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Reach for the Sky!
When the first pictures of Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter was shown, a lot of us RPGamers stood paralyzed, wondering what had happened over at Capcom. If not for the name, nobody could've guessed that this game belonged in the same series as the earlier Breath of Fire games. While a lot of people became skeptic over this new look, most of the people who actually played the game loved it. Read on and find out why.
In Dragon Quarter, mankind lives underground. Since a terrible disaster struck the earth a thousand years ago, mankind was forced to build their homes and cities beneath the surface of the earth. Considering the circumstances, there are few happy faces in the world of Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. Every city, every dungeon, every place in this game is dark and depressing. You are a grunt, a low-level Ranger, called Ryu (you can change that name if you like). You don't get much introduction to Ryu's life, but it sure seems quite hopeless, and without meaning. In the beginning of the game, you and a friend go out on a mission to secure a transport of some top-secret cargo. Not too surprisingly, the transport is attacked on the way, and Ryu is separated from his friend. Shortly after, Ryu meets up with Nina, just like in all other Breath of Fire games. It is here that this game really begins. After this meeting, you will experience one of the darkest, most capturing adventures ever to be seen in any RPG. While the plot isn't that complex or difficult to understand, it is too beautiful and touching for words to describe.
Everything about this game is new, and battles and interface are no exceptions. While battles still are turn-based like in the earlier Breath of Fire games, they still differ a lot from what we've earlier seen. Enemies are shown on the field, and there are various things you can do here to make the upcoming battles easier. For example, the player can throw out traps that can either distract the enemy, or do some damage to them. Very similar to the Grandia games, you also have the ability to hit the enemy with your sword in order to gain an extra turn in the beginning of the battle. To actually perform any attacks or cast any spells in battle, you have to assign different skills to your current equipment. Skills and spells are found in treasure chests or gained from boss battles etc, and can easily be equipped on your weapons through the main menu outside of battle. There are 3 different types of attacks; level 1, 2 and 3. Each level has 3 slots for you to place skills in. The difference between the 3 is, of course the attack power, and sometimes range. However, a level 3 attack consumes 30 AP, while a level 1 attack consumes only 10. Also, some level 1 attacks can be more useful than all of your level 3 attacks on some enemies, so you might want to test things out a little.
When you're finally in battle, things can be very confusing at first. You can run around on the battle field, but only in a limited area. When you run, you consume AP from your AP gauge. While AP is also used to perform attacks or cast spells, you have to use some serious strategy for every single battle in order to win. When you are close enough to the enemy, you can perform your attack. However, one single attack is not going to do it, and that is why Capcom put in the very handy combo system. For example, if Ryu is about to attack an enemy, and he has 50 AP left in the gauge, he'll be able to do 5 consecutive level 1 attacks, simply by pressing that skill button after each attack until the gauge is empty. These combos can be aborted if you want to save your AP for the next round. After all characters and enemies have performed their attacks, a new round begins, and everybody's AP gauges are filled again. if you had any AP left from the previous round, it will be also be added in the next round. However, two gauges are the maximum AP you can have at the same time in one battle. One thing that makes battles a lot easier is the use of items and equip. At any time during a turn, you can cast items without consuming AP. There is no limit to how many items you can cast during a turn, and you can also change your equipment if you like.
Had enough of the battle system and interface explanation? There's just one thing left; the Dragon system. Oh man, this is where most people stop playing the game, and I feel sorry for them. As usual in Breath of Fire, Ryu has the ability to turn into a dragon, but there is only one single dragon in the entire game. But when you turn into a dragon, the D-counter rises very quickly. The D-counter is a very annoying counter that goes from 0 to 100%. When the counter reaches 100%, you die. What does this mean? It means that you have to finish the entire game before the counter reaches 100%. If you by accident raise the bar to 60% or something (this can easily be done in 3-4 battles by simply performing a few attacks in the dragon form) when you're just halfway through the game, you might want to turn off your console, cry a little, and then start a new game. To compensate this, the dragon Ryu turns into is insanely powerful, and can easily beat any of the bosses in the game in one or two rounds if powered up (which is why you want to save it for the later parts of the game).
The rest of the interface is beautiful and easy to use. Menus are smooth and simple, and the controls of the game are very satisfying overall. In a game like Dragon Quarter, which is very original, explanations and tutorials are much needed. Luckily, there are lots of people in the game explaining everything to you. They also give you handy tips and tricks to handle the system better. Much appreciated. While the localization of BoF:DQ wasn't anything close to games like Lunar or .hack, it was still way above average. I could hardly find any spelling errors, and the overall dialogue had a very nice flow to it.
To fully enjoy touching and dramatic scenes, every RPG needs good music. Luckily, none other than Yasunori Mitsuda, creator of the soundtracks to the Chrono- and Xeno series composed the music for this fantastic title. The result was, as expected, brilliant. Every single tune is great, and fit perfectly into the setting of this dark game. There is nothing more I can say. I once again salute Mitsuda-san for creating such a wonderful soundtrack. Moving on to sound effects, they are also one of a kind. Breath of Fire always had those special Japanese war cries in battle, and they are better than ever in Dragon Quarter. Also, I'm glad Capcom kept the Japanese voices in battle when performing skills and such.
Finally, we have the visuals. Normally, graphics shouldn't matter that much in RPGs, but this is an exception. Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter uses cel-shaded graphics, the new style that you either love or hate. As I mentioned in my Wild ARMs 3 review, I pretty much hated these graphics in the beginning. However, after a few hours, I got used to them, and later on, I loved them more than anything. This is also but one of the things that make this game more original. While the overall system in this game is something we've never seen before, the visuals also gives it a fresh touch.
Being quite short, BoF:DQ luckily has a great replay value. Very similar to Parasite Eve or Vagrant Story, there is a New Game + function. While your character's level is down to 1 again when starting a new game in this mode, all of your equipment and skills are still there. If you received a good rank when finishing the last run, you might get a better D-ratio (a military rank), so that you can open more doors in the various dungeons to find better equipment and items. While there are almost no sidequests at all through the entire game, you'll focus a lot on that famous Fairy village. The fairy village this time around, is more about ants than fairies. When you're in the fairy village, there are tons of things to do. First of all, you have to hire ants in order for them to find new ground to build houses and shops at. Later on, you have to develop new jobs, build shops, train the ants etc, etc. There are tons of things to do here, including finding a giant secret dungeon for Ryu and the party to explore. Also, when beginning a new game in the New Game + mode, you can continue exactly where you were in the Fairy village, so that you don't have to do everything all over again each time you finish the game.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is by far the best Breath of Fire game ever released, in this reviewer's opinion. While it is quite obvious that this title is one of the most original and odd RPGs that exists for the PlayStation 2, and that it differs a lot from the earlier Breath of Fire games, it still manages to beat them all. It is indeed yet another attempt by Capcom to create something new, but this time it really succeeded. The game can easily be beaten in 15-20 hours, but with the spectacular replay value it has, you can easily continue playing for another 50. I'm impressed over Capcom for creating this title, as a lot companies seem to have a hard time breaking loose from old traditions and create something new, and still manage to create a good game.
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