in their hallucinogenic state, the creators thought it was a great idea. On the good hand, if you win the game (which can take as little as 8 hours, assuming you don’t die 50 times and can avoid many battles), you can Restart, keeping basically everything including your levels and money. You still can’t keep any non-equipped items though. Also, if you restart after winning the game, it will open up new areas and allow you to get new weapons and such.

Overall, there are some great innovative concepts to be found, but the whole system is overly complicated and things are thrown in to make it challenging but end up making the whole game a chore. This is also the type of game where you have to read the manual simply because the in game information is too vague to be of any sure. There are too many limits to things (items, saving, etc) that make it feel more like Resident Evil (which Capcom dearly loves, but I hate with a passion). They had some good ideas here, but the really bad ones negate them all. I’m all for challenge, but to sacrifice such a necessary thing as saving the game is a travesty. Plus the fact that you have to play through the game at least twice to experience much of the story doesn’t appeal to me, but at least you can skip the scenes.

The previous Breath of Fire games featured some of the best pixel graphics around, and I really liked the designs that they featured. Capcom threw all that away and went with a new style using the newest (and most overused) fad available in games, which is cel-shading. The first time I saw screenshots of this game, I thought it looked ugly. After watching the opening intro, I thought that it might not be as bad as I previously thought, but I forgot that it was a prerendered intro. After having played the game, my initial reaction was correct. The game is just flat out ugly. Some may say that it has a nice style to it, but I think the style is very poor. The characters look like they were designed with a crayon by a 5 year old. Add to that the fact that there is a very large amount of aliasing and times of slowdown caused by the graphics, and this is clearly the worst part about the game.

The environments aren’t nearly as bad as the characters, but they’re pretty dull nonetheless. The game is staged beneath the surface of the planet, so it may be appropriate, but still the stages look very blocky. The biggest problem I see there is the fact that since many areas are dark, enemies can be very hard to see, which means you’ll run into plenty of enemies without knowing they are there. Overall, the graphics are just a big letdown, after seeing how good the graphics were in previous games. This is another game that proves that cel shading should only be used sparingly; otherwise the effect can be ruined by bad design.

If there was anything that could save the game at this point, it would be sound, but in this case, the sound is only adequate at best and can’t make up for the rest of the game. The music is good as a whole, but not a masterpiece in any way. It complements the game very well, but doesn’t stand out on its own.

The sound effects are rather disappointing though. Unlike many newer games, there is very little voice acting done, and what is done is not in English. Each character makes sounds when they attack, but it’s on the same level with previous BOF games. In fact, the same person who voiced him in the previous two games does Ryu’s voice. One character named Lin says the names of her attacks when she does them, but it’s in Japanese. Capcom would probably say that they were preserving the voices in the original to keep the experience authentic, but I think they were just lazy. In addition, the voices sound like they were recorded at very low quality and then ran through a digital filter, which makes them sound really bad. All in all, there was a lot of room left for improvement here.

Fun Factor
I can see how people could have fun playing this game, but it’s not that fun overall. Due to the frustrating aspects, it could be said that this game is devoid of fun, but I’ve been known as a masochist myself, and I’m sure there are others out there as well who may have fun playing this game. If you can ignore the poor graphics, the lack of a well-crafted story, and overlook the poor saving system, then I can easily see how the game can be fun. Throw in the Fairy Colony (just called the Colony this time around) mini-game, and it could be a blast, but so many flaws just turn me off to it all. Also missing (unless it’s found in like the 5th play through) is the fishing minigame, which was one of the things I really liked about BOF 3 and 4.

On a good note, there is a lot of replayability, and although it shouldn’t be, it’s necessary to replay the game multiple times to get the full effect of the story. I’m very fond of games that give you the bulk of the story, but you get bonus bits if you play through a second time. Games like Chrono Trigger/Cross and Vagrant Story let you play the game through after winning, while letting you keep all your previous stats and such, but you don’t have to. Having to play a short game over again several times reminds me too much of games like Majora’s Mask and Ephemeral Fantasia, where you relive several days or a week over and over again, witnessing the same scenes many times, and that’s the main reason I didn’t like those games; it just got old doing the same thing over and over again.

Story: 7
Gameplay: 6
Graphics: 5
Sound: 7
Fun Factor: 8

Short Attention Span Summary
This game is recommended for mainly hardcore gamers and masochists. Casual fans will be very turned off by the steep learning curve and difficulty (read: frustration). Breath of Fire fans may be pleased with the changes, or they may be very disappointed. I would recommend to anyone to rent this game before buying it, just because it is so unlike anything out there, and while that’s a good thing with many games, it’s a bad thing for this one. This game was a big disappointment compared to all the great games that came out in February 2003 (Xenosaga, Dark Cloud 2, .hack//INFECTION), any of which is much more worth your time and money than this one.



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