Last-Gen Love – Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter

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One net result of college, besides losing a few brain cells and gaining a diploma, was leaving with a reduced load of CDs, DVDs, and games. I had an idiot roommate who accidentally/on purpose couldn’t remember which discs were his. So at the end of the year I found him randomly dumping movies and games into a box. Luckily I recovered a few of my favorites, but some were irrevocably lost. More pertinent to this blog post, he lost or stole my copy of the PS2 RPG Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter.

I was reminded of this game when reading a sort of retro review/commentary about it on GameSpite.net. Not only did it rekindle my fury at my stupid roommate, but it also made me remember how innovative (and frustrating) that game was. I didn’t get a chance to finish it, or even play for more than a few hours, but I do remember how unique it was. It is an RPG, but the plot is somewhat unique in that everyone lives underground, and your character’s initial goal is to make it to the surface and see the sunshine. No stolen princesses. No approaching Armageddon. It’s essentially a road trip.

The gameplay was incredibly difficult. Every battle was challenging, and potentially a game ender or a serious drain on your resources. But most harrowing of all was the fact that every action you took, literally every step you made towards the surface, brought you closer to death. Breath of Fire games normally have a main character named Ryu, and he typically can transform into a dragon. The same holds true in Dragon Quarter, except for one small problem: Ryu has a Dragon Counter inside him that constantly rises until the dragon spirit inside him overpowers him and kills him. As a result, to beat the game, you have to quit and restart several times, beginning a little more powerful each time.

GameSpite.net sums up nicely how unique this game was:

There aren’t many games out there that require the skills necessary to beat the game right from the start, along with the full knowledge that hey, no way are you beating this one on your first attempt. Wrapping your head around the fact that you have to lose in order to win and that you consciously have to pull the trigger to reset your party isn’t the average gamer’s cup of tea.

Besides having to repeatedly restart, this game was hard. I know I didn’t make it very far. But reading this encouraging post, I want to scrounge up another copy and give it another chance. It also made me think about how games can potentially grow and evolve.

I don’t know how Dragon Quarter ends, but I would like to see some games where you, as the protagonist, ultimately fail. It’s not unusual for films or books to have tragic characters who don’t achieve their goal. It’s extremely rare for a game to have a character who fails in their quest. Maybe someone dies who you’re supposed to save, or you can’t actually defeat your enemy. But then again, it would also be somewhat unsatisfying and disappointing to play through a game for a dozen or more hours, get to the end, and essentially lose. Although it might provide for an interesting twist and a break from typical narrative expectations.

What do you, the readers, think? Is it possible to play a game as a doomed protagonist? While Dragon Quarter forces you to ‘lose’ in the middle of the game, what games can you think of that defy your heroic expectations at the end?

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