Review – Drakengard 3

Drakengard 3 is a game where you get to kill a lot of things, ride around on a dragon, and destroy everything in your way. What’s not to love?

Well, quite a bit.

The first Drakengard game was released on PlayStation 2 in 2002, followed by Drakengard 2 and the spin-off Nier years later. Drakengard 3 serves as a prequel to the first game, taking place about 100 years beforehand.

Story

In Drakengard 3, the player takes control of Zero, one of six sisters known as “Intoners” for their manipulation of magic via singing. The Intoners are famous across the world for freeing the various realms from tyrannical rulers and bringing peace. Zero, the outlier, plots to kill the other Intoners, with her reasoning being revealed as the story unfolds.

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As the plot progresses, Zero fights her sisters and gains “disciples,” people who serve Intoners and facilitate their use of magic. In Zero’s case, they fight alongside her in battle, although they offer no substantial assistance.

The story has four distinct endings, each of which provide a different look at how things could turn out as a result of Zero’s quest, and each contributes to a better understanding of the “big picture.” As convoluted as it seems at first, the story is the most interesting part of the game – learning about Zero and her ambitions as things unfold may seem inadequate after the first ending, but the next three fill in the blanks while also expanding on the possible conclusions. Unfortunately, there is a lot of necessary backstory omitted from the game.

There is also some inconsistency with character introductions. The four endings branch off from the main story (Branch A) at different points. However, in the three extra branches, Zero is always with all four disciples, even if they were not present at that point in Branch A.

Characters

For the most part, the game focuses on six characters – Zero, Mikhail (her dragon), and her four disciples. While the other five Intoners are the main antagonists, they don’t play much of a direct role outside of the battles with them.

Zero, as the one hell-bent on killing her sisters, is a merciless antihero who stops at nothing to pursue her goals. One of the strengths of the game is her story slowly being told even after she has started to take out her enemies.

Mikhail, on the other hand, serves as a foil to Zero, constantly questioning her bloodlust and insistence on slaughtering her enemies. While he initially appears naive to the world around him and constantly throwing out “Why?” like a young child, his questions also serve to ground Zero’s madness at many times.

The four disciples are four very strange characters – Dito the sadist, Decadus the masochist, Octa the sex-craved loon, and Cent the idiot all form a strange supporting cast that regularly provides the comedic relief and constant banter that improves the general experience of the game.

The biggest issue with the characters is the lack of backstory within the game. The prequel novella available on the game’s website fills in some of the gaps (most importantly for Zero’s origins), but the absence within the game itself is a critical flaw.

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The greatest thing about the characters is their constant interaction during gameplay. When fighting a boss, cutting down minions, or just walking from point A to point B, Zero, Mikhail, and her disciples will talk about things. While many of these are directly related to the current events of their adventure, there is also plenty of dark humor and innuendo infused into the conversations – this makes many ordeals far more interesting than they would be otherwise, and takes away from the tedium of constant slashing.

Gameplay

The game focuses mainly on being a hack-and-slash RPG; however, there are also aerial dragon combat sections and one anomaly towards the end.

For the most part, the player controls Zero and goes a through a fairly basic hack-and-slash approach. Basic enemies will have varying weapons, weaknesses, and attack styles, while bosses will all have completely unique movesets. There are a few issues with this part of the game – for one, it is very repetitive, with the characters even joking about this at several points. Then, there are frequent framerate drops, particularly when the camera is zoomed in very close to Zero or she is slicing through a lot of foes all at once. And lastly, the camera and targeting leave much to be desired – there is no auto-targeting, attempting to switch targets is generally not worth the effort, and tight spaces result in the camera being zoomed in on Zero, not giving a good idea of the area around her. These levels are completely linear, so tight hallways are not that unusual.

The most interesting part of the battle system is weapon variety – there are four different weapons, each with three different sizes. Swords, spears, chakrams, and combat bracers are all available for Zero to use, and she can swiftly switch between them for the situation at hand. Each weapon generally has a specific situation it is effective for, with swords being the general-use choice. Weapons can be upgraded for improved damage, combos, and range, and weapons of different sizes function slightly differently. Unfortunately, the combos are all rather straightforward, so unless you’re changing weapons frequently, it will be the same pattern over and over again.

There are side missions available where the player will control Zero, but these are basic “defeat x enemies in y minutes” type ordeals. Fortunately, many of these do have substantial rewards, making them worth pursuing.

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Dragon combat, while limited to a few specific levels, is a nice change of pace. The player controls Mikhail and will either fight one of the many bosses or a legion of cannon fodder. Controls for the aerial combat can be a bit finicky, and the camera is just as problematic as when controlling Zero – especially in more confined areas.

If you’ve played the first Drakengard game, you probably remember the brief rhythm game shoe-horned into the E ending. Well, this one is even worse.  The “final boss” of Branch D (the fourth and final ending) throws a complete curveball into the system, having a repetition rhythm game with no lenience for errors – if you miss a note, you start over.

People who do not have a good sense of rhythm will likely struggle with this (not to mention any deaf players have no chance) since there are many points where you will not be able to see Mikhail to time your button presses. Instead, you will need to pay attention to the tempo and press each note a full measure after it initially sounds. The tempo increases from section to section until the seventh, when the rhythm begins to lose consistency. And besides this song being eight minutes long, there is also a single note hidden towards the end, after a fade to black.

I haven’t finished the game yet, and this is the only reason why. This part of the game, while stylistically great, is completely unnecessary and unfair to the player. If people wanted to play a rhythm game, that’s what they would have purchased.

Visuals

The biggest issue with the game is the lackluster visual quality. As a game released towards the end of the PS3’s life cycle, it looks more along the lines of a launch game from 2006, and doesn’t have the same level of polish most people expect from Square Enix releases (although this was simply published by SE, not developed). Textures are very bland and plain, framerate drops are fairly common, colors are uninteresting, and the camera is all over the place. Character models are also fairly low quality, which is most noticeable during the final boss battle.

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However, despite these issues, the pre-rendered cutscene, general visual style, and character design are all very good. Oddly enough, one of the best visual details is the blood that accumulates on Zero’s clothing and the screen as she slaughters more and more enemies – as many enemies cry in fear and hide, it serves as a stark reminder of just what Zero is willing to do to meet her goals.

Sound

The music is the strongest part of the game (yes, even including the music for the final boss). When proceeding through battlefields, the soundtrack consists of powerful orchestral music with a heavy focus on percussion – this fits the recklessness of the fighting perfectly. The music for the boss battles is very different, providing a more electronic focus and fast steady beat for what is mostly dragon combat, and it does an excellent job of increasing the tension of the situations. Altogether, the music is consistent, interesting, and appropriate.

The English voice acting is very good, but there is a lot of vulgarity, both in the forms of cursing and sexual innuendo. This is one of the least child-friendly games I have ever played in that regard. The best voice in the game is definitely Zero’s, thinly treading the line between an unhinged mass-murderer and perfectly sane (albeit scathingly sarcastic) woman. Mikhail’s childish voice is a bit confusing at first, and while it does not feel as appropriate late into the game, it is fitting for his naive and young character.

There is also a Japanese-language voice pack available as paid DLC, which seems like a cheap way to milk fans for money.

This actually happened.

Altogether, while the game has a lot going for it, there are also many issues that become more apparent the longer one plays.

+ Four different endings
+ Zero, the antihero
+ Constant focus on character interactions
+ Great soundtrack

~ Limited backstory within the game
~ Uncreative side missions
~ Somewhat dynamic fighting system

– The “final boss”
– Visuals are lackluster and problematic
– Poor camera control and finicky targeting
– Repetitive on all fronts
– Japanese voice pack available as paid DLC
– Disciples add nothing to combat

Play time – 25 hours or so

Overall – 5/10
Recommendation – If you like hack-and-slash games or the others in the series, try it out. Otherwise, skip it.

While the game has an interesting cast and story and is fun in short doses, it is weighed down by repetitive linear levels, plenty of graphical issues, and a too-straightforward hack-and-slash approach. While weapon swapping and dragon-mounted battles should spice up the tedium, they are insufficient in the long run.

And then, the final boss adds in a surprise element that has no place in this type of game. In this day and age, where one can watch the ending online, it might not even be worth the time to complete it on one’s own.

Drakengard 3 is a game marred by not only its own attempts to be unique, but a lack thereof in most manners. In the end, the pros and cons balance out for a generally average experience.


If you are planning on playing the game, I would recommend reading the prequel novella as well, which is available for free on the official website. The novella provides a small chapter about each character and would probably be best read before playing.


All screenshots are from IGN or GAMEOXO.

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