Square Enix is most famous for its Final Fantasy series. Soon to be in its twelfth iteration, they have really built the company around this hugely popular franchise so when they do something new and different they have the almost impossible task of living up to the high quality and design values of Final Fantasy. Drakengard is their latest project, and while it doesn't have the quality of Final Fantasy, it does have some aspects which will be familiar to fans of the series.
Drakengard is set in ancient times where dragons still roamed the lands and an ongoing war between two factions is taking place; the Union and the Empire. Sounds a bit like a modern day workers strike. They are fighting over a woman, who is the keeper of the peace in the world and keeps it all in harmony. As well as needing to protect this woman, the story revolves around four seals which can make or break the human race in the land which the game is set. So you take control of a young soldier/knight who tries to protect this woman, who turns out to be his sister, yet he doesn't know and keep the enemy away from these seals.
They say that first impressions last and Drakengard gives perhaps the worst case scenario in this regard. The game begins with you taking control of Caim and hacking and slashing your way through tens if not hundreds of soldiers into the castle walls to get back and try to protect the special woman. Drakengard can be divided into two main mission sequences; on foot, riding a dragon or a combination of both. It becomes quite repetitive quickly and the only thing that really saves it from becoming overly monotonous is the RPG elements contained within the game.
As you progress further into the game you meet up with new characters who help you defeat the empire and help Caim in a bad situation. If Caim is almost dead, you can start to use one of the other characters in his place until he recovers. Although for some reason when doing this the health of the character in use slowly degenerates, even if they aren't being hit by an enemy. Obviously the developers wanted to put the main focus on Caim. As you battle enemies Caim will gain experience points, but unlike a traditional RPG these are not calculated until the end of a mission and thus he does not receive the level up and improvements that go with it in the midst of battle. The dragon which features throughout the game also uses this system to level up and both caim and the dragon have a limited amount of health.
So really missions either consist of running around destroying the enemies or flying around destroying the enemies. You can dismount the dragon to get right into the thick of the action, and sometimes this is forced by the upcoming environmental aspects such as trees in a forest. This is where one of the disappointments shines through The dragon can not cause destruction to the surrounding environment. So a strategy of setting the forest on fire to defeat the enemies within does not work and you are once again forced to run through hacking a slashing your way more enemies to reach your goal. The game won't let you just run past either in some cases because most events are triggered by the last enemy being killed. This isn't a good idea anyway because the weak enemies, despite being boring to kill over and over again, offer good experience points to improve the abilities of caim.
As you progress through the game you will also come across numerous weapons to choose from. These, like Caim and the Dragon, level up from time to time and again only happens during the completion of a mission. Although you will find yourself coming across a variety of weapons, because of the level up system you will most likely find yourself resorting to the same one for each mission as it will become the most powerful due to experience. This system does not really offer the chance to use a variety of weapons as the lesser used ones will be less effective against tough enemies.
The AI of the game isn't great. The enemies rely on numbers and charging towards you rather then brains and trying to take cover. Also something which increases the monotony of the task is the fact the enemies seldom differ in look. You will find groups of enemies plus a commander with the commander only having a few distinct differences to point him out. In theory you only have to kill the commanders to progress because that probably breaks the morale of the other troops, but in practice you will most likely find yourself killing most of the enemies just to get to the commander units.
Thankfully the environments you battle in do change. You begin fighting in a castle like environment where the special woman hides till you come and rescue her before moving onto forests and other places. Although this changes the game a little, the main task still remains defeat all enemies, level up and keep the special girl safe. You will also fight with the dragon in the skies and this is one of the more repetitive sides of the game however it does display just how easy it is to control the dragon and make sharp turns etc.
The graphics overall are fairly uninspiring but do the job they are designed to do well. They aren't going to win the artists awards though. However Square Enix' trade mark full motion video sequences are here and are stunning as ever with some truly astonishing art and animation featured throughout. In the actual game sequences the frame rate remains stable but as mentioned before the enemies are quite repetitive and don't have much detail. Perhaps the most bland area of the game is flying with the dragon at high altitudes where all you can see is enemy airships and other structures, at the lower altitudes you can see the lands below however. Sound effects are fairly sparse except for sword hitting flesh or metal etc and there is no voice acting in the game, with text replacing voices.
No multiplayer has been included but an extra, crucial game mode has been included. We say crucial because it is a mode which can easily help you progress further in the game. It allows you to play missions from any that you have already completed and still gain experience points. In a way this is a replication of the random boss battles from Final Fantasy which can help you level up to defeat a boss character or progress further into the game.
Drakengard generally isn't a bad game but considering the lofty expectations most gamers have of the Square Enix developers, it may come as a disappointment. The RPG elements keep the game from getting overly repetitive but at the very basic level, the game is a monotonous task of defeating enemies to progress further. It is likely the more you play, the bad taste left from the first impression will decrease but it is unlikely you will get into this game as much as you would one from the Final Fantasy series such as Final Fantasy VII. One to rent first definitely.