Videogame Reviews Drakengard

Published on September 27th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley

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Drakengard

Drakengard is an action hack n’ slash game published and developed by Square-Enix and Cavia, it was known as Drag-on Dragoon in Japan and spawned a small franchise consisting of Drakengard 2, Nier Gestalt/Replicant and the upcoming title, Drakengard 3, confusingly set before the events of the first game.

Made in 2003 for the Playstation and released in the UK mid-2004, the game is known to be rather controversial as it handles numerous taboos and was rated a 16 for release in the UK but not without altered and censored content.

The name of the game derives from the character of a dragon which is the main character alongside Caim, a young man whose parents were killed at the hands of a dragon owned by the Empire when he was young and has since harboured immense hatred for dragon and humankind.
He meets and forms a pact with a red dragon after both have become mortally wounded in a battle with the Empire, he becomes desperate to live and agrees to the pact in order to return quickly to the castle which houses his sister who is under attack by Empire forces. Caim’s sister, Furiae is a fragile woman who is the current Goddess of the seal, something which is a great burden on her. She was previously engaged to Inuart, a passionate young man, who doesn’t seem to let go of her.

Caim and Red Dragon

The pact between the nameless dragon and Caim mean they both can live through their wounds and are empowered by each other, however, for humans to join with powerful beasts, there is a sacrifice involved, especially if your pact animal is as strong as a dragon. Caim loses his voice after the deal and thus the dragon must make his speech for him, as they are now mentally linked. The red dragon has contempt for humans and often talks candidly about the situations of the people and armies around her.

The game is set in a western-medieval setting where dragons, elves and magic exist and the gameplay is reminiscent of games like that of the Dynasty Warriors or Sengoku Basara series, Drakengard consists of a character fighting many enemies on screen at once and working their way through a large army while completing objectives. Caim can use a variety of swinging weapons such as swords, short lances and cleavers, he uses these in a hack n’ slash fashion with the square button mashed to make chains of attack with the weapon and when pressing the triangle button after intermittent flashes he can round of the combo with a finisher which does some splash damage, triangle outside of combos is used to do a magic attack, which depletes manna. The combo lengths, styles and type of magic depend on the weapon you are using, you can level up the weapons with use and can find more weapons in the game.

The other type of gameplay is the dragon, which involves Panzer Dragoon style combat like a shoot em up, or there are the battlefield levels which you can change between Caim and the dragon.

There are two modes, story or free expedition. In free expedition you are able to level the dragon, Caim and his weapons as well as search for new weapons. The story mode has a few branching paths and several endings depending on whether the extra missions are unlocked and completed by successfully accomplishing the objectives that are required, such as time limits.

The gameplay is idealistic at best, although the idea of it is good and for the most part is playable, the feel of the controls as well as how clunky they can sometimes be bring the game down a lot, there are times when you can get stuck in a volley of hits and are unable to escape as the character’s model is reset when damaged, this means you cannot roll or block in time to prevent being hit.
The dragon’s part is less broken, however there are some awful bosses that are fought, which can be a pain as they are stationary and can be difficult to fight.

Drakengard gameplay

Red Dragon gameplay on the left, where you can burn things.
Caim on the right who can also burn things, just not all the time.

The story is fairly basically told, but is by far the redeeming feature of the game. Most of the detail in the game is unfortunately background detail, which although very interesting, cannot hold a candle to true storytelling, but considering the style of genre, it has in droves. All story aspects outside of creations of situations and actions, lies in the insinuations in dialogue. This is how the game handles the taboo.
The game tackles complex themes such as incest, cannibalism, obsession, jealousy, hopelessness, rage, sacrifice and in the Japanese version, paedophilia. However all of these subjects are served on a tactile plate during cutscenes or dialogue pieces between characters during game segments.

It is a shame that there was such extensive cuts to the localised versions of the game, as it renders some parts a little confusing, however if you’re paying attention you’ll grasp the insinuations.

The music of the game features famous classical pieces remixed into very repetitive background music, which is both eye scratchingly irritating and mind numbingly enjoyable.  What I can say about the score is that it does suit the gameplay in that it is samey and dull, but you continue playing anyway.

There are various endings of which lead onto other games, the default ending leads onto Drakengard 2 and the weirdest ending leads onto Nier’s storyline. Either way, it requires a fair amount of work to unlock as some of the paths have very high-levelled bosses you must defeat to get the ending you want.

Drakengard is certainly not an easy game to recommend, it’s not for everyone. With terrible handling gameplay and shocking story elements there’s much to dislike, even I had a spat with the game when I came upon what I consider a particularly cheap boss, but overall, it’s a unique game which, despite being troubled, is a rewarding experience for those that brave its morally ambiguous tides. Plus it’s got dragons in it.

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