In a world where dragons soared the skies, two warring factions waged wars. On one side is the Empire, a large nation with a massive force of possessed soldiers, on the other side is the Union, a coalition of states and provinces to rise up against the Empire. With numbers and madness on the Empire’s side, the Union faces insurmountable odds in their quest to protect Furiae — the goddess of the world. Near death, Caim ended up making a pact with a red dragon he found captured in an enemy stronghold. With his newfound powers, the fate of the world lies upon him.
Drakengard has it’s own lore and mythology, and straight from the very first game in the series, you are already welcomed with the unsettling charm that only Yoko Taro games are so good at — drawing you into it’s world.
Drakengard possesses the same ability that many of it’s successors will also borrow from — foreboding atmospheres, the ability to engage players into the world yet not without a sense of apprehension and fear. Though this style was still in it’s infancy at this point, as you can see Drakengard is a little… ambitious, and the whole game became a lot more chaotic than it needed to be. Drakengard is almost all shock without the substance, though it’s so committed to them that it demands nothing but the utmost attention.
While other games may boast more optimistic stories of character growth and development, Drakengard is a little tricky in this case. Since Caim is essentially mute, most of what we know of Caim’s mindset come from his body language and from what we can piece together from the dragon’s soliloquies. Caim’s entire driving force behind his actions is vengeance, and the more of his closest companions he lost, the more his penchant for violence and bloodlust grew. As you would expect of Yoko Taro who has a habit of going against the trend — he opted more for character regression.
What’s interesting is that the dragon is essentially Caim’s mouth, as most of the conversations with other characters are carried through the dragon. They share one body and soul, maybe even in the literal sense (since they did form a pact). These two are the ones you obviously spend the most time with, so it goes without saying that their dynamics are by far the most intriguing in the game. As far as characters are concerned, Caim’s ongoing relationship with the dragon is the definite star in this department.
Unfortunately what actually brings Drakengard down is it’s gameplay. Drakengard is a hack-and-slash genre reminiscence of the Musou games like Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. But unlike the Musou games, Drakengard is somehow more rougher around the edges and is closer to a PS1 action game in performance. It’s overbearingly draggy and in battles, you will find yourself slashing through thousands and thousands of abominations and it’s unpolished mechanics doesn’t make your task any easier.
In ground missions, Caim can attack, jump, dodge and block, which is fine, until you realize the entire thing is just too rigid to make battles any fun, and there’s also the wonky camera system to make matters worse. The ability to obtain and equip different weapons, each with their own styles and magic does help in giving you some needed variety and edge in combat. Although to build up these weapons, you have to grind their levels, which means undertaking the incredibly joyful task of mindlessly killing hordes of enemies again with said weapons. There are some plot-heavy stages where the camera switches to an isometric-style for some reason, and enemies became much more weaker, which seems rather pointless.
The game also has something called air missions. A flight simulation-style gameplay where you get to ride on your dragon and shoot down airborne enemies, which sounds pretty cool, but again, an unpolished execution doesn’t make for a particularly enjoyable experience. Riding on a dragon sounds cool on paper, but it actually feels like playing a poor-man flight simulator with poorly implemented controls and rigid mechanics that makes air missions just as much daunting as ground missions. Strangely enough, even if you’re on a ground mission, you also have the option to catch a ride on your dragon as well, if you choose to forsake engaging your enemies on foot and instead burn them all to ashes with your dragon.
So in short, Drakengard is a mixture of genres — hack-and-slash, isometric action, flight simulation and so on. If you played any newer Yoko Taro games, you would know he likes “genre shifting”, but again, since this is his first major game — Drakengard is all over the place. The transition between genres felt super disjointed, and don’t even get me started on that last boss fight on Ending E… I still have no idea what happened (lol).
On top of that, gameplay just feels extremely slow in general. I suppose games during this era have a certain rawness to them that makes them incomparable to modern games. But I swear even slashing a thousand enemies in Dynasty Warrior feels like a breeze compared to what I went through in the plodding Drakengard.
Since Drakengard has such a bad gameplay, you might be thinking maybe it has some nice tunes to make your job a little easier. Apparently not! Drakengard uses backing tracks during battles that are less music but more loops. And I mean just few-second loops at that. I swear the ridiculously dramatized melodies on infinite loop makes me want to tear my ears apart. If their intention was to make us lose just as much sanity as the characters in-game, they definitely succeed.
Even compared to the games of the same era, Drakengard looks fairly dated. Terrible draw distance, monochrome scheme and repetitive stage designs add to the stress of completing stages aside from the unpolished gameplay and annoying music. Characters move slowly and clumsily, almost like they just couldn’t put up with the game’s bullshit anymore. Although the cinematic cut scenes look amazing, even by today’s standard.
Drakengard is a poorly-designed game that rely solely on it’s story and characters, and even that is far from perfect. In fact, Drakengard is just all over the place. It was an interesting experience however and you can see which elements have been inspired, reused and polished in Nier and Nier: Automata. Though when all is said and done, Drakengard’s imperfections gave it an impression of rawness and chaos that oddly fits the game’s atmosphere. The game obviously hasn’t aged well though, so I’m not sure I would recommend it. I suppose if you’re feeling masochistic…