We didn’t start the fire, but we’re glad someone did. Review

Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter Info

genre

  • RPG

players

  • 1

Publisher

  • Capcom

Developer

  • Capcom

Release Date

  • 11/30/1999
  • Out Now

Platform

  • PS2

rating

We didn’t start the fire, but we’re glad someone did.

The Breath of Fire series has been quite consistent through four prior

iterations – the same ol’ meat and potatoes time and again, as when you’re successful,

there’s no real reason to change the recipe. But with its fifth entry, Breath

of Fire: Dragon Quarter
, the meat and potatoes have been chucked aside in

favor of spicy reinvention, offering a hot battle system and a worthy story to

whet one’s appetite.

In a world bereft of light, civilization has been forced to live underground in a society based on a rigid caste system. The higher one’s social ranking, the higher they are allowed to live. Ryu is a lowly grunt within the government’s Ranger forces. On a seemingly routine mission, he rescues a mysterious winged girl in danger.

While

the story touches a few clichés, the settings are fresh and the characters are

interesting, all supported by effective writing. In terms of pacing, Breath

of Fire
follows a linear line through an expansive dungeon with the occasional

save point. While this geography is part of the story, those of you expecting

a free-range style of villages, overworld and dungeon mazes will be disappointed.

But if you want an innovative battle system, then Breath of Fire: Dragon

Quarter
is one tasty lozenge. Before battles, enemy characters are both

visible and avoidable. Various preparations can be made against the hordes of

beasts to nab a battle advantage. If you manage to strike an enemy first with

a character’s action move, such as Ryu’s sword sweep, you are given an extra

turn during battle – a key factor towards victory.

By tossing a juicy rib-eye steak in the corner, you can bait some monsters

away, clearing a path to run through. Or by chucking a few sticks of dynamite

at a big lug, you can knock off some enemy health before the real battle begins.

It’s a great way to give players an edge before hopping into battle after battle.

The turn-based battles themselves are like a combination of Arc

the Lad
movement and Xenosaga combos. The combat

environments structurally match the standard traveling screens, only from a

top-down perspective. I think there should have been a selectable ground-based

view, so the transitions into battle would be completely seamless. The view

only switches into ground level when your characters attack.

Each character begins with a limited number of points to be spent on moving and attacking. The more powerful the move, the more points it will cost: 10, 20 or 30. By finding a choice attack spot, enough points can be retained to follow through with a combo attack.

The angle at which you approach the enemy doesn’t seem critical to the damage made, but placement strategy plays a large part on the defensive end. Instead of spending all your points wailing away at a monster, some points can be conserved towards moving to a safe distance after your attack. There are also attacks that implement setting up trap zones and coaxing/pushing enemies in.

Characters can use as many items as needed during combat without spending

movement points. Yet healing items are limited. In counterpoint to the freedom

of battle, Breath of Fire uses item and save management limitations to

add an extra sense of struggle.

Only a limited number of items can be carried, so items must be prioritized and jettisoned. Game saves can only be made with save tokens – a limited resource. A save can be made while within the dungeon, but it requires quitting out of the game.

If

your party dies during the game, you can choose between going back to the last

saved spot with partial carryover, including money and party XP (retained experience

points that can be divvied out), or you can choose to start over all the way

from the very beginning with more retained stats. Yes, it’s rather unforgiving

and at times painful to backpedal, but the retention of partial stats is a welcome

new idea.

During the game, Ryu gains the ability to turn into a dragon creature. Though

incredibly powerful, the dragon form eats Ryu out from the inside, pushing him

ever closer to death. Whenever he triggers his transformation, a ticker counts

towards 100, when the game will simply end. It’s a power to be used sparingly.

Each time you go through the game, whether by forced restart or completing

the game and playing again, more scenes open up and more details are revealed.

While I would have preferred full-on branching and multiple paths, the shorter

total length of the game (about 20 hours the first time through) and the goal

of increasing your character’s ranking offer replayability that doesn’t feel

too weighty and daunting.

Breath of Fire uses cel-shading, but in a grittier way than Dark

Cloud 2
‘s storybook festivity. It’s a 180-degree about-face, with a post-apocalyptic,

rich matte that regulates the darker mood of the game. Even the stylistic character

designs with melancholy eyes and sad limbs reflect the dismal world. The characters

emote with several different facial expressions, but sometimes they look a little

too blank. I wish there were eye movements to add a little more “acting” to

the characters.

The classical soundtrack is well composed and beautiful. The characters do

not have voiceovers, though Nina makes a ‘mooing’ cry that at first sounds cute,

but by the hundredth time gets irksome.

Between Xenosaga and Dark Cloud 2, there’s a whole lot of PS2

RPG love in this last month alone. Xenosaga has a strong, epic story

and a well-developed if more traditional battle system. Dark Cloud 2

has real-time action and a wealth of things to do. Breath of Fire starts

out on the difficult side, but once you get into the rhythm, perhaps dying once

or twice in the process, the game will grab hold of you.

Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter will likely be overshadowed by the wealth

of other PS2 RPGs out right now, but the refreshing battle system is worthy

of props. This good new style marks a bright new direction for the stale Breath

of Fire
series, and should definitely be checked out by any RPG fan.







REVOLUTION REPORT CARD

Rating8
Cool battle system
Rich graphical style
Stat retention
The pain of backpedaling
No voices