Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter Review
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter proves that role-playing games don't all have to be alike.
Nevertheless, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter's intriguing skill system keeps the combat interesting all the way until the end of the game, and beyond. Each character has three levels of attacks, and you'll need to discover all these special moves by clearing out dungeon levels for all their best loot. In battle, you can string together multiple different attacks as long as you have enough AP, and these combos can often inflict debilitating status effects on foes in addition to seriously injuring them. Some skills are more powerful than others, and not all weapons can be used with every type of skill, and as a result, you'll always be looking out for better and better equipment and new special abilities. One of the game's most unusual features is that it lets you restart from the beginning (after you finish the game or at any point beforehand), retaining all your skills and abilities intact. Upon replaying Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, you'll see some new story events unfold that you didn't catch the first time, and you'll find even more new weapons and skills and take on even tougher foes.
The game rewards you for playing through repeatedly and efficiently. Finishing the game the first time through will take about 20 hours, though it can be done in less than half that time if you know exactly what you're up against--that all adds up to a significant amount of gameplay. Of course, finishing Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter even the first time through will prove to be difficult for most players, not just because some of the battles are very tough, but also because the game has a save system that can be pretty punishing. If you just want to stop playing for a while, you have the option to use a "temporary save" as you quit the game--this temporary save file is deleted as soon as you continue play, so using it won't do you any good before a tough boss battle, for instance. Meanwhile, permanent save points are few and far between and also require you to have save tokens on hand, which themselves are scarce. So you may potentially find yourself playing for hours without having saved, only to have your party get killed off in a particularly tough fight. All isn't lost--you have the option to restore your progress from the last save point, retaining some of the experience and all the skills you acquired up until then. You'll also likely run across some story sequences on your next run that you didn't see before. It's a strange system that can be frustrating, but the designers certainly succeeded in concocting a save system that makes the game more tense and suspenseful.
Another element that adds to the tension and suspense is Ryu's D-counter, which kicks in at a certain point in the game and measures Ryu's remaining grip on his humanity. Ryu's dragon powers are sort of a curse--while he becomes able to transform into an astonishingly powerful half-dragon form, each time he uses its various powers in battle, Ryu's D-counter rises by a percentage point or two. The D-counter also slowly rises on its own, even outside of battle, meaning Ryu is living on borrowed time for the majority of the game. If the counter ever reaches 100 percent, he's dead, and you need to start over. Realistically, this isn't going to happen unless you use Ryu's secret powers often, but you'll constantly be tempted to unleash them since they make most every battle a total cakewalk.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is a great-looking game, featuring inspired character designs and a visual style that's reminiscent of cel-shading, in that characters are outlined by a dark black line. You'll see Ryu, Nina, and Lin express realistic emotions during cutscenes even though there's no speech in them. All three characters often look terribly concerned over the course of the game, making the proceedings seem that much more serious and making the heroes seem that much more determined as they press on. Dragon Quarter runs at a very smooth frame rate, and while many of the environments can start to look repetitive and the running animations look a bit awkward, all in all the game's visual design is memorable and well done. Likewise, an excellent musical score and great (though occasionally repetitive) sound effects round out the game's first-rate production values.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter proves that role-playing games don't all have to be alike. The game has many unusual features to it, including a town-building minigame where you manage an ant colony by interviewing and hiring ants with different skills, ordering them to excavate caverns, and then having them build things like marketplaces, cafeterias, fitness centers, and more. Dragon Quarter can be very challenging and even frustrating at times, and though its combat system is decidedly different, it could have had more depth to it. Plus the gameplay does revolve around hacking through one dungeon level after another, meaning Dragon Quarter doesn't have the same epic feel as some other RPGs, despite its good storyline. Yet the game is still extremely well done for what it is and is easily recommendable to all fans of role-playing games.