pour one out for the mid-size developers; the hard-working designers cranking out licensed titles and budget IPs left and right before the HD era killed off small-team development and financial consolidation came back in vogue. the jank if you will, that lovely feeling of finding a solid 6 or 7 out of 10 with a couple kooky mechanics and a simple gameplay loop tucked away in your favorite console's library.
cavia may be one of the most prolific of these developers: their ouevre includes drakengard 1 and 2 (with d3 being handled by fellow jank purveyors access games), resident evil dead aim, gits:sac on ps2, beat down fists of vengeance, bullet witch, and nier... a truly stellar roster of B games. and in this sense, drakengard is a perfectly solid action title. in fact, I would call the dragon flying sections downright fun! it plays like a cross of ace combat's free-roam target-based objectives and flight control and panzer dragoon's targeting system, with some smart movement mechanics added in such as lateral dashes/dodges/blinks and 180 turnarounds. the enemy roster in these areas is solid as well, mixing more traditional flight combat fare such as oddly geometric aircraft with heat missiles with more magical fantasy elements such as flying reapers who can only be hit when they throw their scythes at you. just enough variety between missions to keep things interesting, and the bosses for this mode hit just right. in my mind even if an encounter is initially frustrating, as long as you can experiment and find the right tools to handle it I think it's a design success - ie the ending B boss whose air slices I found hard to reliably dodge until I began combining the lateral dodges with dashing at a different pitch angle.
the ground combat is a bit more of a hang-up overall, and it quickly becomes apparent that this mode is the more hastily constructed of the two. there's an inordinate amount of weapons with uncomfortably long grinds required and unique magic for each, a parry system that I almost never used, blocking and lateral rolls, and yet somehow in all of this they left out the right-stick camera control. very unfortunate! though given that it's a musou it's not difficult to adjust to using the minimap for guidance on enemy arrangement along with frequently using the center camera button. at the end of the day you can hew close to caim's default weapon with little trouble, and after you adjust it becomes as relaxing and mindless as any other musou. it helps that it has the extremely inspired ground/air hybrid levels, which allow you to lay waste to dozens of foes at once between handling magic-resistant enemies or trebuchets on foot.
if anything the biggest problem holding this game back is the mission structure. rarely do the designers muster anything more than waves of identical targets with the occasional twist such as "fight through a crevasse instead of an open field" or "we have some wizards here too" or possibly "explore this dungeon that is mostly just regular goons strewn throughout." it's a bit upsetting when they do go out on a limb and end up producing some of the lowest points in the game, such as the mission that requires you to take down a golem in a labyrinth of ravines - caim cannot mount angelus in the middle of the maze, so whenever he gets knocked off the dragon he must trek all the way back to the start to try again. these moments are mostly annoying rather than truly game-breaking, but it is disappointing that the game never elevates its scenario design, especially since missions can often run in the 15+ minute range unfortunately.
what also drags the missions down is that the story integration into each mission is rather poor. while there's evidently a large-scale war going on, you have no real present allies to fight beside, and the enemies have no dynamism beyond chasing you when you come within range. instead the plot points are parroted to you by off-screen characters represented as talking heads in a banner at the top of the screen. since caim and his party end up losing virtually every locale they defend to the empire, perhaps this conveys the futility of the conflict and the abject weakness of the union in face of the threat of the gods. at the same time, it left me feeling rather disconnected from the salient plot points when little what I do moves the plot forward; it often feels like these missions are just buffers between cutscenes.
if characters aren't babbling about off-screen events, they are often scolding caim for killing scores of people in an insatiable bloodlust driven by revenge. I went in with this knowledge and expected some cloying "you are the real bad guy" moral, but drakengard really surprised me with how it played with caim's character. he's potentially the best silent protagonist ever conceived: a man who literally let his sword do the talking, one who is so committed to violence that he willingly exorcises his voice in pursuit of absolute power. yet while verdehet pleads with him to spare his fellow man and angelus sneers at his animalistic instincts, neither can do much more than tsk tsk since they absolutely need caim whether he's a psychopath or not. the reality of their world is so deeply bathed in despair that the lives that caim takes are merely specks on top of the mountain of humanity's sin, totally and comprehensively meaningless. this ties in to the overarching flood-like narrative that the game pushes for, where the planet's most powerful force yearns to let the gods completely and utterly extinguish life in order to cleanse the world of its caked layers of immorality. in this setting, caim's actions are a form of idealism that proposes that perhaps humans can still change reality through sheer force of will, as angelus realizes when caim pushes her to reach new heights of power towards the end of the first ending. his actions directly convince her that perhaps humanity is worth saving and perserving after all... caim demonstrates a fascinating moral decay of the hero complex that manages to stubbornly save mankind from an extinction wrought by its own hand.
unfortunately much of the intrigue of the rest of the cast has been bowderlized in localization - even more unfortunately this is still present in the undub I played. how much this affects the story beyond pure shock value is up for debate, and I'm not sure I have an answer. whether leonard is any more compelling of a character without his nonce arc present for instance doesn't perhaps matter too much to the plot as a whole given that he does very little except make off-handed remarks of self-loathing (though his scenes towards the end are rather affecting and well done in CGI, which btw is pretty excellent throughout the game). arioch is just a vessel for female trauma with no characteristics beyond that, though given the cavalcade of woe already present the male cast is entirely unempathetic to her plight and seems to view her as a liability. out of all three of the side allies seere is easily the most interesting. his naivete and extreme need for validation stemming from his abusive mother's favoritism legitimately develops over the course of the game, to the point where he eventually accepts that true heroism requires tremendous sacrifice and is willing to accept the reality of his world. his bickering with angelus over the myths he's enraptured by is turned on his head as the world's grim recreation narrative is laid out for all to see, and thus to see him step into the shoes of those who came before is fulfilling. I also love the scene where he's trapped in the coliseum and caim comes in to slaughter an entire horde of "subhumans," to which angelus exhorts him for finally "learning how to save a life with [his] blade." truly great black comedy.
these characters don't make much of an appearance in the main story though, and if you play that first set of endings before going through the side content it will feel a little bare given the small cast. thankfully inuart is a satisfying secondary antagonist, one who's envious of caim's masculine strength over his own and seeks to exceed him and demonstrate sexual dominion to assert himself. his frenzy towards the end of the game as he plays directly into the hands of the cult of the watchers is a fulfilling downfall to witness, even if in the process (ending B) he manages to create an eldritch horror in the process thanks to his warped conception of mysticism stemming from the aforementioned web of myths humanity has woven for itself. those first three endings were all worth it on their own, and then the fourth one really blew things open and got me thinking more heavily about the narrative themes.
in fact, I nearly considered rating it higher, and then I played that final mission in ending D. what can I say? some people are just not very good game designers. I'll try to remember the fun I had with it prior at least... and to be clear, I didn't get ending E and instead just watched it on youtube. looks goofy!
This review contains spoilers
A beautiful work on the potential of children - two kids raised by the same mother: one with love and the other with hatred.
Seere ended up emulating the hero he admired from the fairy tales of his mother -the 'little hero'- and played an irreplaceable part in the saving of the World.
Manah was abused and did the only thing that was taught to her: to destroy - this led to the collapse of everything as it was known.
Arioch sacrificed the possibility of having children by making a pact with two elemental spirits. With her child gone to the war and an impossibility to create any more life within her she goes mad and becomes a child-eater - probably due to jealousy "my child was taken away from me and I cannot have any more, therefore it's not fair for any other person to have the privilege of their children living".
Some interesting symbolism I found about these two spirits is that they resemble the ovaries of a woman which play an important part in the making of a human being.
It was very subtly told overtime but Leonard was a pedophile (from what I have read this was more explicit in the Japanese version) but it was made more obvious with the cutscene for ending E where Seere hugs him and his reaction is surprisingly descriptive - it seems as if he wants to give in to his urges but ends up resisting; probably due to the memories of his little brothers which he regrets.
These last two might be bit of a stretch but here's my interpretation of it:
Furiae was in love with his brother Caim, as we know incest can lead to genetic disorders in children - the World itself is not fair but on top of that genetic disorders bring a lot of complications on children to live a normal life and adapt to society.
Caim has bloodlust and no compassion for human lives - it's a war so there will be bloodshed but he actively enjoys it disregarding the children he is leaving fatherless and the human on the other side of the War. Something that Angelus and other characters constantly ask of him agaisnt the enemies is for mercy.
There's so much symbolism but I was comfortable with some of my interpretations of it after seeing how the Watchers resemble giant babies. There's also a surprising amount of depth to the characters and different endings.
The soundtrack is beautiful: the abrupt repetition of samples alludes to the repetition of slaughter in the field - this is especially felt while playing with Caim on the ground.
Onto the gameplay: I'm not a fan of musou games but I grew to like the ground combat because of the experimentation of different weapons and I think it was brilliant from a ludo-narrative stand-point to get to know Caim.
I straight up loved the combat with Angelus, so much so that Panzer Dragoon has increased some priority spots in my to-play list.
As if this wasn't obvious with some elements you can find in Drakengard this was named Project Dragonsphere due to drawing heavy inspiration from Ace Combat 3, I was surprised to see so many things that reminded me of it: the canyon which is kind of a small labyrinth as it was in AC3, the city in its demise is also reminiscent to how the city looked in some of the endings (or all of them? I cannot recall) of AC3, the extra expedition where you can fight against fighter jets, the gameplay of Angelus itself, the sometimes atmospheric and electronic soundtrack, etc.
There are so many things I probably missed about Drakengard but that's also the beauty of it, I was really surprised with how much I loved the story and that I ended up enjoying the gameplay. Now I'm shilling this game to my friends.
On another note - sometimes it might be worth asking yourself: can this work as effectively as it is if it was a film or a work in another medium? In the case of Drakengard, I don't think so.
Some personal notes:
This was my previous review for Drakengard but I have been re-playing some games I used to dismiss (e.g. ICO) because of my lack of patience with positive results; it feels like growing as a person.
With how much I loved Drakengard, I will play the rest of the series (including Nier) and eventually re-play Nier Automata (I did not enjoy this last one as much but I want to revisit it)
I also had some things to say about how Caim doesn't care about the unethical behavior of the people helping him to achieve his goals but because of being so focused on saving Furiae he disregards this. This eventually comes back to bite him in the tail...
This game mocks you for playing it until the very end, not a shred of love for humanity can be found here.
If you're curious about playing it you probably already know what it's about and what it will attempt to do, it will do nothing else, only misery awaits
EDIT: previously gave this game 3/10 but after sitting on it nvm this bangs i kneel
This game is insane. The plot is dark and goes places you definitely would not expect, especially with the final ending. There are many references to death. If youre sensitive to topics such as the death of children i'd definitely avoid this one. The game really excels at its dark storytelling, so much deep stuff to pull apart with its characters and how morally grey they are.
The gameplay is what really brings it down. Its not terrible, just really janky and not a thing i'd go out of my way to play. Its like if you got dynasty warriors and stuck it in a blender with ace combat. It reeks of early non devil may cry action games. Not very good.
I'd say watch a playthrough for the story rather than actually play the game. It gets very repetitive and unlocking the final ending is a chore.
Drakengard 1 is probably the most painful game (both mentally and literally) I played in a while...
Why I played this game: To understand the lore of replicant and how the White Chlorination came to be (Ending E)
Is it worth to play this buggy annoying game?: NO, if you want to play the Ending E boss only use someone's save, or watch a video.
There are a few good things about this game, the characters and the dark nature of the endings, good work from Yoko Taro as always, but other than that the gameplay SUCKS, Music SUCKS, stages SUCK. Some aerial missions are fun.
And by the way, Ending E boss is way harder than Drakengard 3 "D" boss. Ending E carried this game so hard...
Aqui é onde a Square chegou no Yoko Taro e falou "transforma esse jogo de dragão em um jogo de aviãozinho com muzou" e é dai que nasceu esse gameplay esquisito e até mesmo um pouco cansativo.
Em compensação, é com essa "gema" que podemos ver como o Yoko Taro estava desgraçado da cabeça enquanto fazia esse jogo. O plot é uma baita bagunça (de um jeito bom), os personagens são DETESTÁVEIS e ainda sim você consegue nutrir um sentimento por eles (não por todo mundo mas por alguns).
O grind do jogo é exaustivo e é muito chato. Pra conseguir fazer os finais verdadeiros você precisaria pegar TODAS as armas do jogo e isso é um tanto quanto chato. Poderiam fazer um rework com algumas melhorias igual rolou com o Nier Replicant mas não sei se isso aconteceria com tanta coisa podre que rola no plot desse jogo
the combat and gameplay SUCK. but this game is so morbid and the story is just gruesome and it is intended to make you feel like shit etc etc BUT the compelling thing is excatly that. the characters are horrible, the setting is dystopic but the lore and ost hit home so much and yeah I love to suffer...
If you like weirder games, flying on the back of dragons and combat in droves, play this. I'm not telling you anything else about what happens in it, just do it.
Despite the objective rating covering its flaws (the controls, mainly), this is one of my personal favorites. There's just nothing quite like it, even games in the same series can't match the intangible feeling it has. Caim will always be one of my favorite protagonists.
Is the gameplay in this game fun? Nope.
Is the music good? Definitely not.
Does the story make sense? Not entirely, no.
Do these things blend together to create a game where you are kinda anxious and feel kinda disturbed the whole time? Oh, yeah.
Getting to ending E involved mashing a lot of Square and Triangle but you know what? It was worth it. Ending E has often been described as a joke ending but this is not on the level of Silent Hill 2's dog ending. This is a legitimately interesting, striking and off-putting ending that should not have been hidden beneath 50 hours of button mashing.
Anyway, this game utterly and completely blows. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
I remember writing a 2 star review of this game immediately after beating it. Several months later I saw that review and could not believe that was how I felt. Fortunately I never have to play it again so I can enjoy it how it is meant to be enjoyed. Retroactively.