Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hidden Gems 2005 Volume 5

First up is another entry to my Hidden Gems series - Drakengard for the PS2. You may recall that I posted some time ago that I had bought Drakengard along with several other games at bargain prices. I paid £5 at the time, took it home, had a quick go, and then it got consigned to the "must play some day" pile that so many games never come out of.

Last weekend, World of Warcraft was beginning to drag a bit and to quote Dr Evi I was surrounded by frickin' idiots, so I decided to have a break. As it turns out, Drakengard was the perfect choice for de-stressing myself and just generally having fun, which is surely what gaming is all about. Basically you can describe the game as a cross between the flying sections of Panzer Dragoon and the epic battles of Dynasty Warriors, wrapped up in a fantasy RPG setting. Each gameplay style isn't quite as good as the game that inspired it, but together they create a unique, enjoyable game. The variety in the levels is quite important, as I could see myself getting bored of level after level of hacking or shooting. Instead, they alternate, and during some ground missions you can even press Select to jump on to the back of your dragon and continue the battle from the sky.

Being a Square-Enix title, Drakengard's presentation is generally top notch. The music can be described as epic and stirring, and the FMV's are as good as anything from the Final Fantasy series. The actual in game graphics let the side down a bit, however. In an effort to keep the framerate up, the same enemy types are repeated many many times during the battles, and there is quite a short draw distance. To make matters worse, the levels are often quite bland and monochromatic, for example entirely grey or green. This is a bit disappointing, but on the other hand slaying and burning hundreds of enemies is such good fun you're not likely to mind too much.

The game is also quite short, rolling in at about 6 hours on your first playthrough, but it makes up for this with it's immense replayability. There's 50 different weapons to find, each with their own unique magical attack, and each is capable of being leveled up multiple times. The central character, Caim, and the Dragon also level up, and you can take part in a Free Expedition in between story levels to make yourself stronger and find new items if you wish. Then there's the fact that there are 5 different endings, and different paths that unlock on subsequent journeys through the game.

The gameplay, whether in the air or on the ground, mainly consists of taking out certain targets on your map, then being given new targets and starting again. On foot you have on standard attack button and a magical attack which you can use when you're meter is filled, and in the air your dragon has a standard fireball attack, the ability to lock on to multiple targets (which is very similar to Panzer Dragoon), and a burst attack which kills everything on screen). You can also do a speed boost, a 180 degree turn, and press R2 to centre the screen your nearest enemy. The controls are generally pretty good, but the camera can make life a little difficult at times.

Drakengard is best taken in short bursts between stodgier games. If you play too long you're likely to tire of all the killing, but when you just want to destroy something at the end of a bad day, it's the perfect way to spend an hour or so. Don't let the relatively low average score on Gamerankings put you off - the most trustworthy sites gave it around the 75% mark, which I think is about right. Also, you have to consider just how cheaply you can pick up a brand new copy of the game.

Square-Enix will probably improve upon every aspect of Drakengard for the forthcoming sequel, but whether it will be released here remains to be seen. The original didn't sell very well, hence the low price, so maybe they'll decide it's not worth it. That would be a shame, because I'm quite looking forward to seeing how Drakengard 2 (or Drag-On Dragoon 2 as it's called in Japan) turns out.

Shall we dance?

Behold the mighty Red Dragon

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