One particular relationship adds gravitas to the story. Zero's dragon companion Mikhael is an innocent with a kind heart. He humanizes Zero as her attitude toward him grows from annoyance into friendship. It's through the lens of Zero's interactions with Mikhael that you begin to wonder if there's a deeper reason than greed behind her murderous campaign, driving you to piece together what the hell is going on in this screwy medieval world. If you become particularly invested, alternate endings make additional playthroughs worthwhile--just don't expect any of them to be full of sunshine and puppies.
Unfortunately, the world itself isn't nearly as interesting as the drama unfolding within it. Zero travels through several diverse realms ruled by her eccentric sisters, but all of them suffer from uninspired visual design. A snowy mountain filled with uninteresting rocks feels disappointingly similar to a washed-out forest packed with many copies of the same tree. I get that the environments are largely meant to be a backdrop for action, but with so much imagination having gone into the game's story and characters, it's too bad that the world itself is so very bland.
While Drakengard 3’s insane story will keep you entertained, its fast-paced combat will keep you on your toes. The control scheme of two-button combos, jumping, and dodging is fairly standard, but you really get the sense that you're controlling a powerful goddess. Zero moves far more swiftly than her opponents and easily cleaves normal humans in two. Controlling her is akin to dancing a lethal ballet around mere mortals, many of whom even comment on her demonic speed and prowess. Once Zero bathes herself in the blood of slaughtered foes--a state indicated both by a blood-filled meter and by the gore splattered on her character model--you can activate the awesome Intoner Mode, a brief state of invincibility and carnage that again makes it feel like you're controlling a certified divine badass.
All this power doesn’t make the game too easy, however, as enemies take out a good chunk of Zero’s health when they hit, and healing items are in short supply. Along with her speed, Zero will need her arsenal of swords, chakrams, spears, and claws to take down her foes. All of these support her acrobatic style with combination attacks that include dives, aerial strikes, and other highly mobile attacks. Swords are great when surrounded by groups of opponents, claws are more effective at ripping into tough lone enemies, chakrams can take out archers from a distance, and spears can easily break through a shielded phalanx. It's quick and easy to change between weapons, and strategic weapon choice makes the going much easier during battle.
Of course, this wouldn't be a Drakengard game without mounted dragon combat--but the segments in which Zero pilots Mikhael are more uneven than the ground-based combat. The controls aren't consistent between the various dragon combat segments, the lock-on is a bit finicky, and some aerial battles suffer framerate dips when too many enemies spawn. When it's working well, blasting foes with gouts of dragon fire is exhilarating. When it isn't, you'll wish you could just get off the clumsy beast and use your normal controls instead.
Sadly, several other technical issues mar the overall experience. Though Drakengard 3's cutscenes are fantastic, the in-game pixelated visuals aren't nearly as impressive. The camera becomes unruly when fighting in tight corners, and lengthy load times are frequent, which is especially obnoxious when you fail a mission and need to repeat it. The AI of your companions is problematic, too; Zero's disciples are practically useless, and when you summon Mikhael to help in battle, there's a good chance he'll find a way to incapacitate himself by accident. There's nothing more anti-climactic than calling your massive dragon buddy down from the sky, only to watch him get stuck in a corner.
Drakengard 3 is creepy, crass, and often bleak, but it's also funny, fascinating, and enjoyable to play. Technical issues aside, it's a unique experience that's worthwhile for those who can take its particularly twisted view of the world. Once the game gets its hooks into you, you'll be able to ignore its shortcomings while zipping around dispatching your enemies and wondering what crazy things will happen next. After all, how many games let you play as bloodthirsty goddess with a flower growing out of one eye?