Drakengard highlighted a big division between gamers. Some people absolutely loved its dark, chaotic style and the hack-and-slash “one-man army” gameplay. Others were grossly disappointed in the game, which was promoted by Square Enix as being a perfect blend of Action and RPG.
Wherever you fell on the split with the first game, that’s probably where you’ll stand with this one as well, except you’ll likely have a diminished opinion of this sequel compared to the original. So, if you hated Drakengard, you’ll really hate Drakengard 2. And if you loved Drakengard, well, you may or may not love Drakengard 2.
As for this reviewer, I thought Drakengard was a really great game, particularly its story and presentation. The first game’s biggest weakness was its controls, particularly the camera. This hardly improves with the sequel, and sadly, the outstanding components of the first game are either rehashed or absent in this sequel.
Drakengard 2 takes place 18 years after the original, following the events of the game’s first–and presumably canonical–ending. Four characters from the first game make their return, including the sibling pair Manah and Seere. However, in Drakengard 2, you play as Nowe, a young man raised by a black dragon named Legna (“Angel” backwards, that’s clever…). Nowe joins the “Knights of the Seal” at the behest of his recently-deceased mentor, Oror. The Knights of the Seal are in charge of the five “seals” around the world that keep the world in order. Should they break, the world will apparently fall into chaos. So Nowe is sent to the battle-lines to fight monsters and protect seals.
Until, one day, Nowe discovers that these seals are held together by sacrificing people. These “forced martyrs” are the remnants of the Empire, the “bad guys” from the first Drakengard. Since everyone hates the empire, many people turn a blind eye to this new genocide taking place to keep these seals in place. Nowe is sickened by it, and the Knights’ general, Gismor, takes notice. Worried that Nowe might side with the martyrs, Gismor decides to kill Nowe. However, the poisoned drink served to Nowe doesn’t quite do the trick, and as a result, Nowe now knows that Gismor wants him dead. He escapes, and ends up joining a small movement in breaking the seals, believing they are merely tools of oppression used to keep the Knights of the Seal in power. The leader of said movement is Manah, the scary little girl from the first game. Seere is the new “Hierarch,” or religious leader, for the Knights of the Seal. So, these two are on opposing sides.
Of course, there’s a love triangle here. Back at the “Knights of the Seal,” Nowe’s best friend Eris is left alone and confused. She eventually convinces herself that Manah is an evil witch with the power to brainwash young men (like Nowe) into following her. So who does Nowe like: the strong-willed and enchanting Manah, or the brash but obedient knight Eris? No, it’s not up to you, the player, to decide. Back to the story.
Generally, the story’s presentation is bland. Before and after missions, there are cut scenes with voiced dialogue. These cut scenes slowly bring the plot along, and they also provide some basic character development. But there is a lot lacking. The original Drag-On Dragoon, in its Japanese form, took on such taboo subjects as incest and pedophilia. While Square Enix attempted to censor these themes in the North American release, some bits of innuendo and suggestion could not be avoided. These controversial topics are not touched in Drakengard 2. Instead, we generally have the issues of sacrifice (that is, sacrificing others in the form of slaughter) and freedom, but these issues aren’t given due treatment. Our protagonist believes that actions speak louder than words, apparently, because he fights his way to his goal from beginning to end.
We are also given very little information about the motives of the game’s villains, and the game’s conclusions (there are three of them) are equally void of detail. Such a potentially rich fantasy world suffers when no one bothers to let the player know what’s going on, and instead has them hack and slash their way to victory time and time again. All in all, I was disappointed. Perhaps this is why Square Enix opted not to bring it to the US, giving Ubisoft the honor instead. I give the story a 65%.
Drakengard 2’s combat follows the premise of one person versus an army of villainous knights and monsters. Using gameplay similar to “Dynasty Warriors” on the ground and “Panzer Dragoon Saga” in the sky, Drakengard borrowed plenty from other popular games to create this Action RPG experience. Now, Drakengard 2 does little in the way of improvement. If you’ve played the first game, know that this is more of the same, with a few improvements. “Balance” is a key word, and there has been some improvement here. Skills and magic are now more easily manageable and execute better, and the growth/experience system is also balanced. Characters gain experience, as do the individual weapons they wield.
What makes the game fun is the seamless switching of characters. In some missions, you can be running around on a field, hit a button, and suddenly be up in the sky on your dragon, destroying things from above. Or you might change weapons from sword to staff, and now you’re playing as Manah, wiping out the enemy mages nearby. This experience is what kept me coming back for more. That and the boss fights, which I had to keep coming back to, since I would regularly lose.
What didn’t keep me coming back for more was the dull dungeon designs with equally dull puzzles (usually involving the flipping of a switch). Now, half of the game takes place in open fields and even more open skies, but the half that takes place indoors is generally frustrating due to its lack of creativity. RPG veterans will sigh when faced with these dungeons, because they’re as predictable as they are boring.
The game’s difficulty level was adjustable for the first playthrough (“easy” or “normal” were essentially your options). However, the second and third playthroughs have fixed difficulties, increasing each time. Of course, they are “New Game Plus” with inventory and stats carried over, but the question is, why would anyone want to play through the game three times? Well, unfortunately, it’s the only way to get to the game’s final ending. In my opinion, it’s not worth it. The game’s difficulty raising makes the repeated playthroughs way too unbalanced: it’s really easy at the beginning, but by the end, it’s absurdly difficult. Also, the different endings are hardly worth the time and effort put into the game.
There are a number of things Cavia could have done to make this a better gaming experience. Alas, they didn’t do enough, because I’m still giving gameplay a (relatively) low score of 77%. There you go.
Let me begin talking about control with this statement: camera controls are still awful. It’s almost more the fault of the genre (3D Action RPG) than it is of the developers, at this point. I can’t seem to find a game of this type that does manage the camera in a way I would like. But, when the camera’s swinging around like crazy and I don’t even know what it is I’m staring at, or what direction I’m facing, that’s a big problem.
The other control problem I found was with the execution of the various weapon skills. They involve no directional holding, just a progression of hitting the “square” and “triangle” buttons in a certain order. The problem is that there seems to be a rhythm necessary for each and every skill, but there’s no instruction as to what this rhythm is. It’s up to you to try over and over until you figure it out. I experienced this in the first Drakengard as well, but it seemed like a more pronounced problem this time around. I suspect the developers considered this a more refined system, but I struggle to see how it’s an improvement without giving some sort of instruction or tutorial on how to learn these rhythms.
Sky controls are another issue entirely. Again, the camera is a problem, but everything else feels pretty good. Once you learn to handle Legna’s movements and get all the advanced techniques down, it’s really an enjoyable experience. Kudos to Cavia for keeping this part of the game fun and exciting. If only they had taken the time and effort to bring drastic improvements to the other problems, rather than just build directly off of the first Drakengard. Camera problems hurt the score, dropping control to a 70%.
The game sports decent FMVs, but only average 3D in-game graphics. The screen shots only tell half of the story, of course. The motion and animation is really jerky. Not choppy, just jerky. Things move too fast to be considered lifelike. This complaint applies mostly to ground combat, and specifically to Nowe’s sword and Eris’s spear.
It was also obvious to me that Cavia put less time and effort into the graphics this time around. Re-used character models, fewer FMVs, less interactive cut scenes: sounds like they were cutting corners to me. It’s a shame, since the hand-drawn art for the characters gave me the impression that this game would be very “artistic” in a refined sort of way, contrasting the dark and chaotic images of the first game. It’s a shame the still character portraits are the only times we see this sort of art in the game.
Again, Cavia felt free to borrow from the previous game in plenty of places. A number of Aihara and Sano’s songs were ported to this game, with only a handful of new, original tracks (some written by Aoi Yoshiki) added to the game. Even the game’s vocal theme (Growing Wings) is a mere reworking of the melody from the previous game’s vocal. This time, the frantic and enigmatic song has been brought to a state of peace and resolution, with minimal accompanying instruments to accompany it. It’s interesting that Ubisoft chose not to use the newly-recorded song “Hitori” (a Japanese track that didn’t use the melody from “Exhausted,” the old Japanese theme song) and instead stuck with the softer version of “Growing Wings.”
The music is, for the most part, a decent experience. Though songs were hand-picked from the first game, Drakengard 2’s soundscape is generally much less cacophonous, which most people will agree is a good thing. However, many songs fail to stand out, and serve as basic background music for times of war. The melody that was used as the vocal theme is the one song that will stand out to most ears, and it is beautiful.
Voice acting in Drakengard 2 is hit or miss from character to character. Nowe, Legna, Eris, and Manah are all believable in their performances, and that’s a good thing, considering they speak more than any of the other characters. However, generic NPCs sound downright stupid at times, and some of the villains are voiced by actors who really go overboard with eccentricities, which is a classic pitfall for voicing anything animated.
The graphics and sound in Drakengard 2 are, as a package deal, good enough. Just good enough; not outstanding for late-PS2, and certainly not bad either. Hence, graphics get an 80%, as does the sound department.
In many ways, this direct sequel did what Final Fantasy X-2 did. Fans of the original want some resolution with Caim and Angelus, the heroes of the first game, and they’ll certainly get it, but not before they spend a bunch of time playing around with characters that don’t matter to them, and basically re-experiencing the plot of the last game (destruction of the seals was what carried the plot, if you do recall). It’s too bad, because Drakengard 2 could have been, and could have done, a lot more than it did.
I can’t imagine anyone purchasing this game without having played the original. And, sadly, it is the opinion of this reviewer that most fans of the original would be better off without this sequel. However, if you just can’t get enough of the one-vs-all hack-and-slash goodness, and you need something new to sink your teeth into, the sequel gets the job done. I award Drakengard 2 a 74%, and I hope Cavia either starts fresh with a new series, or brings drastic improvements on all fronts if they try to make another sequel. Currently, Cavia is working with Sakaguchi and Mistwalker on “Cry On,” so we can hope for better things to come there.