Skankin' Garbage's Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter Review
Email the author: Skankin' Garbage
Capcom, famous for their fighting games, and a shooter series known as Megaman, has an RPG series in their market too; many people have heard of it, 'it' being the overall mediocre series known as Breath of Fire. After releasing four installments of the series, they realized that only one of them stood out in the least. And so, to try something new to catch the eye of the RPGer, they decided to start out the PS2 era by making their fifth installment of the series completely different.
This game features two original systems. The first of the two - the key feature of the game - is the Scenario Overlay system (SOL). Basically, what it means is, upon losing a battle, one can start over from the beginning of the game, or from their most recent save, with all abilities acquired up to that point, all currently held equipment, all progress in the side game, and a fraction of the currently held money and party experience (Party experience is experience gained that doesn't go to any characters, but can be distributed between your characters however you wish). One can also 'Give Up', in which they can start over or from their last save, but will carry over all party experience and money. Depending on how far one progresses through the game before restarting, they'll be able to view more of the story than before. The game is played with the concept in mind that you'll lose and start over again; this can prove to be frustrating for some people. However, as a reward for beating the entire game, one gets to start over with all the extra story. Also, determined as a part of the SOL system, is D-Ratio. The D-Ratio's role in the gameplay is that it determines what doors the party can enter, and what treasures appear in treasure chests. D-Ratio changes upon beating the game, depending on many different factors, such as the number of saves, game completion time, etc.
That being said, the SOL system is made to provide a very good challenge, and reward those that persevere with further elaboration of the story. Even "Hardcore RPGers" will be surprised more than once by the diffuculty of the game. Combat in this game relies on strategy more than brute force; there are no random battles, enemies don't regenerate after dying, and item space is limited, all of which keeps the player from relying on mindless level building.
There is one way to get the advantage other than mastering the fighting system, and that's where the second original feature of the game comes in: the Positive Encounter and Tactics System (PETS). To make sense of this, know that in the encounter system, enemies appear on the same map as which the battles will occur. Also, one can use weapons on the map, and either the lead character or the enemy will get a turn advantage based on who gets the first hit. Well, the PETS system basically uses a system of Baits and Traps to either lure tough enemies away, or to deal damage/enduce status effects on enemies before battle. This is a nice idea; however, the usage of bait and traps is semi-realistic (You have to be at a running start to throw traps). This actually makes it a little more diffucult to use than it's worth, because of the shaky controls. Also, since enemy height and width is taken into mind, it's very easy to throw traps over approaching enemies. The PETS system is a very good idea, but a bit too hard to implement to be practical in most cases.
There are other interesting aspects to this game as well, such as the music and the attention paid to detail. Hitoshi Sakimoto, famous for composing the Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics games, as well as Vagrant Story, was the sole composer for this soundtrack. The third and fourth BoF games had two composers working on them, and they set up a musical 'feeling' for the series, for lack of a better explanation. Sakimoto obviously did a study on that; the score, while reeking of the sounds of Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics' symphonic, exciting music, also hints the Electronic Rock, and psuedo-symphonic styles of the more recent Breath of Fire games. This gives the game a sense of familiarity, even with a completely different interface from the previous four games. Also, the game pays much attention to detail of characters. Usually, certain things about characters, like personality, background, or physique, are overlooked in most games when certain things happen. While it's more appearant when playing the game using SOL, the game appears more realistic, as the group stops for rests at times for Nina's sake, How Ryu's dragon powers are constantly on his mind whenever he has the chance to sit down and think, how Nina is scared of interaction between anyone except Ryu and Lin, amongst many other impressive things that won't be spoiled here. The story is nothing special, however it is a refreshing change from most games, and it is pretty original.
In conclusion, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is an amazing game, which will probably be overshadowed by the highly anticipated Xenosaga, unfortunately. This is a pity; it's easily better than any RPG on the PS2 released before it, even bigger titles Final Fantasy 10, and Kingdom Hearts; the only PS2 games looking to challenge its greatness this year being Xenosaga, Unlimited SaGa, and perhaps Final Fantasy X-2.