Developed by Access Games
Published by Square-Enix
Originally released in Japan in 2013 as Drag-On Dragoon 3
If you think that Dynasty Warriors is atrocious, you’d have a real field day with Drakengard 3. Imagine the worst game in that series, but super-linear, ugly, and extremely poorly optimized, with no more than a dozen enemies on the screen and the battlefield feeling like a barren wasteland. There’s some fun to be had with real-time weapon switching, parries, and airdashes, but it all devolves into “been there, done that” far too quickly—special thanks to the bad enemy design, which is varying from boring to awful: Some standard cannon fodder, some annoying projectile spammers, some guys with predictable charge attacks you always dodge and counter in the same way, some forgettable midbosses with uninteresting patterns. Numerous sidequests are either mindless slaughters or poorly planned challenges, boss battles are all far too simple (apart from one which deserves its own long rant), and dragon sections have nothing on good, old Panzer Dragoon. With how mindless they are, they feel like some early alpha version scattered by the development team at the last-minute.
With its inferior combat, Drakengard 3 has to rely entirely on dialogues and cutscenes that never get anywhere close to the heights of Nier—previous game from cult director Yoko Taro, which had much better worldbuilding and a memorable, powerful plot twist—but are surprisingly enjoyable nonetheless. You play as Zero, a female version of Conan who slays her sisters and takes their men to serve her as warriors and sex buddies. What awaits you is moments of surprising black comedy, blunt discussions about fleshmongering that Bioware writers wish they were skilled enough to pull off, and likeable attempts at fourth wall breaking. The game is far from being a literary masterpiece, of course, but witty dialogues translated by renowned localization team 8-4 kept me marching on, curious what’s going to happen to Zero’s band of misfits next. The voice acting is also nice, with my favorite character being Mikhail, Zero’s dragon with the mind and voice of a small kid whose childish naivety serves as a great contrast with dark, gritty and violent world.
You could argue that the third Drakengard sounds better than it plays—especially given that its music was composed by Keiichi Okabe, whose great soundtrack disappoints only because it falls short of the sky-high standards of his earlier works. The question is, do you really want to play an atrocious Dynasty Warriors clone to experience these things? Those who liked the original Drakengard and its twisted world will probably be cool with surviving a lot of crap for story’s sake, but most of you reading this? As in, “normal” people? I don’t think so. Especially since “25 hours of Drakengard 3 constantly trying to lampshade its terribleness with charming dialogue” culminates in a final sequence whose sole purpose seems to be pushing the player to the brink of suicide. (Spoilers ahead.) Let me put things into perspective: I’ve died…maybe two times during the entire campaign, mostly due to my carelessness caused by the overall low difficulty. I’ve died 120 times on the final boss.
The whole game is a simple slasher, and this final level—where you save the world from a huge version of Zero by countering her magic rings with a mystical barrier—uses only one button and the mechanics of a rhythm game. “Well, alright, a sendoff to the original Drakengard“, you may foolishly think, but that’s when you die for the first time thanks to the weird camera perspective or not feeling the equally weird rhythm. Yes, one hit is all that it takes. And you don’t want to die when it leads to 50 seconds of loadings and cutscenes. As you bite your lip and learn to play, her sisters appear one by one and the beat starts becoming more and more difficult to follow, and soon, you realize that even the camera wants to kill you. It starts spinning around, it decides to do weird close-ups on sisters’ models when you really need to see how far the rings are from your dragon, it gets so far away you don’t see where your character is, it suddenly shoots up to the sky when an especially difficult section is coming up. Game over. 50 seconds of waiting. Game over. 50 seconds. It took me 60 tries to become numb to the pain. The whole song is eight minutes long, mind you.
You writhe in pain as you learn the song by muscle memory. Finally, the bizarre spectacle ends and everything slows down, requiring you to precisely hit slow notes as the screen becomes darker and darker. When your screen becomes black and the final dialogue starts playing, two rapid stealth notes you can easily confuse for a single sound play. And then, one more while your character speaks…all of this while the screen is black and you have no visual indication of when you need to press the button. You failed? Time to do it all over again. You wanna learn the timing? Play the eight-minute-long sequence over and over again until you get it. Incredible. It’s so skillfully crafted in its terribleness, I’ve got to admit that Stockholm Syndrome kicked in when I realized the scale of bullshit that’s going down here. Because, the way it’s awful and absolutely hateful towards the player, it’s kinda…beautiful? Yeah, Stockholm Syndrome.
Nier will keep finding new fans as a hidden gem of the passing console generation, but Drakengard 3 won’t be as lucky—people will be recommended to “just read a Let’s Play” instead of playing the game, and the final boss will appear once or twice on Cracked’s or GameFAQs’ clickbait Top 10 lists of the hardest final bosses. Hence, two-out-of-five—but with a kiss.