A real drag.
From as far back as anyone can remember, the dragon has captured the imagination of man. This mythical beast has become a symbol of power, strength, and of course, arson. From big, scary dragons to James Bond dragons to this guy, the giant lizards continue to fascinate.
It seems that the people at Square/Enix have a thing for dragons as well; just consider their new game Drakengard, which combines aerial dragon combat with some serious beat "em up action. Will the creators of the acclaimed Final Fantasy series be able to fly high on the wings of this beast or will the whole plan just go down in flames? The answer isn't as simple as you might think.
The story chronicles the journey of a young warrior named Caim and his quest for vengeance again the Empire that destroyed his family. Sounds like pretty standard video game fare, but it's actually much more complicated than that. While staring death in the face, Caim was forced to make a pact with a Red Dragon on the brink of extermination. This joined their fates together at a high price and Caim wound up making a great sacrifice. Complicating matters is the fact that the Empire is trying to destroy the seals holding the world together, one of which is actually Furiae, Caim's last living relative. Now add a ton of other characters with bizarre ties to this already overwrought plot and you wind up with a strange, interesting story.
Too bad the rest of the game isn't as complicated. There are two basic parts to Drakengard's gameplay: aerial dragon combat and ground-based melee combat. Think of it as a combination of Panzer Dragoon and Dynasty Warriors. While this certainly sounds like a winner, it turns out otherwise.
The ground combat makes up the bulk of Drakengard, featuring just you against an endless stream of enemies in flat, featureless environments who will stop at nothing to send you to the "Game Over' screen. You'll start off with a basic sword, two attack buttons and the oh-so-annoying "huh, huh, HA!" combination. It gets a little better thanks to a large selection of weapons to upgrade with an increasing number of kills (RPG style), extra attack combinations and the ability to summon an ally to take your place in battle, but the whole thing is extremely repetitive, just taking you from one fight to the next. Hope your thumbs appreciate the X button.
The dragon combat is the more compelling of the two'barely. You essentially hop on the back of your winged pal and kill anything you see using either your average flame attack or a super magical attack that becomes available with enough Magic Points. Like in Panzer, you can lock-on to multiple targets at once and as you gain more experience your dragon will evolve into an even more powerful creature. Unlike Panzer, though, you are not delegated to a fixed rail and are able to freely explore. Your dragon is also equipped with a few slick moves of its own, giving it the ability to slip and slide around projectiles and spin on a dime. Unfortunately, expect the same redundant gameplay as you blast everything that moves over and over and over again.
As you might expect, the enemy AI is pretty much a no-show. Soldiers will just move into attack position and strike or be struck. As long as you mash those buttons like you're hopped up on crystal-meth, you won't have much of a problem wiping out entire armies. In both on-foot and in-air gameplay styles, Drakengard goes for enemy quantity over enemy quality and it ends up hurting what could have been a fun action game.
After completing a mission, you'll unlock a "Free Expedition" mode, which allows you to replay completed missions in order to gain more experience points to put towards a certain weapon. It's useful for sure, but the constant hack 'n slashing makes it hard to want to do any of it more than once.
Drakengard's visuals are, for the most part, satisfactory. You'll find some serious pop-up during the big battles, but with so many enemies on screen it's almost expected. What isn't expected is the fair amount of slowdown. At least the cut scenes are still the top-notch eye-candy we've come to expect from Square.
The repetitive nature of the game is definitely not helped by the repetitive music, which often sounds like it's stuck in a five-second loop. The sound effects and voice acting are decent enough.
While Drakengard combines two distinct gameplay styles, neither works well due to the awful AI and severe repetition. Enemy pop-up and some slowdown don't help either, but this dragon is kept alive with an interesting story and a plethora of upgradeable weapons to play with. If you're in the mood for some mindless enemy destruction, Drakengard delivers, but would-be dragonriders with more discerning tastes might want to give this beast a wide berth.