One of the things that differentiates Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter from other RPGs is its punishing level of difficulty. In fact, it would probably be nearly impossible to successfully complete the game from beginning to end in one playthrough. All of the enemies in the game are visible in the environment, just waiting to ambush your party, and the exclusion of random encounters makes level grinding impossible. Every enemy encounter is challenging, and the limited number of healing items (and the complete absence of anything resembling an inn) can make even a seemingly easy fight result in death.
You will die.
However, your death makes way for another interesting feature in Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter: the SOL system. You can use SOL Restore to return to your last save point or SOL Restart to return to the beginning of the game. However, using this options after being defeated comes at the cost of losing your entire inventory (save for that which you stored in your lockers) and half of your money and Party XP. Alternatively, you can choose to “Give Up” and perform a SOL Restore or SOL Restart before you engage in a potentially fatal battle, which allows you to keep all of your money and Party XP. This allows you to repeat parts of the game over and over as many times as you want, gaining valuable experience to strengthen your party.
Dragon Quarter isn’t all about punishment. The narrative that the game follows is rather unique. The story takes place in a vast underground colony where the quality of the air has deteriorated to the point that the Regents (the highest ranking officials) have had institute a class system based on a person’s D-Ratio, which represents an individual’s statistical probability of becoming linked with a dragon. The lower a person’s D-Ratio, the closer to the bottom of the colony they are forced to live. Ryu, the protagonist, is a ranger with a D-Ratio of 1/8192 and thus will never be allowed any higher than the Low-D sectors of the colony; however, all of this begins to change when Ryu and his partner Bosch are sent on a classified mission. The mission goes terribly wrong, and Ryu ends up defying his D-Ratio to become linked with a dragon.
The dragon affords Ryu unparalleled power. However, this power comes at the expense of Ryu’s humanity. After linking with the dragon, a percentage meter appears in the corner of the screen. This percentage indicates the amount of control the dragon has over Ryu, and if the D-Counter 100% at any point before the end of the game, Ryu will die. Although using the dragon power in battle allows Ryu to make quick work of any enemy, it rapidly increases the D-Counter. The result of all of this is a never-ending struggle against death. If the formidable enemies don’t kill you, the dragon power will.
For me a good old-fashioned Japanese RPG is a comforting experience. Yet, the challenge that Dragon Quarter presents is nothing like the RPGs that I’m used to, and the approach it takes to the genre makes it difficult for me to recommend it to anyone but hardcore players who are looking for an iconoclastic RPG. But if you are one such player, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is a challenging game that still feels unique even today.
I, however, am no such player. Because I did not use “Give Up” enough to grind for levels, I found myself approaching the most difficult part of the game with a D-Counter that was around 80%. With my D-Counter irrevocably damaged, the appropriate course of action would have been to use SOL Restart to begin again and use my Party XP, which would have carried over along with my money and high-powered weapons, to boost Ryu’s level way up. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I did not do this. Instead, I used a CodeBreaker to reset my D-Counter, and I continued on to the game’s end. I cheated.
I hope that my honesty in this mater will not result in a distrust of my work on this blog.