Review

Drakengard 3 Review

  • Game release: December 19, 2013
  • Reviewed:
  • PS3

Dividing by zero.

by

From a traditional perspective, Drakengard 3 is not what you would normally consider a good game. It's severely visually outclassed, it has myriad bugs and issues, and the gameplay is fair at best and tedious at worst. The original game, released a decade ago on the PlayStation 2, was much the same way. But what made that game memorable was its distinctly dark and twisted story in a world filled with horrible happenings and broken, deplorable characters. It was a train wreck, horrifying to look at and experience, but it kept you playing to see just how much more awful things could get. Nothing ended well for anyone involved, including the player, but it was fascinating regardless.

And that's precisely what Drakengard 3 is: utterly fascinating.

The game takes place in a miserable fantasy world where goddess-like beings called "intoners" rule the land and keep the masses appeased with their otherworldly songs. That peace is transformed into a bloody mess when the oldest of the intoners, Zero, decides that her five sisters (all named after numbers) need to die for reasons initially unclear. Zero's attack on her sisters ends in abject failure and the death of her dragon companion, but a year and a reconstructed body later, she is ready and rarin' to kill her estranged siblings again. To aid her this time around, she has Mikhail, the reincarnation of her previous dragon, by her side. Unfortunately, a wise old elder dragon this creature is definitely not; Mikhail is an inept pacifist who calls for nonviolent resolution as he whines about his bodily functions like a first grader.

Side quests are timed and can get downright brutal.

Drakengard 3 is a hack-and-slash action game. Zero runs through mostly linear fields, defeating foes with combos and special moves derived from four different weapon types (swords, spears, chakrams, and combat bracers). She can guard, dodge, and cancel her skills into defensive maneuvers as necessary. As she defeats foes, a flower-shaped blood meter fills up, and once it reaches a certain threshold, Zero can enter the incredibly powerful and near invincible intoner mode for a very limited time. Unlike in other games of this sort, the blood meter doesn't have to be full in order for you to enter intoner mode, though its level does limit the amount of time intoner mode lasts. This adds a bit of strategy to fighting--should you use intoner mode for short bursts of carnage, or save it for bigger, powerful foes?--but overall, nothing about combat is particularly noteworthy. It's certainly functional, and there's definitely a satisfaction to be had when going to town on a bunch of dimwitted soldiers and their giant monster companions, but it's a far cry from the likes of Bayonetta.

Every so often, however, Zero mounts her lovably stupid steed and uses Mikhail for combat. Mikhail's sequences are either Panzer Dragoon-style rail shooter sequences (though not nearly as well made as in that franchise) or free-roaming sequences where Mikhail can fight foes both in the air and on land. The controls in this mode take some getting used to, and many of these stages and arenas aren't ideal for large, bumbling winged reptiles to be battling in. Still, it's a welcome, if not always particularly well-designed, break from stabbing troops directly.

Mikhail might control like a truck on land, but he sure does roast 'em good.

In fact, "well-designed" doesn't apply to most of Drakengard 3. The game is developed by Access Games, the studio behind the cult hit Deadly Premonition, and shades of that game's distinct clumsiness abound in Drakengard 3. Enemy models are frequently recycled, and, in some cases, they don't stand on uneven ground properly, leaving one, two, or even more feet just floating in midair. Textures are frequently so low-res that the game looks like a poor HD upscale of a PS2 version that never existed. Enemies and AI partners frequently get stuck trying to run past walls or off ledges. The combat camera appears to hate you and everything you stand for, going into bizarre angles and focusing on barriers to the action out of spite. The frame rate fluctuates constantly, sinking to single-digit levels if a bunch of projectile-hurling enemies are in the area. I encountered at least two occasions when the game forgot to reverse Zero's controls after shifting the camera 180 degrees.

Yes, Drakengard 3 is a technical mess. But, in a weird way, that's part of its charm. If you're familiar with the previous games of creator Yoko Taro--the original Drakengard and Nier--then you're probably coming in expecting messy gameplay. You're not here to kill a thousand grunts; you're here for a weird, fascinating, and much bigger experience. And, to that end, Drakengard 3 is amazing.

The driving force for everything in Drakengard 3 is the main character, Zero. Zero is a nasty, nasty woman, mocking everyone within sight and berating Mikhail for his childish naivete at every opportunity. Yet, in a strange way, she becomes incredibly sympathetic. Her voiced reactions to the ridiculous plot twists, outlandish characters, and irritating gaming cliches frequently mirrored my own. It felt as though I were reacting through her involuntarily to the horrifying happenings of this sick, sad world. I actually felt like I related to her as the game progressed, which is not something I typically feel for antihero characters.

Like that Gigas boss design? You'll love seeing him reused ten more times!

Part of the reason Zero's anger didn't turn me off right away, though, was that every human in Drakengard 3 is a horrible person. Zero's sisters are selfish and domineering, with personality traits that are immediately off-putting. Their disciples, whom Zero can recruit as non-player character helpers after defeating them, aren't much better, individually representing the traits of sadism, masochism, sexual hedonism, and narcissism. Their dialogue with Zero throughout the levels, and their interactions with her, are frequently amusing and well written, even if the same jokes get recycled too often. (I commend the localization team for its ability to come up with numerous entertaining penis euphemisms.)

The first playthrough of the game feels like a distinctly black parody of game story and design tropes, filled with awkward character interactions, bizarre non sequiturs, and a general disdain for everything Zero is forced to go through when all she really wants to do is kill her sisters and be done with it. There are odd little digs at things like Japanese character design, media censorship, and otaku culture. It concludes with a bizarre twist that seems disappointing at first, but shifts the story in an entirely different direction.

Much like Drakengard and Nier, this is a game where the multiple endings are a near essential part of the whole experience. The humor is played down as the game steers you along its alternate paths. On the way, it comments on game structure and the role of the player as both active participant and passive observer, and goes deeper into individual character backgrounds and relationships. It never stops feeling oppressive and unpleasant, but that's part of what makes it so interesting--so much so that when the game asks you to grind to get every weapon to open the path to the final ending (though, thankfully, not the downloadable weapons--that's too cruel even for Drakengard), you feel not just obligated to do it; you want to do it. It's laborious and unpleasant, and somehow Drakengard transforms it into something you willingly want to do all while knowing it probably won't be enjoyable in a typical gaming sense.

Intoner mode is delicious, speedy, confused-camera death for everything.

Drakengard 3 is subversive in that way. I love how it has made me think about violence and what exactly makes characters sympathetic even when they're terrible. I love that the game portrays its female characters as assertive beings that desire and need sex on their own terms, instead of as sexual material doled out in-game as "rewards" for player performance. (In fact, the only time Zero discusses sex with her disciples is to either tell them to shut up with their innuendo or berate them for their poor performance in the sack.) I love how the only voice of human sanity is a nonhuman. I love how I can step away and think about how the concepts introduced in the alternate ending paths symbolize abstract concepts of gaming. I love Drakengard 3, warts and all. In fact, I think the warts might be part of what makes the game so appealing. It's a heavily flawed game, set in an ugly world and filled with despicable people. And yet, somehow it's beautiful.

The Good
Combat can be enjoyable
Stellar localization
Fascinatingly ugly world and characters
Multifaceted story and structure that are exceptionally subversive
The Bad
Awful, dated visuals
Often hilarious-looking graphical bugs
Actively antagonistic camera
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

Ever since she reviewed Nier for GamePro years back, Heidi has taken an interest in the games Yoko Taro has created. After spending dozens of hours with Drakengard 3 and reaching its true ending, she can confidently claim it to be one of her favorite games so far this year.

Discussion

60 comments
mirage_so3
mirage_so3

Drakengard is one of those games that you know is bad compared to other games but is still fun to play when you don't take it seriously.

ryuzaki57
ryuzaki57

Very pleased with this. At last someone who can value the qualities of the game instead of constantly whining about framerate drops and camera issues.

quickshooterMk2
quickshooterMk2

review seems fair enough for me 

for 2014 those visuals are unacceptable 


also bugs should be fixed prior to release not after. 

jacquelineferre
jacquelineferre

"Awful, dated visuals"

I wonder what would happen if they started pointing this to all the crappy looking gindie games.

hungvuong
hungvuong

As a person who completed the game, I can say this is a great review, and more better than ign's. This series is very unique and addicting, if you can put the graphic or bugs aside.

zeifel
zeifel

after watching a number of YouTube playthroughs for this, I think I'll continue watching them. for an action game, framerate is a serious issue and I don't think I can stomach that much FPS drops. the story is certainly intriguing though. it's not realistic by any standards, but that's exactly what fiction is, right? so I'll just watch other people play like it's a film.

DarkJedi8_basic
DarkJedi8_basic

So, after reading this review I can't tell if it's good or bad...7 says good, but it this review would state otherwise.  Im confused.

SillySkeleton
SillySkeleton

This review seems spot on. I've been watching a playthrough on Youtube and two things are very clear. Firstly, the game is horrible. Average combat, ugly to look at, slideshow framerate, unlikeable characters and some of the worst writing I've seen in a game. Secondly, I can't stop watching it.

Despite hating it to its core, something is nagging me to pick this up after a (massive) price drop. There's just something about this train wreck of a game.

Oh, and one more complaint which is unforgiveable. The japanese VA is DLC? Bad form, Square Enix. Not that I'd expect any better from your company.

xantufrog
xantufrog

As someone that has never played a game of this series, I find this review so confusing: it sounds like a bad game. And yet it is clearly beloved. I think the "intangibles" that make it great are not well articulated (as intangibles tend to be) - something about the story and characters, I gather, but the descriptions of those things that are given doesn't really make it clear what about them is the saving grace... 

"Zero is a nasty, nasty woman, mocking everyone within sight... ...Her voiced reactions to the ridiculous plot twists, outlandish characters, and irritating gaming cliches frequently mirrored my own. It felt as though I were reacting through her involuntarily to the horrifying happenings of this sick, sad world."


Anyway, it sounds like it's hard to convey what makes this game good, but I appreciate that sometimes the classical criteria (graphics, controls, etc) don't quite make (or in this case break) a game

Tr2et
Tr2et

Gamespot sure has many funny reviews recent. And this game is one grand example for a Japanese culture's game, not good, not bug-free and certainly not unique but very addictive.

breathnac
breathnac

This guy GETS IT! Great review!!!

Ovirew
Ovirew

I had actually forgotten this game was still coming out.  I really should give it a chance since I was looking forward to it, but I guess I'm still not sure about it since I've moved on to the next gen a little.  I don't think I could pay full price for Drakengard 3 though, maybe if I wait it out there will be a sale?

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

"It's severely visually outclassed, it has myriad bugs and issues, and the gameplay is fair at best and tedious at worst."

There are far too many good games to spend time and money on anything with this description, especially the bugs.

foxhound_fox
foxhound_fox

I loved Nier with an absolute passion. This review has convinced me that I need this game. Very rarely does that happen.

fgjnfgh
fgjnfgh

people try to understand that this game just localized now after it was released in Japan 2 years ago

Karlinel
Karlinel

It's the worst awesome game I've played, really filled with bugs, poor (or null) optimization and inconveniences to the player. But the story is REALLY worth it.

If it had a stable FPS, and we europeans were deemed worthy of the damn patch enabling the japanese voice DLC (a CE I can't use, yay Squeenix!), it'd have a 8,5/cult

fgjnfgh
fgjnfgh

my hands are itching to download this game and also Bound by Flame, but my subscription of ffxiv still has like 28 days left to expire. I might wait for a price since this game or BBF weren't massive hits and games like those tend to drop in prices fast just like Theif. It was released at $60 then dropped to $40 the next month. I might get Wolfstein though and Mario kart ofcourse

longestsprout
longestsprout

Definitely getting this. Loved the first two despite the glaring flaws and this one seems to be made of the same stuff. Couldn't be happier.

BarkingSpider81
BarkingSpider81

Speaking of buggy messes, has anyone played Two Worlds 1or 2? Those games were pretty fun, and the bugs were part of the charm in my opinion. Especially trying to use a boat in the second one. I'll give this game a try.

Hurvl
Hurvl

"Often hilarious-looking graphical bugs" I wouldn't absolutely call this a bad thing, but even quirky and hilarious bugs get old after a while, so it's not something that adds to the experience either.

GregoryBastards
GregoryBastards

Wow iv read reviews of the game only to be severely dissapointed in the ability of reviewers to not apperiaciate or understand this unique title....i came here half expecting a 3 and some social debate on female depiction but i have to say i assumed wrongly and this reviewer has nailed it.....

This is the kind of review this game deserves and I kinda wish Heidi Kemps here reviewed other underated titles like Killer is Dead and Japanese games in general.

Drakengard 3 is like a wierd band which only caters and exists for the very few people who understand and like it. Its also extremely f*cked up nasty and unapologetic about it. Im glad wierd titles like this still manage to exist in an industry which wants to be more and inclusive nowadays.

Good game. Great review.

chasecarnevale
chasecarnevale

Finally a decent review of this game. Too many reviews focus on all of the Drakenard games' flaws, without trying to see their virtues.


I mean, don't get me wrong, it is a sloppily designed game, but that's kind of the point. It's like Dynasty Warriors. You're not playing for the tightest, smoothest action gameplay. You're playing for an engaging, Japanese-Kitsch storyline and ridiculous characters. It's like the videogame equivalent of a John Waters film.

ichirei
ichirei

Very good review! I also like how you described the first Drakengard as  "distinctly dark and twisted story in a world filled with horrible happenings and broken, deplorable characters" :)

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

"Awful dated visuals"

Yeah I did think there was something a little harsh about those screenshots.  Just woke up and thought it might have been the eye sh!t or something.

In cases like this it would be better to lower the resolution than to make the graphics suffer this way.

But I'm glad games like this exist.  There needs to be someone pushing out creatively and taking risks in places other than the indie scene.

enuo9
enuo9

Describes my feelings exactly, except I like the combat a lot and I'd give the game at least an 8.

mbraconnot
mbraconnot

Great review! i dont know why i like so much the graphics in games like this one and Deadly Premonition.

Penguinlord1
Penguinlord1

Isn't the Drakengard games tied to the story of Nier in some kind of way? If so, I wouldn't mind playing this if I ever pick up a PS3 because Nier was one of my absolute favorite JRPGs of the 7th console generation along with Lost Odyssey.

Sound_Demon
Sound_Demon

@jacquelineferre indie games are purposely low res and low texture because of the fact that it's focused on gameplay/story but that's not an excuse for this game because games like these don't have to be presented with these visuals but they chose to do an incomplete job rather than a simple one

armin0jrpg
armin0jrpg

@Tr2et still, cant be buggier than Skyrim, Fallout and oher bethesda games XD

leikeylosh
leikeylosh

@BarkingSpider81 Jesus, the boats in Two Worlds 2... Slowest transportation ever. You could run faster on land than the boat on water.

fgjnfgh
fgjnfgh

@Hurvl i expect any game to have a bug. discovered a terrible bug in strider on ps4 the first day of its release. i clung into a wall then jumped into endless hell

Karlinel
Karlinel

@ichirei Honestly, there is no other way to describe that world, it's like my work on hangover day :S

BrunoBRS
BrunoBRS

@enuo9 then people would complain that gamespot only gives out 8s :P

vault2049
vault2049

@Penguinlord1 The story of NIER comes from Drakengard's ending E. I would not say the story is "tied" but there are tenuous similarities and the back story feels really... the same in a curious way. You'll notice a lot of familiar stuff on Drakengard 3 even though this is prequel to the original Drakengard game, you'll feel at home immediately during the prologue, specially if you liked NIER. All 3 games mentioned had the same director, unlike Drakengard 2.

Karlinel
Karlinel

@vault2049 As i haven't played so dedicatedly the saga, isn't the relation just extremely circumstancial?

vault2049
vault2049

@Karlinel @vault2049 Yeah. I played NIER first and loved it, then went back and played both, Drakengard 1 and Drakengard 2. You definitely see the relation between both games after you watch Ending E on Drakengard and off some some back-story used on NIER, but it feels just like a possibility out of many that might have happened and nothing vital or anything, a side story, an alternate route.


You can play Drakengard 3 first and you will not notice there were games before it (and, like I said, it is a prequel to the first game). You'll probably feel much 'at home' when playing the previous games, but that's it.

Drakengard 3 More Info

First Release on Dec 19, 2013
  • PlayStation 3
A prequel to the original Drakengard, Drakengard 3 transports players to a medieval world where six sisters wield special magical abilities as the "Intoners."
7.2
Average User RatingOut of 21 User Ratings
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Developed by:
Access Games
Published by:
Square Enix
Genres:
Role-Playing, Action
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Mature
All Platforms