Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter
|Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter|
Original Japanese box art
|Developer(s)||Capcom Production Studio 3|
|Series||Breath of Fire|
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, known in Japan as Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter (Japanese: ブレス オブ ファイアV ドラゴンクォーター Hepburn: Buresu obu Faia Faibu Doragon Kwōtā), is a PlayStation 2 (PS2) game originally released on November 14, 2002. It is the fifth role-playing game (RPG) in the Breath of Fire series.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is a role-playing video game that takes drastic deviations from previous games in the series, and is the first to be presented using fully three-dimensional graphics for both characters and environments. Players control their characters from a third-person perspective as they navigate through a number of different environments including dangerous areas such as dungeons and towns where they may interact with non-player characters. While previous Breath of Fire games took place in fantasy environments containing open areas, Dragon Quarter features a distinct science fiction motif that sets the game in a series of underground bunkers 1000m below the surface in an industrialized, post-apocalyptic environment. As players progress through the game, they must travel upward through a network of tunnels while battling enemies and collecting keys in order to advance. The game uses a map system that alerts players to the location of nearby doors, treasures, and enemies to aid them in navigation.
Rather than experiencing the entire game in a single play-through, Dragon Quarter is designed to encourage the player to play through the title multiple times in order to experience the whole story. Using the Scenario Overlay (SOL) System, certain plot points and areas of the game are only accessible if the player's D-Ratio number is high enough. When players begin the game, their D-Ratio is represented as the fraction 1/8192, and can only be raised by continually restarting the game and using the SOL: Restore function, which allows them to begin a brand-new game while carrying over all accumulated items, equipment, and skills found up until that point. Progress is saved to the PlayStation 2's memory card using limited Save Tokens found during gameplay. Players may also suspend their game as many times as they wish by creating a temporary save at certain areas in the game, which are deleted as soon as they are loaded.
When a player reaches a certain point in the game, they obtain the ability to use powerful dragon abilities and receive a D-Counter at the top of the screen represented as a percentage. When the D-Counter reaches 100 percent, the game ends and the player is sent back to their last permanent save. The meter raises continually as the player uses these abilities in or out of battle and can only be lowered by restarting using SOL: Restore.
Battles in Dragon Quarter use the Positive Encounter and Tactics System (PETS), which is described by Capcom as a "combined real-time and turn-based combat". A battle begins when a character comes in contact with an on-screen enemy creature, with the player gaining a pre-emptive strike advantage if they strike the enemy with their weapon beforehand. Players may also avoid combat by setting traps to slow down or stop enemies from approaching, or by leaving food to attract them to it. While in the battle screen, each character and enemy present take action by order of their "agility" statistic, with each participant allowed free movement around the battle area during their turn. Characters are given an allocation of Active Points (AP) at the start of each turn, with the number decreasing with each step and attack they make. Attacks are divided into three levels, with higher level attacks costing more AP to use but dealing more damage, and may be strung together into combination attacks. A character may learn new attacks by equipping new weapons and by finding Attack Skills scattered throughout the game. A battle is won either when all enemies are defeated or have fled the battle area, with victories earning the player experience points that allow characters to gain levels and become stronger, along bonus Party Experience awarded based on combat performance.
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An unspecified amount of time before the game begins, humanity fled the desolated surface world to the underground in order to survive. Now, the world lies in a state of turmoil; polluted and stagnant, only the upper classes are able to escape to higher levels with better air. The game follows Ryu, a low level citizen, who rebels against his government in order to save the life of Nina, who is unable to survive underground, due to an experimental surgery performed on her in order to convert her into an air purification machine. According to Breath of Fire tradition, dragons play a large role in Dragon Quarter, and Ryu himself is able to transform into a dragon. Despite this tradition, however, the main influence of Dragons is felt in the storyline of the game and not the gameplay - unlike every other installment, Ryu can only transform into one Dragon form. The focus of the story is on Ryu's escape to the surface with Nina, accompanied by the ever-watchful Lin. A majority of the game simply focuses on Ryu and company's ascent from over a kilometre below the surface to ground level, traversing dark underground passageways and fending off the encounters they find. On the lowest levels one can find those with low D-ratios; as one ascends the levels, the D-ratio of the inhabitants increases. As the name suggests, D-ratios are expressed as a fraction with a numerator of 1; lower numbers in the denominators indicate a higher D-Ratio. As one can see, D-ratio is the main determinant of social status in the world of Dragon Quarter. The highest D-ratio a human can achieve is 1/4 - this is the Dragon Quarter of the title, which represents a one in four chance of linking with an available dragon.
There are two main subplots in the game; the first one concerns the six mysterious rulers of the entire underground world, who seem to be ubiquitous in their ability to gain information and their ability to act on this information. These rulers also reveal the storyline via a legend passed down that says a boy with the power to become a dragon will bring the world back to the surface. The other subplot is introduced almost at the outset of the game: a rivalry between Ryu and Bosch, the latter of which is portrayed as an entitled, monomaniacal elitist. Bosch initially wishes to use Ryu as his lackey in order to attain a higher rank, due to his (Bosch's) high D-ratio of 1/64. Early on in the story, Bosch inadvertently releases Ryu's ability to become a dragon when he tries to kill Ryu; after he has seen this power, Bosch's will to beat Ryu in battle drives him to undergo experimental dragon fusion, eventually resulting in his ability to become a dragon as well.
Ryu's entire struggle comes to a head as he is forced to invade the upper levels of the underground to lead Nina to the clean air she needs to survive. Three of the five regents which govern the entire world Ryu knows fall beneath his blade before he comes face to face with Elyon, also known as "Origin", the leader of the Regeants and the first host of the dragon Odjn. Elyon acknowledges Ryu's power, noting that none have ever come closer to reclaiming the surface world than he. He then summons two pieces of himself he banished away to extend his life, using his newly rediscovered power to attack Ryu, Nina and Lin. After a fierce battle, Elyon lays defeated and Ryu notes that Elyon was "Odjn's first", heavily alluding to the fact that Elyon was directly responsible for Mankind not reclaiming the sky hundreds of years ago because he feared to push his power to the limit. With their final obstacle out of the way, Ryu, Lin and Nina venture forth to the hatch itself. There Bosch catches up with them, now containing his own true dragon, Chetyre, instead of a mere construct. He and Ryu clash for one final time before Bosch is truly defeated. Seeming to give up, Bosch gives himself over to Chertyre and allows the dragon to manifest himself fully in the world again. Ryu, faced with a true dragon and Odjn's power ready to kill him, is forced to ignore the possibility of death and use his own D-Breath attack to channel Odjn's power against Chertyre. It is important to note that this brings his D-Counter to 100%, something to be avoided at all costs during other points in the game. From this point, which should kill him, Ryu channels more and more of Odjn's power, his D-Counter rising far above 100%, and finally defeats Chertyre and opens the way to the surface. As he lays dying, Ryu tells Lin and Nina to go on ahead, that he'll catch up with them in a moment.
As Nina and Lin walk up the spiral staircase to the surface, Odjn appears, asking if Ryu has any regrets. Ryu replies that he has none, stating that reaching the surface was his only goal. Odjn exhults, telling Ryu that it was not his power which brought Ryu this far, but his own determination. As Lin and Nina grieve, Odjn restores Ryu's life to him. What the three of them would do for the rest of their lives on the now pure, lush and green surface world would remain a mystery.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter was first announced by Capcom at the 2002 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles as the first game in the series to appear on the PlayStation 2 console. The project was headed by series veteran Makoto Ikehara, who served as director, and was inspired to create the game's dystopian setting after reading the 1994 alternate history novel Gofungo no Sekai (五分後の世界, lit. The World Five Minutes From Now) by Ryū Murakami. The game's unique gameplay elements and high challenge were added to differentiate it from previous entries in the series, which Ikehara felt were "too easy" when compared to other role-playing titles, with the level of difficulty gradually increasing as development went on. Character design was handled by Tatsuya Yoshikawa, who had provided official artwork for all previous Breath of Fire games, and who specifically designed the character Elyon after the main antagonist of the previous game, Fou-Lu, because he "wanted to use the character again". In order to give the dragons Odjn, Dover, and Chetyre their own distinct identity, they were made to speak Russian during cutscenes and were named after the Russian numbers one (один, adeen), two (два, dva), and four (четыре, chyetirye), respectively. Unlike the protagonists of previous Breath of Fire games, each also named Ryu, the Ryu in this game is a normal human being characterized by Yoshikawa as "an average person like you might find anywhere" with his only extraordinary ability being his strong will and sense of justice. In November 2002, the game was released in Japan under its regional title, Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter, and was dedicated to the memory of Capcom employee Yasuhito Okada.
A number of intended features were cut from the final version of the game, including an online mode which was dropped early in development that would have made use of the PlayStation 2's internet capabilities, as well as a fishing minigame similar to earlier titles in the series. The dragon Odjn was originally conceived as a "cutesy" companion to Ryu and his team before becoming large and menacing, with his early design instead going to Cupid's pet Oncotte. Certain story points that the development team deemed too "shocking" were also removed before the game was completed, including a locked room in the Biocorp Labs that contained headless duplicate bodies of Nina, and the scientist who performed Nina's operation resembling Adolf Hitler. Ikehara noted that he also originally wanted to include a cutscene in the game showing how the surface world became uninhabitable, but was ultimately unable to do so.
One week before the game's release in Japan, Capcom USA announced that it would be releasing Dragon Quarter in North America in February 2003. This version would later appear at the 2003 Game Developers Conference under its official English title that excluded the numeral "V". The game would be released in Europe in November 2003. For unknown reasons however this version featured a few changes in the game's mechanics. The soft save function was removed from the game entirely, so the only way to save the game was creating hard save files by using save tokens. To compensate for this the player can find roughly twice as many save tokens throughout the game.
The music of Dragon Quarter was composed by series newcomer Hitoshi Sakimoto, who had previously contributed the soundtracks for other role-playing titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics and the Ogre Battle series, along with sound producer Yasunori Mitsuda who oversaw the development of each track. A special five-song promotional album called the Breath of Fire V Dragon Quarter Mini Image Soundtrack was given away to attendees of the 2002 Tokyo Game Show and sold on Capcom's online store to promote the title, with a full commercial soundtrack for the game released in December 2002 by Capcom's music label Suleputer across two discs. Dragon Quarter features the vocal song "Castle・imitation" by J-pop performer Chihiro Onitsuka as the game's ending theme, which was later included on her 2002 album "Sugar High". In 2006, the game's soundtrack was re-printed as part of the 11-disc Breath of Fire Original Soundtrack Special Box, which contains music from every game in the series.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter was the top-selling game in Japan during the week of its release in November 2002 at 80,059 copies. It would go on to sell a total of 140,073 copies by the end of that year, enough to qualify the title for a re-release in July 2003 under Sony's "PlayStation the Best" label at a lower price. The game was given an 8.5 out of 10 average by Japanese Hyper PlayStation 2 magazine, and a 32 out of 40 score by Weekly Famitsu, earning it the magazine's silver award.
Many North American reviewers would comment on the drastic changes made between Dragon Quarter and earlier games in the Breath of Fire series, with Game Informer claiming that "If anything, Dragon Quarter will likely tear the Breath of Fire fan base apart...it's unlike anything you've experienced before" and IGN calling it "a tough pill to swallow for returning fans." IGN would praise the title's "enormous" combat strategy, steam punk atmosphere, and soundtrack, calling the game's musical score "pure genius", but found its playtime of roughly ten hours to be low, calling it the "perfect RPG rental." GameSpot conversely felt that, while Dragon Quarter's combat system was enjoyable at first, it became less tactical as the game progressed, and that it "devolves into the sorts of slugfests typical of RPGs." The website would commend the title's graphics, however, calling the character designs "inspired" and that the characters themselves "express realistic emotions" which accentuate the game's serious tone. Electronic Gaming Monthly would also call attention to the game's new battle system, stating that "[we] don't think [we]'ve ever had as much fun with RPG battles before," but felt that the game's pacing hindered its story. GamePro called the game "an RPG sequel that couldn't be more different if it tried", commending its new "astonishing" combat, but felt that the forced repetition of the Scenario Overlay system and likely having the play through the game several times to see all the content was its biggest downfall. TechTV similarly felt that the game's restart mechanics will either "inspire you or drive you mad", but found its "unique combat" and "attractive visuals" to all be positive factors.
European reviewers would similarly comment on the game's deviation from role-playing game standards. Play magazine found most of the changes to be beneficial, stating that "[we] wanted something different too, but what [we] got instead is marvelous." Others such as Edge, however, found its innovations to be mixed, but overall good, saying "Such bastard generic cross-pollination will be of keen interest to those who have pigeonholed the console RPG as yesterday's bread, as Dragon Quarter variously succeeds in its misfit marriage." The title would ultimately receive mostly positive reviews, with a 78% average score from the aggregate review websites GameRankings and Metacritic. Dragon Quarter would later be nominated for "Best Original Music in a Game" during GameSpot's Best and Worst of 2003 awards, and in 2004, IGN ranked the game 6th on its list of the "Top 12 Hidden Gems for the PlayStation 2", which included games that sold less than 135,000 copies in North America, or less than half of one percent of the console's user base, stating that "For one of the most popular role-playing franchises in the entire 32-bit era, the lackluster performance of Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is nothing short of surprising.".
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