System: PlayStation 2 :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1
Genre: Action :: Released: 02 March 2004
By Morphine Jim
Being the fan of Dynasty Warriors that I am, it's no surprise that I took a special interest in Square-Enix's Drakengard. Before it was out the door, comparisons to Koei's tactical button masher flew thick and fast, even the game's developers, Dragonsphere, arrogantly stated that they "ironically" developed the idea behind Dynasty Warriors. I was anxious to check it out, either to get my fix of peon slashinating before Samurai Warriors is released, or mock it for ripping off the masters and failing miserably. I'd have been happy either way. Let's see which way it was.
Drakengard tells the story of a war between two factions called The Union and The Empire. The Empire of course, being evil, because all empires are. The Union are protecting The Goddess, who holds the seal that protects the world from destruction. Being evil, The Empire are after the Goddess, who goes by the annoying name of Furiai, and are closing in on the castle she's holed up in. You play her brother Caim, a violent nutter who, while fighting to protect the Goddess, gets mortally wounded. Once you fight your way to the castle, Caim runs into a dragon, who's pretty much in the same dire situation that he is. Even though the Dragon regards humans as filth and Caim, whose parents were killed by an Imperial dragon, unsurprisingly hates the scaly bastards, the two form a Dragonheart-eque pact, exchanging hearts and becoming as one. Thus begins an unlikely pairing in the mold of Turner & Hooch, Cash & Tango, Posh & Becks, Simon & Garfunkel, White Wine & Red Wine, Jack & The Beanstalk, Morecombe & Wise, Mr. Dick & Madame Vadge — all those wacky duos that we know and love. Peter Venkman & Slimer.
The story is Drakengard's strongest element. The journey of Caim and the people he meets as they escort the Goddess from the clutches of the Empire plays out like one of those old school fantasy movies, like Willow or Krull. Yes, they are classics. The only criticism I have is that it's way too short. Things get really interesting right before the game ends, and you get a feeling that something's missing. There are different parts of the story to unlock and different endings to get, but to be honest, once you've played through it once, there's not much to get you to play through again, and the phrase Well, was that it? will float in your mind.
Gameplay is split into two main sections — ground-based multiple enemy combat and aerial dragon-based dogfighting. The ground-based stuff is, of course, where the Dynasty Warriors comparisons come in. Mission structure for these levels consist of fighting hordes of enemies and fulfilling goals, which basically means killing specific soldiers. Like the Dynasty games, this involves lots of hitting the square button to attack and lay waste to unit upon unit of enemy soldiers. Trouble is, it's nowhere near as much fun. For a start, this isn't the tactical action of Dynasty Warriors. For a start, there's no army backing you up, as I was led to believe. It's just you against an enemy army, despite hearing soundbites of allied soldiers shouting, "We'll fight to the end for you, Lord Caim!" They didn't fight bugger-all. You never feel as if you're fighting in a war, as you'd think would be the case. The enemy never even feels like an army, either, as each unit has it's strict perimeters on the battlefield and stand around doing nothing until you enter their attack range. Basically, it's just a huge map of people standing around waiting for you to wander into whacking distance. It did not feel evolved from Koei's flagship title, it felt quite the way behind.
There are 65 weapons to choose from, which you uncover as you play the game. They fall into subcategories like sword and axe and sadly, the variety is only really found in the subcategory, not the weapon. Long hammers and axes are slow and powerful, while smaller daggers are fast and piss-weak. You can equip up to eight weapons before a battle, and you won't have much trouble choosing them because so long as you have one sword and one hammer, you've got the most useful weapons you could want. Each weapon can be trained with until they reach Level 4 — gaining strength, special attacks and looking big and cool.
Each weapon comes with a magic spell and special attacks. The magic spell is used by simply hitting triangle. These are all pretty cool and have more variety than the actual weapon attacks, plus they level-up along with the weapon and are even better. During your square mashing attack frenzy, the weapon will glow gold at certain stages in the combo animation. When this happens, pressing triangle unleashes that weapon's special attack, usually a 360 degree energy wave or projectile of some kind, to do large damage to a wide arc of foes. Once again, variety is the spice of life and this ain't spicy. What's worse is that, whereas Dynasty Warriors let's you take a bit of damage from enemy peons before your combos get broken up, Drakengard has Caim stumbling at the slightest stab from the lowliest foe, making it really difficult to unleash special attacks that come later in your attack sequence. It's even harder considering that the animation for these attacks are ridiculously slow, making these crowd clearing blasts all but impossible when you're in the middle of a crowd that, y'know, needs clearing. Dumb.
It's not that fighting is especially bad. I like nothing better than button mashing, and the special attacks, when you do get lucky with them, are pretty cool to pull off. But it lacks refinement, it has too many problems and above all, it's not as great as it thinks it is. It may boast over 100 hours of gamplay, but that's optional gameplay only, and not an option that I myself felt bothered to take. It's just not great enough for me to spend so much time collecting the samey weapons and leveling them up.
What is pretty cool in these levels, though, is the fact that you can summon the dragon to smite the enemies from above with fireballs. There's nothing like watching endless fools burn in firey agony to make one feel almighty, especially when a press of the triangle button unleashes an all powerful blast of flame accompanied by meteors and great big noises. The only thing you have to fear are the incredibly, incredibly annoying and overpowered archers, and the few war machines you'll bump into. It's good fun, but once again, as always seems the case with this game, there's simply not enough. The thrill of capricious godliness wears thin when you're just floating above the enemy dropping fireballs on their head until you get shot down by an arrow and continue on foot. Some more attacks, especially an option to get up close and personal with tooth and claw, would've been much appreciated. Shame, because it really is the best part of these missions.
After which long and drawn out misery brings us to the second style of play — the aerial mode. These dragonflight sims, in the same vein as Panzer Dragoon, see Caim riding atop the dragon and shooting fireballs at a bunch of weird looking abstract flying machines. These sections are somewhat decent, but ultimately less fun than using the dragon in the ground missions, not helped by the restricted controls and general pain in the backside that it is to move, target and see where you're going.
Graphically, it's a mixed bag. Character models look great and their animations are beautiful. Seeing Caim just running with such fluidity is a sight to behold. The various magical attacks all look good as well. The backgrounds, however, are beyond spartan. In any game like this, the actual scenery will be given a little underhaul to keep things running smoothly, but even so, the battlefields look really bad. Just plain open spaces with nothing to recommend them. It's not like they even needed to make such crappy backgrounds, seeing as fighting is limited to you fighting only one or two units at a time, besides which, the enemies don't even appear until you're about a foot away from them. The pop up here is nasty, nasty stuff. I had to keep stopping the game to look at the map just to make sure I was heading in the direction of enemies, only to see that I'm practically on top of them. Good framerate, though.
Sound effects are somewhat muted, except for the tremendous cacophony that issues forth when the dragon unleashes her fury. The music is orchestral and very epic sounding, however, even though I still prefer my button mashing to be done to the screaming and out of place hair metal of the firmly decided better game. Voice acting is at times a little silly and overplayed, but ultimately competent. It's a shame that Caim's pact causes him to lose his voice, as he's actually the best one until he goes all mute on us. The dragon's hissing voice is arrogant and contemptuous, and other characters like Leonard and Inuart are solid. Furiai's a fucking irritation though. And that little boy — git.
The cutscenes are, in typical Square fashion, beautiful beyond reason. Simply lovely stuff, and along with the story, are what makes this game worth its existence. Shame there's not more of them, actually.
— Great plot and cutscenes.
— Plenty to do, providing you'd want to.
— Neat RPG elements.
— Restrictive controls and lack of variety in attacks.
— Short story mode.
— Moves broken too easily.
— Spartan environments.
And The Firey
If Dragonheart didn't exist, Drakengard would be a terrific movie. Hell, it still would — fuck that stupid Sean Connery abortion. It only makes a moderately passable game, however, drunk on its own sense of achievement and hype. I'm glad I didn't pay full price for this, because it's certainly not worth a whole forty of the Queen's pounds. For the story and FMVs alone, it's probably worth borrowing off of somebody, but Dynasty Warriors basically does what this game does except much, much better, with more variety and reason to replay. Plus, you won't miss the dragon all that much.
Arise, Sir Drakengard, I Score Thee: 69%
Choice Quote: "Welcome To A World Without Song" — Inuart