Have you ever had what you think would be a great idea for a game? Do you constantly mentally deconstruct titles as you play them, insert your own set-pieces, ideas and gimmicks, and marvel at what could be? I reckon Cavia did a couple of years ago whilst playing Dynasty Warriors and Panzer Dragoon as some light relief to whatever Final Fantasy was around at the time, and somebody had a brainstorm:
“I know what’ll be a great game, ” said Mr Ideas man, pointing a solitary finger in the air, “how about we combine bits of all three of these games we are currently playing!”
“Genius!” said Mr Big-Time Publisher, as he scrambled to find a blank cheque.
And so Drakengard was borne (disclaimer: unlikely to have happened as described), a tapestry weaved from threads of Dynasty Warriors, Panzer Dragoon and Final Fantasy, mixing a grand, cliched but twisting story with mindless on-rails shooting and repetitive hack-and-slash action. I played it, reviewed it and thought it wasn’t bad, and clearly enough people were of the same opinion because now, nearly two years later, a sequel has turned up with a number of changes and new features. So, has the new material created a whole new work of art, or is the needlework still too similar to the original creation?
Set some eighteen years after the events in the first game, we join our young protagonist Nowe as he is about to be ordained into the Knights of the Seal and become a defender of the Four Seals which keep the world in order. Nowe isn’t an ordinary knight (or person) however, as he was raised by a dragon (Legna) and so is hailed as a saviour by the people, although there is a relative peace as the game opens. Naturally, this doesn’t last long, and soon Nowe and his faithful beast are off to one of the Holy Seals to put down a band of insurgents intent on destroying the Seal for reasons unknown. During this mission Nowe learns some disturbing facts about the allegedly noble and true knights, and starts to question their role in the world. It isn’t long before his tenure as a Knight of the Seal ends, and he becomes a fugitve.
The story has some twists and turns along the way to the conclusion, and has some reasonably mature themes, much like the first game. Indeed, the story can be held as one of the highlights of the package, although whether you deem that as praise depends on your view of the rest of the content, for at its heart, Drakengard 2 really is just Drakengard with different main characters.
Ok, that’s a little harsh. What we have here is a a game made up of two basic elements; ground-based and airborne missions. Those based on land are broadly a free-roaming hack-and-slash ’em-up, where you will play as either Nowe or one of the three companions that he picks up through the story. Objectives are rarely anything other than to run there and speak to somebody, or just to simply kill lots of foes to proceed. These missions also allow you to seek out new weapons (there are 67 to collect) or magical attire that can boost abilities. On the battlefield the choice of characters add some variety (at least to the attack animations), and each companion has a different weapon set and abilities, and can be selected on the fly, so that it is easy to switch characters mid-battle to utilise certain skills. As with the first title, the main-man, Nowe, can call upon the assistance of Legna to attack from the sky, which can be a boon when large numbers need to be dispatched quickly.
Longevity on the battlefield for our heroes is helped by the fact that you can now take health-restoration potions with you (something the original game lacked), thus (partially) offsetting against the fact that you still can’t save mid-mission. Weapons now also have combo attacks, rather than being limited to just bashing the square button (although that is still the easiest way through the game). So far, then, these are good things.
The dragon-based combat is pretty much unchanged, though. Sure, there are now some different magic attacks that can be performed and you can also use potions on your dragon now, but that’s about it. I still liken it to being akin to an on-rails shooter, as whilst you are able to fly around the map, there is no reason to do so. Same old, same old here then. And this is true of the psuedo-RPG elements, too; again characters will level up after a number of kills, as do the weapons, but you have no interactivity or any choices to make.
No matter which mission you are undertaking, you won’t be impressed by the game engine, which hasn’t seen any improvement from the original title. In fact, pop-up seems even worse than before, and again colours are very murky, drab and dark. The voice acting is patchy, too, with some dialogue delivered in a manner that suggests the actors weren’t happy with what they were paid.
Part of the problem with Drakengard 2 is that it – and to its detriment – practically epitomises the adage ‘If it ain’t broke…’, but of course, although it may not be badly broken, it wasn’t in fantastic shape to start with. Indeed, aside from the few additions made to the combat (none of which add a much to the overall dynamic), nothing has changed from the original title. The amount of (repetitive) combat you have to plough through (which you will if you find that the story grips you), the fact that you need to play through it three times to see the true ending, and the frustrating Legna-based missions, are all hang-ups from the first game – none of which have been solved.
Ultimately it just feels like you’ve played it before (and if you completed the first game, then I guess you have), and that feeling permeates every part of the lenghty campaign. Nothing feels fresh, nor is there any depth to any aspect. And that is a shame, because it isn’t a bad game, just a merely average one, and yet because we have moved on it feels slightly worse than the original. True, on paper the story is quite interesting, the thought of slaying enemies with man and beast is enticing, it has multiple endings and weapons to collect to draw in the completists, and yet it just doesn’t pull it off, like Drakengard back in 2004. Maybe the next time Mr Ideas Man speaks up, Mr Big-Time Publisher will demand a little bit more evidence that it can work before opening that chequebook. Here’s hoping.