Drakengard PlayStation 2
Developed by Cavia/Square Enix
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99
Square Enix have a reputation for creating quality RPG games that few can equal. Most of their better known games (and those of the separate companies before they merged) have been built around a turn-based combat system that's always served them excellently in it's many different forms. However their latest title, Drakengard, has been developed not with a turn-based combat system but with a real-time combat system. Can it be as appealing and as tactical as their previous turn-based combat systems or is Drakengard a simple hack 'n' slash like so many other real-time combat games out there?
Drakengard is set in a mythical ancient time when dragons roam the Earth. The two main forces, the Union and the Empire are locked in a seemingly everlasting battle over a goddess. This goddess has the power to protect the harmony of the whole world. There are said to be four seals that if found and broken, will cause the gods to sow the seed of resurrection and these seeds are said to bring forth the salvation of mankind. Three seals are said to be hidden away in three secret locations but the fourth seal is said to the goddess herself. You control her brother, Caim as he attempts to protect her. Caim will need help to fight the hoards of enemies that lie in his path and, on the verge of death, he makes a pact with a dying red dragon that enable them both to live. The pact costs Caim his voice.
Throughout the game you'll either be controlling the dragon in the air or controlling Caim on the ground. The game is split into chapters which themselves are split into missions. The missions are timed and need to be completed before the timer runs out. As we mentioned at the beginning the combat system is real-time and a real departure from what we're used to with Squaresoft/Square Enix games. Whilst real-time combat can be worthwhile, what we have in Drakengard is deeply disappointing. Instead of allowing for a tactical approach to the battle you'll have to put up with button bashing that's just about as repetitive as it can be. As you progress through the game Caim will have more weapons available to him (and the weapon being used alters the magic attack that you can use) and you can change between weapons whenever you want to. More often than not you'll have to deal with swarms of enemies although you don't always have to deal with all of them and those you do have to deal with will be indicated by the word 'target'. However it's worth noting that you'll gain experience with each of your weapons for taking on enemies so the more you take on the more quickly the weapons will level up so if you simply head for your 'target' enemies, you're going to make things more difficult for yourself in the long run. Magic attacks can be performed and this helps to make lighter work of your enemies but it doesn't do anything to improve what is a very poor combat system.
Whilst you're controlling the dragon you'll have the extra task of controlling it's flight whilst you take out the enemies. Thankfully the dragon controls very nicely indeed and I actually enjoyed these parts of the game much more than when you are simply controlling Caim on the ground. The inclusion of a quick 180 degree turn (by pressing the L1 & R1 buttons together) helps to improve the handling of the dragon. Taking out enemies with the dragon is a far easier proposition but it's not always possible. Caim will be faced with certain situations where he has to fight alone. When the dragon is available for use you'll sometimes have the option of dismounting Caim, which will cause you to regain control of him.
One of the main disappointments for me with Drakengard is the graphics which look below par for a Square Enix title. The draw distance is ridiculously poor and enemies pop-up all over the place rather than coming gently into focus. You'll notice quite a lot of distance fogging all over the place which is rather reminiscent of the Nintendo 64 games. Slain enemies just disappear, which again looks unsightly. The detail in the games buildings is low and objects have an unnatural angular appearance to them. The frame rate is generally smooth but it does dip on the odd occasion, which is surprising given the below par look of the game. For most of the time you'll be able to control the game camera although sometimes you are given a fixed view that can't be altered. For the most part though there aren't any real issues with the camera.
Drakengard will not cause deaf gamers any problems. Thankfully you can enable subtitles and when they are enabled you'll be able to not only enjoy the games story but also all the dialogue that takes place during the game. The Dragon will talk a lot to Caim (Caim became a mute as a consequence of the pact) and it's great to see that all the speech is subtitled. The games cutscenes are subtitled too, which again is most welcome. All the information is shown in text and you will be able to fully understand everything that is going on. Pressing the R3 button during combat will bring up a large map that will show you the position of your 'target' enemies so it's simple enough to find out where you have to go next.
The biggest problem gamers will have with Drakengard is that it's completely different from what you would expect from Squaresoft or Square Enix. For a game that's decided to use a real time combat system you would have thought they would have gone for one that's truly innovative or one that requires some degree of skill. The combat in Drakengard is simple and repetitive and lacks the refinement that you'd expect to find these days. The annoying thing though is that the game could have been really good had the combat system and the graphics been better. I personally thought the story was fairly good and of course it was great to see the game subtitled. If you don't mind a simple real-time combat system that's effectively a repetitive hack 'n' slash then you might be able to enjoy the game but if you were expecting a Final Fantasy class game then you're going to be bitterly disappointed.
Game Rating: 5.6/10
Overall it's mediocre in every respect. If you like a hack 'n' slash that keeps things simple then it might just appeal to you but like Unlimited Saga it's another Square Enix title that just downright disappoints.
The game is fully subtitled so there's no complaints in terms of catering for deaf gamers.