It's tough being the oddball entry in a long running series, and that's exactly the situation the Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter faced. Moving the series from a fantasy setting to something more along the lines of sci-fi, Dragon Quarter was not afraid to try new things while keeping as much of the spirit of the original games as possible. As you may expect, many fans rejected the game and never gave it a chance. What they missed was one of the finest RPGs on the PS2.

At its core, Dragon Quarter plays like a mix of dungeon crawling and tactical RPGs. Combat is turn based strategy while at the same time exploration is constantly pushing you upwards. Where the game throws a monkey wrench players way is in how it handles defeat. Players have a limited number of "hard" saves which they can always go back to, but otherwise (or at the player's choice) they must return to the start of the game. While this seems terrible at first, the whole game is balanced around this mechanic; you keep some of your experience along with some other benefits and the game has a number of shortcuts, alternate paths, and new story sequences that make these return trips worthwhile. Most players will only have to do so a few times, so the system isn't overused.

Tied to this mechanic are the dragon powers. The main character has some awesome abilities at his disposal, but a percentage meter is added to whenever these abilities are used that also increases with time lending tremendous weight to the decision of whether or not to use them. When that meter fills, the player must return to the start. The way these mechanics work together is the true brilliance of the game, but also its greatest flaw. It's not hard to see why games would be turned off by them. The challenge of these mechanics is very much worth taking up, with many thrilling battles to test players' skills. Combined with a brilliant story, amazing soundtrack, and some of the best visuals on the system, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is a truly unique game and highly underrated. I advise anyone who has not played it to give it a try, just remembering to go into it with an open mind.

Mike Apps

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