Drakengard

Drakengard

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 3/8/2004 for PS2  

Most of you probably don’t remember this but there was a period of time when Square was synonymous with more than just RPGs. Sure, you’ve heard of less than stellar titles such as The Bouncer and Emotion Racing Type S but I doubt that many of you actually remember Bushido Blade or Einhander. In truth the aforementioned games were all pretty good but were pretty much overlooked because they didn’t fit into the typical Squaresoft mold. The press disregarded their importance while gaming enthusiasts passed on them because it they didn’t give them the opportunity to fawn over more Moogles and doe-eyed characters. Now the company is looking to return to its past by branching out from its RPG confines and returning to its multi-genre roots with Drakengard, a title composed by a group of former Namco employees. While most will probably miss the point and disregard its importance due to the name that’s slapped on the bottom corner of the package, those who are able to look past the company’s typecast heritage will be able to find a damn fine action/adventure game that’s well worth the forty dollar price tag.

You’re Caim, a battle-weary warrior who is mortally wounded as he tries to defend his homeland from an attack. As he’s wandering the landscape he encounters a dying dragon; in true kooked out Japanese fashion the two enter a pact by pulling out glowing orbs from their chests and linking them up. Upon doing so the two have to rely upon each other to survive and will do so by joining each other in destroying the Empire. Caim himself looks a little bit like Squall from Final Fantasy 8 while the heroine is a textbook Squaresoft heroine. You have a very typical storyline with one unusual twist; it’s extremely dark and violent. It won’t really creep you out too much with its visuals (although there are plenty of graphic depictions to be found) but instead it’s the kind of creepiness that really messed with your mind and sticks with you throughout the day. If you’ve been getting comfortable with Square’s more kid-friendly products like Kingdom Hearts you’re in for a huge departure with Drakengard. Without a doubt, Drakengard is Square’s darkest title to date and is one of gaming’s most mature titles. There are plenty of disturbing images in the game and if you’re not careful they just might haunt you in the long run. I’m not talking about cheap scare tactics where you walk into an obvious setup and a zombie pops up from behind a corner to say “ooga booga” while you blow him to shreds. Drakengard is a mature game so it resorts to some pretty mature imagery to mess with your head. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Japanese have quite of way of expressing themselves after they’ve been repressed for the majority of their lives. What you get here is some messed up stuff like a little girl dancing around a dead body and a creepy antagonist whose eyes are laced with blood.

When you’re not being creeped out by the game’s cutscenes or the eerie music you’ll be hacking your way through endless legions of foes. On the ground you’ll utilize a wide variety of weapons as you dispose of endless hordes of enemies. At the start the combat system is pretty entertaining but it wears thin rather quickly. It simply lacks the amount of depth required to carry the game through a 15+ hour quest. And while it’s nice to see that the designers tossed in a cavalcade of weapons, they simply don’t add enough variety to make the combat interesting throughout the experience. Sometimes you’ll want to hit the triangle button to execute a finishing maneuver, but you’ll generally start with your thumb on the square button and keep it there for most of the duration. This is when the game’s second core gameplay element, the aerial experience, tosses in a much-needed change of pace. When mounted on the dragon you’ll engage in aerial battles that can be as intense as they are frustrating. Although sometimes the aerial combat can feel like a straightforward shooter it generally boils down into a sequence of timed patterns. This doesn’t mean that it’s not fun, but it just might become cumbersome for those who are looking for something a little more.
Your eyes have probably become accustomed to the lush landscapes and fancy particle effects of Squaresoft’s other entries so it’ll take them awhile to adjust to the Spartan and boring landscapes that they’ll encounter here. Some of the battles take place one massive fields but very little has been done to make them appealing to the eye. You’re mainly stuck with a giant green flatland that isn’t terribly interesting to look at. Most of the other environments don’t really push the limits of the PS2 and the horrid camera angles can lead to some pretty unflattering images. Some of the landscapes can be impressive due to their sheer size. While you start out on the dragon and survey the land you can always dismount for some up close and personal action. What’s really amazing about this is that you’ll soon realize that all of those dots you were hurling fireballs at are actually fully rendered enemies that you can step up and do battle with.

Caim on the whole looks pretty good as his model is pretty beefy and the animations are quite fluid. There are a few deficiencies in his model though as he runs and rolls quite awkwardly. It almost looks as if Caim started out as a turned-based RPG character but was then placed in the midst of an action game. Some of the flying sequences fare a little better thanks to the use of some pretty nifty special effects. Again, the visuals are offset by the pretty basic landscapes that you’ll be flying over.

Probably the only part of the game’s presentation that is average is in its audio components. Sadly the game lacks any sort of dedicated support for gamers with high-end audio systems. Hell, even Unlimited SAGA had support for Dolby Pro Logic II and admittedly, that game was a complete mess. What you get is some nice audio samples that aren’t quite distributed properly throughout your speakers. All of the audio is really even and frontloaded, making for a really empty and hollow experience. This is especially devastating given the intense nature of the game’s action. At times you’re participating in battles that feature hundreds and hundreds of foes and compatriots. Instead of hearing the battle unfold all around you you’re only limited to your immediate surroundings. Although Caim speaks quite liberally in the beginning of the game he becomes mute as the game drags on. Instead the bulk of the vocal samples come from secondary players and the dragon. I'm a little unnerved by the casting of the dragon as she sounds really old and overbearing, kind of like the teacup from Beauty and the Beast. Probably the only real standout in the audio department is the gothic music that really sticks with you long after you’ve put the game down.

This isn’t Panzer Dragoon. This isn’t Dynasty Warriors. Forget about what all of the other inane reviews are telling you, Drakengard is neither of these nor does it set out to be them. What you have here is a pretty good title whose only real shortcoming is that it carries the Squaresoft label and doesn’t have the words “Final” or “Fantasy” in its title. If you’re looking for a pretty good weekend rental than look no further than Drakengard. Yea, it doesn’t quite live up to the legacy set forth by the other Square properties, but then again, what does?
It's extremely repetitive and cumbersome but the gothic elements really balance out the game. As long as you can get past the fact that it's not Dynasty Warriors meets Panzer Dragoon you just might enjoy yourself.

Rating: 7.6 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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