Why Drakengard 3 Can’t Be Reviewed

Drakengard 3 is a game I’ve been really REALLY wanting to talk about for a while. Ever since I finished it back in like… Last November, I’ve had a strong compulsion to put my thoughts out somewhere to fully sort them out. This is actually the second time I’ve tried writing about it. I wrote (most of) a review a long time ago, and for reasons I couldn’t quite place, I was… dissatisfied with it.

The review wasn’t badly written, if I do say so myself. According to some of the other Story Arc members who read it over for me, it was actually mostly quite good. Yet, I was still dissatisfied… but why? I agreed with everything I said, none of it was wrong or glaringly badly written, it was, all in all, competent. No matter how many times I read it over (probably 30+ times) I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I actually disliked about the review. So I left it alone and did so for months. I had other things to write about, I could focus on that later.  

And yet, Drakengard 3 continued to compel me. What was it about this game that made it so hard to write about for me? Why couldn’t I satisfy myself with the review? These questions and more plagued me for months on end. Recently, they hit an apex. I’ve been thinking about Drakengard/NieR a lot, what with the recent announcement of the NieR Replicant remaster (!!!), and finally, it clicked. I somehow figured out what was wrong with the review.

Drakengard 3 is not a game that can be adequately reviewed.

The thing about this game is that you could make literally any (subjective) statement and I’d agree.

“Drakengard 3 is one of the best games ever made.” Yep!

“Drakengard 3 is one of the worst games ever made.” Mhm!

“Drakengard 3 is horribly written.” Sure is!

“Drakengard 3 is amazingly written.” Absolutely!

All of these statements are true to me in some way. The point of a review, in my opinion, is to go over a lot of the aspects of a game, talk about whether each one is good or bad, and then give your final opinion on the game… or something along those lines. My Drakengard 3 review followed a similar structure, and the reason it didn’t really work was that each aspect of Drakengard 3 is hard to nail down as good or bad, for me, almost all of them are simultaneously good and bad.

So when I read through my review over and over, I agreed with it, but also I disagreed. The general takeaway from it was “Drakengard 3 is really good” and it is! It’s one of my favorite games of all time! But at the same time, it’s some of the least enjoyment I’ve ever gotten out of a game. In that sense, it’s probably one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

Now, if you haven’t played the game (or honestly, even if you have) you’re probably thinking something like “Luna??? What are you talking about??? That doesn’t make any sense!!!” So, let me try to explain myself a little more.

Branch A – Verse 1 – In Which Luna Discusses Drakengard 3’s Writing And How Horny It Is (VERY)

The writing of Drakengard 3 is the most important part for me, so let’s start there. The tone and story feel very… all over the place, at times. One minute it’ll be horny jokes, the next it’ll be something that (I think) is serious and trying to make you feel serious emotions. All wrapped up in a plot that makes very little sense until the last part of the game.

All of the comedy in Drakengard 3 feels like it was written by an 11-year-old who just found out what sex is and is having a field day with the concept. If you were to remove every sex joke, a good 30% of the script would probably be gone. Everything from innuendos to characters asking for sex and being denied, it’s all here.

The game is sex-obsessed to its core. There’s a character with a masochism fetish and he will let everyone know about it whether he intends to or not. That’s his entire character. There’s a character who’s a really horny old man. That’s his entire character. One of the main bosses is a woman who wants to have sex with anything and everything. That’s not her entire character, but it’s all we see in-game. (more on that later)

Part of the lore is that the intoners (who are the main bosses and the protagonist) are women with sex drives heightened far beyond that of a normal human. If you haven’t played the game, this might all sound like a bit of a nitpick to be spending like three paragraphs on, but trust me, when I say “sex-obsessed to its core”, I mean it. Having some sex jokes and sex-related stuff is fine, but Drakengard 3 feels like it goes too far for not being an outright fanservice game. It’s very, very uncomfortable.

That’s not the only, or worst issue with it’s writing either. Most of the main cast is underdeveloped, (unless you buy the overpriced DLC because, of course) the plot takes too long to seem like it even cares… remember how I said earlier that the plot makes very little sense until near the end? Let me elaborate on that.

The plot follows Zero, one of the six intoners  (basically a goddess with the power to manipulate song).. Most of the intoners work together, each ruling over a different part of the world. Zero, however, wants none of that authoritarian nonsense, and instead, one day wakes up and decides that she will kill all of the other intoners. Why? Well, for most of the game it wants you to think that there is no reason really, aside from simple things like “lust for power”. There IS a deeper reason, but the game doesn’t really want to tell you it to you until very late.

Drakengard 3 feels like it spends at LEAST half the game trying its best to convince you that it’s a bad game. Any fan of the Drakengard/NieR series knows the formula, each game makes you see multiple endings, essentially looping through a branching narrative multiple times until you can see the final ending. Drakengard 3 presents you with an unfinished, barely compelling narrative, then gives you an unsatisfying ending and presents it as “Ending A”. Countless people probably saw this and quit, thinking the game was just bad and this postgame “Branch B” content wouldn’t sway them. It’s actually more of the main story, but they wouldn’t know that.

I briefly mentioned this earlier, but even with the context given from later parts of the story, most of the main cast is still underdeveloped without the DLC, (or even side content completely outside of the game like novellas!) which would be fine if the DLC didn’t cost more than the main game for all of the important stuff.

Each DLC stage is $5.99, there are six of them, the main game is $14.99… you don’t need to do any math to see the problem here.

I’d argue the DLC isn’t… strictly necessary, but the fact that a lot of character development is locked behind such a massive paywall is preeeeetty bad. 

That’s pretty much all I had to say on the writing, now I want to talk about the OTHER important part of Drakengard 3… the gameplay.

Branch A – Verse 2 – Luna Passive-Aggressively Whines About Drakengard 3’s Gameplay

Where do I even BEGIN. The gameplay is definitely the part of the game that’s mostly agreed on to be Not That Great, and for good reason. The basic foundation is that of a standard character action game: fast, flashy, combo-focused combat.

There are four types of weapons that you can swap between at any point, those being Swords, Spears, Bracers, and Chakrams. Each one plays pretty differently, which is nice, I’ll add that to the List of Things Drakengard 3 Does Better Than Devil May Cry 2. You can also press the left and right sticks at the same time to activate Intoner Mode, a temporary powerup that makes the game fun for about 10 seconds.

The problems with the gameplay lie in variety. For most of the game, you will be fighting the same few enemy types over and over, you will be fighting the same ridiculous damage sponges that take too long to kill, you will be fighting the same small enemies that die in one or two hits, etc.

The game starts out fun, but it very quickly becomes a slog. I found it actively draining and exhausting to play. The variety in weapons – while nice – isn’t enough to make it not a monotonous drag for me. 

There are also flying segments, where you ride Zero’s Dragon, Mikhail, and play Panzer Dragoon.

It literally is just Panzer Dragoon. These are fine, I guess, they don’t drain me as much. There are also dragon segments for bosses that aren’t on-rails, and they’re also… fine, not as fine as the other dragon segments, but still don’t drain me as much as the main gameplay.

Unfortunately, there’s a major issue that persists even through these segments, the framerate. I played on an emulator that ran the game pretty choppily, and even that seemed to be a better experience than playing on native hardware. From the gameplay I’ve watched, it looks absolutely awful.

That’s in part why the game is so draining, if it ran at a solid 30 FPS it would probably be fine, albeit monotonous, but alas, we do not live in that world.

All of these issues get even worse, with levels being reused, and the game forcing grinding on you to get every weapon if you didn’t buy the DLC stages that dump tons of in-game money on you. Those overpriced DLC stages aren’t fun either, by the way, in fact they’re probably less fun. Throwing you into levels you’ve already seen before with objectives such as “get ten jewels in this massive desert” or “fight like five huge damage sponges for some reason”.

Now that I’ve talked about the gameplay and story, and said mostly negative things about them, you’re probably wondering; “do these things make the game bad?” Well, yes, they do. Drakengard 3 is a monotonous slog of a game with a story that takes way too long to try to make any sense.

…or, maybe, there’s another way to look at it…?

Branch B – Verse 1 – Luna Decides That Drakengard 3’s Writing Is Actually Very Good

Okay, so, remember those writing flaws I mentioned in the first part there? What if I told you that most of those… are actually good? I know I sound insane again, I just spent like… [checks notes] A Lot of words saying that the game is bad, and now I’m trying to say that most of those things aren’t even flaws? Bear with me.

I’ll start off with the same thing I started off with before, the sex obsession. Yes, it’s weird and uncomfortable… but what if that’s the point? There’s nothing Yoko Taro is better at than making you feel unpleasant things, especially a general discomfort. Every character’s obsession with sex hammers in how bizarre (and more than a little messed up) this world and its characters are. 

You could argue there are better ways to emphasize that sort of thing, and there are! But Taro has used a lot of them in his works already, (such as the entire party of Drakengard being generally terrible people, and NieR featuring a cast of characters who’ve all been through some sort of horrible trauma) and he uses some of those things in Drakengard 3 too, but it’s clear he wanted to try a different kind of discomfort this time, and it totally works for its purpose.

All of that said, there is the issue of some characters seemingly existing only to push this discomfort, (namely Octa, Decadus, and Five) and that’s definitely an issue, all of those characters feel sort of one-note. (though Five is fairly interesting in side-material, but that’s another topic) However, most of the characters are really good. 

Unfortunately, it is true that a lot of them are underdeveloped without DLC or side material, I won’t deny that’s a flaw, but some characters don’t need it! And the ones that do become at the very least really interesting once you go through DLC and stuff. Drakengard 3 has a very, very solid cast. It has several of my favorite characters of all time. (namely Two and Four)

Each of the intoners is a broken person living a similarly broken existence. Some of them grapple with this better than others, but none of them are doing at all okay, the ways that each of them attempts to grapple with this are what makes them so interesting. None of them are good people at all (aside from Two… she would do no wrong) but it’s hard to say they’re bad people either, they’re doing the best they can with the horrible, horrible cards life dealt them.

Drakengard 3 is, at its core, a story of flawed, deeply struggling people, fighting a fight that, while necessary in its own way, makes no one happy. That sounds depressing, but, unlike most other games in this series, it’s actually quite hopeful. It shows that, even in these awful situations where it seems like no one can really win, there’s a way through it, a way that ends well for… well, ALMOST everyone.

Drakengard 3’s writing is some of Yoko Taro’s best, and I absolutely adore it.

Branch B – Verse 2 – Yes, She Is Going to Defend The Gameplay As Well

People are going to say this is a stretch, like a really big one, and it probably is, but I think Drakengard 3’s gameplay being janky and monotonous honestly adds to the whole experience. Again, bear with me, please.

There are a lot of moments in Drakengard 3 where Zero complains about the monotony, and how sick she is of killing the same things over and over. (this ties into a common theme of this series, but that’s an essay for another time) This could read like that thing some games do, where they’re aware of their flaws but acknowledge them in a ~quirky~ way so it’s totally fine, that always bugs me, but I think this is more than that.

Zero isn’t enjoying this slaughter, or maybe she is at first, but as the game goes on she enjoys it less and less. She’s only doing this to fulfill her very important agenda, none of this is fun for her. So… it only makes sense that’d be reflected in the gameplay, right?

This is a tactic that’s pretty hit or miss depending on who you are, sacrificing fun gameplay for the purposes of adding more impact to a narrative. I always love it because I’m weird, but I get why other people wouldn’t. You could argue it’s unintentional here, and it might be! But all of Taro’s games do this for me, NieR:Automata aside.

The framerate is still a very big issue, but everything aside from that adds to the experience for me. I’m glad the gameplay is the way it is, even if they could’ve toned down The Bad a little. I get why some people wouldn’t be, but I think it absolutely should be acknowledged what it does for the narrative.

Conclusion – There Are Actually Zero Differences Between Good and Bad Things

This is why Drakengard 3 can’t be reviewed adequately, almost every single one of the game’s many flaws can be spun into something good about the game. Whenever I read over my original review, I agreed with everything it said, but also I didn’t. Almost anything someone says is bad about Drakengard 3 can also be good, or vice versa. 

Drakengard 3 is a game that’s endlessly fascinating for me because I don’t know any other game that’s like this. Like, look, I could only sum up my thoughts on it by essentially writing both negative and positive reviews, that’s WILD.

Drakengard 3 is my favorite game in this series, which says a lot since I consider the original NieR an almost flawless masterpiece of storytelling. Drakengard 3 isn’t flawless, far from it, but it’s interesting to me in a way no other game is, and for that it’s special. Lots of people pass it off as a “bad game with a good story”, or even just a “bad game”, but it’s so much more than that. Or maybe it’s not, and I’m just looking too deep into this dumb horny game, but hey, looking too deep into things is what I do!

Thanks for reading! If you are still interested in reading something related to the broad topic of Video Games, Luke’s article on Plants vs. Zombies is pretty good. And, on the note of games that are ridiculous like the one I just wrote about, DK wrote a really good article wrapping up the Cooking Mama stuff I wrote about a while ago. He helped me with a lot of the research originally, it’s good stuff.

If you want to read more stuff written by yours truly, I have Part 1 of my Mega Man Zero Retrospective up. Part 2 will come… eventually. I’m doing my best here okay???

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