And here we go again! I hope you, reader, are somewhere cooler than I (seriously, it's hot). Last week, we checked out a cheeseball game featuring mecha and some awesomely awful voice acting.
Today, I dug up a game that's, sadly, much more serious. Still great though (er...maybe for it's time).
I actually remember seeing a commercial for Drakengard on TV years ago. I thought that was pretty weird, because it seemed like such a low-key release. Nevertheless, Drakengard came out on PS2 in 2004. Very much lodged in the dark-fantasy genre, you play as Caim (rhymes with "chime"), a soldier in the middle of a battle when the game starts. Mortally wounded, and trying to protect his sister Furiae (that's pronounced "Fury eye"), who so happens to be the Goddess of the Seal, Caim comes across a dragon, captured and near-death. Caim hates dragons because his parents were killed by one, but he sees he can't win the battle and save his sister without the dragon's help. And so he and Angelus (the dragon) enter into a "Pact" with each other, which heals them, and binds them for life. Also, it costs Caim his voice as a "pact price."
And, as expected, you'll meet a bunch of increasingly wacky characters, each with their own creature-pairing, and each with their own pact price. There's Caim's rival Inuart, who also is in control of a dragon, and then there's Leonard and his fairy, Arioch and her Undine and Salamander, and Seere, who has a golem. All of which are playable for a short time during each mission.
Like a lot of fantasy books, games, movies, etc., there's a lot to take in, story-wise. Yet Drakengard tells it's tale quite well, despite being a Japanese Action RPG, a genre where the main story can sometimes get fuzzy. It's a darkly serious story, although the developers removed or obfuscated the more "touchy" content from the game. To give you an idea of how grim Drakengard is, incest, pedophilia, and child cannibalism were the topics on hand, at least in the Japanese version. Though in the American version, one can easily read between the lines.
But how does it play?
Well, Drakengard really has two phases as far as actual gameplay goes. On the ground, the game plays like Dynasty Warriors. I'm gonna assume you're familiar with Koei's "Square-square-square-square-sometimes-triangle" franchise, and really, Drakengard doesn't get much deeper than that, although there's 64 unlockable weapons and multiple (temporary) playable characters. Most maps have you covering basic objectives like eliminating all enemies or hunting keys or whatnot.
Oh, but push a button, and Caim hops onto the back of Angelus the dragon. If you played Lair, the somewhat infamous, dragon-centric PS3 title, you'll know how this plays. You're now flying around the map, raining fireballs down on the hapless masses below. A tactic I like is to shoot fireballs into a crowd, sending them flying, then dismount and pick off whoever's left with my sword.
There's also aerial missions, and here's where Drakengard plays like Panzer Dragoon (which I've covered before!) Primarily on rails, you aim and lock on with a cursor, and dodge, slow down, and speed up as the situation demands.
So, Dynasty Warriors, Lair, and Panzer Dragoon. All kind of rolled into one.
There's a problem inherent there though, one that I didn't care about ten years ago. Dynasty Warriors is boring. Emulating DW makes your game boring. While generally, I wasn't bored with Drakengard, due to the dark fantasy setting, story, and of course, dragons, these on foot bits start to grind on you after a while. There's little more to do than mash Square endlessly. Thankfully, like I said, Drakengard mixes it up with aerial dragon levels, so you don't get tired much.
There's RPG elements, but I didn't find myself paying much attention to them, beyond bringing a good selection of weapons with me. There's a lot to do though, with multiple side missions and the aforementioned 64 weapons (all of which must be found to get the fifth ending), so you'll find yourself busy if you're a completionist.
But for me, it was always the story. It was different, back then, to see a fantasy story in a game that was just so serious. Not dull, just a fair bit more mature than you'd be used to at the time. Serious, adult fantasy like Game of Thrones is commonplace now, but a lot of the themes you see in that show/those books appeared in Drakengard years before the popular HBO series. (Yes, I know the books were out since the 90's; take it easy). As I said, most of the taboo themes were taken out, or kind of "painted over," but they're still in there if you squint.
The game's graphics hold up okay for a ten year old PS2 game. The character designs are still pretty unique, but the environments were dull even back then. The music is...well. It's weird. None of it really has that epic fantasy feel you'd expect from a Square-Enix published game with dragons. I like it due to it's weird, experimental nature.
Drakengard tells a great story, and the gameplay mostly holds up. Those on-foot missions can be dull, but come on-you get a dragon. Try it out, or dust it off and give it a spin. Also, try to unlock that fifth ending (or just look it up on YouTube) because it's kind of bonkers.
There's two sequels too, and while Drakengard 2 is fine, I haven't played 3 yet, so let me know how it is in the comments. Also, Nier is a sequel to this game's fifth ending...so...there's really four games, then, isn't there...
Ah, it doesn't matter. Play Drakengard!
Thanks for reading! Leave comments, questions, and future GOTW suggestions in the usual place. You can tweet game picks to me too (or just chat!) here at @WingZero351
Next week, I think about why the hell they'd even make bullets that have two polarities.