Sunday, April 6, 2008

Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter - Reached the Industrial Area

This game is difficult - at least when compared to modern RPGs. Generally, there's a bit of hand-holding and tutorial in the beginning to get you into them. In Dragon's Quarter, I just flat-out died in the first dungeon my first two times playing it.

My third time playing the game, I finally "got it". Everything about that combat system and how to correctly deal with monsters just clicked and I found myself really getting into this off-kilter RPG.

Breath of Fire has had four previous games in the series. I haven't looked into them, because they aren't supposed to be that different from their contemporary Japanese RPGs. Dragon Quarter is.

The main hook is that you aren't really expected to get through the game in one playthrough. It is certainly possible, but the game is designed in such a way that at a certain point you will realize that it isn't possible for you to get any further since you don't have any health restoring items and your character is about to die. At this point, the game gives you the option of doing a "Scenario Overlay" when you restart which basically means when you start over, you have all the skills your character previously had, along with any money you've put in the bank, progress you've made on the colony, and party xp (bonus experience you earn which can be given to the characters).

The other aspect that contributes to the need to restart is your D-Counter. Early on, you learn that your character can turn into a dragon - which is awesome! You become incredibly powerful and can quickly decimate foes. Each time you become a dragon and each time you use its abilities, your D-Counter number goes up. When it hits 100 you presumably lose control of yourself and lose your humanity - which is less awesome. That's another game over there. So, if you've had to use dragon abilities to get yourself out of some scrapes you may find it nearing 100% and have to restart.

In a strange coincidence, this game is pretty much a combination of the last two games I've been playing. The connection with Shiren is pretty obvious - they're both RPGs with turn-based tactical combat. They both expect you to die and restart, having learned something of the game from your previous run, but also allowing you to carry some things over from your previous run. Breath of Fire isn't nearly as unforgiving as Shiren since it does let you restore saved games as many times as you want. But... real save points are spaced far apart so a lot of your saving will be of the same "suspend" save variety that Shiren had - you can save your game anywhere, but when you come back to it, your save is immediately erased.

The saving aspect brings in one of the big connections the game has to Resident Evil - they are limited. If you want to save your game at one of the save points scattered throughout the game, you need a save token, much like Resident Evil required you to have ink ribbons to save at the typewriters. Save tokens are precious - you only find a few and can't buy more or store them so you have to be careful about using them up. The connection to survival horror becomes more apparent when you notice how little money and healing items the game gives you. The player must make the best use of their resources or they'll find themselves in an unwinnable situation and have to restart. I'm not the first to call this a Surival RPG, but I wholeheartedly support that appellation.

Having never played a Breath of Fire game before, I have no clue how innovative the combat in this one is, but I think it's incredibly well done. First of all, you can see enemies before battle and they take place right on the exploration screen, much like my favorite of games, Chrono Trigger. That you can see the enemies and know where you'll be fighting them is great. Additionally, the combat is very tactical. Characters have a certain number of action points, when it is their turn they can move and attack in almost any combination to use those. Maneuvering for position or to get just in range of an enemy is key - especially because several attacks can hit enemies in a line, rea, or cone. There is a wide variety of attacks for each character (and different weapons that you can specialize in different ways). Also, one character can place magical traps on the battle field and its a lot of fun to hold enemies off with these or coax them into them. The game also adds a bit of complexity in that there's a lot you can do pre-battle like set traps and hit the monster first to get a first strike turn, but I don't think those are as well implemented or interesting. Still, it's a pretty great system.

Finally, this game has the best cut scene system ever. Not only are they skippable (as it's a sin in this day and age to not have them be), but they are pauseable as well. Finally, I can go pee during some exposition and come back and not have missed it!

No comments: