Drakengard 2 (PlayStation 2) review
"Drakengard 2 will piss off Drakengard fans. It’s your standard bad sequel, but it goes further than that. Developers Cavia actually took steps in the right direction and then blew it. With the tweaked mechanics of the flawed yet beloved original game, Drakengard 2 should have been a worthy sequel and one kick ass brawler. Instead, Cavia implemented other “improvements” in hopes of adding variety and eliminating repetition. The resulting game is an awkward mix of brawling, to..."
Drakengard 2 will piss off Drakengard fans. It’s your standard bad sequel, but it goes further than that. Developers Cavia actually took steps in the right direction and then blew it. With the tweaked mechanics of the flawed yet beloved original game, Drakengard 2 should have been a worthy sequel and one kick ass brawler. Instead, Cavia implemented other “improvements” in hopes of adding variety and eliminating repetition. The resulting game is an awkward mix of brawling, too much aerial combat, and tacked on adventure elements.
The first red flag goes up with the beginning of the generic narrative. 18 years have passed since bloodthirsty lunatic Caim and his pact partner, a red dragon named Angelus, saved the world from the brink of destruction in the twisted story of Drakengard. This time around you play as Nowe. He pretty much meets all the requirements of a JRPG hero: androgynous physique, goofy hair, whiny disposition, etc. Like Caim, Nowe has his own band of helpers. The villainous little girl, Manah, returns as a party member, but the past 18 years has molded her into a benevolent adult mage and also the token love interest. Spear-wielding female knight Eris follows the “Tifa role” – longtime lady friend that secretly wants nothing but to get into the protagonist’s pants. Then there’s Urick, a suicidal brute whose entire subplot is ruined by emotionless voice acting that sounds more like a wandering merchant from Fable than a guy pleading to be killed. It’s not a good sign when the game’s only likeable character, Nowe’s curmudgeonly dragon Legna, isn’t even human.
The ragtag group sets out to destroy the very seals that nearly killed everyone in Drakengard because Manah said they should and Nowe inexplicably has the hots for her. The plot then unfolds with generic story points like “Let’s move on to the next seal!” or “Let’s save the innocent villagers!” Then throw in stupid villains like a guy that constantly groans, “I’m SOOOOO hungry!” (Manah defeats him by describing a roast) and overly blunt foreshadowing that makes every plot twist obvious. Finally Cavia decided to bastardize ex-heroes Caim and Angelus. Caim has been given a trashy pencil-thin beard making him look more likely to beat his child bride than decapitate platoons of knights, while Angelus has gone completely insane toasting villages like a 500 pound Cajun cook. And then Nowe insinuates that the two are deeply in love with each other. Excuse me while I vomit.
I could ignore a bad plot if it were accompanied by awesome gameplay. Drakengard 2 vastly improves upon its predecessor’s mechanics. Movement is much faster, weapons have more complex and exquisite combos, and defensive techniques are executed smoother than ever. There’s also a new multi-tiered magic system allowing for more powerful crowd-clearing spells the longer you hold the Circle button. Mechanics don’t mean squat though if the game is otherwise poorly designed.
One problem stems from the new focus on a party rather than having one main character with optional helpers. Each fighter has their own strengths that need to be called upon to finish missions. For example, Nowe’s swords deal double damage to armored knights and excel at crowd control, while Manah’s staves conjure amazing spells and inflict excessive damage to mages and undead. The problem is the likes of knights and mages will be clumped together forcing constant switching between characters and waiting for them to load on screen every single time. Since party members don’t share experience, the frequent swapping hinders leveling up weapons, a requirement for unlocking more combos and spells. Additionally, Urick and Eris are barely along for the ride with Urick being available for about a fourth of the game and Eris only sticking around for two or three early missions. Despite this, there are still times afterwards in which they’d be extremely useful, but instead you struggle with Nowe and Manah.
When there are actual moments of uninterrupted brawling, Drakengard 2 is a blast. With significantly better graphics and a decent soundtrack this time, going Beatrix Kiddo on a room filled with soldiers and covering the floor with gallons of blood is as exciting as ever. And there’s always jumping on Nowe’s own personal dragon and spewing globs of fire into infantry. But in an attempt to add variety, Cavia replaced brawling armies with far less interesting activities. These include hours of running around labyrinthine caves and dungeons killing sparse peons along the way, hitting crystals to open doors, flying over obstacles with Legna, and stumbling into portals to chase after fugitives. Variety is great and all, but only if brawling is replaced with something just as fun. It would be like if while developing Devil May Cry Capcom had said, “Hey, we need more long segments of nothing but platforming. Everyone loves platforming!”
Worst of all is the inclusion of stronger, elite enemies like undead spearmen, heavy infantry and minotaurs to replace armies of easier foes. At any time, these goons can instantly pull off powerful desperation moves, which you will not be able to block if you’re in the middle of a combo. Once the game starts throwing hordes of undead or heavy soldiers your way, they can easily gang up on you with desperation attacks to quickly kill your character in seconds.
Aerial missions share a similar fate. Although they’ve been beefed up with smoother controls and new special attacks, you’ll be groaning at the prospects of another ride with Legna. The amount of aerial missions has been significantly increased in Drakengard 2 to the point in which it feels like every other battle is in the air. Flying on Legna quickly becomes routine once you notice the aerial environments seldom change, and later missions simply add more and more waves of the same tired enemies. By the time there’s any real change in air, it’s already too late because you’ll be too jaded from the game’s many flaws to really appreciate it.
Drakengard 2 does, however, add a much appreciated feature with the inclusion of shops. There are variety of healing items to buy, equip, and use anytime during both air and ground battles. Additionally, gold can be spent on accessories, which augment the party’s stats, or new weapons. The inclusion of weapons among merchants’ wares is sadly a mistake on Cavia’s part. About half of the game’s weapons are purchased in shops, but there’s no point in buying them since there are constantly freebies of similar or better value scattered throughout battles. Locating weapons is also nowhere near as fun as it was in Drakengard. Rather than having to beat a requisite number of goblins or finishing an aerial mission in a certain time, now most hidden weapons are right out in the open begging to be snatched.
Fans of the original will quickly notice that you can no longer replay story missions. It all makes sense in the end though once you learn Drakengard 2 has the nerve to require two additional full playthroughs on harder difficulties to play slight remixes of the final chapter and unlock two more endings. The fact of the matter is Drakengard 2 is just not fun. Maybe about 33% the game is full of solid brawling with impressive mechanics against nothing but armies of knights and goblins, but the other 67% is full of various experiences that range from dull to frustrating. Many Drakengard fans probably weren’t expecting to ever see a sequel. It would have been better if they hadn’t seen one.
Featured community review by Genj (July 14, 2007)
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