This week we will take a look at Drakengard 2, the successor to the original title. This game brought many improvements, but also made changes which angered fans. Later in the article we cover Lord of Vermilion, a series which puts Square Enix characters up against one another in an arcade card game.
Drakengard 2 was known as Drag-On Dragoon 2: Sealed Red, Immoral Black in Japan. It came out one year after the original and was published and localized by Ubisoft in the west.
The major difference between this and the original is that Taro Yoko, the creative mind behind the first game, didn’t work on it. He initially planned for the game to be an adventure game with dragons in space, but this idea was quickly discarded. The reason for his absence was because he couldn’t come to an agreement about the title with Akira Yasui, the director who replaced Taro Yoko for Drakengard 2. This meant a drastic shift from the original game. The themes are a lot lighter, the characters a lot more stereotypical, the locations more colorful and everything is a lot less creative. Needless to say it feels like a polar opposite of the original.
Drakengard 2 takes place 18 years after the original. You now play as Nowe (pronounced as “no way”). Raised by a dragon, he now serves the Knights of the Seal, a similar organization to the Union. The knights of the Seal defend five seals which are said to bring the end of the world once destroyed. Learning that the knights are corrupt, tyrannizing the people he decides to leave them and follow a mysterious girl named Manah on her quest to destroy the seals and free the people.
While the story is coherent, it doesn’t mean it’s good. The game feels a lot more like a typical JRPG, skipping on most of the elements that made the first game special. The game is filled with plot twists you can see a mile away, stupid decisions, very awkward dialogue with the opposite gender, random deus ex machina that appears once and then doesn’t come into light again until the final chapter and let’s no forget an obligatory childhood friend which is forgotten the moment the main love interest comes into view.
The sad thing is that the original Drakengard never relied on such elements and its characters were generally deeper for it. The game tries too much to make Nowe a goody two-shoes, but this ends up making him a lot flatter than he should be. Even the relationship between Nowe and Legna is a lot shallower than that of Caim and Angelus. On the whole, the story isn’t awful, but does leave a lot to be desired.
What Drakengard 2 does well is the way it linked characters from the previous plot. While some things might be confusing for example how come no one knows who Manah is despite her being the reason for the world almost ending, they mostly remained consistent and are by far the best element of this game.
Pacts are still a focus in Drakengard 2. Each of the enemy generals has his own pact partner which you will battle.
The protagonist of Draknegard 2. A goody two-shoes with little faults. Quickly decides to assist Manah in her quest, becoming an enemy of the Knights of the Seal. He rides Legna even without a pact. He was conceived by Inuart and Furiae when they entered the Seed of Resurrection.
Nowe’s dragon, acting as his father. Nowe was found as a child in Legna’s den. Legna is the same black dragon that killed Caim’s parents.
The same Manah that almost brought the end of the world in the original. Now her quest is to release the Seals which bind the people of the land.
A member of the Knights of the Seal. She is Nowe’s superior, childhood friend and ally in battle. Using her spear she is strong against undead enemies.
A former Knight of the Seal. He made a pact with the reaper becoming immortal. He hides his face behind a mask. He becomes your ally and assists you using his scythe.
Leader of the Knights of the Seal. Doesn’t hide the fact that he hates Nowe’s guts.
One of the lieutenants of the Knights of the Seal. She is the guardian of the District of Hallowed Water. As a child she fell into the water and almost lost her life. She survived by making a pact with Kelpie, paying with her charm.
One of the lieutenants of the Knights of the Seal and master of illusions. He is the guardian of the District of Precious Light. Yaha is a homosexual who went into the pact with the gnomes in order to try to get Urick.
One of the lieutenants of the Knights of the Seal. He is the guardian of the District of Soul Flame. Despite his gluttonous nature, he lost his sense of taste because of his pact.
Caim lost an eye between games and became even more blood thirsty. He is fueled for his desire to see Angelus again. This games ends his character arc.
Caim’s pact partner from the original game. Because she became the new Goddess of the seal, she carries a great burden driving her insane.
The new hiearch. He hasn’t aged a day since the previous game. Appears in the sequel despite the fact that he wasn’t even a party member in the original’s ending that this game follows.
There are also some changes in the gameplay. Overall, the game is much faster than its predecessor. This in turn makes things a lot more dynamic. Combos function differently. You mix up the square (standard attack) with triangle in order to do a combo. Possible combos expand as you level up weapons. The game is a lot more lenient with its combo timing. Bigger combos grant more experience with each kill and in addition speed up your attacks for as long as you keep your combo up.You can now fling enemies into the air or do a downward attack while jumping. Spells can be charged, depending on the weapon level, unleashing a devastating attack.
The game also finally features multiple on foot boss battle. One boss fight even mixes an air and ground battle, making for an engaging battle. Unfortunately this only occurs once. Despite this, the game surprisingly lacks aerial boss battles.
There were a large number of improvements. Leveling up increases all stats and not just HP. Leveling up weapons no longer requires kills but now uses experience. This prevents the problem of needless grinding in easier levels, and it makes it more rewarding killing a stronger foe as you will get more experience. The jump button actually has some purpose now. Missions also have more varied requirements. There are some light platforming sections and elementary puzzles here, which is a nice touch. The game finally has a tutorial that explains everything step by step. The camera functions like it should, no longer resting once you let go off the right analog.
Enemies have basic AI now. Mages even run away while soldiers scatter while you are on your dragon. Enemy HP doesn’t reset if you go too far away like in its predecessor. The mini-map has also been vastly improved as you can actually see something on it. Some levels start out without a map. You can then collect it during the stage, but this feels more like a gimmick than a genuinely interesting concept.
The game is a lot more difficult now. Dodging is harder to pull off and enemies strike more often than before. Not only this but now there is a lot more enemies on screen making things more difficult. Defending is a must if you want to survive, unlike in the predecessor where you can basically dodge every attack. You now also need to make use of the parry technique as it allows you to get a hit in when the enemy is vulnerable. The parry technique was praised at the time, as it made the game a lot more entertaining. In Drakengard 2 you can’t abuse the same healing mechanic as in its predecessor. Before you could take the weakest weapon and keep hitting enemies gaining an HP recovery every 16 hits, even beating dead enemies. Now HP recovery orbs are less frequent and a lot harder to gain.
Even though you will die, the game at least lets you keep all the accumulated experience which cannot be said for its predecessor. Still, this also allows you to abuse the system. You can now find a mission with a lot of grouped enemies, kill most of them, let yourself die and reset keeping all the experience you gained.
The world map is no longer an upside down version of Europe, so you won’t retract old maps from the original (with one exception). New to Drakengard 2 are shops. Here you can spend your hard earned money to purchase weapons, accessories or recovery items. Now you will be able to bring healing items with you. These can either replenish HP or MP. You have a limited amount of space in your inventory so you need to choose wisely before the start of each mission.
There are 67 weapons in Drakegard 2. They even include weapons that the characters in the original used such as Inuart’s sword. This makes the events and characters of the original seem even more important. Many of the weapons form the original make their comeback in Drakengard 2. Like always the weapons stories are a delight to read, some of which are a direct continuation of the story found in the original.
Drakengard 2: Hunter’s Joy
A lord with a penchant for hunting once owned this sword. With it at his side, he would ride out into the forest and not return until he had slaughtered all the animals he could find. Several decades later, when the lord’s grandson inherited the title, he also inherited this sword.
Level 2: The new lord was a gentle soul, and wasn’t fond of hunting – until the day he found this sword among his grandfather’s possessions. From then on, his interest grew and he began to make frequent hunting trips.
Level 3: As the months passed, the young lord’s behavior became more and more eccentric. He would lick the food off his plate and was sometimes seen walking on all fours around the castle. Then one day he disappeared.
Level 4: No one knew what had become of him – only that a beastly roaring could be heard echoing from deep within the castle dungeons. It is said that it can still be heard to this day.
Characters no longer function as summons, but instead if any character dies it’s game over. Now you can swap characters by selecting their weapons. Each character has his own HP bar, meaning you will be able to switch out when someone is near death. Each character is also good in a specific situation. Manah is great against mages, while Urich can beat powerful enemies into a pulp and Eris is strong against undead. Even though this all sounds awesome it feels a bit awkward as you will never have all four characters available because they switch out frequently. Not only that but you will have a few allies for just a chapter or two. The game does let you play with anyone during the second playthrough but it seems like a thing that should have been there from the start.
The new dragon is Legna (Angel spelled backward). You can now slow down and aim precisely at enemies bellow you. The developers finally remembered that they can use height in the game. Drakengard 2 features better map design, with a lot more scenery. Levels have different heights, finally feeling more organic than the empty planes from the original. Legna doesn’t share HP with Nowe and he can even use healing items if needed. Unlike Angelus, Legna has a variety of ultimate attacks. It’s a shame that they all take a while to cast and they don’t end up being impressive as the one in the original. The dragon segments can feel a bit floaty, missing a lot of the weight found in the original. Legna will boost almost instantaneously, never allowing you to precisely maneuver. Enemy fire doesn’t take you off your dragon, so correctly dodging is less of an issue now.
Ultimate attacks function differently only while in aerial segments. You no longer fill up a bar but instead collect orbs from fallen enemies. Orbs appear randomly and you need to shoot them in order to swap which ammo you get when you collect them. This is a really clumsy system as it forces you to precisely maneuver all while in the heat of battle in order to get a limited amount of ammo.
You can no longer replay old levels, nor does the game feature multiple paths. There are now less endings, having only three instead of five found in the original. Unlike the original there are no ridiculous requirement like collecting all the weapons in the game to get an ending, but never the less it’s an even more tedious task. To get the second ending you need to play through the game another time, and for the third you need to play a third time. The game is set to a higher difficulty and there are minor additions at the end of chapters that flesh out some of the characters. The only major difference is chapter 12, but even that doesn’t justify playing through multiple times, as all three endings scenes are mostly the same.
The game is also improved from the visual aspect. The draw distance is a lot better, allowing you to see far away. You finally see your allies on the battlefield, and enemies actually do something instead of waiting for you to come and kill them. Gone is the blurry filter effect of the original. The sky is blue with only a few levels with brown or grey skies. The locations are a lot more varied, skipping deserts and flat plains, finally having height. Ultimately everything looks a lot better.
Drakengard 2 is a weird title. While almost all the flaws of the original were fixed, everything that made that title memorable is missing here. The story went from a dark tale to a typical JRPG. Dragon sections which were the best parts of the original are a lot less impressive. Multiple endings are no longer engaging as they just require you to play through the game multiple times. On the whole while overall a better title it is the least memorable in the series.
Lord of Vermilion
Lord of Vermilion is a series of card based arcade games out exclusively in Japan. As it’s made by Square Enix many of it’s cards are actually from different francises. Some of the cards that appear in Lord of Vermilion are from: Drakengard, Nier, Final Fantasy, Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, Persona, The King of Fighters, Magic: The Gathering, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth and even Touhou.
This series has three major titles and two spin-offs, Lord of Arcana for the PSP and Lord of Apocalypse for both the PSP and Vita. Its spin-offs featured vastly different gameplay, copying the Monster Hunter formula, and had a mediocre reception. The original Lord of Vermilion was released in 2008, with the sequel out in 2009. An enchanced edition of Lord of Vermilion II came out titled as Lord of Vermilion Re: 2 in 2011. Last year Japan got the third installment of this franchise. Just in 2008 the series brought Square Enix over 4 billion Yen.
The game is played by using a joystick to move you troops, while the cards are used for positioning characters in a formation. The sensor on the arcade machine allows you to use physical cards allowing for quite a unique experience. In order to play the game you need to buy a starter pack which contains your main character card, a NESYS system card to keep your data and four summons.
Bellow you can see the cards from the Drakengard franchise.
Lord of Vermilion
Lord of Vermilion Re: 2
Lord of vermilion 3
Read Part 3 – covering Nier