Drakengard 2

Game Description: Drakengard 2 takes place 18 years since the world-shattering events of the original game. The Union has once again appeared, in the guise of a group known as the Knights of the Seal. It appears that the world has found peace, but it is a deceptive peace. Behind the scenes, thousands of powerless people are trampled in the name of the Seal. Join a young hero named Nowe as he bonds with his dragon and faces a threat that can destroy the world! The bond with the dragon, the loyalty of friends and the love of those who need protection all come together in a gripping tale.

Drakengard 2 Review

Drakengard 2 Screenshot

How can something that seems like such a no-brainer turn out to be so bad? Any normal person would think that riding a giant fire-breathing dragon and then leaping from its back into a massive battle filled with hordes of enemies would make a pretty interesting, action-packed experience. In the case of Drakengard 2, it's not.

Take the third-person "one soldier against an army" theme of Dynasty Warriors, add a flying dragon acting as transportation-slash-gunship, and then subtract every potential trace of excitement and energy. What's left is Drakengard 2.

Since this is a sequel, I suppose I should count myself lucky that I never got around to playing the first game. The graphics here are blandly amateurish with characters that animate like marionettes and environments sporting simple textures that were probably ripped out of a shareware library. I can understand that the PlayStation 2 is perhaps not the right console for gigantic battles with hundreds of soldiers displayed on-screen, but other games have already proven that the hardware can go this direction without the result looking like dog food. The draw distance here is also unforgivable; giant clumps of enemies are completely invisible until you're almost on top of them—it makes no sense with graphics as basic as this.

Ugly as it is, it could have been saved by engaging gameplay, but it handles about as good as it looks. When on foot, each character can equip a range of weapons that unlock dial-a-combos as they level up. Ripping through the opposition feels stiff and mechanical, with no sense of dynamism or the chaos of large-scale melee. The generic fantasy-styled enemies either gather around and wait their turn to be harvested like ripe wheat, or gang up to pull off frustrating juggle combos when in corners or tight spaces.

On dragonback from above, enemies appear like small dots on the ground. It's a simple matter to fly around and rain death from the skies, but it means almost nothing since it's difficult to feel powerful by moving a cursor and pushing a button to remove fleas. There are levels taking place completely in the air, but these are just as bad, if not worse, than the times when the dragon is attacking foot soldiers. For some reason, the developers think that going after a bunch of hovering gray cubes (the most common target) constitutes gripping gameplay. Between the heartless swordplay and blasting floating Lego blocks, I was stunned that the front end of the game was stuffed with missions functioning as the electronic form of Lunesta.

Combat gets a bit more intense after the first few hours, but not by much, and it's so painful to sit through the beginning hours of boredom and sub-mediocrity that I can't understand how Cavia would honestly expect anyone to stick around.

Dedicated players who can look past a multitude of flaws and enjoy a great story are also out of luck. The characters are flat and uninteresting, and the main storyline comes off as a self-important medieval costume drama. Perhaps an English major would find the subject matter to be vaguely engaging, but all the talk of lieutenants, honor, territory, peasants and so on meant less than nothing—it's almost as though some QA person worked overtime making sure that every aspect of the game was just as inane and vapid as the rest.

Drakengard 2 might have been passably acceptable as a first-generation effort, but it's totally unworthy today as the PlayStation 2 enters its golden years. I see no reason to purchase and play a mediocre amalgamation with no exceptional qualities to recommend it, though I guess I shouldn't be surprised because nearly every game employing dragons as anything but enemies ends up stinking. With the sole exception of Sega's Panzer Dragoon series, I can't think of any real winners. Drakan, Reign of Fire, Dragon Rage, Dragonseeds, and don't even get me started on that pastel marshmallow Spyro. Drakengard 2? Add it to the list. Rating: 3 out of 10

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: Mild Language, Violence. Parents should be aware that the game features the hero/heroine character using medieval-style weapons to take out huge groups of fantasy monsters and human opponents. The graphics are very basic and there's no explicit gore, but it's still fighting and killing. There is no questionable language or sexual content.

Fans of Dynasty Warriors, stick with that.

Fans of dragons, go read a novel or re-rent Dragonheart if you're pro- or Dragonslayer if you're anti-.

Fans of the first Drakengard… are there any?

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: You will have no problems. All spoken dialogue in the game comes with subtitling, and the action is so blah that not only are there no relevant audio cues, you could probably do well wearing a blindfold, too. At least it's accessible—I guess that's something.

Drakengard 2 Second Opinion

This review is irrelevant... like this game!

Drakengard 2 Screenshot

HIGH The moment early in the game where the main character must turn on his allies is almost perfect.

LOW The rest of the game is just downhill from there.

WTF Super Saiyans? In MY Drakengard?!

The original Drakengard was not a good game. Not by a long shot. Aside from a serviceable flight mode, it was essentially a Dynasty Warriors clone with a smaller moveset, only one playable character, no customization of stats, dumber enemy AI (amazingly, yes, dumber than hordes of Chinese soldiers running into the pointy end of your spear), and no objective more complicated than "kill mans." Having been released after fully FOUR Dynasty Warriors games, it's hard to imagine what the folks at Cavia were thinking when they created this game, and even more what Square Enix was thinking when they decided to publish it. Now, given the gravity of the confession I'm about to make, I should probably be telling it to a priest rather than including it in a review on the Internet, but it is what it is: I loved Drakengard.

For all of its failings, Drakengard had one saving grace. It had the most tangible atmosphere in any game I have ever played. The world of Drakengard is a world of futility and disappointment, and the music, cut-scenes, and yes, even the gameplay all seemed to be striving in unison to convey this thematically. For such a critically flawed game, it had an impressive harmony of design that I have rarely witnessed before or since.

Now the fact that I've spent more time waxing poetic about its predecessor than talking about the game I'm supposed to be reviewing probably indicates how I feel about the sequel, but just so there's no confusion, I'll be clear. Drakengard 2 is not a good game...though the reasons for this differ from the first.

It seems the folks at Cavia were informed somewhere along the way that their Dynasty Warriors clone was garbage, perhaps by actually playing it themselves, and sought to remedy this issue. To an extent, they succeeded. The gameplay in Drakengard 2 is a smoother experience than in the first installment, and actually approaches something akin to fun from time to time. The new blood, Nowe, hacks apart hordes of no-name goons with as much gusto as Caim did, only this time he brought playable friends. In addition to having a different fighting style, each character excels against specific types of enemies, giving the player some incentive to switch things up during missions.

Missions themselves have been improved too. In the original, the objective rarely, if ever, deviated from kill these (hundreds of) specific braindead targets. Here, there are time limits on completing certain tasks and minor puzzle solving from time to time. It's nothing exciting, but it adds a little something to keep your eyes from glazing over.

Drakengard 2 Screenshot

Herein lies Drakengard 2's principal gameplay flaw. It seems content to do just enough to keep you from falling asleep in your chair, and nothing more. A perfect example of this is the flight missions, which are virtually identical to those in the original. I suppose the fact that they were already kind of all right meant that Cavia couldn't be bothered to improve on it at all. The minor gameplay enhancements in the ground mode of the game do make the game less painful, but "less painful" and "actually enjoyable" aren't synonymous.

I'd be lying if I said I ever expected much of Drakengard 2, though. Something about the absolutely abortive gameplay of the original told me I'd only be setting myself up for disappointment if I had. What I did expect was another heaping helping of the dismal, depressing and oh so delicious atmosphere of the first. It is in this aspect that Drakengard 2 commits its most grievous sin.

It's hard to imagine someone who has played the first game looking forward to playing the sequel because they loved the gameplay. It's less hard, but still pretty difficult, to imagine someone buying Drakengard 2 without having ever played the first, given that it garnered a lukewarm critical reception at the time of it's release. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and posit that the majority of people interested in the sequel were looking forward to a reprisal of the of thematic elements of the original.

Drakengard 2 tosses all of this out of the window with a banal story about a young boy with superpowers leaving and later opposing a secretly evil order of knights who basically rule the world. If it left it at that, it would have merely been bad, but the way in which they squander opportunities for greater depth of story borders on offensive. The game is surprisingly timid about stepping into the gray areas that were so commonplace in the original. The resurfacing of a main villain, this time as an ally, and the story of Nowe's birth and upbringing are both situations that could have resulted in some interesting conflicts. However, the game essentially presents these facts and then leaves them alone, as if they create depth just by being present.

The rest of the story content is fluff about righteousness, destiny, fanservice-y character cameos, love blossoming on the battlefield, and the dangers of evil techno dragons who live in a borg cube, all of it torn straight from the pages of the generic anime playbook.

It may seem petty to criticize a game so heavily for failing to replicate the feel of the original, but Drakengard is a game where the only thing it had going for it was its feel. The gameplay of Drakengard 2, while slightly better than its predecessor, is still leagues behind competitors in the genre, and the only chance it had of setting itself apart from the other games languishing alongside it in bargain bin hell was a casualty of these minor improvements. Rating: 3.5 out of 10.

—by Trent Fingland

Disclosures: This game was obtained via purchase and reviewed on the PS2. Approximately 30 hours of play were spent on the game, and it was completed one time.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and violence.When they said blood, they weren't kidding. The game has tons of it. On the other hand, it contains no mature themes to speak of, so depending on one's stance on exposing teen to violent games, it could go either way. Parents will probably want to keep younger kids away regardless.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: While the ground missions are fine for anyone to play, I noticed that while sound wasn't explicitly necessary for the flight missions, I found myself relying on it almost exclusively for reacting to certain types of enemies. These missions ARE mandatory, so unless they are willing to put up with a not-insignificant amount of frustration, those with hearing issues are advised to avoid the game. Besides, it's terrible anyway!