It's been quite some time since the release of Drakengard 2, 8 years in fact, but that hasn't stopped Drakengard 3 from arguably being the most anticipated game in the franchise's history. This was, in part, due to the success of Nier, a spin-off title that released towards the start of 2010, but that's not discredit the niche that Drakengard has carved for itself under the guidance of Taro Yoko, who reprises his role as director for Drakengard 3.
Acting as a prequel, Drakengard 3 takes place approximately one hundred years before the events of the original Drakengard. It sees you playing as Zero, an Intoner (powerful songstress) who is on a quest to kill all of her Intoner sisters and claim their power for herself.
Although everything seems quite clear as you play through the game "“ you're trying to kill your sisters "“ nothing is quite what it seems. However, while this is quite a common trend for games in this series, the initial premise doesn't seem as strong. Zero is very much positioned as an antihero and the game doesn't hide from this as you progress, there just doesn't seem that much drive behind your actions. Perhaps it's because Zero doesn't have a supporting cast that grows with her. Although there are lots of additional characters, their personalities don't develop that much beyond a bit of banter while progressing through levels. This is perhaps most evident with Mikhail, a character they could have done a lot more with.
Once you complete the game and start delving into the various endings, that's when elements become clearer and it's at this part in the game that the story seems a lot more worthwhile. It's just a bit disappointing that it takes so long to get to that point, as it feels as though the main campaign should have had more substance. But that shouldn't take away from what is ultimately a good experience.
The game offers up a level-based approach, with chapters split into verses. It's by tackling these verses that you will delve into the gameplay and start mowing down plenty of faithful Intoner lackeys. At first, you will only have access to a sword, but as you unlock more disciples, you will unlock three new weapons. This doesn't sound all that expansive until you realise that there are quite a few different weapons to unlock within these categories and that different weapons within a category will cause Zero to attack in different ways. Oh, and you can upgrade weapons too, which adds an extra dimension to proceedings.
A lot of the game falls into hack n' slash territory, with Zero able to dispatch normal enemies with relative ease. You will do this through a combination of light and heavy attacks, but it's also prudent to throw some dodging and blocking/counter attacked into the mix for good measure. This is very important for the various bosses, whether they are one-off or recurring, as the game has no real difficulty level. Instead, it works on a rather interesting premise. If you die, the level is classified as too difficult and therefore, if you choose to continue the difficulty is adjusted accordingly. More deaths, more ease of passage.
There isn't all that much wrong with this element of the gameplay. It feels a little bit ropey sometimes, but it's more than functional and gives you the ability to string together some decent combos, as well as switching weapons on the fly.
The other side of the experience comes when Mikhail is required. This will see you either engage in an on-rails shooter, albeit rarely, or a more common approach which sees you able to fly around an arena and engage with an enlarged foe. Both of these gameplay modes are functional, although they again don't feel all that great. The on-rails aspect is perhaps the least enjoyable part to play, which is probably why it appears a lot less than anything else.
The addition of the whole music/rhythm section also needs a mention, as it's just strange and annoying. It's difficult to explain why this was necessary in the game, other than to frustrate, but it's in there, so enjoy that if you're going for all endings.
Music is a clear strong point for the game. There are lots of plus points, from the inclusion of "The Silence is Mine", to MONACA returning and the addition of Emi Evans to key pieces throughout the game's soundtrack. Comparisons with Nier will be made, but those comparisons aren't fair as Drakengard 3 is a very different game. Presentation suffers, perhaps due to the usage of the Unreal Engine. Although it's not bad at all times, there are some instances where the frame-rate drops to the point where the game just isn't playable. It's a shame, and it is isolated, but it does exist and when it does, it sullies the experience somewhat.
The main story won't take all that long to get through, but when you add in the different endings and side-quests, you're looking at a game which will take around 15-16 hours to get through. It's a decent length, but it's a shame there isn't a lot more depth through some more extensive side-quests.
Drakengard 3 is a strong Action RPG, which features a memorable protagonist, plenty of crudeness and some enjoyable audio presentation. It does feature a weak story on the surface and some below par gameplay elements, but as an overall package, everything comes together in the end.
|Zero is a great protagonist/anti-hero.|
|Weapons offer a good degree of variation with the gameplay.|
|Soundtrack has some real high-points.|
|That damned music/rhythm segment.|
|The framerate drops.|
|There's a lack of development with the supporting cast.|