Zero Is Weird & Sadistic But That's Okay
*Square Enix provided the review copy for this review*
Drakengard 3 is my first hands-on experience with the Drakengard series; so naturally, I didn't know what to expect going into this prequel. Growing up, I watched my friend play the original Drakengard demo and I remember seeing an ad in a GameInformer magazine for the sequel but that title fell under my radar. So when I heard that Drakengard 3 would be a prequel to both prior releases, I figured now would be as good a time as any to give it a go. I expected the action to be mainly button mashing, hack and slash goodness. However, what I did not expect and what caught me completely off guard was the dialogue. You know how some titles thrive off their story and dialogue rather than gameplay or graphics? Drakengard 3 can be added to that list of titles.
I was completely taken aback when Drakengard 3 loaded up and the first things I hear are: Mikhail: Zero? Zero: What now? Mikhail: Can I find a bush? I have to pee! At that moment, I laughed out loud and in the back of my head, I told myself I was in for a good time. The thing is, I didn't think it would be this good. I haven't gone through one mission yet where the dialogue or scenarios Zero and her "allies" go through didn't have me cracking up. The dialogue is extremely funny and whacked out to point of one character actually breaking the fourth wall multiple times, while Zero remained completely oblivious. Which brings me to the characters themselves. These characters made me love them so or loved to hate them; there was no in between when it came to these highly interesting characters.
Zero is heartless, completely insane and lacks common sense most of the time. She reminded me of Ryuko from the anime Tenchi Muyo in many ways. Mikhail comes as her pet dragon and while he may be completely naive, he tries to serve as Zero's conscience when she isn't constantly telling him to shut up. Together, these two have a simple mission: find Zero's sisters and kill them. Zero wants complete control over the world and she's willing to slaughter her 5 Intoner siblings to make that dream a reality. Along the way, Zero steals, yes that's right, steals disciples to serve her cause. Disciples have their own quirks such as Dito, who is an extreme sadist and enjoys bringing pain to others. Yet, these quirks feel natural here because most of the dialogue and jokes are really raunchy. Drakengard 3 is one of those games where it doesn't take itself seriously and allows for insane moments to occur. I couldn't be happier truth be told.
Now, the story makes me want to finish to find out exactly what happens and the dialog just delivers pure enjoyment but there's more to Drakengard 3. Combat plays a big part but there are issues to be found. Nothing gamebreaking or overly frustrating and yet, the combat could have been on the same level as Devil May Cry for example. So if you are expecting some of that stylish, combo heavy action here, you'll come away disappointed for sure. Players take control of Zero as she slashes her way through countless enemies, both human and creature alike. Starting off with just Zero's sword and a basic move list, combat is a bit slow in the beginning; though Intoner Mode helps to liven things up a bit. Once Zero is soaked in her enemies' blood, Intoner Mode can be activated and allows Zero to unleash crippling attacks. She even forgoes weapons and chooses to claw at foes instead. Trust me on this, if Intoner Mode is used, no enemy is getting away.
As time moves on, however, Zero acquires new weapons from her slaves *ahem* I mean disciples. In total, there are up to four different types of weapons, which can be switched out on the fly and can even be done mid combo. Each weapon type (sword, spear, gauntlet and Chakram) have their own advantages over the other, even though all weapons can still get the job done. So, I suppose it's just a matter of which weapon will make the job of slaughtering all the more easy. For example, airborne enemies are a bit tough to hit with a sword but using Chakrams does the trick because they can be thrown across long distances. All weapons can be upgraded, increasing the power and sometimes the size, to craft an even better weapon. The only exception is Zero's Blade; this only upgrades at specific moments in the game when Mikhail reaches new heights. So with all these weapons, combat should be fun right? While the combat is exciting to a point, some flaws hold back the action's true potential.
One of the biggest problems I encountered is the camera. Normally, it functions just fine and I wouldn't have an issue if it performed this well under stress. When the fighting gets hectic, the camera will sometimes move over Zero, causing her to be off the screen. Even locating enemies can be a pain sometimes depending on where Zero moves. Luckily, the lock-on mechanic helps keep the action on-screen. Though I wasn't a fan of having to press the lock-on button every time I killed the enemy that I was locked on to. Having the cursor automatically lock-on to the nearest enemy would have been ideal. When Zero goes into battle, she can bring two disciples with her to provide comic relief. I say this because the AI is so poorly designed that even though the disciples should be helping kill foes, they don't. The player will do mostly, if not all, the killing and there were a few times I thought I was alone on the battlefield. The disciples often get lost in the confusion of battle or in my case, stand around and do nothing. Even when they do actually attack, it's more like tickling the enemies with feathers. I think this quote summarizes the AI perfectly: "If you want something done, better do it yourself".
Killing enemies also proves to be far too disappointing because of the predictable nature of foes. Once you figured out the attack patterns, even the towering creatures Zero faces often are nothing but blood filled dummies. I didn't even need to analyze the regular foot soldiers movements because they were dead before I even had the chance. In this regard, Drakengard 3 has more in common with Koei's Dynasty Warrior franchise. Hordes of enemies rush Zero, only to be killed in the time it takes to blink your eyes twice. Personally, I enjoyed the combat as I'm more forgiving when it comes to the hack and slash genre but I was still somewhat upset. Combat functions at an average level, ensuring it is indeed playable; just don't expect satisfaction when killing hundreds. I have also noticed a time lapse between button presses but since Drakengard 3 is more of a button masher, only the hardcore of hardcore will gripe at it.
Zero can ride Mikhail to add some dragon carnage to the fray but only during certain moments. Riding Mikhail plays similarly to the PS3 exclusive Liar and Phanzer Dragoon series, thanks to the on-rail and free roaming segments. Unfortunately, these moments are the lowest as far as combat goes. It's almost hard to pinpoint exactly what makes flying Mikhail so... awkward. I definitely noticed a lot of frame-rate drops because there's too much going on here. With all the enemies and their projectiles, Mikhail's fireballs and rapid movements, the action really suffers from lag. I figured spreading death around while riding a dragon would be cool but I just never felt that sensation. Thankfully, I didn't have to experience much of riding Mikhail since these sections are spread apart fairly well.
Now for a more technical approach. Visually, Drakengard 3 is nothing to gawk at. The graphics are average at best, environments are bland and don't really show much creativity in them. I ran into a lot of frame-rate drops when the action got really hectic, almost causing a slow motion effect. Frame-rate drops are never a good sign because they are a major source of screwing up and ultimately taking players out of the gaming experience. Screen tearing is also a common thing when starting a new mission, after load times and so on. Speaking of load times, Drakengard 3 has some pretty long load times. Not only are they long but painfully obvious that the game is loading up the next part. The words "Now Loading" can be seen fading in and out of existence at the bottom right hand corner. A little subtlety would have been nice.
Drakengard 3 still packs a punch regardless of what issues it harbors. All games have some form of problems and I'm just glad this particular title is playable. Without a doubt, the story and character dialog truly fuels Drakengard 3's fire, allowing players to enjoy a game that doesn't take itself seriously. The combat is decent and even with the flaws that accompany the action; players shouldn't find any major discrepancies here. Overall, Drakengard 3 is one of those "game" titles, which knows to a fault that it is a game and should be treated as such.
+ A compelling story that makes you want to finish
+ Drakengard 3's dialogue is full of tongue-in-cheek jokes & entertainment
+ Characters are lively and extremely odd (in a good way)
- Screen tearing when loading
- Frame-rate drops in the heat of battle
- Erratic camera
- Bland environments
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Drakengard 3 even though the issues were hard to look over. I only had a faint idea of what I was getting into but this felt like my type of game, so I took a chance and came out pleased. Definitely did not expect the story and character elements to hook me this way either. Do yourself a favor and look into Drakengard 3 if you are a fan of the hack and slash genre or just looking for something new to play. I may even go back to play the previous two games as a result.