marino's Drakengard (PlayStation 2) review

Lots of Potential, But Poor Delivery

Drakengard is the latest title from Square Enix, but it's not what you've come to expect from Square.  Drakengard is a full-on hack'n'slash action game with some RPG elements thrown in.  But to add a bit of a twist (or to just muffle the monotany of constant hacking), you also get to hop on a dragon much like Panzer Dragoon Orta and annhilate hundreds of enemies via fireballs and dragon magic.  Panzer Dragoon + Dynasty Warriors makes for a cool idea, but even after several years in development, Drakengard doesn't quite live up to the standard of Square Enix. 
The game throws you in the heart of a war between two factions known as the Union and the Empire.  You play as Caim (pronounced like "lime"), a young knight defending his castle against the Empire.  The Empire is attacking your castle in order to claim a seal apparently keeps peace and order in the world.  The seal is guarded by a princess/goddess who happens to be your sister.  In the opening scenes, Caim sustains a mortal wound to his back during the war.  He stumbles back to the castle which has been sacked by the Empire and finds a dragon dying in the courtyard.  Caim immediately has flashbacks of a dragon slaughtering his parents, which just enrages him even further.  He raises his sword to finish off the dragon, but the dragon stops him.  Caim offers the dragon a death pact; that they join their souls to save one another despite their differences.  They both realize this is the only way they will survive, and Caim knows that with the power of a dragon, he has hope against the thousands of Empire soldiers.  The story is quite intriguing, but the gameplay is plain and repetitive.     
The first thing you'll notice about Caim is that he's obviously drawn by Square artists.  He just has that look about him.  The castles, surrounding fields, and overall environment and ambience of the game isn't quite up to par with what you would expect from Square, but it's close.  Nothing really stands out.  The spell effects are nice, but too many will cause some framerate slowdown.  On the other hand, the cut scenes are simply incredible...again, what we've come to expect from Square.  The only drawback in the graphics department is a big one.  The clipping plane or draw-distance, whatever you want to call it, is extremely short.  You can see for miles while riding the dragon, but you don't actually see the enemies until you're almost right on top of them, which gives you maybe two shots at them with fireballs instead of being able to fire at them from afar.  This becomes especially annoying when there are archers firing arrows up at you and you are contantly turning around in hopes of another shot at them.  The same problem occurs on the ground but it's less of a factor.  The problem may very well kill the experience of an otherwise great game for some people.  It's THAT noticable.     
Jump...Attack...Magic.  That's pretty much all you need.  It's simple, yet highly effective.  This type of game is repetitive by nature, so I can't really discount it too much for that.  By leveling up your weapons you will be able to link together larger combos and unleash finishing moves.  As a dragon, you can hold down the square button to lock onto multiple targets before spamming away.  And much like your weapons, the dragon will learn more attacks as you progress.  Toss in a few rolling dodge moves via L1 & R1, and you're all set.     
I'm not exactly sure what they were going for here, but it works for the most part.  The music is composed of rapidly played string instruments that I guess are supposed to ramp up the tension and anticipation as you slaughter hundreds of soldiers.  The problem is that there's not much else as far as sound goes.  The hundreds of soldiers seem to silently die, with the only noise beyond the sound of your blade slicing them in half or your magic setting them on fire.  The high point is the voice overs.  Again, top notch stuff from Square in that department.  The dragon is surprisingly un-cheesey, which is good since she talks alot (Caim loses his voice as a cost of making a pact with a dragon).     
Replay Value 
Again, this game isn't for everyone, but if you enjoy it, then you're in for a treat because there's a lot of content.  Drakengard features over 50 upgradable weapons, hidden characters like any RPG should, and of course hidden/alternate endings based on your performance.  You also can go back and play any level wish at any time, including some bonus Expeditions which are not related to the story much.  The Expeditions basically offer you a chance to level up some of your weapons before progressing the story, which is nice.     
I never really got into Dynasty Warriors much, but Panzer Dragoon Orta is one of the best games no one plays.  If you enjoy either of these two games, give Drakengard a rental.  It seems to have garnered some lower scores, but I'm actually enjoying it for the most part (draw-distance aside).  Drakengard is a game of mindless hackin' fun, with a dark provocative story and beautiful cutscenes that almost drowns out the monotanous gameplay mechanics. 
*** This review was written for shortly after the game's release. ***

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