(Originally written in September of 2014.)
The Drakengard series has been a briefly-standing adversary of mine.
The first game came out in 2004 in North America, so the series itself is a decade old, but I only touched on it earlier this year as a curiosity, when I found myself in possession of a copy after Drakengard 3 was released in May. I started it around June 23, and had managed to upload a video of me clearing the final boss, the Grotesquerie Queen, on June 30. It took me enough tries that I started recording every attempt for the sake of posterity. Something like a 47-long string of inputs in the span of 30 seconds. It took way too many tries, and that’s as specific as I need to remember thanks to having video of my success.
I’m writing this after a week and a half of off-and-on attempts at the final boss of Drakengard 3, having just finally laid the 7-minute rhythm segment to rest. Having just come off a 70-hour Tales of Xillia 2 streak, the rough mechanical workings of Drakengard 3 (henceforth referred to as D3) were a little jarring to my sensibilities, but having played the messy original Drakengard (henceforth referred to as D1), I adapted well enough to the considerably more pliable controls.
While D1 cribbed from the informally-named musou subgenre of hack ‘n’ slash games in its missions’ large maps with target troops to pursue/destroy, D3 borrows a gameplay schema from something more akin to Devil May Cry, perhaps. Largely linear maps where you have to face a gauntlet of enemies to progress, sometimes with jumping puzzles also barring the way (which Zero, the protagonist, comments on readily and frequently). You use four weapons to battle humanoid enemies and larger foes, such as cerberuses, giant golems, and ogres, all of which are a giant pain in the ass. Every single enemy is more immune to hitstun than any other series’ design philosophy would indicate is a good idea, and while the dodge button gets you some distance from attacks, I have never experienced the invulnerability frames the loading-screen tip for dodging mentions. They also removed the magic abilities tied to weapons that made D1 less of a slog, which kind of irked me.
This ties into why I consider my relationship (and all players’, really) with the Drakengard series an adversarial one; the design choices present in the games are hardly easy on the player. In both D1 and D3, the final branch requires the player to collect all the weapons in the game, which was absolutely atrocious for D1 and only a marginal extra grind for D3. In D1, weapons were unlocked in story missions and free expeditions by fulfilling specific and often unstated requirements, and there was a whopping 65 to collect before Ending E could be pursued. It was a harsh game to complete, and I felt no shame in using a guide to do so. D3 simply held some weapons in the shop, some in chests scattered throughout levels, and some behind side-missions that were good to do anyway.
Upon obtaining all weapons, the player is then subjected to the most ruthless boss in both games; the Grotesquerie Queen in D1, and the Six Queens in D3. Both radically change the gameplay to a simple Simon Says affair, which quickly escalates to become unnecessarily difficult; in D1 it becomes a two-button mash-fest, and in D3, it turns to a matter of keeping a beat and hitting a rhythm. The former takes a mere two minutes and thirty seconds, while the latter requires you to endure a seven-minute sequence of pressing buttons to a beat with no margin for error!
Drakengard 2 and Nier are also entries in this franchise, but I have not had… the pleasure of playing either as of yet. I don’t intend to play Drakengard 2; having read the LP of it was good enough for me, especially with how (rightfully, in my opinion) dismissive the LPer of it was in his D1 LP. I do plan to play Nier, however, as far off as that may be with the price of it still hovering somewhere in the $40–50 range and my current empty wallet. It was my interest in D3 and Nier that prompted my consumption of D1, and I don’t think I regret it. My spirit has not broken from beating both D1 and D3 in the span of four months, and I take some pride in that.
Both games deal with some stuff rather nonchalantly, and I’m rather fond of them for that. In D1, you follow the exploits of murderous mute sociopath Caim in his pursuit of his sister Furiae, during which he carves a bloody trail through the opposing Empire. There’s a stage devoted to slaughtering child conscripts, there’s a fairy genocide, there’s an apocalypse by giant stone babies… The party members you recruit are a blind pedophile, an elf woman who’s also a cannibal and fond of the flesh of children, and a child who will never grow up. In one branch, Furiae is revealed to bear romantic feelings for Caim, which he rejects, leading her to commit suicide via dagger to the heart. It’s a really dark game through-and-through, including the stories attached to the weapons which are often comprised of death and destruction of people consumed by demons’ powers or their own greed and bloodlust.
Meanwhile, D3 addresses sex in such an unceremonious way that it’s absolutely admirable. All but one of the ladies have all the agency in the relationship with their disciple, much to the chagrin of two of the disciples. Once they join your party, Zero and company sometimes allude to nights spent together, though they are less candid about it when Mikhail, the immature dragon, is within earshot. It’s refreshing to have a woman with such control and a game with such a casual stance on sexuality. There are far less drastically dark events than in D1, but that’s an artifact of a more pointed narrative compared to D1’s necessary breadth for the nature of Caim’s pursuit.
The Drakengard series holds a weird and new-found place in my heart, and it’s mainly because it’s such an earnestly crude series. The series’ director, Yoko Taro, had a GDC talk entitled “Making Weird Games for Weird People” and I totally get it. It’s abnormal, it doesn’t adhere to some industry precedents, it does weird and violent things with the story, and it revels in all of it. Drakengard 1 had a scene where the child-cannibal elf woman was consumed by giant stone apocalypse-babies. Drakengard 3 opened up the game proper with a scene where a dragon who was playing in mud pissed himself. What does Nier hold in store? I’ll see, someday, but for now, I’m content with having confronted the grotesqueries and come out the victor. Even if that did mean me realizing Drakengard 3 was just a several-layer-deep joke about defloration.