Square Enix, the studio behind legendary franchises Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, is renowned for games that deliver great storytelling and gorgeous graphics. It’s a wonder, then, that one of the biggest and most capable Japanese gaming studios in existence could have put its name as publisher on a title like Drakengard 3 (developed by Access Games this time around, instead of Cavia, who developed the previous two entries).
The main character in the hack ‘n slash action game Drakengard 3 is Zero. She is one of six siblings, all sisters, who bring peace to the world as Intoners. Zero, however, has decided that she wants to kill her sisters, (and pretty much everything in sight). Though easy on the eyes, she is violent, bad-tempered, and reeks of bitterness, yelling “DIE! DIE! DIE!” frequently at the very people who, the game alludes, were once her allies.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “Well why does Zero want to kill her sisters? Why is she so angry and so violent when she’s supposed to be bringing peace to the world? What’s the context around all of this?” So was I. The game doesn’t tell you until late in the thirty-five to forty hours you’ll be playing. Until then, you must put up with Zero’s mother-of-all-mood-swings with no answers and no context. In fact, you spend a lot of time in the game doing things without understanding why, and the lack of information you get from Zero and her co-characters can get a little frustrating.
Playing Drakengard 3 feels like being lost and having someone dangle a map in front of your nose, just out of your reach, and having them finally give it to you after you’ve already decided to just hail a cab.
Gamers who have played other Drakengard games will still probably have an unsatisfying feeling, as Drakengard 3 expects them to remember events in previous games. That’s a tough demand, considering that Drakengard 2 came out in North America more than eight years ago on the PlayStation 2. Even if you do remember the events of the previous games, Drakengard 3 is a prequel to them, and so the hesitation the game has to explain itself to you will likely frustrate you just the same.
Zero is not alone in her violent deeds. Her naive partner in crime, Mikhail, is a child dragon who seems to be Zero’s only soft spot after the loss of her much older, much larger dragon companion, Michael (and by soft spot I mean she hasn’t killed him yet). Mikhail brings some much-needed lightheartedness to an otherwise dark, dreary game. He questions Zero’s actions and motives with childlike innocence, despite carrying out her dark demands. My only problem with Mikhail is his voice. He sounds as though he was voiced by a seven-year-old boy, yet even as a child, he’s about three times Zero’s size. Don’t ask me what kind of voice a 20-foot-tall child dragon should have, but the difference between Mikhail’s size and voice is definitely jarring.
To top it all off, gameplay is linear and repetitive. Think Final Fantasy XIII. You go where you’re told, slashing through enemies along the way with no opportunity to do anything else.
The graphics in this game are just okay, nothing more. The character models look alright, but the way they some of them move is awkward (particularly Mikhail), and environmental graphics can be just bad at times. We’re now on the PlayStation 4, but Drakengard 3’s graphics are not even at the same level as titles from very early in the PlayStation 3’s life.
Some textures, especially on the ground, are quite soft. Light reflections can be awkward, and there are many jagged edges. Water textures are solid, flat, and overdone, and water behavior is weird. Worst of all, frame-rate plummets whenever a lot is happening on the screen. If there is any unforgivable graphical issue, a frame-rate drop is it.
Drakengard 3 is a bloody, bloody game. That much is clear from the first thirty seconds, when Zero stars in her first cutscene and eagerly murders everyone around her. Access Games took great care to ensure that the blood flowed like water, that gamers could hear the blood splashing and that it covered everything in sight, even Zero’s white dress–sometimes. I’ll get to that in a second.
The problem with all of this is that blood doesn’t behave like water. It’s thick, congealing, and splatters rather than splashing. It doesn’t come showering out of a person’s body at the slightest cut. Seeing the blood flow in Drakengard 3, I felt like every character was filled with red Kool-Aid rather than blood.
The blood isn’t consistent either. Zero would come out of a fight drenched in her victims’ blood, but get to a cutscene and she’s perfectly clean again. That kind of issue is a pet peeve of mine. It takes you right out of the bloody combat you’re into and points a flashing red sign at the game’s lack of consistency, which is present throughout.
Drakengard 3 throws you into combat in the worst way possible: it puts you in a fight with multiple enemies, and doesn’t tell you what to do until a good while after you’ve muddled it out on your own. That aside, combat is one of very few things that feel satisfying in Drakengard 3, if not a little too easy. Combat systems like in Drakengard 3 are a button-masher’s delight. In many cases, no matter how many enemies you’re facing, if you equip the right weapon and press the square button enough, you’ll eventually come out on top.
In fact, early in the game, Mikhail was trying to encourage me to ask for his help when facing overwhelming numbers.
“I’m still here if you need me!” he’d say.
“Nope. I’ve got it, buddy,” I’d reply aloud.
Despite the ease with which Zero gleefully murders her former allies, there is something satisfying about feeling powerful enough to get through even large numbers of opponents, and Zero’s Intoner Mode really makes you feel unstoppable. It’s also quick and easy to switch weapons for different situations, such as fighting dragons. The feeling of taking down one of Drakengard 3’s massive fully-grown dragons? Oh yeah. Feels good.
Mikhail joins in on the combat now and then, however, and fighting in the air with him is a mess. The controls feel like more of a hindrance than a tool, and the camera even more so. The game could have done with nixing aerial combat entirely, along with A.I., which is absolutely useless.
Drakengard 3 has an interesting premise, very good length, and mostly enjoyable combat. Unfortunately, it’s so poorly executed that I just couldn’t enjoy the game or fully understand the story it was trying to tell without having to look it up online. If you are a fan of Drakengard, and really want to play Drakengard 3 anyway, you may want to wait for a price drop to pick this up; if you pay fifty dollars (USD) for it, you’ll probably feel ripped off.