It's been a while since I last reviewed a console game, In fact most of us have been spending our time playing WWII Real Time Strategy games. I was grateful to finally receive a game for my PS2.
Drakengard is a hack and slash action game. You are given control of the games main character Caim. A warrior of a group known as the Union, who are at war with the mighty Empire. Early on in the game Caim suffers a serious wound and stumbles upon a barely living Dragon. Caim's hate for these creatures overwhelms him and he attempts to execute a killing blow on the beast. Then he realises that the only way for him to survive is to make a pact with the dragon. The pact, heals both of them completely, and allows for their life forces to become one. This gives us the two core gameplay elements, fighting as Caim on foot and fighting as the dragon in the skies.
The games levels vary in size and style, though the gameplay mechanic is consistent throughout. You have to hack your way through wave upon wave of enemy until you have reached a pre-defined goal. These goals are very similar from level to level and are generally, kill a boss, destroy all enemies or destroy all the enemies marked as targets. This is the same when playing as the dragon, you fly through the skies and will have similar goals to achieve. When playing as Caim you will have a variety of weapons at your disposal, each weapon has a different look and feel. For example, some weapons may have a longer range but could be slower or do less damage, also the number of hits in a combo is different for each weapon, furthermore different weapons give Caim access to different spells. Weapons can also be 'leveled up', by achieving a certain number of kills. Once leveled up the weapons stats increase allowing you to do bigger combos, more damage and giving access to more magical power. You can take up to eight weapons in to combat and switching between them is remarkably easy.
The powerups found in the game are orbs dropped by enemies which will give you health or will explode killing surrounding enemies. You gain these powerups by linking together your attacks. A counter at the bottom of the screen, counts you successful hits against opponents. After each hit you have a small amount of time to land another blow, if you succeed, that blow is added to the chain and again you are given another opportunity to land another blow. If you fail to hit someone in that short gap the counter will reset. As the chain increases past certain numbers, the powerups are dropped. This gives quite a good balance as it stops you from taking enemies out from range with magic spells as you need to get into the thick of battle to get your health back. Its often worth getting yourself completely surrounded by opponents so that you can freak out and start hacking your way through their ranks.
The AI of enemy units is quite poor. Enemies are found in small groups rather than individual soldiers. When a group sees you they charge towards you and start hacking away. If you get close to another group they may also engage you, though this often leads to other units withdrawing. It becomes impossible to get engaged in a huge melee battle as most of your opponents have fled. This is annoying especially when trying to string together a huge chain attack as there is no-one close for you to hit to continue the chain. The game falls short of the battles that you would find in the Dynasty Warriors series.
Dragon missions are split in to two, high altitude and low altitude. At high altitude you will be fighting against other airbourne units. You can lock on to multiple units at once and unleash your breath attacks, or if you have sufficient magic power you can fire a magic attack. These levels break up the gameplay quite nicely, and stop you getting bored of the constant hack and slash gameplay. The main problem with this gameplay mode is that sometimes your Dragon will be forced to lock on to a single direction and it becomes difficult to establish whether you are coming or going.
At low altitude you will be fighting against ground units, you will have the option of switching between dragon and Caim. This becomes useful as when the Dragons life begins to fall low, you can drop to the ground as Caim, and build up health using the chain technique discussed above (as both characters share one life bar). The big problem with this is that enemies only become visible at the last minute. Therefore you can see a vast expanse of land ahead of you, then all of a sudden massive groups of enemies appear, but generally it is too late to do anything about it as you don't have sufficient time to aim. If there are enemy archer units present, your likely to get shot out of the sky.
Graphically the game doesn't do enough to impress. The game runs at a nice frame rate but animations aren't that nice, and for the most part are quite simple, and over repeated. Some of the games special effects are done quite well, but can sometimes lead to slowdown. The best part of the graphics are in the dragon flying levels. A lot of effort has been put into making the dragon move in a believable way.
The games voice acting is of a high standard, its some of the best I've heard in recent months. The games sound track can be a little odd in places, its quite pumping and repetitive, it really adds intensity to some of your fights.
At its core this game is a no-brainer hack and slash game, with a bit of flying thrown in to mix it up a little. The game doesn't excel in either of the game modes, and some of the graphical problems can cause a massive amount of frustration. I was surprised that Square-Enix would allow a game that has received so little polish, be released. In fact, it just feels rushed and lacks any kind of innovation. Some gamers may enjoy this game because some fun can be had with it, though there are other games in the same genre that do so much better.