Drakengard (PlayStation 2) review
"But none of them stand a chance, and it's a given that a worse-for-wear Caim will limp into his own courtyard, blood flowing freely from his wounds and dripping onto the barren earth floor. A few more troops await their death here but once they're disposed of, you learn the full extent of their actions. In the middle of the courtyard, peppered with arrows, spears and swords, awaits an imposing sight. Before you lies a dying dragon."
Drakengard's lead wastes no time in poetic speeches about the evils of battle or the noble pursuit of peace within war. Caim's motives remain simple and fixed throughout; all he wants is to kill those who stand in his way, a resolve that I, the bloodthirsty gamer, share. We both wear sardonic smiles as he tears towards unsuspecting regiments of enemy troops, thrusting his blade through their ranks with a momentum-fuelled bull-rush, scattering them like armour-plated skittles. Our malicious grins grow as he slices mercilessly into anyone stupid enough to get back to thier feet with a furious combo, cultivating in an unblockable finishing blow that sends anybody in close proximity flying, limbs flapping and wounds oozing. When the next regiment charges in to try to avenge their fallen brethren, a gore-stained Caim simply issues forth a magical stream of pyro from his blade that engulfs his would-be foes before they can do so much as swing their longswords or cock their crossbows. Shortly, all that remains of his targets is a deep red stain on the ground.
Call me satisfied. Call Caim hungry for more.
Because while I take a casual approach to manslaughter, Caim makes a career of it. We join our anti-hero camped outside his own castle, fighting to protect it from the advancing Empire army. Defending his home and protecting his sister, Furiae, may seem a noble goal, but Caim seeks only to bathe his blade in the blood of others. He's not the kind-hearted noble that usually serves avatar on expeditions such as this; his mind is broken, his every thought tainted by anger and hatred. So he stalks through the battlefield like a predator, blind to the odds stacked against him, putting all those who oppose him to the sword. He kills, maims, and slaughters, advancing through ranks slowly but surely, trudging towards the castle gates that loom ominously in the distance. Along the way, he deals with the garden variety soilder by the hundred, liberal smatterings of spear-wielding horsemen happy to trample him beneath ironclad hooves, and gatherings of goliath axe-swingers who stand sentry at his own keep's portcullis.
But none of them stand a chance, and it's a given that a worse-for-wear Caim limps into his own courtyard, blood flowing freely from his wounds and dripping onto the barren earth floor. A few more troops await their death here, but once they're disposed of, you learn the full extent of their actions. In the middle of the courtyard, peppered with arrows, spears and swords, awaits an imposing sight. Before you lies a dying dragon.
Still enveloped in his bloodlust, Caim raises his blade high and prepares to deliver a finishing blow against the crimson dragon when a reptilian head wearily rises, scorning him in an arrogant voice.
"Kill me if you desire, human, but your kind will never dirty my soul!"
Caim hesitates, his sword still levelled at the vulnerable dragon. They both stand as dying creatures, the terrible burden of their many wounds welling into in sticky puddles that litter the ground. But it's ultimately his anger, his burning desire to single-handedly slay the Empire, that steadies his hand. He decides that he will not die here. Not while there is a path that will let him live a little longer. Not while the chance to reap his vengeance still exists.
"Tell me dragon, do you still want to live? A pact! There is no other way!"
Hesitant at first, the dragon agrees to the pact and the two become of one heart, but not without consequence. Caim's wounds are no more, but he loses his voice in payment, an occult symbol blazoned on his tongue in contract with the beast. But as the dragon finds the new strength to tear through its bonds, he'll soon discover the ride was well worth the price of admission.
Now with a dragon in tow, Caim's kill rate jumps from the hundreds to the thousands. The freshly united pair can take to the air, hurling balls of flaming magma that lock on to pesky airborne threats. While you fight, villainous griffins dance between your flames, tearing at your flank with razor-sharp talons while huge floating fortresses bombard you with constant cannon fire. But your dragon is a nimble steed, one that can dart gracefully from these onslaughts, administering rapid counterattacks of the extra crispy variety.
It merrily incinerates any ground-based foes stupid enough to draw a serpentine eye to themselves. The dragon glides effortlessly above battlefields like a harbinger of death, gushing tongues of flame, turning entire regiments of soldiers into ashen piles of charcoal. Caim can even dismount his reptilian steed to see off any pesky targets that prove an obstacle to this death from above. Archers pepper your ride with arrows while soldiers protected with anti-magical equipment shower you with a retaliation of their own spells. Drop from the air and introduce them to some cold steel; it would be rude not to.
Caim even acquires new weapons to slice and dice targets with as the game advances, each with its own personal history and special abilities. His default sword spews flesh-melting flames while the mammoth Bonebreaker warhammer causes earthen monoliths to explode from the ground, skewering anyone unfortunate enough to wander near. Likewise, the Dragonhook dagger can summon a torrential downpour of metallic meteors that slam into the earth, mashing any unfortunates it crashes down on into a boneless pulp. There are sixty-five unique weapons in total to wage war with, each with its own preset requirements to obtain.
It's not just a tale of a weapon-hoarding solitary boy and his dragon, either; more pact partners emerge from the backdrop of the globe-spanning war. The woodsman, Leonard, broken-hearted by the deaths of his young kin and tricked into a pact with a malicious fairy at the cost of his sight, is the first to come to your side. He is soon followed by Arioch, a once-tender elf who's been driven insane with grief over the Empires' slaughter of her family, now seeking to extinguish children's laughter in her own brutal way. She cuts them down wherever she can find them before hungrily devouring their flesh. Her pact with the elements is paid for with the horrific debt of her womb. It's that madness that soon sets her warped sights on your last companion, Seere, early on, a young war orphan who's befriended by a rock-formed Golem. His pact costs him time, the end product being a child who can never grow into adulthood.
But it's always Caim who's at the heart of the action. It's Caim who strides through enemy lands fearlessly, toppling giants of steel, pig-faced ogres with warhammers or elastic-limbed goblins flashing cruel daggers and needle-toothed grins. It's Caim who slaughters sinister mages on the ground, then takes to the air to destroy fearsome man-made golems with bursts of hellfire. It's Caim who heartlessly leaves the still-warm corpses of children cooling behind him, ignoring their screams for mercy, oblivious to his comrade's begs to cease the hate-fuelled bloodletting. Such is the frenzy of his attacks, the ferocity of his onslaught, that you can't help being swept up in the whirlwind of insanity. Caim's sadistic grin is contagious, and you'll be wearing it soon enough.
His motives are set, and the path he carves is straight, but Caim dwells in a world that delights in the macabre, one that takes sadistic glee in genocide. Things in Drakengard's world are not black and white; they're a rather ugly shade of red.
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