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PS2 Review - 'Drakengard'

by Thomas Leaf on April 13, 2004 @ 1:53 a.m. PDT

Drakengard tells the tale of love, lore, sacrifice and obligation focusing on the main character Kyme, his sister Friae, and her fiance and Kyme's childhood friend, Yuvalt. Players will be in for a thrilling ride as they battle on land and in the skies. Not only will the player's attributes evolve throughout the game, his contracted dragon will also mature as the game progresses, changing in appearance and abilities.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: March 02, 2004

Buy 'DRAKENGARD': PlayStation 2

Drakengard is the first major Square-Enix venture to land on American shores. It is odd that the first title from the conjoined loins of the industry’s two 800 pound gorillas of the RPG world (would that make Square-Enix a 1600 pound gorilla?) is not an RPG but a 3rd Person action/adventure game that toggles between riding on a dragon and swinging swords through hordes of foemen. There are some RPG elements to be had, but nothing truly deep to speak of.

You reprise the role of a young officer Caim who feeds off of his enlarged sense of rage to make his way through battle. There is of course you character foil and of course there is a damsel in distress only this time the damsel turns out to be your little sister. In terms of storyline, Drakengard is a light weight. There are cinematic elements and scenes where interludes play out, but for the most part these are pre-rendered chapter markers that aren’t very engrossing. You can tell that the designers were going for an epic experience from the dramatic camera angles, zoom-ins and orchestral theme, but it all falls a little flat.

Caim is not a very distinguishable hero, he falls in the long line of J-Pop inspired heroes that Square has been famous for over the past few years. Furiae, Chain’s little sister who also happens to be a goddess (I’d explain if I knew how or why), also suffers from this same design flaw as does Inuart, Caim’s nemesis, and Arioch, the stereotypical sword swinging sexpot. The dragons in the game are interesting, but the one you look at the most, Red Dragon, is your run-of-the-mill winged beast unlike the original dragon design of Panzer Dragoon Orta. It also bares mentioning that Red Dragons sound a lot like Elizabeth Taylor which I found disconcerting. In light of the flashy and nubile character design with well manicured fingers and conditioned hair, Drakengard goes for a gritty look which simply doesn’t mesh. The characters don’t match the spirit of the game. Drakengard wants to be a tale of loss and tragedy with a healthy dose of rage and furor mixed in for good measure. So why the O.C. cast?

The core of every game is the action of the play. In this regard Drakengard neither impresses nor distresses. The controls are fine. What you can make Caim do is natural, logical and necessary. The only problem is that there is a jarring deficit between the times when you figure out what you need to do and when Caim does it. It just seems as if Caim is slow or the gameplay’s timing is off. Trying to get in a rhythm with Caim was nearly impossible for me at the beginning and even as I acclimated to the game the act of juggling an enemy soldier became more tedious than challenging.

Caim’s weapons grow in power and ability as Caim earns experience points, which allows you more powerful and potent combinations, but these combos rarely work on more than one enemy and in a game like Drakengard where you are constantly surrounded, well you get the idea. There are other weapons that attack in circular patterns which are best described as ponderous, but in the end the cons of linear attack versus the pros of circular attacks makes either choice equally annoying. To top it all off there isn’t a means to quickly switching weapons in the midst of battle. It must be done through an inventory screen which breaks the action. If you could arm Caim with a sword in one hand and an axe in the other so to vary your attack patterns on the fly then the gameplay could have taken on a whole new dimension that could have rectified the combat’s muddy feel. From the back of your dragon, things are not much better.

While it seems to be all to annoying to hit many enemies while on the ground, in the air it all seems so easy. Red dragon has two main modes of attack and one of them is really a missile locking fireball. Lock up a target and fire off a couple of rounds and you’ve just mowed through something so far off in the distance that you never got close enough to marvel at how cool it looks as it tumbles in a blaze. You can also rain down fire and brimstone wrath of God style on entire armies which wipes out just about everything. It looks cool but is a really cheap way out of a desperate situation. What makes matters worse is that while the game looks like it is a free flowing 3D aerial battle, you are actually on a linear track which ruins the notion of flying on the back of a dragon. To be fair, the game has to suffer this flaw only because of the PS2’s ability to render at distance. Drakengard does not suffer from any egregious pop-up and for that advantage a price must be paid.

Drakengard begins to flex its muscles in the graphical department. While I do not find the character design to be right for the game, they certainly would look awesome in the right game. The modeling and overall design of the game’s look is solid and polished. There is a distinctly original twist put on this seemingly medieval world that is more than just your average fantasy setting. There is a dark and mystical ambience to the game that reminds the player of the movie Excalibur (if you haven’t seen this film, fill the void in your soul and rent it). The world in which Drakengard resides is original in its looks and feels however familiar it may seem. To that end, Drakengard succeeds.

Where Drakengard fails most noticeably is the sound department. While the world feels original and inspired the dialogue is hackneyed prose espoused by that of someone less than cogent of how people feel. I wished there was a way to skip cinematic sequences in this game. Mix in a dreadfully flat score and you have a game that needs loud music to be played in the background while you waddle your way through this game’s paper thin plot of tired heroics and predictable plot twists. In a game where you can bind yourself with a dragon, a price must be paid. When Caim binds himself with the Red Dragon to save both their lives, he loses his voice. I was pleased that he did, which is not what I supposed to feel. Meanwhile our boy Inuart cannot sing anymore. Gee, bummer dude. I guess William Hung doesn’t have to sweat about his music career anymore.

I had high hopes for Drakengard since its inception. Perhaps it was those high expectations that led me to such a disappointing experience. Truly, I did not want to finish this game. I found it to be as endearing as The Phantom Menace (which does not even warrant an underline). From the outset Drakengard was aimed at combining two styles of gaming that I absolutely adore: Dynasty Warriors’ sweeping and epic field battles and Panzer Dragoon Orta’s frenetic aerial battles. Drakengard does a good job was approaching both styles of gameplay, but in the end Drakengard is a Jack of both trades and Master of neither. While there are aesthetic elements of Drakengard that I appreciate, good looks don’t lead to good games. I’d recommend you rent this one.

Score : 7.0/10

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