Will they ever stop? Ever since Dynasty Warriors awakened us to the joys of slashing hundreds of hapless soldiers in one go, chaotic army-vs-army slash 'em ups just haven't stopped coming. The problem is that most of them are just this side of utterly repetitive, requiring little more than saintly patience and compulsive tapping of that square button.
The original Drakengard had a little more going for it, with a weird, disturbing story and mid-air shooting sequences in which you rode a dragon - who spoke like an old lady and pretty much hated you. Flawed though it was, it still tried to stand apart. Now Drakengard 2 is upon us, and it offers a few refinements over its scaly predecessor, though still not enough to let it transcend the typical downfalls of slash 'em ups.
Drakengard 2 is a direct sequel, taking place 18 years after the original. How convenient - just in time for a new hero to grow to manhood. That hero is Nowe, an idealistic lad raised by a dragon. He's been inducted into the Knights of the Seal; surprising, perhaps, until you notice that he's brought his dragon along too. Smart bit of recruiting, there. Alas, the Knights soon prove less than noble, sending young Nowe into a violent tempest of betrayal, revenge and many, many hours of hitting the same button.
The good thing about the gameplay is that it's a snap to pick up and understand. Soon you'll be mowing through hordes of identical soldiers like so much grass, racking up experience and finding new weapons. Outdoor missions let you mount Nowe's dragon at will, which can help speed up the massacre. Unfortunately, there's not much more to it. Each weapon has an amazingly small list of attack combos, and it's usually best to stick to the simplest, for efficiency's sake. The dragon bits are not much better, with fireballs and lock-on shots cribbed from Sega's dragon-riding cult-hit Panzer Dragoon, but little else. Despite the existence of multiple characters who can wield unique weapons like staves and axes, neither the on-foot or mid-air action has nearly enough variety or depth to last for the 25+ hour campaign. In fact, it started wearing thin after two.
Disappointingly, developer Cavia hasn't improved the technical aspects much, either. The on-foot camera is still a hassle, and the graphics aren't especially good for such a late PS2 release (the game does move smoothly, however.) On the bright side, the story, while less bizarre than before, is still compellingly dark, and the soundtrack and voices are both more than capable of supporting the tale.
Drakengard 2 is flawed, even within the typical limitations of slash 'em ups. It's playable, but the ongoing storyline and dragon flight gimmick are about the only things that set it apart from its more mature, well-rounded peers like the latest Dynasty Warriors. If you want to kill lots of bad guys and must have a fantasy setting, it may just do the trick. Otherwise, you'd be better off keeping your wanton video game massacres firmly planted in feudal China.