The Game that Killed the Series
The very first console RPG I ever played was Breath of Fire II on the Super Nintendo, made by Capcom. I realize now that it's not the best example of the genre, it's repetitive and somewhat poorly translated, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. Regardless of quality, however, I can honestly say that that SNES title is hands-down a much better game than the PS2 iteration of the series which was released nine years later.
I can genuinely admire Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter for trying to do new things and breathe new life into a series that had gone somewhat stale. Considering that the Final Fantasy game that came out in 2003 was the first direct continuation of another game's story, you have to respect Dragon Quarter for being completely different from its predecessors.
It gets off to a good start, the storyline is quite unique, and it begins with a great concept. Hundreds of years after a mysterious disaster forces humanity to live beneath the surface of the planet, a young man named (what else?) Ryu meets a mysterious girl named (you guessed it) Nina, who is slowly dying without exposure to the sun. Ryu and a small band of friends must defy the laws of their underground society and make their way to the long-abandoned surface to save Nina's life. There's a twist on the old formula that fans of the series might appreciate: unlike every other Breath of Fire game, Ryu is not a silent protagonist, making his thoughts known frequently. On the other hand, Nina is now the silent character, and not in that awkward, hammy "characters react like you just spoke to them" way that the games have traditionally utilized, she's actually mute in the storyline.
Unfortunately, the story is the only good thing about Dragon Quarter. Right off the bat, the combat system is needlessly complex, hard to figure out, and just plain not fun. It's a very bad sign for an RPG when a veteran of the genre dies in the very first random encounter because of the confusing nature of the battles. Making matters worse is the inexplicably terrible design choice that is the "D-Counter". Like the other Ryus in the series, this one gains the ability to transform into a dragon and unleash powerful attacks; however, this Ryu, unlike his predecessors, is not part of any "Dragon Clan", so his abilities are actually toxic to him. As you use your powers (including running instead of walking in the world), the D-Counter slowly fills up from 0% to 100%. There is no way to ever lower this number and when it reaches 100%, you die. Game Over. This makes it astonishingly difficult, if not flat-out impossible, to beat the game on your first try. This is where Dragon Quarter's other ill-advised new feature comes into play.
I won't go into all the details, but "Scenario Overlay" basically allows you to restart the game when you mess up. It allows you to keep your equipment and skills when you do so, making it easier to play through the earlier portions the next time around, and basically making it necessary to restart over and over again, Groundhog Day-style, in order to progress. Creative? Yes. Original? Yes. Fun? No. Starting all over because you have to, not because you want to, is never fun, so the fact that they force you to do it many, many times is, in this case, adding injury to insult. I have absolutely no idea why they ever thought that this was a good idea and I'm frankly insulted that they later used a very similar system in the action game Dead Rising. It really says something that the much derided Nintendo Wii version of that game is better than the 360 version to me because of all the features missing from the original.
Getting back on topic, Breath of Fire was once one of Capcom's flagship series, though it has fallen by the wayside, replaced and forgotten by a crowd who thinks of Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, or even
Viewtiful Joe when they think of the company. This game is the sole reason for that. Just looking at the title - "Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter" instead of "Breath of Fire V" - hints that Capcom were trying to distance the series from this specific title. If it did badly, no harm, no foul. The next one could be BoF V and life could continue as usual. It's not so far-fetched. I point out Grandia Xtreme, the third Grandia game, and Grandia III , the follow-up. Unfortunately, the distancing tactic didn't work and the series was so poisoned by this awful game that Capcom hasn't gone anywhere near it in six years. When asked, they say that Breath of Fire is "sleeping", implying that they intend to revive the franchise someday. If the games they intend to make are anything like this, I say let the series die, no matter how much I loved the early games.
To sum it up: do not, under any circumstances, play this game, especially if you are a fan of the series. It's not just that it's an awful game, no, that would be acceptable. It's that this game is so bad it actually tarnishes the other games in the series by its connection to them. Dragon Quarter took a beloved series that was creative and actually meaningful at times, and flushed it down the toilet. While I hope the first four games rest in peace, I hope Dragon Quarter burns in hell.