BREATH OF FIRE: DRAGON QUARTER / Capcom / PlayStation 2
You can say at least one thing for the Breath of Fire series - it was not afraid to experiment. Each new entry was often quite different from the last, and was a mixed bag of good qualities and just terrible design decisions.
Offhand, I think it might be the longest-running RPG series to never really find its feet and produce an unquestionably great hit. It cultivated enough of a fan base to stick around through several console generations, but never did manage to get up to the crest of the hill with the Final Fantasies and etc.
Dragon Quarter, which is the unofficial Breath of Fire V, ended up being the effective end of the road for the series. There was a Breath of Fire VI in 2016, but it ended up being a mobile-only freemium game available only in Japan that died out pretty quickly. From a symbolic point of view, Dragon Quarter is a fitting end. It's weirder and more experimental than any other game in the series, it makes more baffling player-hostile design decisions you don't expect, and it appeals only to a cult fanbase.
The previous games were all in some sort of medieval-ish high fantasy animu world, but Dragon Quarter shakes things up by jumping the series into the far future. It actually appears to have nothing at all to do with the previous games at first; it looks more like the designer had a giant boner for Final Fantasy VII and wanted to create their own version.
The connection is revealed after a couple hours of gameplay, however. You're the new iteration of Ryu (same hairstyle, just not blue this time), you get dragon powers conferred to you eventually, and the bulk of the game is trying to save winged girl Nina. We're in a crapsack underground mole people world this time, as apparently humankind managed to bone the surface of the planet with pollution and the T-virus or something. Ryu is a low-level Ranger for this underground society, which is caste-based. Everyone is assigned a Dick Ratio when they are born, which is used to show everyone who is the boss of this gym. Ryu is just some super low-level schlub, but in the course of his first mission the dragon stuff happens and then shenanigans and Nina and all of that.
Actually, the T-virus thing is more than just an offhand crack. In addition to the Final Fantasy VII influence, Dragon Quarter also borrows a lot from Capcom's own Resident Evil. It's kinda a "survival horror" RPG, just low on the horror content. Resource management is the name of the game, and unfair ambush deaths are lurking around every corner. Healing only comes from items, and you can't just endlessly grind enemies for coin and levels.
The game has shifted its fundamental structure to something of a roguelike, but an odd one with its own odd rules. It's virtually impossible to complete the game on the first run, as you can't save freely. You get a very limited amount of "save tokens" (a la Resident Evil ink ribbons) to make permanent saves with; otherwise you can only do a "snap save" which is deleted when you reload it. However, when you get killed you get the option to restart the game with the battle skills you've learned, whatever you're equipped with, any items you've stuffed in a locker and half your money. Apparently you need to do this at least several times to make it.
To be fair to the game, it does offer you some added content to ease the pain of all these restarts. You'll get added cinematics that develop the story more on replays, which unlock only after you reach certain points in your previous game. Also, there are certain locked doors that only unlock after you get your Dick Ratio up by playing and restarting.
The main thing the game gets wrong is the sheer length of this whole process. Roguelikes work because moving between play sessions is a quick experience, and also they are usually randomized so each session feels fresh. Dragon Quarter has you doing literally the same stuff over, and over, and over, just with maybe some tiny kibble sprinkled into each iteration to make it feel very slightly different.
That, and it doesn't adequately explain in-game exactly what you'll be carrying over from game to game. You'll likely waste one or two hours of gameplay before your first restart only to find out that you didn't carry over nearly enough useful stuff for it to be worth all that time.
The one specific big hangup is boss battles. They come without warning, and are very difficult. Those wouldn't necessarily be deal-breakers, except that because of the lack of ability to grind there is usually one specific skill you have to keep using to win each one. Don't have that skill equipped when the fight jumps off? Switched weapons and forgot to re-equip it? Welp, then you're unavoidably either restarting the game or possibly going back over an hour to your last permanent save.
So basically, this isn't a Dark Souls-style case of "git gud," it's that the game hides critical information from you and the only way you can get it is through try-and-die sessions that take an insane amount of time. Unless you want to play with a guide and use emulator save states to make it more tolerable.
Frankly, this game was designed exclusively for the infamous Hiroshi Yamauchi stereotype of RPG players - OCD people who want to sit alone in a dark room for six hours at a time doing the same thing over and over and over and over again to sate an imaginary sense of progress. That's a niche market (thus the cult fandom here), and one that also has probably not held up well over time with no end of MMORPGs serving that same function for people who are into it. There are interesting ideas here, but the implementation was way off base.
* Gameplay Video