In the world of Midgard chaos is held at bay only by the strength of the Seals, magical bonds placed upon a woman who is then given the title of "the goddess of the seal". If the seal is destroyed, demonic beings known only as "the watchers" would enter the world of man and wreak havoc upon the mortal realm. Caim, the elder brother of the present goddess of the seal, is mortally wounded during a siege upon his family's castle as an army corrupted by a demonic cult devoted to the watchers invades in an attempt to slay the goddess and break the seal holding their masters at bay. Desperate to survive, Caim forges a pact with a captured dragon, a creature he holds deep resentment towards. In forging this pact, Caim looses his ability to speak but gains the strength of his dragon, who now shares his life force. Together, Caim and his dragon, Angelus, rise against the empire and the cult of the watchers to defend the seals and the world as a whole.
- Real-time combat with a multitude of weapons from broadswords to daggers.
- Three modes of combat: Ground combat, air combat, and ground/air combat missions.
- The ability to fly and fight on the back of a dragon.
- A multitude of weapons, all of which can be leveled up via kills, that can be rotated out during combat.
- Several side-characters that can be used in combat.
- Multiple endings.
- Leveling up Angelus, unlocking new, more powerful forms.
The main story can run anywhere between 10 to 12 hours.
Completing the game, meeting all conditions for the true ending, and observing all the alternate endings can take anywhere between 15 and 30 hours total.
September 11, 2003 (Japan)
March 2, 2004 (North America)
Publishers: Square Enix
Price: Try your luck
The Drakengard series has a small but loyal following. It’s a very obscure game that has only recently been re-discovered through the success of NIER, a game that takes place following one of the many endings of Drakengard. The graphics aren’t stellar, especially for the time that it was released, and the trailer vaguely portrayed the content of the game so it was overlooked for bigger titles like Final Fantasy XI and Far Cry.
I happened upon Drakengard in the used bin at GameStop and knew very little about it. My sister is a massive dragon fan and had been gravely disappointed in an older game, Dragon Rage. I took a gamble and scooped up this game knowing very little about it. In this case, we got just what we had been looking for and a bit more. The game is dark, and touched on a lot of uncomfortable themes but the main characters are fighting against these things while struggling with their own inner demons. What we really enjoyed about this title was the fact that for the first time, we had control over a fire-breathing dragon, free to fly about in missions and burn our enemies to the ground.
Drakengard is an extremely dark game with heavy themes relating to the occult. The main malevolent force is a group known as the Cult of the Watchers. This cult seeks to destroy the seal binding the Watchers—essentially demonic beings—to unleash them upon the world so the world can be reborn. The cult operates by infecting their followers with a magic-based illness known as “the red eye” which robs them of their will and turns them into mindless drones. Demonic practices and disturbing imagery are common, but they are present to more firmly establish the nature of the evil that the protagonists face. The leader of the cult is a young girl who occasionally speaks with a multitude of deep voices, implying that she is under demonic influence. She is shown delighting in bloodshed and praising the watchers as she dances about. I actually cover the watchers in my Top Ten Scariest Things in Video Games list (but be forewarned of spoilers).
Our main characters are introduced bleeding to death and insulting each other; this game is not shy about bloodshed. Every stroke of the sword sends blood flying out of enemies. When you defeat them, the enemy vanishes in a large spatter of carnage, staining the ground for a few brief seconds. The opening cinematic shows Caim taking a serious wound in the back. Later he happens upon Angelus chained to the ground with arrows sticking out of her body and what looks like a summoning circle around her written in blood. This game is extremely violent with twisted visuals consistently present through the cut scenes, gore through the actual combat, and even the graphic nature of the little stories included with the weapons.
One side character, Arioch, is absolutely bat-poopie insane. It’s hinted at, and outright stated later on, that she enjoys eating people. Specifically children people. Drakengard’s content isn’t for the faint of heart.
While “big daddy” words such as the F-bomb and Shhhhikaka aren’t present, the characters still possess a rough yet colorful vocabulary. Caim loses his voice after the very first mission and Angelus is tactful for the most part, but there are several side characters with potty-mouths.
Arioch, a woman who has lost her ability to bear children, is the worst of them all. She’s gone bonkers and doesn’t exactly censor herself in any way.
Drakengard has fully earned its mature rating, even in this regard. While there are no…bits present, there are exposed female breasts at one point in the game (though they hold Barbie doll anatomy). The aforementioned Arioch also seems to be a bit of a nympho as the price of her bond was her ability to bear children. Somehow, the pact-price seems to have spiked her libido.
There are no specific mentions of either.
In a game as dark and twisted as Drakengard, one would think that you would have to really milk around for anything positive, but Drakengard is largely about redemption, forgiveness, and confronting evil within and without. Through the majority of the game, the main protagonist, Caim, makes it very clear that he has a thirst for blood and an anger management problem. He seems to delight in killing. When he stands at the threshold of death itself, he’s shown to be terrified and desperate. So desperate is he, in fact, that he is willing to forge a pact with a creature that he deeply loathes for the crimes of her species—specifically the murder of his parents. In forging a pact with Angelus, the two are bound by the same life force and are able to communicate mentally as well as share each other’s every strength and pain. (DragonHeart much?) The price of Caim’s pact is his ability to speak. This leaves Caim essentially unable to communicate with anyone but the dragon that he begrudgingly took as his pact partner.
Through the course of the game, Angelus becomes his voice of reason. She often reprimands him for his bloodlust and presents him with moral arguments that leave Caim uncomfortable. Eventually, Angelus is able to forge a deep friendship with Caim. He seems to have forgiven her of her species’s crimes and embraces her as the better half of himself. The friendship that they forge develops through the course of the game and by the end, it’s almost heart-wrenching to see just how far the other will go to see to the safety of the other. They sacrifice literally everything that they have for the sake of the other, fighting as one, and rising up against evil.
Mind, Caim is still an extremely flawed person. Angelus acts as his conscious. This is made more evident in the game’s successor.
The overall atmosphere of Drakengard is one of despair, loneliness, and corruption. The story sets a dark tone in a world that’s consumed by violence, death, and evil. Even the main character is far from noble. While his intentions are pure enough, he retains a violent nature and a delight in the necessary shedding of his enemy’s blood. Even his dragon, a creature with no love for humanity, maintains a higher moral standard than Caim. In a way, it is a refreshing take on the dragon/human relationship as in a lot of popular fiction, it’s the human that tames the dragon, not the other way around. The story itself, true to Cavia’s reputation, is strange and dour. In order to get the true ending, you have to play through multiple “alternate” endings (one of which actually leads into NIER, one of Cavia’s more recent releases).
The gameplay only reinforces the nature of Caim in that you gain rewards, both small and large, through kill count. In ground missions, Caim must accomplish “chains” in order to gain health orbs (which recover his hit point) or blast orbs (which send out a wave of energy to kill surrounding energies). Chains are achieved when Caim lands non-stop blows on the enemies around him within a few seconds from each other. Ground missions, those where you focus on playing Caim or, later down the line, one of his companions, are swamped with enemies that you must plow through in order to defeat the level. Each level is timed to one hour and instances are unlocked upon meeting certain conditions. For example, reinforcements will arrive after an area is cleared or a certain amount of enemies are killed. To progress to the next step of the ground mission, you have to route those reinforcements by killing the officers.
Ground missions are mostly comprised of Caim fighting with a set of weapons against hordes of enemies. In a way, they’re similar to the “musou”+ feel of Hyrule Warriors. The enemies range from simple foot soldiers to cavalry or tower shield infantry soldiers. The goal of ground missions are to clear the field, and accomplish the little side missions as they appear, such as seeking out a treasure or destroying a guard tower. In outdoor ground missions, Caim can summon Angelus and fly her low to the ground. She is able to cross the field quickly and unleash devastating fire attacks from the sky. However, Angelus is very weak to archers and magic users which shoot projectiles into the sky. When she takes a few hits from the air, Caim is thrown to the ground, takes damage, and Angelus flies off. Caim must dispatch the soldiers capable of projectiles before calling upon Angelus again. When fighting indoors, Caim is unable to call upon his dragon and must rely on his own strength to cut down his enemies.
Indoor ground missions are often maze-like in structure, often taking place within castles or fortresses where as ground missions are often on the outside of these structures or on open fields.
One notable element to Drakengard is the arsenal of weapons that Caim has access to. Most battles will have hidden weapons appear after certain conditions are met. Caim must seek these out during the battle. Before the beginning of any mission, you can select which weapons to take with you and during combat, you can change out weapons to best confront a situation or to level up said weapons. The weapons grow stronger with how many enemies are killed by them, though experience is given out at the end of the level rather than during. On top of that, any weapon can only level up once per mission, so it’s a good idea to check on the experience progress in the menu frequently so you don’t waste time trying to gain exp on a weapon that’s maxed out. As a weapon levels, it grows stronger, unlocks more powerful magic, and reveals a little more about its origin in the weapon select screen accessible between missions.
Often times the ground missions will lead up to or follow up an air mission in which the player takes command of Angelus with Caim mounted upon her back. Air combat is very different from ground missions as the types of enemies are often larger, tougher, and Angelus has a very different way of attacking.
In air missions, Angelus must confront things such as battle blimps, winged monsters, and magical entities. She can lock onto multiple targets (the number increases as she grows stronger) and blast them with flames. Often times air combat involves locking onto targets, attacking, then evading return fire. She can fly up and down, dive from heights, and execute a sharp flip-turn. Whereas Caim is a charge in and spill as much blood sort, Angelus’ combat is more strategy and agility based. Some enemies are surrounded by smaller enemies so air combat becomes a delicate balance of thinning the herd, defending Angelus, and striking the main enemy.
As with Caim’s weapons, Angelus grows in strength. As she grows, her fire is much stronger, she is able to execute more powerful blast attacks (which are unlocked through kill count, much the way Caim unlocks a blast attack on the ground), and she gains more hit points. Her appearance is also altered as the grows stronger, making her more intimidating and much larger.
The game also allows you to enter two modes: Story mode and Expedition mode. In Story Mode, you are guided through the main story of the game and Angelus is forced to take the form of whatever was appropriate for that point in the story. If you defeated the game and replay it from the beginning of story mode, she will return to her first stage and grow as the story progresses. In Expedition mode, you can return to certain areas and grind. This is handy between missions because it allows you to level your weapons without having to wade through the story.
Visually, Drakengard is fairly dated. Some of the minor cut scenes are clunky as the characters are limited in movement and expression. The cinematic cut scenes have held up very well, however, and are worth the effort it takes to unlock them. The voice acting is fantastic and adds to the characters what the strained graphics cannot. The biggest problem I have with the game, however, is the soundtrack. The score is very small in comparison to a lot of games that came out in its time, and the music itself is repetitive and annoying. Oftentimes the music in the background is the same five notes repeating over and over with a “climax” that lasts about ten seconds before looping back to the same five notes. The little music offered is supposed to sound intense and intimidating but it comes off more as annoying than anything.
Overall, fans of hack-and-slash adventure RPGs will find something to love. Anyone who wants to take control of a dragon will definitely not be disappointed. The story is dark and depressing, but it’s inventive and takes a lot of twists and turns. It’s worth a peek, especially if you happen upon it in the discount bin at your local GameStop.
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B0001A86EG]
+ Challenging, but fair
+ You get to fly on a freaking dragon
+ Multiple endings for increased replay value
+ Multiple playable characters and bonded beasts
+ Inventive story with multiple unexpected turns
+ Dozens of weapons with their own origin stories
+ The dynamic between Caim and Angelus is awesome
+ Diversity in combat due to switching between land and sky missions, including dragons in the former
- Difficulty spikes
- The graphics are a little dated
- Unlocking the true ending is a grind (and it's not even good)
- The majority of the soundtrack is horrible
- This game is extremely depressing and dark