As the end of the year comes up I’ve found myself looking back trying to figure out all that “Game of the Year” stuff however as I do that my mind turns to a game that was my surprise pick (to myself) for Game of the Year Drakengard 3. My assessment of games on these lists aren’t some checklist of what makes a game good and worthily of recognition but more a collection of ephemeral thoughts during play that builds into a feeling that sticks with you. If that sounds vague, well that is purposeful because at times I don’t know why I love something I just do. Drakengard 3 is one such game that just sticks with me. This is in spite of the fact by all accounts and standards its a very mediocre game by the standard metrics of game design and criticism.
First I’ll explain what I mean when I say its “mediocre” by most standards and why really it doesn’t matter to me. For one the word is standards implies its standard meaning I find when writing anytime your saying something standard you’re not being interesting; after all why waste timing in just typing out conventional wisdom. With that in mind Drakengard 3 is mostly lacking. The graphics I’ve seen described not incorrectly as little more then a glorified PS2 game and even has been compared unfavorably to the horrible PS3 Launch Title Lair...
Beyond that the game play won’t exactly set the world on fire either, while its a perfectly acceptable and well balanced action game. One in which you can get a lot of enjoyment from; indeed the action is the most enjoyable technical aspect of the game, it’s not what one would call original however. Beyond that the level designs are little more then glorified corridors taking you from fight arena to fight arena with a sub-boss thrown in periodically to keep things spicy. Despite this again its a very enjoyable game with an acceptably fight skill cap that you can become very good at. The best recent game it can be compared to is Platinum Games Metal Gear Rising: Revengence.
Warning! The Rest of this post contains massive spoilers for Drakengard 3.
However despite all this at least for me Drakengard 3 captures you and doesn’t let you go. This is the point I warn you everything after this is very subjective and like many things I love I know I’m in the minority in appreciating it. Really Drakengard 3 is so unique and unbalanced even loving Nier probably wouldn’t be enough to guarantee enjoyment of this game as Nier is to a sunrise as Drakengard 3 is to a sunset; superficially similar but fundamentally different.
When describing Drakengard 3 to friends I always start out by saying its a fundamentally ugly and mean game. I’m not referring to its graphical limitations I’m referring to its feel, its characters, its entire existence. Unlike most games the protagonist of the game Zero has no remorse for the various people that she kills however unlike other games the game actually points this out to you. During various dialogue sequences with her companions they point out these soldiers have families to which Zero responds effectively with a who cares; to her their lives are so far beneath her as to be inconsequential. The game play reflects this as overtime as your weapons and skill grows the human lives your taking mean less and less, you merely go through the motions.
This is key to what makes Drakengard 3 such an interesting game as while many games have you slaughter literally thousands of enemies very few activley points it out. Over time as you get to know Zero better and better you realize you’re controlling no hero not even an anti-hero but a monster pure and simple. Its this realization that the redemption will never come for Zero and wherever this game is going it’ll be bad for your character and you yourself. How do I know this? The game makes it clear during one of the hardest to reach endings the game through various characters actually ask how you THE PLAYER made it this far how you THE PLAYER could put up with this horrible bleak world where you control the worst member of it.
It’s this self awareness that makes Drakengard 3 so unique and therefore so special to me. It has no problems with showing its disregard for any norms of conventions about player empowerment; indeed as I got closer and closer to my Platinum ending the game kept asking why? Even Mikhail, Zero’s dragon with the mind of a 10 year old is an unreserved racist one of the better jokes in the game is during an arial level as Zero and Mikhail are burning up Wyverns Mikhail exclaims “Damn Wyverns taking all the good Dragon Jobs! Lets kill em all”. This again was in the voice of a child. Beyond him each of Zero’s companions are stated to have various neuroses and personality disorders that allows them to stay by Zero (one is an ax crazy psychopath, the other may be a closet pedophile, ect...); again as only a seriously screwed up person would ever want to spend time with her.
Finally I think the best part of Drakengard 3 is simultaneously its worst part. As you see the final level isn’t a giant boss fight its a... rhythm game. I’m not joking the most HATED part of Drakengard returns after literally a dozen hours of hack and slash the game forces you to do something completely different and virtually impossible to the average player as the tones that you must hear are so subtle to be almost indistinguishable. To beat the game I had to cheat - literally cheat; to finish this section I had to synch my game up to a Youtube video telegraphing the prompts if the sync is off by even .25 seconds you will lose. If you stop listening for even a second you will lose. There is no remorse this was the developers thank you for playing their game a stage specifically designed to be annoying, unfair, and no fun. When I said the game was mean and ugly I meant it and the one being punished is you.
However all these hateful things actually made this game so much better then the sum of its parts because it makes you think. When Zero is vomiting in revoltion in one of the endings you know why she is sick because really you kinda feel it too. You’re wondering how you put up with this, it also gets you thinking about other games that are less self aware that perhaps would I have recognized Zero as a monster with a pretty face if I hadn’t been told. In the end that is the best part of Drakengard 3 its ability to stick with you by getting in your head, the game may not be for everyone but those its for it can be a very compelling experience one you wont soon forget. If anything I’ve written sounds good to you check out Drakengard 3 you may just be broken enough to enjoy Zero’s journey as much as I did even if the developers are laughing and cursing you for it. Anyways thanks for reading.