The mad geniuses at Access Games return for another ruthless, raunchy ride
As a franchise, I don't really have fond memories of Drakengard. I was pretty excited for the original, but I found it to be a real mixed bag: it was more repetitive than Dynasty Warriors, I kind of hated all the characters, it had a really sick and twisted sense of humor (and characters like a blind pedophile and an elf that ate babies). In fact, Drakengard turned me off so much that I entirely skipped Drakengard 2--but then along came spiritual successor Nier, taking place in the universe of Drakengard's insane "Ending E." I enjoyed Nier, but even its own successes did little to redeem Drakengard for me.
Now, proudly developed by the original design team, Drakengard 3 doesn't even try to be anything new or world-changing--it's still the same totally f**ked-up experience as the original Drakengard, and maybe that's for the better. Zero, a powerful "Intoner," is on a quest to murder her five sisters, appropriately named Five, Four, Three, Two, and One... along with any mooks, minions, and monsters stupid enough to get in the way of her revenge. There are no plucky or optimistic heroes in Drakengard 3--it's a world of dickheads. While I'm loath to call a woman a "bitch" (I usually say that someone is bitchy--it's different!), I think it's safe to say that Zero is a ruthless, backstabbing, front-stabbing, cold-hearted bitch with a boldfaced capital B.
Seriously, five Ancient Sages of Bitchdom all gathered together one day on the peak of Mount Bitch to proclaim her birth.
This isn't the Kratos thing where you're supposed to sympathize with her, either--Zero casually murders practically everyone and gets a laugh out of it, and she'd definitely be the bad guy in any other game. Along with her interchangeable disciples (each one just as screwed-up as the last, including a sadistic shota and a very, um... active and indiscriminate old man), Zero drags along her poor, innocent dragon Mihkail for the ride. Mikhail is like a little kid, injecting awkward questions into the game's sometimes-anachronistic, always-inappropriate dialogue, like "what's a fetish dungeon?" or asking what the difference is between "slutty" and "sleazy."
Mechanically, Drakengard 3 is solid, but it could be better. Despite how it looks, it's an action game with RPG elements, not a pure JRPG, closer to the Dynasty Warriors or Kingdom Under Fire games (or Ninety-Nine Nights, where I think I'm the only fan). On-foot combat gives you plenty of enemies to fight in pretty hefty crowds, but it's floaty and lacks impact. Movement is loose, and the lock-on targeting doesn't automatically target the closest enemy--usually it'll target whoever's closest to the center of the screen regardless of distance. You can quickly switch between four weapon classes with different speeds and effects--some are good for crowd control, others for dealing heavy damage to a single target. When you're overwhelmed (or just want to finish somebody off in a cool way because it's friggin' spectacular), Zero can activate her "Intoner Mode," granting you invincibility and extra attack power. Overall, the on-foot combat is kind of on the easy side (because I kind of unrealistically expect every video game to try and physically harm me), and I found no real reason to buy new weapons, choosing instead to just upgrade my base weapons and doing just fine.
You can also hop on Mikhail's back for dragon-riding combat on the ground and in the air, letting you take on massive bosses or entire armies. Unfortunately, the controls are kind of clunky, and aiming is inaccurate. Moving around with Mikhail is fine whether you're flying or running, but tying aiming and movement to the same reticle can get pretty irritating, especially when you have to constantly recenter the aiming reticle after dodging attacks while trying to hit a tiny target. Dragon combat is pretty inconsistent, and can get pretty frustrating due to its own shortcomings as opposed to any actual challenge, but it's satisfying and exciting when the game's not expecting that much out of you.
As a game, Drakengard 3 has room for improvement. It's easy and lacks polish--it's never bad, but never particularly good either. As an overall experience, though, it rocks. I can mash my way through a pretty easy boss fight or another frustrating flying segment just so I can see exactly what on Earth Zero's going to do next, or hear the next bit of off-color dialogue from her disciples. This isn't like Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (or Steins;Gate--sorry, still hate Okabe) where the main character's an unfunny tool--there's a lot of shock and schlock in Drakengard 3, but it never seems to overstay its welcome, like that best friend of yours who keeps making dead baby jokes... and you keep laughing for some awful reason. Maybe Nier didn't redeem Drakengard for me, but Drakengard 3 sure as hell did.
+ Shocking, raunchy, and downright mean, but tempered with enough actual fun and snappy writing to keep you coming back
+ It's a reasonable length that doesn't overstay its welcome, but dangles the replay carrot for hardcore fans
+/- Combat (the bulk of the game) isn't bad enough to be awful, but not good enough to be great
- Controls are floaty, loose, and sometimes frustratingly inaccurate in terms of aiming
- The game is a little too easy, with no real reason to be smart about your upgrades or weapon choice