In Drakengard, you'll switch between hacking and slashing your way through literally hundreds of enemies and taking to the skies on the wings of a fire-breathing dragon, whose attacks can incinerate legions of foes. There are some role-playing-game trappings, such as how you gain experience points for your kills and how you acquire an increasingly large arsenal of weapons to choose from as you proceed through the game's quest. Also, despite a conventional-sounding premise, Drakengard's story and setting are actually somewhat unusual, and the whole game has a distinctive feel to it, between the story and the strangely unsettling soundtrack. Unfortunately, the core action that dominates the gameplay is highly repetitive and not particularly interesting, but Drakengard is still worth a look from those intrigued by the game's strange theme.
Caim is a hateful, young man whose violent ways are perfectly suited for the blood-soaked job he has to do in Drakengard.
The story of Drakengard focuses on Caim (which rhymes with "time"), who is an embittered young warrior who fights for the Union against the powerful threat known as the Empire. Early on in the game, Caim sustains a mortal injury while defending his homeland against the Empire's advances. As fate would have it, he happens upon a dying red dragon in the midst of all the carnage. Though Caim has no fondness for such creatures, the two realize that they are each other's only hope for survival. They perform a ritual, simply called a "pact," which restores them to health but ties their spirits to each other. Now, with this dragon's aid, Caim must defeat the Empire once and for all. Specifically, his priority throughout much of the game will be to defend his sister, who is apparently a goddess, from harm. Be that as it may, Drakengard boils down to Caim and his dragon companion blazing through droves of enemies.
This is a single-player game, the brunt of which is contained in a linear campaign spanning a series of chapters, each of which contains multiple stages, or "verses." Some stages are short, lasting just a few minutes' worth of carnage, while others are much longer and can take nearly an hour. The game isn't particularly long from start to finish (15 hours or so), but it feels rather drawn out, simply because there's little variety to it. Missions come in three varieties--or, rather, more like two and a half. Some missions take place on foot. You'll control Caim from a third-person perspective as he runs around vast, flat, wide-open environments slaying everyone in his path. You'll spend a majority of your time playing Drakengard in such sequences, which are clearly reminiscent of Koei's popular Dynasty Warriors series in how they let you easily cut your way through entire armies. The twist is that many of these missions optionally permit Caim to hop onto or off of his dragon at any time, and his dragon can not only lay waste to many types of enemies faster than Caim can, but she also moves much faster than Caim.
It's a good thing that the game actively switches up between on-foot missions, aerial missions, and story sequences, or else it would get unbearably repetitive.
The other type of mission takes place high above the sky, where you'll pick off tons of targets by using your dragon's breath attacks. Here the dragon can launch seeking blasts at multiple enemies, much like in Sega's classic Panzer Dragoon series. For good measure, the game has a small handful of battles against boss opponents, all of which take place in the aerial missions. Also, the game occasionally cuts to an isometric perspective for some brief, partially interactive story sequences. There are a few good-looking prerendered cutscenes thrown in, too, as well as text screens in between each of the scenarios. There's even an overworld map that ostensibly allows you to choose from different destinations, but as mentioned, the game is linear, so the map doesn't serve an obvious purpose except to let you revisit earlier stages. In fact, while Drakengard has a hodgepodge of different elements to it, none are particularly well developed. It's almost as if the developers were forced to throw in a few superficial role-playing elements just to ensure that their game would appeal to the average fan of Square- Enix's other games. Instead, they probably should have focused on making the on-foot action more interesting.
As it stands, there just isn't a whole lot to the action. To execute Caim's melee attack combos, you just hammer on the X button. As a variation, by pressing the triangle button at certain points in the combo, you can execute a finishing blow that can flatten everyone in the area. The timing of this isn't difficult, so you'll end up reusing the same basic combos over and over and over. After every few kills, you'll stock up enough of a charge for a magic blast, which can be quite powerful depending on your weapon. You can't get too reliant on your magic, though, because red-armored enemies (which become quite common in the second half of the game) automatically counter your spells, as well as your dragon's breath. Alternatively, you'll meet a few powerful allies during your adventure whom you can temporarily transform into so that you can wreak havoc on the enemy forces. You can also block and execute evasive lateral rolls, but there's really no reason to do so--so just keep swinging.
Caim's weapons can level up several times as he uses them to kill more and more enemies, and with higher weapon levels come bigger damage, longer combos, and stronger magic. The game has dozens of different weapons in it, and you can bring and readily switch between as many as eight of them in a given mission. However, most weapons are fairly hidden and must be found in the game's optional side quests. The weapons each do have a slightly different feel to them, as well as a unique magic effect, but the action itself is so repetitive that you probably won't be too eager to find every last one of them.