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.

Brad Gallaway
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