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A Japanese RPG Primer: The Essential 20

March 19, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 19 of 21 Next
 

Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom (2003, PlayStation 2)

Throughout the 16 and 32-bit eras, Capcom's Breath of Fire series was always solid, if not particularly ambitious. That all changed with Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter -- the fifth game in the series, although the numeral "V" was left out of the English release. This is because it's only barely related to any of the prior games.

Sure, the main character is named a guy named Ryu, who, like all of the other games, can transform into a dragon. And there's still a winged girl named Nina, but this time she takes on the appearance of a frail waif. Beyond that, one could barely tell it's part of the same series.

If nothing else, Dragon Quarter feels like a spiritual successor to Square's PSOne title Vagrant Story. Both feature dark, oppressive atmospheres, long segments of dungeon crawling, and minimal NPC interaction. Both are scored by legendary game music composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, although while Vagrant Story's soundtrack leans on the atmospheric side, Dragon Quarter features more industrial and electronic influence.

And both are unrelentingly unfriendly to newcomers, and subject newcomers to a trial by fire to learn the game's innovative intracices -- as a result, both are love-it-or-leave-it games amongst RPG fans.

Where the games diverge is with its battle system. Unlike most traditional RPGs, the battle segments play out like a tactical strategy RPG, allowing your selected party member to run freely around the field and attack, as long as they have action points remaining. Once you get into the meat of the game, Dragon Quarter lets you control three player characters.

Ryu is your melee fighter, but he's hardly a tank, and is usually the most susceptible to damage. Lin uses guns, allowing her to attack from different ranges and knock enemies around the playing field. Nina, the physical weakling of the trio, utilizes magic spells that can be used to attack multiple enemies at once, or stun them with skillfully placed traps.

Most RPGs feature similar character relationships, but Dragon Quarter so strongly defines each character's role that none is more important than the rest, and using all of them effectively is the key to winning the game's most brutal battles.

The other most interesting aspect of Dragon Quarter is its survival elements. Dragon Quest -- with its similarly sparse save points and limited inventory and magic use -- has been using these same elements all along, while most other RPGs have eliminated them for the sake of user accessibility.

Dragon Quarter has taken those elements and put them at the forefront, making for a stressful, yet exhilarating, experience. Taking a small cue from the Resident Evil games, your resources in Dragon Quarter are severely limited, at least compared to any other modern RPG where you can carry almost unlimited healing supplies.

More pressing is the D-Counter, which starts up after the first few chapters. In the previous Breath of Fire games, the dragon powers were extremely powerful attacks, and Ryu's transformations provided a sense of awe and excitement. Here, the dragon power is a curse, slowly eating away at Ryu's humanity.

Every few steps, the counter creeps up, slowly marching towards 100%, at which point the power consumes Ryu and the game will end. Additionally, each time Ryu calls upon his dragon powers, it chews up even more of the D-Counter, hastening his advance toward death.

Given that nearly all of the boss battles are extremely difficult, it's all too easy to give into temptation and use these skills to easily demolish your foes, but using them too judiciously will lead to an earlier end. There's no way to reset it, either, short of restarting the entire game.

Thankfully, at any time, you choose to begin the game from scratch, but keep some of the skills and experience you've learned, so subsequent playthroughs will be much quicker and easier. It even rewards players with extra cutscenes which reveal alternate angles on the game's story.

It's also relatively short for an RPG -- the full story can be played through in less than ten hours. This same idea was carried forward with similar effect in Capcom's Xbox 360 zombie slayer Dead Rising. Despite the frustrations inherent in this system, it makes for an intensity by removing the safety net that so many JRPGs seem to feature, and is all the better for it.

 


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Comments


Shaun Huang
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.............

What about Star Ocean? Tales of Phantasia? The hentai RPGs? the horror RPGs? The intro talks big about "studying" the japanese rpg primers but the content seem more like one person's list of favorite rpg instead of a comprehensive overview.

Tom Newman
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Great article! FF heavy (I disagree about FFXII, and definately disagree about Chrono Cross), but my top 5 made it in including the much overlooked BoF:Dragom Quarter and SMT:Nocturne)

Aaron Lutz
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Shaun,

There's a reason it's called an "opinion" piece... it's this guy's "opinion" of the top 20 JRPGs. And he did define the requirements to be included in the list early on.



To the Author,

Thank for this illumination. Sadly, I don't play as many RPGs as I would like, and Gamasutra continues to inform me about games that I never knew existed. This is no different. I agree and disagree about a few choices, but all-in-all it's a good read. Thanks!

Anonymous
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I agree with Zero Punctuation's view on JRPGs. They all look, sound, talk, feel smell the same.

Anonymous
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If you're going to say that all JRPGs are the same, then I think it's pretty clear that you haven't explored the genre much.



Also, this list needs some Disgaea on it, or just any sort of recognition towards Nippon Ichi Software.

Hayden Dawson
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The inclusion of titles such as Dragon Quarter and the Shin Megami's do a strong job of showing how varied the genre is. For places such as g4 and other US sites that have been the most vocal in bashing JRPGs lately, I find it so humorous that they hold FPSes up to some gold standard when if anything, such titles even more guilty of the same old same old.



i would agree that the most obvious series not covered (as he did specifically define JRPG for the article) is something from the Tales series.

Nicholas Karpuk
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I found this article really insightful, since the world of JRPGs is often intimidating, since a bad investment can mean a dozen hours of grinding and plots that don't really satisfy.



It really highlights the benefit of the genre, which is an almost absurd level of depth when it comes to atmosphere and a sense of a larger world.



The main frustration of this article is that the games I was not already familiar with are by in large titles that I can't purchase legitimately without throwing down a large amount of cash.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

David Deeble
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Great article. Within the context you stated at the beginning of the piece I agree with many of your selections (the others I just haven't played).

I haven't played a JRPG for quite some time (Dragon Quest VIII was my last), the reason being that I find the genre may have already past its best, recent titles just don't seem to have the edge that made many of the games on your list so memorable - though I suppose it could just be a bout of nostalgia kicking in.



Still, one thing's for sure: The article's made me fall in love with Skies of Arcadia again...oh and I had my weekend all planned out. Curse you and your eloquent words!

Roberto Alfonso
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When teen, I could never decide whether Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger was the best role playing game ever made. Over 10 years later, I still can't decide.



By the way, isn't Pokémon a JRPG? And I would have mentioned Lufia instead of Final Fantasy VIII. The game starts in the final tower, with your characters at level 70. Back in 1993, that was revolutionary.

Anonymous
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No Super Mario RPG. No Lunar. No Lufia. No Secret of Mana. No Vagrant Story.



Could have dropped FF all but Final Fantasy VI and replaced them with the above.



Final Fantasy V is far from essential.

Jon Burke
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Secret of Mana and Vagrant Story aren't traditional JRPGs, which is what this list is.



Really the only one listed here that I don't agree with is Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Didn't care for the ring system much. It makes every action a gamble when things like using items and doing basic attacks shouldn't be.

Anonymous
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Lack of the Saga series is surprising. Not to mention Tengai Makyo Manji Maru for the PC Engine that lived on Famitsu's Top 20 best games ever list for years beyond its release. Then again, these 2 series are far more essential to Japan JRPGs.

Paul Rooney
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Fantastic article, very glad to see Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Persona 3. I couldn't agree more.



I'm a huge SMT fan for many reasons and Nocturne had many small but key elements that made it by far my favourite game. One of which having a demon that can cast estoma and riberama for exploration and levelling up. Took a lot of the frustration from random encounters right out but kept a huge level of tension due to the brilliant difficulty level because you always had to be on the ball, and if you were even flicking on 'Auto' was a great feature.



The plot(s) also grabbed me more because not only was it complex, it was dark and sometimes optional. For me a guide is essential for this game because its absolutely huge.



Devil Summoner was also great as it had a fantastic and distinct atmosphere that almost felt tangible at times.



Anyway a fantastic list, some of which I havn't played. You can use this list as a must play quality RPG list.

Ryan Barrett
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Kurt, where oh where is Crystalis!?!?

AND Vagrant Story!?!? OMG and Secret of Mana and oh i'm sure everyone above me said something too that you didn't have. You really shouldn't have combined 4, 6 and 7 into one. And 5, 8, and 12 are HARDLY worth playing. Sorry Kurt, but your list fails.

d
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Ignore the haters, Author. This was a great read.

Tawna Evans
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Too much to read! I ended up just scanning titles, and I read only the pages of games I am familiar with. It would be nice if the article were shorter... maybe provide one paragraph per game instead of a whole page.



The author seems heavily biased in favor of Square Enix games. I saw multiple Final Fantasies and such.

Aaron Gingras
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I think the inclusion of an abundant of Square-Enix RPGs was to be expected, considering they've been the primary developer of some of the best J-RPGs out.



Still more into Computer RPGs myself, though.

Anonymous
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I liked the list a lot, it was the most accurately critical and praising the various underlying "segments" that make up each rpg and it's gameplay that I've seen! And while I feel that a few did get left out, and for me final fantasy is vanilla meh, I thought it was a pretty comprehensive list of the mainstream JSRPGS also. Kudos, mebbe now I will finally try Phantasy Star IV my friend has recommended.



PS you left one thing out -- its a bigger mystery than not releasing FF V, another Chrono, etc etc combined that Earthbound II(Mother 3 if you prefer) was indefinitely delayed, then pissed away on a Japanese Cell Phone.

Shame on you, NIntendo!!

Anonymous
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Good list all in all, though like many above me I'd take issue with many of them. For one I found Chrono Cross' battle system anything but friendly to an rpg veteran like me. I'm all for new systems in rpgs, but seriously having to melee attack to charge up to use a HEALING item was something that made me wanna be violent. Spells I could see doing such with but items always made me annoyed.



Other than that I don't have much of a problem with the list at all. I would have grouped all the final fantasies together to make room for some others (yes I know a lot of FF games are very diffrent from each other, so sue me it's still the same name they should be together) but it's a minor gripe.


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