Games You Might Have Missed: Drakengard 3

A few weeks ago, I decided to place down my pre-order for a copy of NieR:Automata, an unexpected sequel to 2010's cult hit NieR, itself a spin-off of the Drakengard series. Now I'm not one to partake often in pre-order culture for video games. Favorable reviews and supply shortages might have played a part in it, but my confidence in the decision despite not having played its demos nor seen any promotional material by and large have to do with my own experience with Nier and the title I'm here to talk about today, Drakengard 3.
Released in 2014, a decade after the first two games, Drakengard 3 is acts as a distant prequel to the franchise. The story stars the "Intoner" Zero -extremely powerful beings revered the people of the land - and her quest to slaughter each and every one of her Intoner sisters, and alongside her dragon companion Mikhail and her merry band of disciples. 

It will come as no surprise to series veterans that the core strength of the franchise lies with its rather oddball take on its story and characters. Convoluted but never overbearing, the deceptively simple premise gradually doles out new mysteries and revelations across its multiple timelines and endings. I did feel that the initial 15 or so hours of the game were decidedly repetitive, formulaic and unremarkable, but then things really started getting interesting as the true nature of Intoners and the reasons behind Zero's appallingly bloody crusade against her sisters made for one of the most compelling game-play experiences  I've had in recent memory. Getting through its multiple endings would take a lengthy 40 hours, and getting its final (and most important) chapters  requires jumping through a few hoops, but for my money the payoff will be well worth it. Now I've seen my fair share of dark fantasy stories before, but  I have definitely not seen it told in such a way before, and that very tale would not have been nearly been as impactful if it were not told the way that it was.
There's a strange sense of duality going on with almost every aspect of this game. Its story and plot are violent to the extreme as you slaughter your way through hordes of obviously terrified soldiers as they scream in terror, yet it is also capable of conveying some very touching and eminently human moments despite it all. This pretty much also applies to every named character in the game. All of them are decidedly flawed people, with a variety of twisted, ugly personalities. And yet through it all one can't help but feel some fondness and a bit sorry for these colorful characters who are doomed from the get go,  
There's a lot of dialogue to go through here, be it in-game banter, lengthy cut-scenes, quiet moments at camp or in written lore. Comedic efforts are aplenty in order to lighten the otherwise dark tone of the story, ranging from the liberal use of swearing, bad puns, 4th wall breaking jokes, and plenty of uninhibited sexual innuendo. Its rarely laugh out loud funny, and a good portion of them are plain misses, but it does its job and consistently got chuckles from me throughout. Notably, the childlike and exuberant whimsy of baby dragon Mikhail makes for an excellent foil (both thematically and for comedic purposes) to the Zero's laziness and barely contained anger. Voicework is available in English or Japanese (as a pre-order bonus or paid DLC). While I never got to hear the Japanese version, what I can say for the English localization is that it does a commendable job and will not be a tarnish in the overall experience.
I get the feeling there is always more the developers want to do but couldn't due to realities in production. While both the world and character designs are well done, gorgeous at times, it is marred by its dated graphics and choppy frame-rate. The bulk of its game play -melee combat- while solidly competent and nowhere near as poor as Nier, lacks depth and polish, making it feel decidedly average. Combat with Mikhail does offer a welcome breakup in game play, but is marred by its awkward controls and wonky camera. Non of its many flaws felt game breaking by themselves, but they are present, and do add up to lessen the overall experience.
One can't talk about a Drakengard 3 without mentioning its glorious soundtrack. Nier's composer Keiichi Okabe and studio MONACA return to handle music composition. At its peak, the tracks are more often than not both a violent cacophony of noise, yet strangely graceful and elegant. Its a beautiful audio experience and some of the best work for JRPGs  in recent memory. You can check samples of each track on the official site.
Overall, Drakengard 3 was a very special experience for me. It may a slow start, it may be visually unimpressive and is riddled with flaws, but its rough exterior belies a truly memorable tale, and I definitely do place it among my favorite games of 2015.


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