Everyone has a game (or games) that they can safely say “that’s it, that’s the game (or games) that I love wholeheartedly!” What’s yours?
Like everyone else, I have my own preferences when it comes to my life. Things get more particular when it comes to my hobbies however. My time is limited and don’t have the time (nor interest) to peruse everything that gets created, even if it means some gems get left behind, so I curate what I watch and play.
However, some titles strike such a chord that they become instant classics for me. Typically, these titles will hold some personal significance, usually reflecting a part of who I am. However, this is TAY, and this time it’s about video games. One in particular.
Drakengard 3 was released first in Japan as Drag-On Dragoon 3 on December 19, 2013. It came out in the west as the aforementioned on May 20, 2014. I didn’t play it until November 2015, as I was hunting down a copy of the collector’s edition that was a Square-Enix online store exclusive (an unboxing article was written by UI 2.0, you can view it here).
Prior to Drakengard 3, I had played Yoko Taro’s Nier on the PS3 (so, dad version). I loved it. It had great characters that were charming, relatable, and real. Its use of New Game+ was one I had not experienced before, adding new cutscenes and dialogue while also unlocking new endings.
I read up on Drakengard 1 through the Let’s Play by The Dark Id (highly recommended, it’s hilarious). I was aware of some of the...eccentricities, whether it was the option of playing a pedophile, the reveling in wanton murder, or the final rhythm boss battle.
That said, when Drakengard 3 was revealed, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. The English trailer was pitch perfect, overlaying the song “This Silence is Mine” with action and random cuts of dialogue that hinted at the insanity of the game.
What I didn’t know was how hard I would fall for this insane game. In hindsight, it was due to the music, the characters, and the story.
The game’s music was composed by Keiichi Okabe, who also did Nier (and later Nier: Automata). His music, to me, manages to hit all the right emotional beats, whether it’s to some relaxing downtime during campfire...
Or to ramp up the adrenaline when facing down a fellow Intoner, with the music emphasizing how...unnatural...these characters were.
For example, listen to Four’s battle theme above. While it starts with a generic riff, the sound of the vocals twist and hit notes that don’t quite complement the music. Jump to 2:30 when Zero (the player character) activates Intoner mode - a sort of “super trance” where Zero gains attack power, speed, and attacks with her hands. But when you use Intoner mode against an enemy Intoner? The enemy uses it too. The new layer of vocals get added; it’s gibberish! It’s sped up gibberish! Combined with the original music, it sounds like cacophony, and it kind of is...but under the sped up gibberish, you can still make out the original music. It’s oddly relaxing.
Special mention has to go to the Final Song, which has a few different melodies that play as the boss goes through its various phases.
It’s something that’s stuck in my playlist. The changing melodies and beats tap into different emotions, and it’s just damn pleasant to listen to.
Note: there’ll be some spoilers here.
Alright, let’s be blunt: the characters are all assholes. Except Mikhail.
Now, I don’t mean they’re actual ass-holes (though I wouldn’t put it past Yoko Taro to do that), but they’re all quite miserable jerks. Zero, the protagonist, is crude, curses a lot, extremely violent, temperamental, treats everyone like they’re lower than her and shows little sign of ever being a good person. She murders her sisters, takes their disciples, has sex with them, and doesn’t bat an eye when she kills thousands of people or a couple of fairies (who are also assholes).
The villains are all quite one-note. Five is gluttonous in her habits, whether it’s eating, sex, treasure, or a combination of them. Four is a goody-two shoes (it’s a pretense, she’s the biggest bitch of them all). Three is sociopathic. Two is all lovey-dovey (and then a vegetable). One is cold and logical.
And the disciples? The recruited characters that used to belong to each Intoner? Oh boy, they’re just as one-note as the Intoners they belong to! Dito (belonged to Five) hates everything about the world. Decadus (belonged to Four) is a massive masochist. Octa (belonged to Three) is a sex-maniac with the biggest shlong ever. Cent (belonged to Two) is a pathological, lying pretty boy (so pretty).
Even Accord, an extradimensional observer (love her boots) isn’t exempt from her own jerk moments, including a brief moment of unwanted touching on Zero (grabs her breasts), and being generally cryptic about...everything. She isn’t so cryptic about non-interference though, as she repeatedly tells Zero she is only there to observe, not help, despite all the troubles happening.
The great thing is that they’re all so damn fun! I don’t always want to play as happy, well-adjusted characters with a sense of noble intentions that want to save the world. Sometimes I just want to let loose and have wanton fun with disregard for everything. Sometimes I want to see characters that are just assholes to everyone and everything, I want to watch them express all their anger, their hate, their rage in a safe manner - or into a corpse.
It helps that they’re voiced wonderfully. For example, Tara Platt voices Zero and she adds just the right amount of world-traveled exhaustion to Zero’s anger-filled journey while Yuri Lowenthal lets loose as Dito with his hate-filled dialogue. It’s such a pleasure to hear familiar voices in a vulgar context, so fun.
The best thing is, most of the character’s one-note eccentricities can be explained by the plot.
Note: alright here are the heavy spoilers, all the way to the end of Route D.
The basic synopsis of Drakengard 3 is that Zero is on quest to kill her five sisters and take their powers so that she is the only Intoner in the world.
It’s kind of an asshole move.
As explained at the start, there were 5 countries that were ruled by despotic kings. They were cruel to their peoples, only valuing themselves. However, the five kings were disposed of by the five Intoners, who showed up and used the power of their song to save the countries and bring peace to the land. This is all true.
Zero, the original Intoner, seeks to kill her sisters and take their powers for herself. This is also true.
So then why are we rooting for Zero?
Because Zero is trying to save the world.
Zero is a walking corpse. She died, but was resurrected by the Flower in her eye. When she realized that the Flower was really a parasite that would one day destroy the world, she tried to kill herself. The Flower, in defense, spawns the five Intoners, each taking on a part of Zero’s personality (the logical mind, the hopeless romantic, the imaginative inventor, the persona we put on to face the world, the greedy side). The Disciples were created to help the Intoners control their sex drive (caused by their strong magical powers) and to protect the Intoners themselves. [Side note: the story is very Yoko Taro].
The thing is, Zero, who led a horrible life (subject to abuse by her mom, sold into prostitution as a child, escaped the brothel with a friend only to be betrayed and brought back to the brothel, escaped again and started living with someone, only to get betrayed again, catches a disease and gets thrown in jail, getting lightly tortured) still decides to protect the world by destroying all traces of the Flower.
In spite of the life she’s experienced, she still is trying to protect the world that humanity lives in. While not mentioned in the game, this very action implies some sort of hope that she has for the world’s future. Instead of wishing for the death of everything, she’s trying to save everything.
Playing as a protagonist that’s trying to save the world because she/he believes its the noble thing to do is fine, it teaches and reminds us that we should always try to do the right thing to protect that which we love. But saving the world in spite of experiencing a life that would understandably lead someone to be a nilhilist? That teaches the lesson to love the world we live in, because we can make the choice to stand for what’s right. The former assumes that being a good guy means making the good guy decisions. The latter doesn’t make that assumption, it implies that we should always make the choice to do good, because it is the right thing to do.
Am I speculating too much? Probably. Nothing I wrote was even implied in-game, the late-game just reveals that Zero is trying to save the world from the Flower. Her backstory is part of a Novella that was released only in the Collector’s Edition. Zero never explains her reasoning to save the world; she just does it.
But that’s kind of what people do right? We just do things. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. And sometimes just to follow our own code.
At a time when my future was uncertain and I just wanted everything to go away, Drakengard 3 reminded me that I can make a choice to be better, to follow my code of doing the right thing. It will always have a place in my soul.
Everyone has a game (or games) that they can safely say “that’s it, that’s the game (or games) that I love wholeheartedly!” What’s yours and why?