Auteur video game director Yoko Taro is someone I have a complicated opinion on because his work, taken as a whole, is a lot like “Trout Mask Replica” or “Metal Box” — interesting and unique in approach, but close to impossible to actually get through.
The original “Drakengard” left me with enough traumatic memories to play through the spinoff “NieR” out of sheer self-destructive madness, which balanced out my undying ire for Yoko Taro’s churlish shenanigans with a genuine respect based on his clever use of the gaming medium to create original and impactful experiences. Suffice it to say that I had no clue what to expect from “Drakengard 3”, which had been left by the wayside in the wake of “NieR: Automata”’s nigh-on universally positive reception and treated as the closest thing save “Drakengard 2” to being the runt of the litter, as it were.
“Drakengard 3” is, put in the usual banal game-reviewer-speak, your average character-action game. The dragon-riding aspect from the first two games is significantly scaled back, as is the “Dynasty Warriors” influence, and the result is something closer to “No More Heroes” or “Kid Icarus: Uprising” than another “Drakengard” or “NieR.” This extends to the writing and narrative as well, which mix a never-ending barrage of awkward, raunchy, completely unfunny jokes into proceedings to create a tone almost as schizophrenic and surreal as those of its predecessors. Instead of mimicking “Berserk” or spinning a complex deconstructive yarn, “Drakengard 3” uses a seemingly simple story — that of vengeful demigod Zero’s quest to destroy her sisters with the help of her screechy-voiced pet dragon — to take the player through repeated gut-punching collisions between their concept of the protagonist and the truth of what’s going on behind the scenes. Nothing is as it seems, the Intoners aren’t who you think they are and even saying that much borders on spoiling the experience.
The soundtrack lies at the exact midpoint between “Drakengard” and “NieR,” combining the former’s nightmarish sampling with the latter’s beautiful orchestrations and vocals for a great sonic match to the tone. The surprising momentum of the game, owed to its short runtime and sparse level reuse, makes it much easier to recommend and immediately enjoy than Taro’s other works, although it comes across as extremely morbid and hypocritical for what has always been portrayed in-series as senseless mass murder to actually entertain for most of the runtime, especially given that the new fancy texture effects leave Zero running around literally soaked in blood. The boss fights and levels are varied and stylish as well, adding further accessibility to balance out the annoying sidequests, technical incompetence (prepare for a good amount of screen-tearing, texture pop-in, poor load-masking, loading screens, framerate drops, etc.), and budget look present, culminating in one of the most memorable, thematically appropriate and sadistically difficult final challenges I’ve yet seen in a game.
All told, “Drakengard 3” is an interesting attempt to streamline the “Drakengard/NieR” experience, but it feels like it’s going through the motions on some level. While its progress in fleshing out the already-convoluted series lore is respectable, it keeps it from being the ideal introductory “Drakengard” game, and it lacks the larger ambition of Yoko’s earlier opuses, both of which took much greater creative risks and required far less TVTropes-trawling to get the gist of narratively.
It feels just a bit too much like we’ve done this whole song and dance before.
That said, the story is written with Taro’s trademark subtlety and poignant endings, keeping “Drakengard 3” far above the average in narrative and structure. The road to the finale is rife with interesting twists and turns. The combat is fairly simplistic and easy, too, as is to be expected from a “Drakengard” game (I beat the entire game on hard mode without dodging or blocking, to little incident), but it gets difficult enough near the end to remain engaging. I recommend “Drakengard 3” as an introduction to the series, as it’s one of the more accessible entries, although I will say that playing through the original “Drakengard” will greatly improve the experience.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer, and did not buy or play through any of the DLC for Drakengard 3 for this review.
If You Play
Price: $14.99 (digital on PSN), $30-250 (physical, depending on edition and condition)
Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 5.2 GB plus paid DLC chapters, cosmetics, and audio
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date: May 20, 2014
Genre (if applicable): Hack-and-Slash/Character Action
Developer: Access Games