Drakengard 3: Slasher action, girls with flowers for eyes, and a sequel eight years in the making

Takamasa Shiba and Taro Yoko are not your typical Japanese game designers. The two Drakengard titles they collaborated on for the PlayStation 2 are...well, without giving away too much, they are really freaky fantasy-action games, with world settings and story developments that are as mind-blowing as they are head-scratching. (2010's Nier, which Yoko also directed, was exactly the same in style.)

Both Drakengard and Nier are cult hits among a certain subset of gamer culture. But why did Square Enix announce a third Drakengard game for the PlayStation 3 now, a good eight years after the last one in the series?

The answer that producer Shiba gave Famitsu magazine in an interview published this week was part philosophical, part practical. "Everyone around us is saying that the Japanese game market is shrinking, particularly on the console side," he said. "To me, hearing that just brings up a big question mark, because the gamers I chat with regularly are all enjoying the games, and I think this type of gamer is actually growing. The problem is that right now, there's a very firm boundary between games that sell and games that don't at all. I do think that the market for games aimed at general audiences is shrinking, but at the risk of being misunderstood, I think I see more gamers around me now and it's just the number of users who occasionally play 'light' games that's falling. That's the impression I have, and that's what got me started on speaking with Yoko about a Drakengard sequel."

"I had actually brought a proposal for Drakengard 3 to Shiba right around the time the PlayStation 3 was released," Yoko added. "But at the time he told me 'I don't feel like making a console game right now'. That proposal, after many twists and turns, basically wound up becoming Nier, so to me, Nier basically is Drakengard 3." (Shiba, in his defense, explained that the proposal went nowhere at first because the parent company of Cavia, the developer, was undergoing some turmoil at the time.)

Not a lot has been revealed about what Drakengard 3 will be like, save for little bits and bobs. There's an official Japanese website up now, revealing character art for the main characters-including Zero (above), who's got a flower growing out of her eye. "That's...just for show," Yoko said. "It's something that [character designer] Kimihiko Fujisaka came up with. I realize that people may feel excluded if there's a ton of stuff that only previous players would get. So the game world we're providing is something that works under new rules and is aimed at new players, but series fans can also enjoy it. That's the kind of balance we're aiming for. Nier was a brand-new title as well, but it connected a little with Drakengard; that's the sort of thing we're after here."

"I was against it until pretty much the end," Shiba added. "The hero's a woman and there's this flower on her, and I thought that may have turned off series fans. Still, if we could make that part of the story, I figured it'd be easier for gamers to picture, so I asked Yoko to try and get it in there."

Shiba declined to discuss any details on the new game's battle system, although he did reveal that the player will have companion characters on his or her side during the fight sequences. Instead, he and Yoko spent most of the interview talking about the title's story and setting-which makes sense, considering that that's what gamers remember Drakengard and Nier for the most.

"Unlike Nier, there are no villages or towns," Yoko said. "Instead, you have multiple characters showing up and moving the story along, going around and killing things. You have a lot of slashing up going on, and in the end it's turning out pretty weird. I have this really big sense of excitement over how it'll turn out, although I'm not completely sure yet that it'll be interesting to play."

"What impressed me about Drakengard was how it kept on receiving praise long after its release," Shiba added. "If you play that game expecting some kind of orthodox action title, you definitely would have had your hopes betrayed in unexpected ways. It's not what you'd expect, but it'll still oddly resonate with you. That was true for Nier too, but the best praise for the game was reserved for the story and game world that Yoko created. That's exactly the sort of thing I'm having Yoko focus on for this project."

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