Monday, 9 June 2014

Review: Drakengard 3 (Ps3)

How to train your Drakengard

When you think of classic Square Enix titles, most people would instantly say Final Fantasy & Dragon Quest. If you were to ask further you'd get Kingdom Hearts, Parasite Eve & Dragon Quest Monster, if you chose to go even further you'd get such gems as SaGa & Terranigma. But there is a small amount of people who would say two particular titles, Nier & Drakengard.

While not the most prolific series in SE's locker, the series does have a rather large cult following within it's fans though the series was thought to of ended with the death of Cavia & the poor sales of Nier. Imagine the surprise when Drakengard 3 was announced featuring talent familiar with the series including it's unique & creative director Taro Yoko.

How does this out of nowhere follow up to the Drakengard/Nier series stand up?

Drakengard 3 is a Playstation 3 title developed by Access Games under the watchful eye of series director Taro Yoko. Despite it's numbering this is actually the first title in the series & only very loosely ties into Nier, Nier was a direct response of one of the multiple endings from Drakengard 1.

Storywise you play the femme fatale Intoner Zero, blonde bombshell with a salty mouth, robotic arm, flower sticking out of her eye & a thirst for murder. Her quest is to murder her Intoner Sisters One,Two,Three,Four & Five. An Intoner is an almost godlike being, a deity if you will. I would go into more detail but I don't want to spoil the story too much for anyone.

The key point from the first 20 minutes in Drakengard 3 is that you infact know so little about Zero, the other Intoners & the world around them.
This seems to be a common theme with Drakengard 3, what you think you know, you don't and what you don't know, wait and see.
The best way to describe the story vibe with Drakengard 3 is to compare it to a Japanese "Revenge" film, examples such as Old boy, Lady Vengeance and to a certain degree Afro Samurai. 
For those unfamiliar with these type of films the subject matter is exactly what it says on the tin, Vengeance. You know little of your lead until further in the tale as little bits of story seep through, this is followed in Drakengard.

It's not all well and good though, barring Zero, her pet dragon Mikhail & the various disciples, you don't really get much character growth or writing for the sisters. Most of the time you get a brief statement such as "She's a Virgin!" or "She's the slutty one", they are expanded on using paid DLC & in the Novella for Drakengard 3 but it's a shame you have to acquire outside sources and DLC to get the most out of the main cast of the game.

The key to the story and writing in this game is the back & forth dialogue between Zero, her disciple and Mikhail. Mikhail has the youth mentality and doesn't quite follow what's going on or what Zero's quest is about, Zero has little time & patience for this and spends the majority of her time scolding or playfully insulting him as a result. Mikhail's innocence really shines through for some of the more comedic scenes including him asking what a "Kink" is in regard to bondage & "wetting" himself after being scolded by Zero.
The same goes for Zero & her disciples, naturally these guys know a little more about the world around them and Zero. The different personalities for them are great especially the first one you get, Ditto looks and sounds like your standard JRPG protagonist. The key is his personality which couldn't be further than what you would expect, he is psychopathic, rude & generally out spoken which causes some brilliant writing between him and Zero.

Now the meat and bones of Drakengard 3, the gameplay. A basic on paper description of Drakengard 3 would be that it's similar to such titles as Dynasty Warriors & Sengoku Basara. It features you & your disciple taking on hordes of nameless enemies and the occasional monster/general until you reach the end of the stage, factor in several appearances from your Dragon also.
Alongside the main stages you also have Requests which are your side missions, these usually stick you in a small area with hordes of sword fodder with the task of getting X amount of an item from them.
There are several hidden chests in most of the levels and some are really quite well hidden which means you'll more than likely replay some levels several times.

To help you lay waste to the masses and eventually your sisters you are going to need some weaponry and boy does Drakengard have some tools of destruction for you!, Zero has access to Swords,Spears, Combat Bracers and Chakrams. Within these types there is quite the collection to find/buy from the store, what sets this apart is that each weapon has it's own tale. You can read this in the database option & you unlock more story for the weapon the further you upgrade it, to do this you require a large pot of gold and the correct base material which is found in levels hidden in chests or via a side quest.
Also before you start battle there is an item shop so you can stock up on potions and the like, set which Disciple you'd like to join you and which weapons you are taking along. Before you get to the actual level there is usually a camp scene or cut scene, the camp scene gives you further insight into Mikhail and your chosen disciple so it's always worth talking to both before you start the mission.

Unfortunately here is where the game makes several huge stumbles, the core game engine in particular. Drakengard 3 runs the Unreal 3 Engine which unless you have a huge budget or are extremely well versed in like Epic it often looks horrid, This game is unfortunately no exception. From far off Zero's character model looks nice and fluid but when you zoom in it's covered in jaggies and the weirdest looking hair around. The other models are a mixed bag including Mikhail who in some scenes looks really nice & others is comparable to a giant grey blob!. Enemy character models are horrid even the larger monsters lack detail, the bosses do have a decent bit of detail though which makes them looks fearsome.  The Cutscenes on the other hand are exceptionally breathtaking at times and shows that despite the input being minimal there is still a trace of Square Enix in this title.

Gameplay as i said before is similar to the Musou games which is already a marmite style but as Drakengard 1 & 2 also used this style it shouldn't come as a shock. This wouldn't be too much of an issue but it never really hits any massive numbers unlike it's predecessors which had a fairly decent unit count despite Fog Of War masking most of it.
What is lacking from this game which really set apart Drakengard from the Musou type games was the Dragon gameplay. In the older titles in most levels you could freely jump onto your dragon to fight air units and larger amounts of enemies. In this title there are certain sections where you can summon Mikhail to launch fire onto the field but that's really your lot in regards to his appearance. There are levels where you control Mikhail and they are a nice little breather from the main missions but an infrequent framerate & dodgy controls to keep your Dragon in the air dampen an otherwise fun distraction from the main missions.

Another factor is the actual levels, the problem with them being that they are quite bland. They are not quite war torn battlefields but mostly kind of grey beaches, forests or mountain paths which are quite claustrophobic. There is the odd level where it has a decent gimmick going for it but it's mostly the same thing over and over again which means tedium hits in during longer play-times.
It's a shame that even when the levels aren't pushing the limits that the engine has problems keeping it together, several times textures didn't load in either till I walked right up to it or not at all. Another issue was the level not loading parts of it at all, this caused lock ups as I came across it causing my progress to come to a halt. This brings me to another issue, the sporadic Checkpoints. Often you'll go long periods without passing a checkpoint which is an issue when the game locks up on occasion and also the strange difficulty spikes have a tendency to hit just before a checkpoint.

Speaking of the difficulty it's a strange one, some levels you will just cruse through where as the next one will have a huge difficulty spike rather than just slowly edge you into it.
The bosses all prove a challenge which is where the series has always excelled, this a double edged sword as it's brilliant but anyone who has played Route D will understand what true boss pain is!.
That leads me onto replays, beyond the side quests & the weapon upgrades to get all the stories you also have another factor from Drakengard the multiple endings and story routes. All radically different and worth playing, this adds atleast another 20/30 hours to the overall gameplay.

A special point has to be made about the outstanding soundtrack, this shouldn't surprise anyone coming from NIER but it really is a shining point of the game. Couple that with the ultraviolent visuals and the smooth controls and it quickly adds up to an enjoyable title if a little flawed.
Another little plus to the game & especially it's writing is with how well it breaks the forth wall, be it complaining about jumping sections or just general observation you'll often be shocked & amused to see the game mimicking your thoughts!.

Overall on paper the game doesn't seem like it has much going for it, don't be fooled though as it's quite
addicting especially in the story department. I'll be first to confess I bought this title as a fan of Drakengard/Nier so there is a slight bias with it. As a stand alone title it'll be hard to recommend as anything other than a quirky distraction until something else comes along. The various problems with the engine and the lack of polish really hurt the game but the story does really excel and I can't lie I did lose several hours just hacking and slashing my way to hear more banter between Zero & Mikhail.
Square Enix did the title no favors in budget and even less releasing the game at full price & digitally only in europe as it just creates a hard sell for a full price 30+ Gb title riddled with bugs. Ideally it should of been printed as a budget title and a little more time put into it to iron the problems and preferably add the Sisters DLC to help with the narrative rather than add them later. Also the Novella is required reading to get the fullest out of the titles story which is a shame as I don't think you should need outside materials to get the required experience for your title

Who Should Buy This? 

  • Fans of Drakengard/Nier
  • Looking for a quirky title with outstanding writing
  • Enjoy Musou titles? This one may be worth your time
Who Should Avoid This? 

  • Looking for a highly polished AAA? 
  • Deep gameplay and complex combos? Forget about it 
  • A serious story with deep dialogue? F**K NO! 


(For anyone who picks the game up or indeed wants a gander at the backstory, click here for a direct link to the Novella)  


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