Five games in a series may not be a special hallmark, but it is nothing to sneeze at either. Since 1994's Breath of Fire, the series has had its share of unfair condemnation. However, it has still managed to pull through, so it must not be completely devoid of appeal. Ryu the dragon in human form and Nina the winged princess return in Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter. Only this time, they're finding themselves in quite a different setting.
Gone are the peaceful windmills of Wyndia and the other green pastoral scenes. BOFV takes place in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world, or more specifically underworld. Humanity has been forced to live inside the planet and brave the various subterranean monsters. It's up to the Rangers to keep the peace, and it is among this distinguished group that the player meets the hero, Ryu. Ryu not only has to contend with the monsters and rival factions, but also an uncertain heritage. He has re-occurring visions involving dragons, and once he meets Nina, he decides things have to change. Just like all the other Ryus before him, he sets out on a spiritual journey to uncover his true self. The Breath of Fire series has typically featured connections to its previous installments, so it will be fun to see where this is all going.
The series has never deviated much from classic RPG gameplay, although it is unlikely that this game has a world map. In fact, the only illustrious quality the first four games can lay claim to is their supposed difficulty. Capcom is looking to take this feature and run with it with their new Scenario Overlay System (SOS). This has to do with a player getting into a tight spot and having to restart the game from scratch. What kind of tight spot? Well, for Final Fantasy Tactics veterans, think saving right before Wiegraf with all the wrong skills and equipment. More likely though, it will involve the Dragon Meter, which will be discussed in greater detail shortly. Although it may seem malicious to make a game where a player has a good chance of screwing himself or herself over, there are positive repercussions. When restarting the game, the player will be able to keep experience and items acquired in the last ill-fated venture. Also, some aspects of the game will be different the second time around, in particular the dungeons. Presumably this "New Game +" feature can be used even if the player manages to make it through until the end, so the replay value is not wasted for the gamers who actually know what they’re doing. There are more typical sources of replay fun however: screenshots suggest the return of the fairy town simulation, where the player assigns what buildings to have and otherwise manages resources. The town building in the previous installments was quite fun indeed.
Battles take place on the main field screen, but this is not merely cosmetic this time around. Enemies can be seen walking around, and the party can make use of various contrivances to tip the battle in their favor. Ryu can swing his sword to get in a pre-emptive attack, or throw a piece of meat to distract the foe. Bombs are also available to do some damage. All this is known as the Positive Encounter and Tactics System (PETS), and could provide some welcome outside-of-battle diversions.
The field is also important to the battles because the characters move around during battle. It is the same idea in this respect as Parasite Eve, except that BOFV is turn-based and enemies can't attack the moving player. The player can move within a sphere-shaped grid to better position him or herself to do the maximum amount of damage to the greatest number of enemies. Once in position, the party member can attack until all his or her AP has been expended. The Action Point System (APS) is the restriction on the player's movements and regular attacks. There are three strengths of attack, based on controller buttons, costing from ten to thirty AP. The player must also factor in the expenditure of one AP per step in order to devise the best strategy to attack an opponent. Each character has a maximum amount of AP, and it is refilled at the beginning of every turn. There is no carrying over of AP between turns, and the turn is over when the AP are used up.
The game seems to have don away with MP as a special attack restriction, and is instead going with the Dragon Meter, which is shown as a percentage in the top-right corner of the screen. When it reaches 100%, the game is over. Since this presumably includes all the party’s spells, including curative ones, it is easy to see how dangerous it is to have a high Dragon Meter when one has saved far away from a source of replenishing it. This harsh impediment could prove to be a shame, because the Breath of Fire series is known for its signature dragon transformations. Ryu will again have the ability to turn into dragons, or at least "dragonized" forms, where he looks like a creepy mutant. At any rate, the important thing is he’ll be much more powerful.
The first three-dimensional BOF game will be far from the first cell shaded RPG, but the dark, rounded style is none the less pleasing to the eye. Things do look a bit mundane when the camera is far away from the action, though. But with Yasunori Mitsuda and Hitoshi Sakimoto, things never sound mundane. Sakimoto, in addition to his beloved Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack, has worked with the Breath of Fire series before. He is known for moving classical music, but Mitsuda works with all styles. Unfortunately, Mitsuda's role in this project has been mainly directional. The two have worked together before; they were part of the Legaia 2 soundtrack team. It will be interesting to see how Dragon Quarter ends up sounding. Japanese pop star Chihiro Onitsuka will also be contributing a song to the game, and she's putting it on her album so she can't be too ashamed of it.
Capcom has been acting a bit cocky lately. The developer giant has experienced great success with Devil May Cry and the Resident Evil series to name but a few. However, Devil May Cry 2 was a shocking disappointment and the way the Resident games have been remade has annoyed some. It seems like the company is not its usual creative self, and the use of the Come Up With Silly Acronyms To Make Old Ideas Sound New System (CUWSATMOISNS) doesn't speak well for the originality of this game. At any rate, PETS and APS won't remain too original for long, since Xenosaga uses them both and comes out the same month. Still, these ideas haven't been done to death yet, and Capcom still has lots to prove with the Breath of Fire series, and they might just turn some heads with this one. Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter comes out on the eighteenth of February.