Review: Drakengard 3 – Discordant Melody

The Drakengard series is one of those franchises that I’ve never heard of even though it has been around for about ten years. Despite my relative–excuse me–complete ignorance of these games, I was quickly able to guess what type of experience I would be getting myself into with Drakengard 3 judging from the product description. “Action RPG that isn’t mainstream, eh? I bet this is a hack n slash game,” I said to myself as I did a bit of research for this review.

Sure enough as soon as the main game began I was faced with about 15 guys who all had lifebars over their heads and who were all charging at me. Yes sir, this was indeed a hack n slash game. I’m not exactly a fan of the genre because of how shallow and repetitive it can be but I held out hope that this wouldn’t be as bad as some others. Then I started to attack and killed every one of my enemies in seconds. Sigh… this is exactly what I feared and from that point onward things never really picked up.

Before I gained control of the main character named Zero, a beautifully crafted CG intro (Square-Enix still excels at these) told of a world ruled by women called Intoners who came to power after they helped saved it with the power of their songs. Zero’s goal is to kill her Intoner sisters in order to gain their power. Introductions to games are supposed to hook us in but this one confused me more than anything. This confusion would continue as I progressed.

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Before I get into the characters and story, I want to talk about the actual game itself. While I’m not a fan of most hack n slashers, most notably anything from the Dynasty Warriors series, that isn’t to say that I think the entire genre is a wash. Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden are prime examples of how to do the genre right. Drakengard 3 falls into the Dynasty Warriors camp unfortunately.

Battling even large numbers of foes just isn’t as thrilling as it should be. Zero can slice through most enemies like butter so the majority of them never really presented much of a challenge. She wears all white and gets soaked in blood during battles. This is nice but even then it didn’t add the visceral feel that I would like when fighting and killing so many foes. Even after taking down big enemies I never felt a sense of satisfaction… just a sense of relief that it was over.

Zero eventually gets four weapons to use: Sword, Spear, Chakram and Gauntlets. To the game’s credit, each weapon does feel different but that doesn’t help much. The weapons offer up a large number of combos to use but I found myself doing a basic normal attack x3 + special attack combo with some careful dodging for most of the game. There is a block button but I never really used it since dodging was more effective.

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The weak combat was bad enough but camera angles that prevented me from seeing any of the action was even worse. Locking on to an enemy didn’t help the camera angle situation either. I tried to fight enemies out in the open whenever I could but in situations where I couldn’t, the camera always seemed to want to show me the walls instead. The problem was exacerbated during boss battles since they loved to stick by the walls for some reason.

When not killing off thousands of disposable minions you get to control a dragon. These sections were a bit hit or miss, mostly because of the camera angles. When you could freely control the dragon, things were hard because there would always be obstructions in the way that impaired my vision. During the parts where it became a rail shooter I had a better time since it reminded me of games like Panzer Dragoon. The dragon was also helpful during some of the ground combat sections, but not by much.

By this point you might be wondering where the “RPG” part of this Action RPG comes in. Combat is the main focus but there are some light roleplaying game elements to be found. You gain experience after completing each chapter which… does something. Seriously, I have no idea what the character’s experience went into since I never felt myself getting stronger or more resistant to damage. It seemed pretty arbitrary to be honest.

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Weapons on the other hand can be upgraded and I definitely felt a difference when I made them more powerful. There are a lot of weapons that can be bought using money found in the levels or found/unlocked along the way. Items that restore your health or give you a strength/defense boost can also be bought from a menu screen. These last two items definitely came in handy during boss battles.

Now, I’m known for being a bit “blue” with my sense of humor. Cursing, sexual innuendo, jokes about bodily functions, I like all of that stuff. With that said, this game went over the top even for my tastes. It seemed like the writers wanted to throw as many curses and profanity in any given line of dialogue as possible. Zero’s disciples were horndogs and they all wanted to have sex with her and were pretty upfront about it. It got to a point where I could predict the next dirty thing they would say to Zero who was herself pretty prurient.

While having all of these juvenile things happening, the game is also trying to make you feel something for the characters and the story. It didn’t happen though. I never once cared for any of the characters or their respective plights. I actually hated every last one of them except for the dragon Mikhail, who was the only one I could identify with. That’s right, the only character I liked wasn’t even a human.

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As far as graphics go, this game is definitely on the ugly side of the spectrum. I’m not the biggest fan of the Unreal Engine but it has performed miracles in the past. Not here. The game has this pervasive “fog” to it and that isn’t because of the story either. I found myself squinting at times because of how thick this fog could get. It reminded me of playing games on a Nintendo 64.

Perhaps this fog was added to hide how ugly the world of the game looks. Textures were drab and lifeless. None of the generic environments had any kind of personality to them. Destroyed cities, forests, deserts… they all looked equally as uninspired. The level designs themselves were fine for the most part and I did like some of the light platforming elements but overall the environments were just really dull looking.

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I should note some of the technical issues I had with the game besides the camera angles. Whenever there was a lot of chaotic action on screen, most notably when Mikhail would reign fire on the battlefield, the game would get really choppy and the frame rate would drop considerably. It not only made attacking enemies difficult but also made it easier for me to be hit since I couldn’t tell what was happening. The other notable issue was lip syching, or rather, a lack of it. Whenever characters spoke it was like watching an old Kung fu movie since their lips didn’t match the dialogue at all.

The main campaign isn’t the only thing available. There are a host of side missions which are unlocked as you progress the story. These typically have you killing enemies or obtaining items in a specific set of time. These side missions were the very definition of repetitious but they were useful for earning more money. There are also post campaign missions that show alternate versions of the story. These only really served to make the plot even more confusing than it already was though.

While this game may be for some people (the franchise has been around for a while) it certainly wasn’t for me. The makings of a good game are hidden somewhere under the boring combat, murky graphics and juvenile and confusing plot. If you’re into mindlessly killing hordes of enemies or hearing sexual jokes then this is right up your alley. If not then it’s best to skip Drakengard 3 and play something else instead.

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