Drakengard 3's rough early hours give way to a singular, pleasantly weird experience.
|Publisher Square Enix|
|Developer Access Games|
|Release Date May 20, 2014|
Drakengard 3 refuses to make concessions in its brashness.
It hits the ground running with dirty humor and liberal use of swear words. It stars an angry, unlikable protagonist whose goal is to kill her own siblings. Every line of dialogue is either a shallow threat or blatant innuendo. There wasn't much I liked initially.
But despite its rough start, Drakengard 3 won me over. The combat options expanded significantly, forcing me to strategize more throughout battles. And though the story remains strange, it starts taking itself more seriously in a way that I appreciated. It's like a friend who is loud-mouthed and offensive in public, but every time you're alone, you realize they have a heart of gold.
Drakengard 3 — which mercifully doesn't require previous knowledge of Drakengard 1 and 2 to understand — opens on a mess of innuendo and oversimplified systems that initially repelled me. It follows the plight of an Intoner — a woman who utilizes magic by singing — named Zero. Zero is always angry, swears constantly and is unnecessarily cruel to her dragon companion Mikhail. Her attitude comes across in her goals as well: she's on a mission to hunt down and kill her five sisters in an effort to wipe out magic.
Both the visuals and dialogue regularly venture into gross territory. The camera lingers on mutilated corpses during cutscenes. One bit of combat dialogue consisted of a companion explaining how he maintained a lengthy erection. Another cutscene began with talk of battle tactics and ended with Zero announcing that she was menstruating. This unnecessary shock value had no context and added nothing to the game nor its story. The game almost lost me in this first half.
The early combat scenarios didn't help matters. At the start of the game, Zero has limited combat options, and enemies too easily get the upper hand. Knockback is unforgiving, sending Zero sprawling after random blows. Once knocked down, it can take as long as six or seven seconds for her to get back on her feet — long enough to get killed by relentless enemies. The auto-targeting is also unreliable, sometimes locking onto an enemy a dozen feet away while I was already sandwiched between four others.
visuals and dialogue regularly venture into gross territory
I took breaks from the regular melee fights to take to the air as Mikhail, but things only improved moderately. I had to control Mikhail's flight with one analog stick while aiming with the other and shooting fireballs with the face buttons. This setup was frustrating at first and my fingers cramped as I tried to choose my direction and fire at the same time. I eventually got a handle on the mechanic, but it never became comfortable, and boss battles often ended in me dropping the controller to flex my hands.
The biggest problem with these half-baked mechanics is the punishment for dying: having to sit through one of Drakengard 3's atrociously long load screens. Between areas and after dying, it often took the game over 40 seconds to load. The long loads not only wasted a lot of my time, they dragged down the game's brisk momentum.
But Drakengard 3 does get better. Good enough that I'm glad I stuck it out into the much more interesting and rewarding finale.
While the early game is thick with risque scenes and dialogue, they begin to taper off farther into the game. At the plot's sobering tipping point, the story shifts into a more serious second half. As Zero's demeanor softens, so does the heavy-handedness of the gore and sexualized dialogue. The game almost lost me in that first half.
The whole affair culminates in some of the strangest confrontations and resolutions I've ever seen bookending an action RPG. Drakengard 3's story is incredibly weird, but it's committed to that weirdness, embracing its bizarre plot. I struggled to hold back laughter during one boss fight against giant dick knights — literally huge knights shaped like penises — but the game was dead serious. Between the over-the-top absurdity of the game's creations and its straight-faced attitude toward them, my feelings shifted from annoyance to actually being amused.
Drakengard 3's story is incredibly weird
Drakengard 3's physical world is less imaginative than the wild story that takes place within it. A handful of generic environments — a snowy mountain, a desert, a jungle — are subdivided into smaller stages. Each stage is a linear path crammed with waves of oncoming enemies, with at least one checkpoint halfway through. Combat in these levels switches between hacking-and-slashing through oncoming opponents on the ground and aerial combat on the back of Zero's dragon.
The initially frustrating combat improves as Zero earns new weapons, which can be upgraded or traded for more powerful variations. Each weapon has its own set of attacks which become more powerful as Zero levels up. I enjoyed having the ability to cycle through weapons at my own pace, flipping rapidly or taking time with them individually.
The game rewards experimenting, as certain enemy types fall faster to certain weapons. Shielded enemies are weak to spears, while flying enemies will die quickly against chakrams. But even against regular foes, I felt powerful crushing through waves of different enemies and choosing whichever weapon I felt like for the job.
As combo chains rack up, Zero can activate Intoner Mode, which makes her invulnerable and ramps up her attack power for a short period of time. As enemies became harder, I began to depend almost entirely on Intoner Mode as it allowed me to quickly take out groups of lesser enemies and make large dents in more powerful ones. The special attack came especially in handy when I died in a stage and had to start over, allowing me to speedily grind back to the place I left off.
Drakengard 3's rough early hours give way to a singular, pleasantly weird experience
Drakengard 3's weirdness is its greatest asset. The narrative is intriguing, and the combat is fun enough, but it's the game's unapologetically unusual atmosphere that made me end up liking it. It almost lost me to the flood of colorful language and sex-crazed overtones, but those frustrating first few hours gave way to one of the most singular games I've ever experienced.
Drakengard 3 was reviewed using code provided by Square Enix. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews