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Video Game / Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter

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Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is the fifth entry in the Breath of Fire series, released for the Playstation 2 in 2003 to generally positive reviews. It's a considerable departure from the previous entries, which were much more traditional eastern RPGs.

Sometime in the future, humanity lives deep Beneath the Earth centuries after an apocalyptic disaster rendered the surface a barren and inhospitable wasteland. However, the world below is just as miserable, with the poor toiling away in the polluted lower levels while the rich enjoy the relative cleanliness and luxury of the higher levels. Every citizen is assigned a number called a "D-Ratio" at birth that determines one's lifelong place in society, with the highest (1/4) being the titular "Dragon Quarter".

Ryu is a lower-level citizen who happens across a young mute girl named Nina with a pair of artificial wings grafted to her back. Discovering that the polluted air of the lower levels is slowly killing her, he resolves to rebel against the government and take her to the surface where there is hopefully clean air. But Ryu's quest takes an unexpected twist when he accidentally fuses with a mysterious dragon, gaining the power to transform into an obscenely-powerful draconic hybrid but at the cost of his own lifespan.

Joining Ryu and Nina is Lin, a member of La Résistance who wishes to topple the D-Ratio system and expose the secrets held by the six shadowy rulers of the underground world. But chasing them down is Bosch, a high-ranked aristocrat and Ryu's former team-mate, whose pursuit of the trio quickly becomes very personal.

Dragon Quarter's most interesting gameplay mechanic is the SOL (Scenario Overlay) system. Among other things, this allows you to perform a "SOL Restart" whenever you get overwhelmed. This is a kind of New Game Plus which doesn't require beating the game to take advantage of. This mechanic actually encourages you to start over; rather than starting from scratch, giving up and SOL Restarting allows you to retain all your equipment, combat skills, and any experience that hasn't already been allocated (the game features "Party XP" in addition to regular experience points, which you can allot as you like). There's also a "SOL Restore" option that takes you to your last hard save instead of the beginning of the game. You an do either at any time or if you die, but you lose half your Party Xp and Zenny if you die.

The relatively short length of the game (about 10 hours, give or take, for a complete run) further facilitates this. Depending on how far you went on your last run, you'll see new cutscenes that reveal previously hidden details. Though the plot makes perfect sense without them, they are important for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the story. In addition, beating the game increases your D-ratio for subsequent attempts, with the D-ratio rising each time you clear the game, though for story purposes, you are always considered a "low-D". This allows you to open previously inaccessible new areas, and even gain access to better equipment that might be found in them.

Making this more relevant is the D-counter, a timer that starts when Ryu bonds with his dragon, and which is constantly counting down to his eventual death, speeding up dramatically if he uses any of his utterly broken draconic powers. While you are allowed to suspend your game through quicksaves, permanent save files could only be created through the use of rare save tokens, giving the game an extra layer of Nintendo Hard difficulty.

This series provides examples of:

  • After the End: The story takes place 1000 years After the End, when humanity is driven underground by a Hopeless War that renders the surface uninhabitable.
  • Alternate Universe: From the rest of the series.
  • Begin with a Finisher: After unlocking Ryu's D-Dive, it's possible to go dragon mode on the first turn and annihilate any enemy with his D-Breath... but doing so isn't recommended since if Ryu's D-Counter reaches 100% it's game-over.
  • Beneath the Earth: Pretty much the entire plot and background of Dragon Quarter.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In addition to the dragon names, the entire game intro is recited in Russian. In a second variant of this, only in German and obscured via the use of Cypher Font in the game's opening animation.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Happens to Bosch when he is defeated by Ryu for the last time (with both sides fighting as Half Human Hybrids); Bosch asks Ryu to perform a Mercy Kill on him, and spews blood when Ryu runs him through with his own claw.
    • Also happens to Ryu when Bosch stabs him in the throat with his rapier, full with blanked eyes.
  • Body Horror: In Dragon Quarter, Nina is not a princess, but some poor girl genetically engineered into an air purification device; her "wings" are in fact extensions of her lungs, meaning that every moment she's underground she's filtering pollutants out of the air — as one would expect, this will kill her within a few days — which drives Ryu to guide her on a mad dash to the (supposedly) clean surface. Oh and she had her tongue cut out because machines don't need to talk.
    • There is also a room full of the failed results of previous attempts (in various stages of development), kept preserved in formaldehyde-filled tubes. This is no doubt intended to make them easier to study by the scientists who are working on this project, and not at all to freak out anyone passing through.
    • Also, the entire process of how Bosch got his own Deadly Upgrade.
    • In the Non Standard Gameover, which you get from pushing the D-Counter to 100%, we see a silhouette of Ryu twitching violently, before a dragon erupts from his body, rending it to shreds. You don't see much, but it's still scary as hell.
  • Bonus Boss: The final challenge the Bonus Dungeon Kokon Horay has is Dva, another D-Construct. Unlike Odjin and Chetyre, Dva is very much alive. That Dva is the most powerful foe in the game even though he still bears the wounds from the battle that left him imprisoned — he even has swords still impaled in him — shows just how powerful the D-Constructs truly are.
  • Bonus Dungeon: Kokon Horay. In order to reach it, the fairy colony must be at maximum level.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: Reaching a D-Ratio of 1/4th (which can only be done after beating the game at least once anyway, on a playthrough where you saw and grabbed almost everything.) It has no story impact (everyone still acts as if Ryu is at his original D-Ratio); the last locked area that requires a specific D-Ratio unlocks at 1/256; and the Dragon Blade, the only other thing affected by it, caps out at 1/8th. All you get is 1/4th displayed on your stat screen.
  • Crapsack World: Dragon Quarter's setting was all below ground, where humanity (and everyone else) was driven when a massive war ripped apart the surface. This leads to a series of abandoned tunnels and cramping issues which make Tokyo Underground look spacious, as well as severe pollution issues.
  • Critical Status Buff: The "Soul" class of shields boost the wearer's Defense as their HP decreases.
  • Cooldown Hug: Nina gives Ryu one when he's about to go dragon on the scientist who engineered Nina as a pollution-cleanup device.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: It LOOKS like Bosch has just issued you a Non-Standard Game Over — and then D-Dive activates. Cue extremely justified Oh, Crap! from Bosch.
  • Cypher Language: Dragon Quarter invented an entire pseudo-Cyrillic script. It turns out the writers hid many an Easter Egg and even some downright spoileriffic material in the artwork and even in-game, even though the script was never used in the game mechanics.
    • At least one Japanese fan made an unofficial Truetype font based on the documented character set in the artbook. You can now find it here (The original source is since defunct).
  • Darker and Edgier: The Breath of Fire games tended to be, overall, lighthearted, even if they had occasional dark spots. This one, not so much.
  • Deadly Upgrade: The entire process of linking with D-Constructs.
  • Death as Game Mechanic: Getting a game over allows you to use "SOL Restart" or "SOL Restore", which carries over any Party XP earned to either a new game or your last Save Token save. It can also unlock new story scenes.
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: This game is very hard for many players, especially if they're attempting to clear it without restarting as many of the bosses will tempt you to want to use the D-Drive. But if the games gets too difficult for any players, they can restart the game, keeping all of the skills they earned in their playthrough while also keeping any items left in storage, any items currently equipped to them and all of the party XP gained will remain too. Depending on how far they managed to make it, they will also be treated to a number of new cutscenes. Another good way of looking at it is if you raised the D-Counter too high, you can restart and it will be reset when you receive it again.
  • Dynamic Entry: Chetyre.
    Can it hate?
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Ryu manages to deliver Lin and Nina to the gate of the sky, however he has a 200% dragon ratio. As the party separates, Odjn releases Ryu from his bond, preventing him from being consumed, and he rejoins the party in the surface with a clear blue sky.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: While the other games in the series are more of a traditional Eastern RPG, this is a game with Survival Horror Elements.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration:
    • The entire game teaches you that overuse of the various Dragon abilities can net you a Non Standard Game Over, so that you're more hesitant to use any of them without good reason. To overcome the final fight against a transformed Bosch, both Ryu and the player have to throw hesitation and caution to the wind and overextend the D-Counter to 200% to overpower the Beam Of War.
    • The penultimate final battle is scene as this: Bosch is using dragon abilities the same as Ryu's. Bosch, like Ryu, is invulnerable to harm in this form until using D-Dive to eliminate the ability, which previous enemies had no access to. Once this battle is finished, Bosch collapses and Chetyre emerges from his body in the way the Non Standard Game Over does for Ryu, meaning Bosch's D-Counter reached 100%.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: In successive playthroughs of the game, it's possible to raise Ryu's D-ratio to 1/4, but in-story he's still treated as a low-D grunt.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: A major theme of the backstory of Dragon Quarter. Genetic Engineering is such an effective Weapon of Mass Destruction, in fact, that scientists in the past managed to create dragons as weapons which proceeded to cause The End of the World as We Know It. What's left of humanity is still living underground over a millennium later.
  • The Illuminati: The Regents are essentially this.
  • Journey to the Sky: Centuries after humanity was driven underground by rampaging dragons, a teenaged Ranger named Ryu must take a "winged" girl named Nina from the polluted slums at the bottom of the rebuilt civilization to reach the pristine skies of the surface.note 
  • La Résistance: Trinity, led by Mebeth, a former Regent. It is implied through SOL scenes that Mebeth still serves the Regents and Trinity is actually a false resistance, created to allow citizens of Sheldar to rebel without actually threatening Elyon's plans.
  • Money for Nothing: Once you have access to the money exchange room in the fairy side-game, you can make a killing off the currency that fluctuates more because it actually has a fairly predictable pattern.
  • My Greatest Failure:
    • Elyon: Refusing to open the door to the sky when he was a Chosen of Odjn. He feared that it wasn't his own decision, and this resulted in Odjn breaking his link with Elyon.
    • Bosch: Being defeated by Ryu. Much of this is because Bosch is a "Well Done, Son" Guy who was pressured to excel and he just can't handle being defeated by a low-D; this leads to a descent from being The Rival to a full-blown Villainous Breakdown.
  • Mythology Gag: Lin and Bosch's names are references to two Breath of Fire II party members (who were renamed "Katt" and "Bow" in the localization).
  • New Game Plus: One of the few (if only) games that makes this an active part of the game mechanics. You're encouraged, or even forced, to constantly restart the game. The only things that are kept over though is currently equipped items, skills, anything in storage, and unused party experience points.
  • Nintendo Hard: You're able to restart the game multiple times for a good reason; the game is pretty challenging, especially for those not used to turn-based action RPG games. Invoked, as according to the creators, they made the game this because they felt that other similar role playing games were too easy and they wanted to give players more of a challenge.
  • Non Standard Game Over: There are three ways for the game to end that don't include losing all of your health:
    • The most common way is to reach 100% on the D-Counter by using D-Dive too often or using D-Dash too much.
    • In the Trinity Pit, after one cutscene, Nina is attacked by members of Trinity. If she is defeated in that battle, the game automatically ends, even if the other party members are alive.
    • During the second last boss of the game, if he's not defeated in 20 turns, the elevator everyone is one will reach Geofront and the game ends.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: In this game, dragons — or rather, D-Constructs — are powerful genetically-engineered weapons of mass destruction that can bond with a human and bestow them power, at the risk of said human being taken over by that power and transforming into the D-Construct they're linked to. Ryu is bonded to a D-Construct called Odjn, and it is eventually revealed that Elyon was bonded to Odjn as well but severed their link and left Odjn as a rotting corpse pinned to a wall. Bosch bonds with and is ultimately taken over by a malicious D-Construct called Chetyre, who uses him to reconstitute her body.
  • Paper Fan of Doom: One of the weapons that Nina can obtain is called Chopper, which looks just like a paper fan and the only ability that it has allows her to physically hit opponents with it, unlike her other abilities which are regular spells. Fittingly, the weapon will increase her physical attack much higher than her other weapons that mainly increase her magic so that her spells do more damage.
  • Power Levels: D-Ratios in Dragon Quarter determine a person's potential in life and are therefore used as criteria for determining social status and prospects. 1/8192 means you're stuck as a grunt for life, 1/64 makes you a super-elite, while 1/4 more or less marks you as a Physical God. The more accurate description of the D-Ratios is the likelihood of a successful linkup with a D-Construct, but exactly what they base this on is never elaborated on, and while you can raise your Ratio up to 1/4 in a New Game Plus by playing through the game quickly, opening as many treasure chests as possible, killing a lot of enemies and getting first strikes on the majority of them, finishing the Bonus Dungeon, saving as little as possible and having your characters leveled up as high as possible, it doesn't effect the storyline and only allows you to explore a few bonus areas and allows you to get a better version of the game's Infinity +1 Sword.
    • Note that Ryu being rated as 1/8192 means that he has a 0.0001% chance of successfully linking with a D-Construct. The fact that he does, and with the most powerful one to boot, shows that the D-Ratio system is actually not terribly effective at determining someone's overall ability. Ryu is a grunt that has the ability to become essentially a god (and that kills a bunch of other gods in his quest). At least part of the reason he's opposed by the ruling council is because they simply refuse to believe that someone so pathetic could do what he did.
  • Puzzle Boss: Hortensia is one, she uses her ability to turn the floor colors, and one of her spells will either hurt or heal the person standing on it depending on the color (she floats, and is immune to either effect).
  • Reset Button: The SOL: Restart function. You restart the game carrying over your D-Ratio, stored items, unspent XP, money, and skills. SOL: Restore does something similar, but it only takes you back to your last hard save (i.e., one made with a Save Token) rather than back to the start.
  • Rewatch Bonus: A variant. Since certain cutscenes only trigger if your D-Ratio is high enough, you will only be able to view them all by using the Reset Button.
  • Save Token: That were extremely rare, to boot, although there was fortunately Suspend Saves available if you really needed to quit. The PAL versions lacks the quicksave feature but is much more plentiful with the Save Tokens.
  • Shielded Core Boss: The final bosses and some end-game enemies have what is known as "Absolute Defense", where you have to deal a minimum amount of damage (in the form of a negative damage number) in a single turn before you actually hurt them.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: The Central Theme.
    AustinCHowe: The primary idea that Dragon Quarter engages through its play is, quite simply, being poor, and the stress that comes with being poor. Born poor, into a political system that ensures that you live poor, and without a miracle, die poor.
    • It even shows the other side of the coin with Bosch's nightmarish childhood; to Ryu, Bosch is the snob who bosses him around and bullies him every time he misses a step, so it's hard for him to realize that the guy making him miserable was forced to kill a freaking minotaur at the age of nine - or die trying.
  • Suspend Save: Except in the PAL version, for some reason. To compensate, you start the game with 9 Save Tokens, although whether that's a fair tradeoff is up for debate, especially considering the 50-floor Bonus Dungeon with no savepoints whatsoever.
  • Taste of Power: After Ryu bonds with Odjn, the player is given free access to the D-Dash to tear through subsequent content for a bit, and when forced to transform, you get the only (truly playable) required D-Dive fight in the game as Ryu delivers a Curbstomp Battle to Bosch and his goons. Of course, it turns out Ryu's got a Deadly Upgrade, his attacks in this state give an inevitable jolt to your D-Counter to give the player an Oh, Crap! moment, and now you have to properly ration the powers for the rest of the game.
  • The Last Dance: Paired with a Race Against the Clock; Nina will die within a few days unless she escapes the polluted environment of Sheldar, but Ryu's got a dragon parasitically bound to him which will kill him in roughly the same amount of time — faster if he actually calls on the dragon's unstoppable power. The only question is whether or not he succeeds in getting Nina to the surface before the dragon rips its way out of his body... though if he does succeed, the dragon acknowledges his achievement, and re-merges with him to give him a full life on the surface with Nina.
  • Theme Naming: Mostly ties into You Are Number 6, but there are some additional examples; the Regents mostly have names that are theological references:
    • Elyon is traditionally a Hebrew epithet for God. note 
    • Jezuit is a reference to the Jesuit religious order.
    • Deamoned is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
    • Tantra is a reference to a specific estatic Buddhist religious school, and Cupid is the Greek god of love.
    • The Regents and major characters not named after theological references, Russian numbers, or direct shout-outs to the earlier games in the series are named after Greco-Roman philosophers and orators. Zeno shares a name with a famous Greek philosopher who (per the Other Wiki) wrote extensively about paradoxes and the nature of reality, and Hortensia shares a name with an orator who (again, per the Other Wiki) led the Roman Senate to partially repeal taxes on female nobles.
  • Timed Mission: Once Ryu's D-Counter appears after a Taste of Power, the entire rest of the game has the counter hounding your steps, as hitting 100% nets you the Non Standard Game Over. Walking around gradually raises .01% every several seconds as does each of Ryu's turns in battle, D-Dash can rack up the counter if you're not cautious, D-Dive and any of its attacks take jumps on the counter, and even standing idle without pausing will slowly but surely tick it up ever so slightly.
  • Took a Shortcut: Jaju, Arma and Leo, better known as the storage, armory and item shop kids, do this shamelessly and have no trouble reminding you of the fact that there is no conceivable reason for why they could possibly show up where they do.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Using Ryu's D-Dive to take out the tougher enemies or bosses is very useful, but using it too often is a bad idea since the game will end if the D-Counter reaches 100%. Since using D-dive attacks can increase it by 3% with one attack, one should only use it if the D-Counter is pretty low or if you're in a tight situation.
  • Trailers Always Lie: One CM for the game, which uses a lot of beta footage, centers around climactic-looking footage of Ryu facing off with Dva in a large, well-lit room that looks something like the area Odjn is in. Needless to say, this is pretty inaccurate in various ways.
    • There's also the intro movie to the game with lengthy segment where Ryu slowly walks forward in heavy rainfall while dragging his sword along the ground: While the last part does offer an explanation where the hell the rain is coming from, it doesn't really match up to his surroundings in the earlier parts.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Bosch's early childhood trauma provides the fuel for Bosch's eventual Villainous Breakdown.
  • Turn Undead: One of the weapons Nina can use, Holy Heart, has a unique spell that can't be obtained via chests or stealing from opponents called Kyrie, which is a level three spell that will kill all undead enemies within her vicinity in one hit.
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: Why everyone is underground in the first place.
    • Also, Ryu. He lets absolutely nothing stand in his way. Not his manipulative friends, not his respected superiors, not the long-established order of the world, and certainly not something as meaningless as tradition.
  • You Are Number 6: The D-Ratio is a part of someone's actual name.
    • These numbers are written as a fraction with a denominator as a power of two. The highest a person can have is 1/4, which Mebeth has. Those with smaller numbers are considered the highest of society and live in the upper-class areas, whereas those with a lower number live in the lower levels. The only people who do not give their D-ratios are criminals such as Trinity (who deliberately hide them) and people like Nina, whose D-ratios are so low they're barely considered human and experimenting on them is considered perfectly fine. Ryu's D-Ratio of 1/8192 is considered average and no one expects him to be able to make it higher than a grunt soldier.
    • Dragons, the creatures that devastated the surface, are considered to have a D-Ratio of 1/1. The D-Constructs such as Odjn and Chetyre have D-Ratios of 1/2.
    • Elyon has a number-nickname of Origin, a mathematical term for 1.
    • Every single dragon in the game has literal numbers (in Russian) as names, also based on powers of two: Odjn means "one"; Dva, mistranslated as Dover, means "two"; and Chetyre means "four".