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So Now I’m the Bad Guy…and I’m Fine With That: Drakengard 3 Initial Impressions

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Aaaaaand I’m back! Long story short, I got hideously sick, sort of recovered, got even sicker, things looked really bad for a while, I recovered, and then I had a surgery. Thank you very much to my well wishers and the Xeawn’s Gaming Corner faithful that threw me some traffic every now and again!

My health is getting better, and I suddenly have time again, so here we go!

Drakengard 3, or Drag-On-Dragoon 3 as it’s called in Japan is the latest entry in the Drag-On-Dragoon franchise. To help make the timeline make a bit more sense, Drakengard happened and the world split in a manner of speaking. One ending created the world in which Drakengard 2 happens, one ending created a world in which Nier Gestalt happens, and another ending created a world in which Nier: Replicant happens. Nier Gestalt split and made Replicant exist as well as all of itself exist. So, where does Drakengard 3 fit in?

I’m…not really sure. My understanding is that Drakengard 2 wasn’t considered a “real sequel” because Taro Yoko didn’t work on it. He then made Nier Gestalt with the intention of that being the true Drakengard sequel.

Aaaand then Drakengard 3 happened and made Drakengard 2 canon again and now I guess we just have a big ol’ multiverse or something. Although certain pre-order DLC alludes to how and why Nier Gestalt happened, I won’t expound on that as it’s a pretty massive spoiler. All I will say is it that it confirmed to be canon the ending that made me all depressed pants. At least canon to this timeline. Since we have like, five of them now…

So Zero is an emotionally damaged psychopathic killer who is somewhere between a genocidal villain and a ridiculously dark anti-hero. On the surface, Zero is a very, very unlikeable protagonist. At least for me. She really doesn’t have any lines that don’t involve some variation of “GO TO H***”, “I’LL SEND YOU TO ****”, “DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE!!!”, “GO HOME AND SUCKLE YOUR MOTHERS TETE!”, and “WOMEN, CHILDREN, THE ELDERLY, I’LL MURDER EVERY LAST MOTHER F***ER THAT GETS IN MY WAY!!!”

"Hi everyone, I'm Zero, and I may or may not be Kratos' estranged daughter!"

“Hi everyone, I’m Zero, and I may or may not be Kratos’ estranged daughter!”

 

Zero wasn’t created as such an insufferable bad word for no good reason; I don’t always agree with Taro’s storytelling decisions (i.e. one of the heroes in the Japanese version of Drag-On-Dragoon 2 being a pedophile but never really getting what he has coming), but as a writer I can at least respect why he does what he does…mostly.

Taro stated in an interview with Famitsu that as a gamer, he rushed for achievements just the same as everyone else, however he noticed a trend with achievements that rewarded you for killing hundreds to thousands of enemies. He said that as a gamer he, well, hold on,

“[When] we were working on the original Drakengard that I thought about the meaning of ‘killing’, I was looking at a lot of games back then, and I saw these messages like ‘You’ve defeated 100 enemies!’ or ‘Eradicated 100 enemy soldiers!’ in an almost gloating manner. But when I thought about it in an extremely calm state of mind, it hit me that gloating about killing a hundred people is strange. I mean, you’re a serial killer if you killed a hundred people. It just struck me as insane. That’s why I decided to have the army of the protagonist in Drakengard be one where everyone’s insane, to create this twisted organization where everyone’s wrong and unjust. I wanted to weave a tale about these twisted people.”

From that perspective, he is very open about the fact that Zero and her sisters are not good people; they’re insane. They’re serial killers as he calls them. And, when you read about Zero’s background you begin to understand that she’s sure as piss not good, but at this particular stage in her life may be trying to be something somewhat less than evil.

Drakengard 3 follows the tale of psychopath Zero out to kill her five sisters, who are what people call Invokers. Invokers use the power of Song to do battle and protect the world. Zero is painted as a heretic who wants to murder her sisters for their power.

Now, the novella that explains why Zero is the way she is was a collector’s edition printed item, but its also free online for anyone who wants to read it on the game’s website. In that regard, I’m not sure what’s considered a spoiler or not, since I mean…you can just read the book…for free…right now. It’s not even that long…

Anyways, Zero teams up with her dragon Michael to kill her sisters, after murdering a random innocent man writing a book about her sisters and how awful she is. Although, I guess if you know more of why she wants to kill her sisters I can sorta kinda sorta kinda see her insane logic.

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Drakengard 3 plays like any other Ikkitoussen (see: Warrior Worth a Thousand) game you’ve played before, although think more Sengoku Basara than Dynasty Warriors. Zero’s race are viewed as goddesses by the human citizens of the world, and that comes from more than just the fact that they were the heroes of an imperial war. Zero is every bit the Musou that you expect her to be; with varying combinations of square and triangle for light and stamina attacks, she’ll make short work of everyone that comes her way.

Zero starts the game with all of her power, and certain events cause her to lose a good portion of it just like in Nier. Whether you have Zero’s full potential at your disposal or not, you’ll make pretty short work of most of your foes. Now, here’s the kind of difficult thing about grading a game like this;

As far as Ikkitoussen style games go, the only new thing you’ll find is a heavier emphasis on collecting the game’s just over fifty weapons (which you should start on early since that’s the only way to do the final story path in the game), and rather awkward flying missions on your dragon’s back. Compared to other big battlefield games it has better graphics, but far fewer enemies on screen at once. Combat is “harder” than other battlefield titles, but there are no Officers unless you fight a boss so they can feel more repetitive.

Now, compared to other games in the series, Drakengard 3 is the pinnacle of Taro’s work. Drakengard was a first attempt, so we’ll be generous although the weird semi-tank controls and awful camera and hit delays made the game a bit of a chore. Drakengard 2 improved on a number of things, but then Nier Gestalt decided it wanted to be somewhere between Zelda, Everquest and Monster Hunter. Nier is one of my favorite games for the story, but in terms of gameplay it lacked polish and a compelling enough move set and skill set to hold on for the long haul.

Drakengard 3 plays at having a large open world like Nier, but is mercifully far more linear. While this may seem like a bad thing to many people, it’s a refreshing change of pace from wandering aimlessly in Nier trying to memorize the world and go where I need to in order to trigger the next event that was sometimes only vaguely hinted at. This also means that, in spite of the whining you see in forums, collecting all of the weapons is so much easier than the random chance that Nier involved. In Drakengard 3, you know there’s around three chests per level, and it’s set what each chest will have and where it will appear. The rest of the weapons are to be purchased to unlocked through requests, so you have to donate far less of your time to unlocking the last path than Nier wanted.

So, let’s talk visuals since we’re talking world; the game is really pretty in some areas and not so much in others. There’s a mandatory almost six GB install, and the digital version of the game is 14 GB that aside. When you realize that the Japanese voice work DLC is 10 gigs however you realize it’s not because of the graphics, but because of the ridiculous lack of audio compression. As a result, Zero’s character model as well as the opening sequence, one of the only two full motion videos in the game, look fantastic. Zero’s sisters look pretty great too, and there’s a nice amount of detail on Michael and Mikhael.

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Unfortunately, when you look at the world around you it’s pretty hit or miss. The ruined empire from the beginning looks nice; the fields and temples and such? Not so much.

The girls all wear pretty simple outfits, so it’s easy for the fabric to move realistically. You’ll still notice little things like One’s hair phasing through her collar, but overall it works.

The audio is as amazing as everything else Taro has worked on, which is to say I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for a week. Monaca does the soundtrack this time around, and it feels very reminiscent of Drakengard 1 and 2. I don’t feel like most of the OST has as much impact as Nier Gestalt did, and there were really only two songs I found myself humming once the PS3 was turned off. Even so, the music does a fantastic job of setting the tone and really delivering on each part of the story experience. As insane as Zero is, you get her sense of absolute despair and loneliness even as she tries to mask it with rage and hatefulness.

Comparatively, the voice acting is sort of hit or miss. Zero and her sisters are for the most part voiced very well, as is Michael. I kinda want to throw something at Mikhael after he talks for a really long time, as his voice will remind you of every animal mascot from every saturday morning TV show ever, but it fits his personality so I’ll let it slide. If anything, how navi-like he can become is a boon to the story; after spending five minutes with Mikhael you will in no way shape or form mistake him for a Michael re-skin.

Overall combat feels very tight and very fluid. Don’t let the blood covered lusty grinned Zero fool you; there is no actual gore in battle. As part of the story you might decapitate something every now and again, but everything else you fight just rag dolls in flashes of light and fades away while Zero mysteriously ends up soaked from head to toe. As the game has the tendency to slow down from its fluid framerate when a lot is going on, I can only imagine this was done to prevent an exorbitant amount of lag.

Gameplay flows in a succinct and linear fashion. You pick a level, you see some story, you fight in large battlefields. You make your way to checkpoints, you either finish the stage or fight a boss or ride your (clunky) dragon, and then you go to your field screen. Here you can buy new weapons and items, upgrade your gear, change out your equipment and pick sidequests to go on. You can also change your outfits, which often offers gameplay changes in addition to cosmetic shifts.

"Do you believe in magic? In a young girl's--GYAAAH MY SPLEEN!!!"

“Do you believe in magic? In a young girl’s–GYAAAH MY SPLEEN!!!”

Going back to audio and returning to combat, there’s an Invoker State that you can go into that’s pretty great. As you build rage, you can unleash the power of Song. Doing so gives you an entirely new moveset, makes you stronger and faster, as well as causes you to glow bright pink. In addition to the laser light show of devastation, the power of Song literally plays into the music of the game; the otherwise instrumental soundtrack changes over to the whimsical at times haunting at other times and always hardcore vocal stylings of Emi Evans. This tonal shift really does wonders for the already dramatic and epic music and combat, with the only downside being that I wish there were more opportunities to hear Emi strut her stuff. The meter charges so slowly I often times finish a level without remember I even have one.

So lastly lets talk about the story for a little bit. Let me preclude by stating read the book read the book READ THE BOOK READ THE BOOK!!!!

Having given you that warning, I’m only part of the way through the novel, but I know enough about Zero to make myself stomach how insufferable she is. I’m going to talk about her childhood since I’m all but certain the game itself never covers it, but I’ll spare you revealing what the deal is with her sisters as well as the full reason for what she’s doing in the game.

From being a baby to being a small child Zero was beaten and whipped mercilessly by her violently abusive mother. Zero loved her mother in spite of this and reasoned that she was treated this way because her mother didn’t know any other way to raise her. From that moment she viewed violence as affection.

Her mother sold her off as a prostitute when she was still a child, and she was forced to work in a brothel for a number of years. Attempting to escape with another girl, she was beaten at the gates of the city by a client the other girl had betrayed her two. The girl and the client stole from Zero the portion of the money she helped steal from the brothel and left her there. The next time Zero tried to escape she realized killing was her only option, but snapped and killed absolutely everyone in the brothel.

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She stole as much as she could carry, but was beaten and abused by a group of thieves on the road. She decided then to only carry as much as she needed to get by. She later fell in love with one of the men who was a client at the brothel, still pretty much a kid at this point, and lived a number of years “happily ever after” with him. Their Game of Thrones style romance came to an end when she contracted a deadly illness. She understood her lovers decision to leave her, as the illness was assumed to be contagious, but when he tried to sell her into slavery her mind couldn’t handle any other betrayals.

Zero snapped and severed his head, noting with confusion that he looked surprised right up until the very end. From that point on Zero was bat crap insane and as a defense mechanism killed anyone who had something she wanted, regardless of if they were a threat or not. The first time she bothered stopping to think about how messed up she’d become was after murdering a family for their food. The eldest sister pleaded, asking Zero why she was doing this to them. Zero had to admit that she didn’t know the reason, but didn’t stop herself from killing the girl anyways.

Some stuff happened that I won’t talk about because it has to do with the sisters and Zero’s mission, but suffice to say that if you bother finding out why she wants to kill them it’s a little easier to see her in a somewhat sorta kinda positive light.

The thing I like about Drakengard 3’s story is A) the realistic depiction of someone abused into madness instead of the Hollywood “Nothing bad will happen to you beyond maybe stripping for a while or using drugs” depiction, and B) that you’re not supposed to like Zero. Taro is really clear that she’s insane and she’s a bad person. If she knew you pitied her, she’d probably kill you just because. Zero is a horrible person, and while she has her reasons, the game doesn’t try to go “She’s bad, but she’s good!”

You’ll feel bad for her at certain parts of the story, because you’ll see in the rare quiet moments that she sometimes realizes she is insane and that she hates that about herself. You’ll feel bad for her every now and again because every rare so often you see the terrified abused little girl hiding in the warrior’s clothing. You’ll feel bad for her because she’ll scream about how she’s enjoying killing everyone, and then she’ll wake up screaming and sobbing because she misses her only friend, and has a moment or two where she’s like “****…I’m insane. I really am insane…”.

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But then that insanity rolls back in and she becomes the same rage filled killing machine from before. And even though you’ll get a little tired of killing faceless enemies (who add flavor by praising the other sisters or begging terrified for their lives and such), and though you’ll grow weary of the constant loading and though you’ll reach your threshold for Zero’s angst…

You’ll keep playing, just a little longer, because somewhere deep inside, no matter how twisted it may feel…

You feel bad for Zero. And you can’t help but hope that maybe things will get a little bit better in the end. Because somewhere behind the story of a rage filled, lust driven psychopath, is the story of an abused little girl who realizes she’s awful, and really just wants to be a tiny bit better.

Drakengard 3 is exclusive to the Playstation 3 console and can be purchased at retail or online for $60.

Xeawn, out.

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One comment on “So Now I’m the Bad Guy…and I’m Fine With That: Drakengard 3 Initial Impressions

  1. Very well written. Nice direction in regard to the awarding of mass murder as an award. Interesting take that it’s a form of insanity. I felt the pain of the character.

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