I want to hate this game. I really do. It half-asses so many things that have been done elsewhere so much better that I don’t even want to acknowledge its existence. However, it does manage to be barely proficient at a few things and seems content to bask in mediocrity.
Square Enix and Ubisoft both slapped their names on this title to bring it to market, and I’m not sure what that’s supposed to say. On one hand, these companies are known for making relatively good games on a consistent basis. On the other, it backs up the notion that these guys should stick to what they know. Tobal, The Bouncer, Chocobo Racing, and Driving Emotion Type-S were all pretty good indicators of that. Okay, so there was Einhander, but everybody gets lucky once.
Drakengard 2 left me bored, beaten, and bludgeoned with its cliché and pretentious story, (one orphan boy out to save the world … again??) dull combat on the ground and in the air, and shoddy technical execution.
Prepare for everything you’ve ever seen before and nothing you haven’t. You are quickly established through endless tiring cutscenes with passable dialogue and voice acting as the unlikely hero orphan dragon tamer who will inevitably save the world from hordes of monsters by riding on dragon back, shooting fireballs down on things you can’t see, then dismounting and pressing the square button a lot.
Cutscenes — of which I swear there are more than there is actual gameplay — interrupt you every five steps to give you more info you usually don’t need. Is it so hard to just go from point A to point B, killing everything along the way?
The battles often feature lots of fellow troops who wander around clumsily poking a bad guy on occasion. You don’t feel connected to these guys at all. They’re just sort of … there. Of course, despite you being a runt and them making fun of you at every turn, when the tide of battle sways, they all look to you, begging you to bring in your dragon to clean things up. There’s no sense of teamwork or camaraderie.
There are some twists and turns along the way, leading to various available endings, but if you are willing to put up with the game long enough to see them, my hat’s off to you. The clumsy camera and constant interruptions for more forced story and cutscenes kept me from ever getting psyched about slashing guys to pieces.
Like I said before, on the dragon you shoot fireballs at ground or air targets in a system a lot like Panzer Dragoon (but less cool) or get off the dragon’s back and press square a lot. There are combos you can learn, and they make some difference in combat, but it’s not nearly as fun to use as Dynasty Warriors‘ free-form combo system where you can mix and match, and essentially make up your own moves on the fly.
Fighting outdoors opens you up to the game’s laughable draw distance. If I’m trying to firebomb guys on the ground from the air, being able to see them from more than 10 feet away would help a lot. That’s not bad execution; it’s entirely failed execution. It makes air-to-ground combat much more aggravating than it needs to be, let alone ever approaching feeling slick.
Air-to-air is slightly better in terms of visibility, but just as rote in execution. Lock on, fire, lock on, fire. The 180-turn feature is nice, and having a radar bubble makes things a little easier to handle. I even appreciate the “gas” button (press X for a speed boost) in terms of keeping air combat somewhat fast-paced. Still, at no point does it impress unless you enjoy shooting crates out of the sky. I’m not kidding. Crates. They’re probably leftovers from all those Tomb Raider puzzles nobody bothered to solve.
All the dragon play is further hampered by restricting when you can mount and dismount. It’s not logical stuff like “You’re 400 ft in the air, and it would be stupid to dismount now.” I could be flying over perfectly level, open terrain, practically touching it, and it won’t let me get off because the game doesn’t want me to for that part of the battle. Or if I’m getting pounded by bad guys, it’d be nice to jump on my dragon and make a quick escape, only to come back and torch my pursuers. Nope. Can’t do it. It makes everything feel terribly scripted.
There are weapon upgrades, and you can hot-swap characters on the fly, but this ends up being more like having an extra life or longer health bar on the battlefield than really changing the flow of battle or how you fight.
I’ve mentioned already that the draw distance is horrid, which really is one of the game’s most notable crimes. Still, while the character designs are nice and the terrain is varied, nothing really jumps out as having that unique touch implying that loving artists had anything to do with it. The music is all right, and the sound effects are decent. The blood effect is a bit silly, though. The game would have played exactly the same without it, and probably garnered a Teen rating rather than the oft-feared Mature tag. Not really sure why they bothered.
The first Drakengard was deemed sub-par. Maybe the designers take pride in only elevating their status to mediocre. It’s an improvement, but it’s still not very good compared to what else is out there.
I remember reading back when the original Drakengard was announced that the guys at Surreal took offense to people referring to it as novel or a new approach, considering their own Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates did everything Drakengard aspires to do, and much much better. Skip the pretentious nonsense of the Drakengard series and go check out that overlooked gem. Trust me, it’s got much better voice acting, visuals, story, combat, and dragon handling; you can even mount/dismount whenever you want.
At the very least, stick to the much better Panzer Dragoon and Dynasty Warriors that Drakengard so badly wants to be.
Drakengard 2 is a rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for blood and violence. This game can only be found on PS2.