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   Breath of Fire V: Dragon's Quarter - Staff Retroview  

Better Every Time
by Derek 'Roku' Cavin

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Easy or Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
10-25 Hours
OVERALL

3.5/5

Rating definitions 

   After a great disaster, the inhabitants of the world were forced to live hundreds of meters below the ground under a false sky. A low ranking Ranger, Ryu, will attempt to climb out of the underworld and be the first to see the true sky. Breath of Fire V: Dragon's Quarter differs greatly from its predecessors. The largest difference is that players have the ability to give up and start the game over with some extra exp and items they have collected. Another major change is that gameplay is very linear. The entire game is essentially one long dungeon with a few branches and cities along the way. The battle system has also been greatly tweaked and is now a mix between an action and tactical system.

   Battles are initiated by running into enemies on the dungeon map, and all enemies in the immediate vicinity will be included in the fight. If the player strikes first, the character that performed the attack will gain an additional turn, but the opposite is true as well. Each character has an AP meter that will fill every turn and will limit how many actions they can perform that turn. Each action, both offensive and defensive, has a set amount of AP. As battles are now fought tactically with circle-based movement, moving around will deplete AP with every step as well. If there is any AP left over at the end of a turn, it will be added to the total for the next turn. The AP meter can fill to a total of 200% before additional AP is wasted. This allows for powerful combos. A combo is formed by alternating techniques without stopping in between. Each different attack included in the combo adds an additional 10% to the damage inflicted. Of course, no attack can be re-selected in a combo, so a character is limited by the number of abilities they have equipped. Ryu also has quite a few dragon powers that don't follow these rules, but are very potent.

New battle system New battle system

   Once Ryu has unlocked these dragon powers, a meter appears that will slowly count towards 100%. The more he uses dragon powers, the faster it will increase, but it will never decrease. If the meter reaches 100%, the game will supposedly come to an abrupt end. While dragon powers are far more potent than in previous games, players must use them very sparingly or else they will get a game over. This has a profound impact on difficulty and forces players to be cautious. Normal battles also see a large rise in difficulty. Ryu and his allies can usually be defeated in only a few hits. Players must generally outsmart enemies by using traps and careful tactics rather than by outmuscling them. To balance out the jump in difficulty, items cost 0 AP to use. Provided players have enough inventory space and money to burn, characters can fully heal themselves every turn, but both money and inventory space are both extremely limited for most of the game. As stated earlier, players have the ability to give up and start the game over with some extra exp and items they have collected. This could have potentially made the game very easy, but the game seems to try to force players to give up by setting up several fairly sadistic limitations on the player. In addition to the cruel dragon meter, an item called a save token is required to hard save. These items are very limited in number and force players to go for hours without saving. Luckily, it's possible to make a temporary save, but several hours of progress will be lost if the player dies before using a save token again. As a result, players making their way through the game for the first time will find it moderately difficult as a whole. Of course, players who don't care about giving up or starting over can create infinite loops that will earn them millions of exp and gold, effectively making the game quite easy for those that abuse it.

   These ways to increase difficulty are very creative. Few of the ideas and concepts seen in the game have been put together in this way before, and the result is very unique, especially for the Breath of Fire series. There just aren't any other games like it. Everything from the battle system to the way the story is told shine with originality.

   At first glance, the story may seem extremely lacking. There is very little story the first time through the game; it is simply a dungeon crawler with the occasional short story scene. The setting and characters are interesting, but there is very little actual content. This changes quite a bit upon finishing the game though. As it turns out, most of the action takes place in the background with characters that the party doesn't meet until late in the game. Upon starting a new game plus, players will be able to see bonus scenes with both the main party and the other minor characters. Though this is a very interesting way to tell the story, it is still lacking on the first pass and average at best on subsequent playthroughs.

Dragon powers! Dragon powers!

   Though there is little dialogue, it is, for the most part, localized reasonably well. The primary problem is the interface. Since players equip skills to buttons and often change weapons and skills, it isn't too uncommon to pause for a moment to try to come up with the best combo. Unfortunately, an attack will end abruptly if no button is pressed for a small length of time. When combined, these can lead to the occasional combo being unintentionally canceled if the player is unfamiliar with a new skill setup. This problem, however, pales in comparison to the poor interface for actually setting up skills in the first place. Every single weapon the player buys or finds must be manually equipped with skills if they wish to use it effectively. Failing to do so usually results in the character being left with few or even no attacks. As there is no easy way to copy skills from one weapon to another, players must waste quite a bit of time doing so manually with every upgrade. While the rest of the interface is fine, this can be a real pain sometimes, especially if a player forgets to re-equip skills before a boss fight.

   As gameplay is linear and there isn't much story the first time through, the entire game can be completed quite quickly. Using dragon powers to avoid most fights, decimate the stronger bosses, and use almost all of the dragon meter up in the process will allow players to finish the game in about ten hours. On the other hand, if players fight every enemy, open every treasure chest, and play very cautiously, they are more likely to spend closer to twenty-five hours. It's more likely that players will be somewhere in the middle though. Additional playthroughs, however, even with the increase in story, can take as little as a few hours to finish.

   Since the game is very short, music rarely becomes repetitive thanks to the fact that almost every area has its own background music. Even the main battle theme changes halfway through the game and there are almost a dozen boss tracks. Each track fits the mood of the area and they become more exciting as Ryu and his friends move towards the sky. The sound effects fit very well, but they can become slightly repetitive for abilities the player uses a lot. Overall, music and sound are still great though.

   The visuals, like the music, are also great as a whole. Though many of the early areas are dark and dreary, the scenery is very detailed and brings the setting to life. The characters themselves are the most impressive part though, thanks to cel-shading. The few anime scenes are also incredibly detailed and impressive.

   While the relatively well implemented original ideas alone make it worth a look, the battle system certainly makes Breath of Fire V worth it. Sadly, the game itself is a linear dungeon crawler, though it has a few thing to keep players busy when they get bored, such as the fairy colony. The story is lacking the first time around, but is better the second time around. Breath of Fire V is definitely a game that gets better every time and is certainly one of the better dungeon crawlers, but, sadly, the first time through isn't as fun as it should be, and it doesn't quite reach greatness on extra playthroughs.

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