This article originally appeared on The Oakland Press.
Drakengard 3 is destined to be a cult classic. If video games had midnight screenings, this would be playing at art theaters to fans in costume as the characters.
In terms of story, Drakengard 3 is definitely one of the weirder games I’ve ever played, somewhere between Persona and Bayonetta on the number of “huh?”s per second. The story revolves around Zero, a woman with a flower growing out of her eye whose goal is to kill her five sisters, each named with a number. The sisters are all Intoners, siren-like beings that command the power and loyalty of their followers through song. In order to murder her sisters, she has to cut through swaths of nameless soldiers who whine about being put up against such impossible odds, and she has to get very bloody in the process.
The gameplay boils down to a bog-standard hack-and-slash action affair akin to a Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but not nearly as polished as either of those titles. The primary action in the game is blazing a trail through waves of soldiers, using combo attacks and a variety of weapons that can be switched at any moment. But while Devil May Cry made weaving together a combat routine like a ballet of blades, Drakengard 3 feels clunky by comparison. Attacks don’t move fluidly into each other, and the camera is usually positioned in a way where offscreen enemies can land cheap shots.
One of Drakengard 3’s unique gimmicks is that Zero’s white, airy clothing becomes increasingly soaked with blood as she wades through the entrails of her fallen foes. But in another idea borrowed from Devil May Cry and its ilk, the build up eventually will let the player use a rage-fueled Devil overdrive mode, here called Intoner Mode, where Zero is invincible and does massive damage, allowing her to more thoroughly eviscerate her enemies.
If there was any doubt about this game earning its “M for Mature” rating after seeing a blood-soaked Zero on the game’s box art, rest assured that nothing here is intended for kids. In the midst of all the gore, Zero and her companions routinely engage in very adult-themed conversations, many of which revolve around her having sex with them or around specific parts of their anatomies. Drakengard 3 is the only game I can think of that makes overt references to menstruation, although it happens to do it in a really skeevy way.
At least Drakengard 3 has a sense of humor about its own absurdity, with some characters breaking the fourth wall during cutscenes. While the game has no qualms dropping f-bombs, there are some scenes where streams of obscenities have been blocked out for comedic effect, replaced instead with pleasant classical music and a message saying “The scene has been deemed unsuitable for human ears.” Gaming conventions are skewered here as well, as when Zero comes across a series of floating platforms, she complains that she “doesn’t want to do another stupid jumping puzzle.” Nevertheless, we as players are forced to endure it anyway.
There are breaks in the normal action scenes where Zero will ride her dragon, Mikhail, into battle against giant enemies. These sections play out like a space shooter, something similar to a Starfox game, and they provide a brief break from the monotony of the on-foot combat, although the flying sections too eventually succumb to their own brand of monotony. They’re still enjoyable, thanks to Mikhail, who provides a much-needed lightening of the mood. Despite being a giant dragon, Mikhail has the voice and mentality of a child, leading him to ask Zero, rightfully, “Why do we need to kill so many people?”
The combat becomes challenging as the game progresses, but never as difficult as similar games in the genre. Though it’s only mentioned in loading screens, Drakengard 3 starts making the combat easier on you if you die repeatedly at the same point. Annoyingly, just when you think you’re becoming better, it might actually be the game pulling its punches.
However, that might be a blessing in disguise, because the most compelling part of playing Drakengard 3 is definitely seeing the story play out. There’s an undeniable pull to keep playing even when the combat isn’t particularly fun just to see what insane, obscene absurdities the next level will lavish upon you when you do triumph.
Drakengard 3 is like the Evil Dead of video games. Like the most-loved B-movies, It’s extremely rough around the edges, absurdly gory and vulgar, and has a unique sense of humor. But it’s that fascinating weirdness the keeps you immersed even when you recognize that there this is little more than a kiddie pool in terms of depth. And that kiddie pool is filled with blood.
Drakengard 3 is available for the Playstation 3. Square-Enix provided a download code for the purposes of this review.