Saturday, April 28, 2012

Breath of Fire 2's Dragon Tear

You know what was a pretty neat idea? Breath of Fire 2’s Dragon Tear. This was the little accessory that showed up with every important character’s dialogue and showed through its color the way the person felt toward you. Kinda like a mood ring, if mood rings were in RPGs, and actually worked at all. The idea’s a good one, giving the player a better understanding of their character’s approval of the protagonist’s decisions, allowing for a way of tracking characters’ reactions to the protagonist’s actions and words as dialogue occurs, and acting as a lie detector by exposing how an NPC really feels, regardless of what he or she is saying--all while being much more aesthetically pleasing than just a message saying someone’s approval has gone up/down, or something like that, as you get in later games like Dragon Age 1.

You know what was a pretty useless idea? Breath of Fire 2’s Dragon Tear. What exactly is the point of having this indicator of how you’re doing in a character’s eyes in a game that offers no player interaction? I mean, there is almost no part of the game wherein the player has any ability to influence the plot or character interactions. It’s a completely linear story, and the protagonist rarely actually responds to anyone in dialogue--and on those rare occasions, whatever the player chooses to have the protagonist Ryu say in response doesn’t really change anything. So if almost every emotional response the NPCs and party members are going to have is unchangeably scripted, why bother to let the player track it? The game’s dialogue is usually pretty straightforward; we don’t really need the Dragon Tear to clarify much.

There’s also the fact that the emotional rating of characters never actually makes a difference, except for a single, extremely tiny moment of the game, which has nothing to do with the plot’s events anyway.* Aside from that one moment, nothing ever changes due to the Dragon Tear rating. Whether the Dragon Tear says a party member loves or hates the protagonist, they’ll say the same lines of dialogue, and they’ll take the same actions in the plot. If it makes the slightest difference in battle performance whether your teammate likes Ryu or thinks he’s scum, I’ve certainly never noticed it, and I’ve played the game through like a dozen times.** No change to the game’s dialogue, to the actions of its cast, to the events of its course, or to the specifics of its conclusion, can be effected by the emotion measured by the Dragon Tear. And like I said, NPCs’ actions and attitudes can’t be influenced by any choice on the player’s part. What little the player can do to affect the mood of the people of the world is of no consequence.

Even as a passive storytelling tool, the Dragon Tear actually doesn’t work all that well. Like I said, the dialogue isn’t all that ambiguous for the most part (bad translation moments aside), so it’s not really needed for emotional clarification, and there were times, I seem to recall, when the emotional reading it was giving didn’t even seem to quite match up with the character’s words, actions, and personality, anyway.

Really, the Dragon Tear is very puzzling to me. From one perspective, it’s a terrific idea, years ahead of its time, something I wish would be implemented in many of today’s RPGs. It would be really nice if we saw it, or something like it, on screen during character interactions in games like Dragon Age 1 and 2, or Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4, games where there’s a plot-significant approval rating to major characters that can be bettered or worsened by the protagonist’s actions and dialogue. It’d be so much nicer than just a little message denoting the approval points you’ve picked up, or a rinky-dink little sound effect, which is what we get for the aforementioned games. And yet, this idea ahead of its time has NOTHING to do with the kind of game it was made for! The linear, forward Breath of Fire 2 is a completely different RPG from the kind that could in any way make actual use of the idea behind the Dragon Tear. It’s like a neat idea for a game got lost and accidentally entered the head of a completely different game’s developer.







* Basically, if you sweet-talk a resident of your town enough, he’ll teach you the Missile spell instead of something less powerful. This is IF you chose to acquire him for the town at all, of course.

** Look, I only had so many games as a kid, okay? I played ALL my SNES RPGs at least a few times.

11 comments:

  1. New to the site while hunting around other gaming blogs today - but I'm enjoying what I'm seeing so far. And I REALLY liked that final quote above - as I was someone who played through allllll of my RPG's more than once (except maybe the really, really bad ones).

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  2. Welcome! Glad you're liking it so far. Hope you continue to read and enjoy; I'm always looking for new readers. Some day I hope to have them number in the double digits, even!

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  3. Well - keep up the good work and I'm sure you will. If it's of any help, I went ahead and added you to my links page and blog roll on my site as well. Maybe my barely double-digit readers will become your barely double-digit readers? (Okay, I'm doing a tad bit better than that, but you get the idea) :) lol

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  4. Thank you! That's very much appreciated. I'll be sure to check out your own blog back.

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    1. Good morning! I had a lot of fun this morning reading through your various comments. It was good to see some feedback on some of the Mass Effect articles - a favorite series of mine to be sure. :)

      When it comes to Breath of Fire, I only ever actually played one of these - and embarrassingly enough, I can't even recall exactly which one it was. I want to say it was #2, but it was so long ago, and just a borrow from a friend, I can't recall now. :)

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  5. Glad you liked them. And hey, if you want to comment on any older rants about games you ARE familiar with, feel free to do so--I definitely check any and all comments I get here, regardless of the date of the rant, and I love the little feedback I garner.

    ...Most of the time.

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    1. I do believe I will be taking you up on that this morning as things are a *bit* slow today at work. :)

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  6. Hey nice blog about Breath of Fire 2. I agree with you about how the linearity of most of the game's content destroyed the wonderful concept of the Dragon Tear. Then again, during the hey days of BoF2, there weren't many games around that offered choices and consequences either. So in this case, I can forgive Capcom for making BoF2 so damn linear. However, at least the company had the decency to make the game have several endings which are based on the player's choices. I guess this part takes away a bit of the linearity as well.

    My biggest complaint with BoF2 (although I love the game) is the lack of backstory for Patty, Ganer, Nina, and Ryu. There were too many loose ends when the game's story closes and it pissed me off knowing that Capcom could have added more to enhance the stories of these characters. I mean damn, Ryu and Nina are only the two main characters that keep reoccurring in every BoF game. There was so much potential to expand and make Nina's story far more interesting than what was given. The destiny of her black wings should have played a larger part in affecting her story and the game's main story overall.

    Ryu was a damn mute and I hated it. Why in the hell did he not recognize Ganer when they met again later in the game? Why wasn't Ryu emotional when he learned that Ganer is his father? Why wasn't he emotional when he learned that Valerie is his mother and how she suffered so much because of St. Eva? Because Ryu was a mute, it was difficult to tell how he felt about Nina as well. It's always implied that Ryu and Nina end up falling in love with each other, but I wanted the dialogue options like in many of today's role-playing games.

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  7. Thanks for reading; appreciate the comment. It's not that I hold BoF2's linear nature against it, don't get me wrong. I am just fine with a linear RPG. In fact, I would have to say that I'm more likely to enjoy a linear RPG than an open-ended one. While many non-linear RPGs like the Fallout series and Mass Effect games (which are open to some extent) are terrific, a linear plot has more control and thus more opportunity to communicate its ideas and themes coherently, and a great story is what I'm playing for. So I have no problem with BoF2's linear aspects--I just don't see how the Dragon Tear is supposed to really mesh with this.

    A lack of back story WAS a problem for a great many major cast members, I agree. I'd say Patty's probably got the worst case of that, though. It's obvious that she's actually Yua, Ryu's sister, yet never is this fact given any significance or recognition when it has a lot of potential for character development.

    Yeah, Ryu being a silent protagonist annoyed me, as silent protagonists almost always do. I did a rant on this a while back under the General RPG header, if you have any interest in reading it, but the long and short of it is that silent protagonists supposedly give the player a chance to immerse him/herself more fully into the game by imagining the protagonist's personality as he/she wants it to be. I've never found this anywhere close to a good trade-off for the character development lost, though.

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  8. Interesting blog this time.

    Threre was a LOT of things BOF2 could have done but did not oh well.

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  9. I remember back when I was a kid playing Breath of Fire 2, I was a little let down by the function of the dragon tear. I thought it was going to come into play at some point in the plot, but it never did. That was well before RPG's had any real morality or affection systems in play, and I still expected it.

    That said, Breath of Fire 2 is one of my favorite RPG's ever. Music and plot are good, and characters are mostly good and there's a good level of variety in them, added to when you consider the whole Shaman system.

    Heh, I remember when that low grumbling noise at the start of the game, the "Barubary" growl or laugh, would actually give me chills. I hated it! I think it's actually the first thing that kinda scared me in a game. It still sorta doesn't sit well with me.

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