It’s finally time for the long overdue review of Drakengard 3. My excitement for this title was the main reason why I took on the endeavor of covering the entire Drakengard franchise. Unfortunately the end title failed to meet expectations from critics to fans alike and shows what happens when a less experienced company works on an established series.
Drakengard 3 serves as a prequel to the first Drakengard game. It has quite an intriguing set-up. You play as Zero, who along with her six sisters is an Intoner, a powerful god-like being who can use the power of songs. The game opens with Zero rushing off to murder her sisters in order to stop the end of the world. She is defeated and her dragon is killed in the process. Fast forward one year and Zero has recovered, gaining a mechanical arm and sprouting a mysterious flower from her eye. Out for revenge with her new baby dragon Mikhail, she goes out hunting her sisters one by one, starting with her sister Five. Despite this intriguing set-up, the pay-off at the end is way too small and opens up too many plot holes to be satisfying.
The cast of characters is unlikeable and even by the end Zero remains a person who you can’t feel sorry for. Like Kaine from Nier she is a potty mouth woman who loves fighting, but where Kaine feels much deeper never murdering without a cause, Zero sees no value in anyone’s life including her own. Along the way Zero will claim not only her sisters’ life, their disciple boyfriends in order to use for her sexual pleasure. Almost all the characters you meet lack any kind of depth, keeping their single dimensional portrayal until the end of the game. For any kind of deeper backstory it’s best to go and read up on the novella, which had a lot more effort put into it than the actual in-game story.
This title took all the dark elements that made Drakengard popular and added some more, but this time it just doesn’t stick as well. The game poses some deep questions like why is it ok to kill hundreds of people within a game, but then doesn’t give any kind of rational answer making it no different than the thoughtless killing found in other games. Zero just wants to kill her sisters in order to save the world, why does she then murder hundreds of innocent guards in the process? Even the psychopathic child murderer Caim was a more relatable guy.
Despite its darker tones Drakengard 3 still tries to add some humor to the mix, but this again doesn’t fit at all that well with the tone of the title. Nier also had a good dose of humor, but there it was done in a much more elegant way, adding charm to the whole title. Drakengard 3 shares a lot with Yaiba as there are a lot of immature jokes filled with potty humor. There are also an abundance of fourth wall jokes, all which just remove the player from the whole experience. Just because a character voices how repetitive platforming sections are and how boring certain enemy types can be, doesn’t make them seem any less repetitive.
From the gameplay aspect, Drakengard 3 removes itself from the Dynasty Warriors roots of its predecessors and steers away from the Zelda-like experience found in Nier. It is a simple fast paced hack and slash game with little in the way of thinking. All you have to do is go down a linear path and kill anything that gets in your way. You can combine attacks into combos, which vary depending on the weapon and its size. Zero can also defend and dodge, however you will likely totally ignore defending and just dodge instead. As you kill enemies Zero’s blood gauge will fill up. This allows her to enter Intoner mode making her much more powerful and physically invincible for a small burst of time. Like in the older Drakengard games you will collect and buy a ton of weapons. They can be leveled up by paying a hefty sum of money. Since weapons are upgraded with gold, most of the time you will only use your strongest weapon, unlike in Drakengard 1 and 2 where you could opt for a weaker sword just in order to grind it into shape. On the plus side it’s great that weapon stories made a comeback and can be read from the main menu.
The linearity of modern games also plagues Drakengard. What were once enormous Dynasty Warriors-like maps, are now linear hallways from Final Fantasy XIII. You run along a claustrophobic path, which leads to a open area where you must defeat a number of enemies before the game allows you to proceed. The game also immediately closes any door behind you as if to not confuse the player by giving him the ability to backtrack. Despite this, loading a chapter can take ages and even then each stage has loading screens littered throughout it.
To get the first ending takes around 6 hours, but in order to see everything you would need more than double that time. Each time you beat the game another chapter will appear covering some of the events from a different perspective. Unfortunately it’s nowhere as twisted or creative as in the original Drakengard game nor does it impact your perspective of the entire world as in Nier.
You might have noticed that up until now I have ignored the aerial sections. This is because they are almost non-existent. Yes, the series whose selling point was riding a dragon whenever you want to no longer allows to do so. Only a tiny percent of the game actually allows you to ride Mikhail. The few aerial missions that are in the game are mainly on-rails segments like in Panzer Dragoon. There are also a few boss battles on Mikhail, but these are limited to a small arenas.
The explanation for why the majority of time you are on foot is that Mikhail stinks of rotten fish so he scouts the area up ahead from the sky, while Zero and her companions clear the ground. In order to add more interaction with your dragon you can call Mikhail to do some damage to the enemies Zero is fighting, but this only exists in predetermined locations. Everything has been extremely simplified to the point where the aerial sections feel more tacked on, unlike in the first two Drakengard games where riding a dragon was a major part of the gameplay.
The biggest complaint with Drakengard 3 is its mindbogglingly bad frame rate. This is nothing new for Access Games, the developers behind Deadly Premonition. However that game had a lot slower pace, making frame rate stutter and lag more acceptable. Drakengard 3 on the other hand is one of the fastest action titles on the market and it has a hard time keeping up with anything on screen. It never goes above the 20 fps mark and frequently dips in the single digit range. This would make sense if the game was a huge open area like for example in Lair, but here it’s just baffling. What’s worse is that these problems persist even in the cutscenes. The game received a patch recently, but it does little to fix this issue.
Frame rate issues aside, at least the visuals should look impressive, right? Nope, don’t forget that this is brought from the same company that made Deadly Premonition, so naturally Drakengard 3 looks like a launch title for the PlayStation 3. The graphics are a few notches below from the 2010 game Nier, which at that time had a fully explorable open world with huge draw distances. Thankfully the color pallet is really good. It still keeps all the dull and muted tones seen in this series, however its characters are vibrant making the contrast something really striking.
Just like Nier, Drakengard 3 has a great vocal soundtrack, however the vocals make much less of an impact this time around. The fast hack and slash nature rarely allows you to stand in awe and enjoy the serenity, as you will be bathing in the blood of your screaming opponents most of the time.
When all is said and done, Drakengard 3 is subpar action title with a serviceable story. It’s hard to recommend it to Drakengard fans since the gameplay has taken two steps back regarding dragon sections and open areas, and it’s hard to recommend it to Nier fans since there is no exploration and deep meaningful tale. As an action game there are far too many good action titles on the market for this to be able to compete. This is a shame, as Drakengard 3’s failure can be mostly attributed to the company behind it, since I have little doubt that cavia would have made a vastly better game overall.