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Drakengard 3 review

AT A GLANCE
  • Combat is fast, fierce, and fun
  • Freaky characters and snappy dialogue
  • Strong voice acting adds plenty of personality to the cast
  • Graphical quality and environmental design are underwhelming
  • Various technical issues cause occasional frustration
  • Load times are frequent and lengthy

Drakengard 3 is one seriously messed-up game. You play as a goddess--with, for whatever reason, a flower growing out of her eye--who is hell-bent on murdering her divine sisters. During your quest for blood, you'll encounter oddities like an incontinent dragon, a woman who turns her worshippers into creepy dolls, and a disciple who enjoys measuring his man parts during the heat of battle. So, yeah. A bit strange. Drakengard 3 is a title that gleefully wallows in blood, deviance, and grotesquerie. You'll need to have a twisted sense of humor to enjoy it, but if you do, you'll find a flawed but entertaining action RPG with a story unlike anything you've likely seen before.

The bizarrely compelling story is the main reason to play Drakengard 3, especially as it approaches medieval fantasy with dark comedy instead of straight-laced tropes. You play as Zero, one of six numbered sister-goddesses, called Intoners, all of whom bear the power of song. They supposedly saved the world from chaotic warfare and protect it to this day, but that rosy history is skewered (literally--Zero runs a historian through) within the first few minutes of the game. Instead of protecting the world, you embark on a series of missions that take Zero on a bloody campaign, massacring anybody who gets in her way during her quest to execute sisters One through Five.

Zero, her lineup of twisted sisters, and her party of psychotic and perverted disciples aren't even remotely likeable people. They revel in their murderous activities and seem to think of nobody but themselves. Nevertheless, their raunchy dialogue makes them entertaining to watch, sort of like a hypersexualized Seinfeld cast. They might spend most of their time mocking others and discussing their sexual fetishes, but they do so with such gleeful abandon and strong comedic timing that it’s difficult not to chuckle. Quality voice work, particularly for the blunt Zero, the sadistic Dito, and the devious Cent, also helps make the cast darkly amusing instead of simply repelling. The sheer grotesque absurdity of many of the game's events adds to that black humor, drawing you into Drakengard 3's narrative despite your better impulses.

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?

More Info

Release date: May 20 2014 - PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: PS3
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

A darkly humorous action RPG with entertainingly fast-paced combat, Drakengard 3 is a unique experience marred by long load times, minor technical issues, and lackluster world design.

25 comments

  • Clovin64 - May 22, 2014 8:12 a.m.

    This game sounds like its turned out a lot better than I thought it would. My main gripe watching the trailers was the combat was going to be very dull and repetitive, but now I might need to put this game on my list.
  • rynmls - May 21, 2014 2:26 a.m.

    the 1st game almost make me quit playing video games...
  • Relzen - May 20, 2014 2:36 p.m.

    Didn't one of the previous games have an ending where giant babies ate everyone?
  • Vonter - May 20, 2014 9:43 p.m.

    That was the secret ending that established the events in NIER. It wasn't a cannon ending.
  • bobob101 - May 20, 2014 2:08 p.m.

    I want to pick up this game, but the big hurdle would definitely be the technological barrier. I bet it will be on sale in a month or two, so I might get it then.
  • BladedFalcon - May 20, 2014 10:34 a.m.

    *sighs* I would have rather seen the New order get 3 stars and this 4, but I can't change reality XD And still, it sounds like the combat, characters and story are the best parts, which is IMO what matters the most. Though the fact that 8 years in, and this game STILL struggles with lengthy load times IS kinda appalling. I'll probably play it just because I want to see how bizarre it is, but not anytime soon.
  • Vonter - May 20, 2014 6:52 p.m.

    Originality doesn't necessarily mean better quality and usually they are not the end of the line achievements. Is one of those cases were if you like what the game offers go for it. It's kinda like the games the Grasshopper manufacturer makes in where there's a lot of substance over a clunky type of gameplay. Also the soundtrack is nice.
  • BladedFalcon - May 20, 2014 8:30 p.m.

    Um... Grasshopper games are known PRECISELY because they are mostly style over substance. Everyone raves about Suda's quirkiness, but the games themselves are seldom very deep, or very well made. And yeah, again, I might give it a try later if only because the story and character sound deliciously weird and twisted. As for the soundtrack, I don't need to play the game to get it or listen to it, you know :P
  • Vonter - May 20, 2014 8:39 p.m.

    I think Platinum is more about style over substance. at least more so than Suda. Could be I really like the characters Suda makes more so than Platinum. Yeah in the end like the director said. He likes to make his characters pretty much insane. I know, but hearing it in context can also be better, especially if it is narratively driven like in FF VI, TLoU, Mother 3, or Banjo & Kazooie (well not so much in this, but music was part of its game design).
  • BladedFalcon - May 21, 2014 7:38 a.m.

    Er... you are completely wrong there. Say what you will about Platinum game's characters and story (Which I'll agree aren't ever really good) But their games are always way more deep and finally tuned and crafted than anything Suda 51 has ever done. The thing about platinum is that they focus pretty much all their efforts into two things first and foremost: Combat and spectacle. They aren't games that try to do anything else, but what they do is really good, AND the combat and game mechanics of their games are always something that demands true skill and understanding to properly master them. In short, I agree Suda 51 creates more interesting characters and worlds, but the GAME aspect of their games are always pretty shallow. Platinum is the other way around, their characters and world aren't that well crafted, but the game-play is incredibly deep, focused and the escalation of what you face against is always fun and consistently stacked.
  • Vonter - May 21, 2014 2:10 p.m.

    Sorry if I stated it wrong, but that's more or less what I mean. I do wonder what'll happen if they collaborated with each other strengths. Because, sorry Platinum makes great, challenging, fun, flashy gameplay, but man their stories are for the most part BORING, the exceptions are mostly when they don't take themselves seriously.
  • BladedFalcon - May 21, 2014 6:18 p.m.

    Well... they kinda did already. Shadows of the damned was a collaboration between SUDA51 and Shinji Mikami. (Mikami being the guy behind Vanquish) And it did show, that was arguably the best SUDA51 game gameplay-wise, and still with a ton of dirty humor and memorable crazy shit, even though it's certainly more toned down than the craziness of his other earlier projects. Sadly, you won't see anything like THAT again... because it bombed. Which is a shame, seeing how Lolipop chainsaw DID sell well despite being a very shallow and repetitive game.
  • Vonter - May 21, 2014 6:36 p.m.

    Well another collaboration between Mikami and Suda was Killer 7. I think the closest game to feel like a David Lynch film. But Mikami has been more or less free lancing since he left Capcom, as far as I know he isn't part of Platinum. What I was picturing was mainly a Hideki Kamiya and Suda collaboration. To be fair aside from No More Heroes, Suda doesn't make sequels. Also as a trivia bit, I like the gameplay idea he made in Michigan: Report from Hell. I think with better execution a game with a found film feeling could be very awesome. I suppose Outlast has a bit of that.
  • Vonter - May 21, 2014 6:53 p.m.

    I rectify; it seems Mikami indeed made several games for Platinum, some of which I didn't know he was involved, including Madworld (which could explain why Anarchy Reigns wasn't as good). I hope he succeeds with The Evil Within since it'll be the first game he makes on his owned studio.
  • TheGooseinator - May 20, 2014 10:30 a.m.

    I know that a three is still a "decent" rating and all that, but the review itself seemed awfully positive, which clashed with the relatively low score.
  • Nikku7 - May 20, 2014 10:23 a.m.

    Yes, technical issues are bad, but it sounds like it has just enough to keep me invested. I just recently played through Remember Me and got a good bit of enjoyment out of it just because it had awesome art assets. Other than that was the combat, which... worked... I guess but went from being incredibly easy to frustrating due to bad enemy design choices like having to wait for cooldown based attacks to recharge to beat an enemy or invisible enemies. Idig the aesthetic in that game but the story was kinda bad and predictable for the most part too. So I don't think a few bugs will hold me back from playing a game with otherwise excellent combat here. And the story and characters sound very entertaining here. I will have to pick this one up soon...
  • Vonter - May 20, 2014 10:05 a.m.

    Damn, now I wish I had a PS3, Nier was one of the best stories to come out of the last generation. So even if this game was barely playable I like to see another story made by this team. Also the music is also from the composer of Nier. It'll be really convenient if Sony could add this game to there Playstation Now service I'll get a PS4 in a blink if that happened.
  • theguyinthecloset - May 20, 2014 9:26 a.m.

    Sounds like the previous Drakengard games. Seams fun but is it linked in any way to Drakengard 2? if so, I'll have to track down a copy of it before playing this.
  • winner2 - May 20, 2014 6:21 a.m.

    Hmm...
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - May 20, 2014 5:13 a.m.

    That's too bad, this game really piqued my curiosity. Will GamesRadar be reviewing Transistor?

Showing 1-20 of 25 comments

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