Console players might think of Sega’s Panzer Dragoon when they are reminded of a game with flying dragons, but Cavia’s Drakengard has also hit the skies with it’s own action packed series that also brings button mashing madness on the ground. But while the sequel adds in a few changes to improve on the formula, it also carries much of the same baggage that the last game had flown with.
Another Boy and His Dragon
Eighteen years have passed since the end of Drakengard when the world was very nearly destroyed until the sacrifice of a dragon brought it back from the edge. The Knights of the Seal, an order of warriors formed to protect the keys that seal away the world’s doom thanks to that sacrifice, have continued in their duty since then to ensure that nothing threatens that peace. Nowe, a young man raised by a dragon and taught the ways of men by his adoptive father, General Oror, has grown up under their tutelage to become an outstanding swordsman.
General Oror’s mysterious death has left Nowe alone in the Knights to fend for himself, but although he endures ridicule and scorn from some of the others because of his reputation as having been partially raised by a dragon, he continues to prove himself with his skills. But it is only a matter of time before a fateful mission to stop a mysterious rebellion against the Knights begins turning the wheel of fate that will force him to face the truth of his past.
Drakengard 2’s gothic story is filled with tragedy, betrayal, depravity, and plenty of madness which the British-flavored voice acting brings out despite the often bland dialog. It can often try to be heavy handed with how serious it aspires to be, especially when it comes to the dragon, Legna, who views most everything with the kind of attitude that a weapon of mass destruction might share with his adopted son, Nowe. Many of the characters, including Legna, can also be chatterboxes whether it’s flying through the air or fighting each other during a boss battle which might turn off some players looking to just roast some bad guys.
It’s too bad that few of the characters actually stand out to be more than cardboard cutouts at an RPG convention. There are also more bosses in the sequel than there were in the first, and each of them do add quite a bit of twisted color to the story as it is. Much of the story is also tied into the events of the first Drakengard so if you’re just jumping into the action now, you might end up wondering what the hell is going on.
The game runs about twenty or so hours to burn through the single player campaign, more if you decide to explore the side missions that are basically there to farm for experience and cash. When the end comes, the story concludes with one of three endings with the other two available only after additional playthroughs. You are allowed to keep everything you’ve earned while upping the difficulty with each trip through the campaign, but this felt more like overkill to have to play through the game…again…just to get to the fork where the story changes.
It does give you something else to try for, but at the cost of becoming a repetitive exercise that wasn’t all that fun the first time through. The original Drakengard allowed you to play through any of the campaign missions and when conditions were met, new ones could open up without having to repeat the entire game. Not so in the sequel. Fortunately, if you want to see the alternate endings without having to slog through this again with slightly tougher enemies, there’s always Youtube.
Flying High, Death Below
The basic flight and fight mechanics from the first Drakengard haven’t changed too much allowing veterans to get right into the game. For new players, the sequel will hold your hand in the first few missions to let you know what you should do, although it does ramp it up with some surprises that can kill you quickly. If you die during one of the missions, you have the option to quit out or continue with any experience that you may have gained during the adventure. Saves are handled after missions or after you purchase stuff at a village.
Flying Legna is handled with the left analog stick for general movement as he’s always moving forward. You’re not flying along rails, either, meaning that you can dive, ascend, and generally use whatever space there is to dance around your enemies in trying not to get killed. The square face button is used for launching a big fireball of death at foes in the sky or the ground. When it’s held down, Legna will lock onto multiple enemies for a Panzer Dragoonish homing breath attack. It’s weaker than the unguided fireball, but you can quickly clear the skies of weaker foes or hammer away at a stubborn one with multiple shots.
The L1 and R1 buttons will allow Legna to dodge left and right respectively while spinning around 180 degrees is as simple as clicking on the L1 and R1 buttons at the same time. The X button launches Legna ahead in a burst of speed, or when held, has him fly faster towards whatever direction you’re pointing at. You can also hover over targets, or acquire special breath bonuses that can be used in combat such as a shield that allows you to ram enemies in the air or breath a super fireball. Unfortunately, you can’t carry these over to the next battle if you have extras left.
The easy controls can make any player a knight on dragonback with only a little practice, but the awful camera from the first Drakengard also makes a return. This isn’t so much of a problem early on, but later in the game, attacks will be coming in from the sides and behind where you won’t be able to see things such as homing fireballs until it can be too late to spin the view around. Getting used to the fact that you will occasionally get chumped from attacks that you can’t see until it is too late will be something that you’ll just need to accept, work on predicting through the radar, or by listening to the sound effects. Fortunately, Legna is pretty resilient. He’ll also gain levels with experience and at certain points in the game, morph into a more powerful variant with dramatically improved abilities.
The fighting on the ground pits Nowe and any party members that have joined him against hordes of soldiers and monsters in a third person Dynasty Warriors inspired melee. In some of these ground missions, Nowe can call upon Legna and turn his foes into ashes…or just hurt them really badly…with fire as you fly over the battlefield, although some will need to be taken on with a more one on one approach because they seem to have asbestos in their blood.
With new friends joining Nowe on his quest come new weapon options, replacing the one character arsenal from the first one. Nowe’s good with swords, Eris is handy with a spear which is great against foes that line up for the kill along with the undead, Manah fights with staves whose magic can level most monsters in her way, and Urick’s ability with an axe can kill most monsters with a single blow…or two or three. Switching to another weapon switches the character controlled by the player on the field. You won’t see your party tagging along with you unless it’s from the save or statistics screen.
In a change from the first game, you can also buy many of the weapons for each of your characters from shops. While you had to find every weapon that you wanted to use from the first game by revisiting stages, Drakengard 2 provides shops that can also supply you with health items and even a few accessories that can be equipped for additional protection, attack power, or even extra experience or magic. Exploration is still rewarded with the discovery of extra gold tucked away on a corner of the map or in finding a particular weapon. If you have the map for an area, chests containing these goodies will be marked making them easier to find.
Inventory is handled by equipping items and weapons on the “Grand Wheel”, a rotating inventory of what you take with you into battle. Picking what you’ll need in the next fight, whether it’s in equipping the latest weapon or making sure you’ve filled your inventory slots with enough heals, will be important as you can’t change your choices when the action starts.
Weapons earn experience and can go up to a max level of four, unlocking new special combination attacks and strengthening their magic. Each weapon has a set of combos that you can button mash through to send foes flying away or knock them right on their backs. Magical attacks are also available with each weapon, such as a sonic boom attack that can help you escape a crowd of sword wielding fanatics or one that summons a massive chunk of ice to erupt from the ground. These pull from the magic meter that you’ll also need to watch beneath your health and you regenerate magic through your attacks or, in Manah’s case, by guarding against the same. As useful as some of the combinations are, you won’t really find a need to use many of them when button mashing works just as well for most of the game.
Drakengard 2’s ground combat is still the same boring mess that it was from the first one, even with the new weapon options and extra bosses. Even for something that resembles Dynasty Warrior, it lacks much of the flash and variety that can still make it fun, such as horses, fancy special attacks, enemy commanders that add flavor to the fight with their brief personalities other than the bosses, or combos that are much easier to pull off than what you have to work with here. It’s still as bland as much of the graphics can be on the ground. You can take to the skies on Legna in most of these ground missions and blast your foes below, but experience is only awarded when the characters themselves are doing the dirty work…like Nowe.
Another incentive for taking things one on one are with chain attacks. Every attack can count as a part of the chain that can be built up. At certain points, such as every fiftieth attack, health and magic orbs will drop from foes as a sort of reward as the character’s attacks speed up. As the chain grows, a small multiplier will added to whatever experience you earn as long as you can keep it up by finding more enemies to beat up on before the chain fades.
The story also doesn’t do a good job with its characters and does even less in describing the world to anyone else other than its fans. Much of the landscape is pretty blah with enough rocky plains to bury the moon, adding a dull apocalyptic note to most everything including the characters. There’s not much to look at, especially with many of the indoor scenes devoid of most anything other than in providing spaces for monsters. Your enemies also come in a variety of similarly boring flavors which the title throws at you with incredible speed. When you’ve seen one monster, you’ll also see a few hundred more of the same later on. At least the excellent music tries to make things more fun.
The paintily drawn character portraits used in dialog asides resemble those used in Valkyrie Profile and add plenty to the story even if they are only stills. Many of the explosions and special breath attacks that Legna uses also look good, and there are a few scenes that really try to bring across a sense of awe only to be grounded later as you hack your way through yet another army of hapless cannon fodder. You don’t need to take on everyone if you only want to hit your targets and get on with the game, but many times, the story missions are some of the better opportunities for experience than the side missions that open up.
The battles in the air are another story and is easily the stronger half of this blood soaked saga if only because they take you away from the mind numbing ground pounding that you’re forced to endure if you want to level up. Many of the fights will pit Legna against everything from flying cubes to flying battleships, or even stranger creatures such as flying skulls. For a massive beast, Legna’s agility creates some of the fastest action seen in the game and breaks up the action with some exciting battles. The bosses that face Legna rely on fewer cheap attacks than they the ones from the first game did, but that’s not saying much.
Drakengard 2 is a decent followup to the first game and one that fans will likely appreciate more than others as they find out what had happened to the world that they thought they had saved. For a dragon sim, it provides plenty of action along with improvements over the original…provided that you have the patience to get through some of its more annoying shortcomings such as the grind on the ground and the somewhat dull nature of the world and many of its characters. It’s not a terrible game, but it’s hard to have fun when only half of the experience spares you from feeling like a human blender.
– World 1-1