Breaking Down the Backlog: Drakengard 3
IN this week’s Breaking Down… I spent a fortnight on one boss battle and almost punched my television.
I decided to cap off my own trilogy with perhaps the oddest game I have played for an exceptionally long time: Drakengard 3. I had heard in certain corners of the internet that it was an interesting experience from beginning to end. And you know what? It certainly lived up to expectations. I wouldn’t say the game was enjoyable in the traditional sense, there are some serious issues, but I don’t regret finishing it.
Drakengard 3‘s combat is strange. Boiled right down, it is essentially a Dynasty Warriors clone. Each level is a small area which you travel through hacking up faceless semi-mindless soldiers with ease until you reach arenas where you have to kill certain enemies to continue on. The actual mechanics are button mashing your way through people, but unlike the Dynasty Warriors games, the combat is rather animation focused. You can’t necessarily cancel out of every attack, especially the heavy attacks, which can lead you to take a serious amount of damage. The enemies have the same sort of ‘issue’. All their stronger attacks are clearly telegraphed, but when a dozen or so people are on the screen, it gets difficult dodging or blocking every hit. It can make some levels very difficult, especially later when the game started mixing up the tougher enemies with weaker ones and upping the damage for everyone. This forced me to master the more intricate details of the combat that I had previously ignored. Things like parrying, the combos weapons have and how they differ from one another, along with the ability to get a proper combo going so I can kill everyone easier. It was a slog at points, I will expand upon later, but I was never bored per-se.
Structurally, the game matches its combat. It is fairly rote, but has flourishes of cool ideas that I appreciated. Each “Chapter” is split up into “Verses” (there is a song theme throughout the game that pops up with each major boss) and each of those verses are, very helpfully, also split up between game-play and cut-scenes. So far, so very normal. However, where the game gets interesting is that, once you have finished what I thought was the final level another “Route” opens up…and then another…and then another. It got to the point where I didn’t even know when the game was going to end. And it was at exactly that moment when “Route B” unlocked was when I was truly invested in Drakengard 3. I just had to see where it went. However, the levels are repeated about three more times. Which can be a real drag. But, ultimately, it’s not often a game can truly surprise me these days but the twist with the initial ending not actually being the end of the game really shocked me.
I’m not sure I could really describe the story of Drakengard 3 in a traditional way. You play as Zero, an intoner (think a saint who has singing powers), who is trying to kill her five sisters for initially, an unknown reason. One fails, is mortally wounded and loses her stoic dragon. Skip to one year later where Zero has lost her arm and her dragon has experienced a complete personality change. It is now bubbly, naïve and even baby-like. She then tries again to kill her sisters, which she does. When she succeeds it turns out One – all the ‘Intoners’ are numbered – had a twin brother who murders Zero and goes off to create his own religion. This is how Route One ends. Each subsequent ending adds more texture to the characters and the world and ultimately builds up to a fantastic ending.
So what is revealed in the subsequent chapters and endings? Well, for example, the Dragons in Drakengard 3 have a final wish when they die, and they generally wish to be reincarnated so that they can continue serving their Intoner. Zero actually died at some point but was resurrected by the flower in her eye that has essentially left her a husk. She is also a singularity, which means she is warping the world around her. Accord, the previously unseen weapons merchant, is someone recording all the events in the game and each Route is an alternative reality where different choices were made by the characters. Zero herself is a Singularity that is causing each reality she is in to decay and get…strange (which is reflected in the story). And, the craziest thing, One tried to remove the flower in her eye but it went nuclear and caused five copies who have an aspect of One’s personality. So the ‘sisters’ are also her children. This game may have the oddest story I have ever experienced. It kept me engaged throughout some of the real doldrums Drakengard 3 forces you through.
The characters of the Intoners and Zero’s servants are a real highlight. Five is voluptuous and very sexual explicit, Four is repressed but hides a twisted sexual appetite, Three is lethargic, Two is pretty much a brain-damaged zombie by the time you meet her, One is serious and Zero is constantly furious with a sarcastic sense of humour. Honestly, except Zero, they are all pretty one note. The real meat is the servants you collect. Dito, for example, is an exceptionally cruel young man and finds pleasure in the suffering of others. Decadus is a white knight figure, always respectful of Zero and chivalrous, but he is also a revolting masochist. Octa is wise, cunning and – I’m not joking, this is in the game – has the largest penis out of all the servants. Finally, when you first meet Cent, he has zombified Two, but he turns into an idiot when he joins your party. Watching the servants bounce off one another, along with Zero and Mikhail, is thoroughly enjoyable. This is thanks to, in part, the excellent translation and the high-quality voice acting. It is like the developers knew they couldn’t get the budget for the graphics, so they spent it on the voice work.
As you can imagine for a game this ambitious, it isn’t without its flaws. The frame-rate is utter garbage. It was barely thirty frames-per-second at the best of times and sometimes it would get down to single figures. Which is odd because the graphics are pretty bad, even by the standards of a four year old game. The main characters look great but everything else looks like it came straight from the previous generation of consoles. And the way you get to the ‘proper’ ending is perhaps the worst thing in the entire game. You have to collect every single weapon. By the end of the game I had about eighty-five percent of the weapons and the ones I had left were so expensive I had to actually grind ‘optional’ quests for hours – and believe me they weren’t easy. Never have I experienced such a frustrating journey to the end of a game. At least, so I thought. I wasn’t prepared for what faced me.
The end boss to Drakengard 3 is perhaps the worst thing I have ever experienced in a game, without fail. The lead up is great. You face off against every sister, there is all sorts of sacrifices and story important moments. It really feels like the ending is going to be something special. You kill One and then Zero asks Mikhail the dragon to kill her and the flower. He sadly acquiesces. Then the final boss starts. It turns into a rhythm game. I am not joking. I had to use this video to finish it:
Look at that bullshit! It took me about a fortnight to beat, even with the video. Luckily the ending was fantastic. It almost made all the pain worth it.
Would I recommend Drakengard 3? No. Not really. Unless you enjoy games that are more interesting than good. It has too many caveats with its mediocre game-play, poor graphics/frame-rate and the terrible way to get to the real ending (and the previous endings weren’t exactly final enough to just stop, either). But ,if you can look through the slurry, you can find a cool game with a sublime soundtrack.
P.S. Shout out to Dark Id’s Drakengard 3 LP. Hilarious and the source for all the screenshots.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Tokyo Jungle