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September 17, 2006
Drakengard 2 - PS2 Review
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Taking to the skies.
It must be hard for Square-Enix to get new franchises going. Regardless of the game, it is most likely always going to be compared to Final Fantasy, and that’s one hell of a reputation to live up to. This is especially so when it comes to games like Drakengard and its sequel, which, at times, look like they would both would fit right into the FF games. However, Drakengard 2 is something a bit different, bringing the famous and respected RPG developers back to real-time fighting as well as aerial combat.

Picking up 18 years after the first game, and with Caim, the original hero, nowhere to be seen, players take control of Nowe, a whiny teenage soldier out to make a name for himself in the Knights of the Seal. The knights are a group who are charged with guarding the seals, which, it is written, are there to stop the end of the world. Basically, destroy the seals, and the world will fall apart. But it seems a group of rebels believe otherwise, thinking that the seals are merely a way for General Gismor, the leader of the knights, to maintain power over the land. And so Nowe, and companion Eris, are sent off to dispatch these would be world-wreckers. As can be expected, all does not go according to plan and Nowe’s world is turned upside-down, several times, throughout this 30 hour-long plot.

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Graphics are, ermm, adequate.
While short for the RPG genre, the game has multiple endings, meaning that players will have to play the game three times, carrying on with the same character, to get the complete story of the game. While the first ending is satisfying, this game really does make you want to get the extra endings, especially as you reach the climax of the story. Starting out slowly, it becomes quite a nice tale later on, and with its multiple twists, it will definitely keep players guessing. Unfortunately, although the story may make players want to repeat the game, however, there are a few things that will probably stop many people from getting all three endings.

Players will control the game in two ways; on the ground, hacking and slashing your way through hundreds of knights and monsters in a very Dynasty Warriors fashion, and in the air fighting with Legna, Nowe’s Dragon. This is where the game falls apart a bit, with both styles of fighting suffering their own flaws.

On the ground, the fighting becomes very repetitive. There is well over 60 weapons, each with their own combination of up to 4 combos, but many of the combos are repeated, meaning that it still feels like there are only a handful of weapons. Each weapon has a style of magic that can be used also, but once again, there are only maybe 7 or 8 different types, and each weapon can only use one. This aside, close-combat in this game is still incredibly enjoyable, and there is always something cool about hacking your way through hundreds of knights in one mission.

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What the!? Flying skulls...
In the air, Drakengard 2 takes a major hit. Flying a fire-breathing dragon around and taking down enemies ranging from monsters, to hot-air balloons, to aircraft, should be fun. Unfortunately, we found ourselves finding ways to skip through these air levels as often as possible as they are dull and frustrating. Controls for Legna are also a little awkward and have not been improved on much from the first game.

Apart from these issues, the Gameplay remains fairly solid, though the size of the character’s inventory is extremely limited, especially when switching (real time character swap) between up to 3 characters sharing only 6 inventory slots. There simply isn’t enough room for healing or magic charging items for some missions, and this means that some missions become ridiculously hard. This brings us to an issue that is probably going to keep gamers from completing the game – the lack of consistency.

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It's cut-scene time.
The game starts out at a nice mix of challenging fights and fun carnage. However, when Nowe and the other characters level up a bit the game becomes far too easy. Then you come to certain bosses, and we have no hesitation in saying that some of these bosses are up there amongst the hardest bosses of all time. The game seems to be unable to level the difficulty out a little, and there are many points in the game where we had to take a break because of frustrations. However, there were also many missions that we completed within a minute or two because of their ease of play. Frustration and throwing controllers aside, it does make defeating those bosses quite satisfying.

Drakengard 2’s biggest problem, however, is the inability to immerse the player. With such a nice story, and with Square-Enix being the developers, we were expecting a nicely crafted game that would draw us right in. How wrong we were. Instead, the mission-based element of the game breaks it up into, at most, 40 minute segments, and at the least, 1 or 2 minutes. This combined with the constant save screen that appears after every inventory setup, as well as after every mission, really reminds you that you are, in fact, playing a game that is not real. This is unfortunate, because, as mentioned, the story is quite nice and it’s hard not to think the game would be so much better if it was done in a similar way to the Final Fantasy games.

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Another of many battles.
Graphically, the game has done little to improve from the first installment in the franchise, and while this was quite nice at the time, it looks a bit dated now. In game, the levels are re-used far too much and enemies are repeated with only a dozen or so different types. This makes sense when taking the story into account but it would have been nice to see a little more variety even if the character models look quite nice indeed. The cut scenes are done in two types, as per usual. The first, in very nice CG that is up there with the best of Square’s releases. These are unfortunately few and far between, but definitely make an impact when they do happen. We particularly loved the scenes at the end of the game. Very touching indeed. The second format is in-game, but are more moving still shots of in-game settings with text and voice-overs. They work but seem a little half-done. When you consider the huge amount of these scenes though it is easy to understand why they are done in such a manner. One strong point is the animation of the characters, which is quite smooth and enjoyable to watch, even if Nowe’s movements do seem far too feminine.

Perhaps the finest aspect of the game, the music is incredibly well chosen and pieced together. The soundtrack to this game is quite unusual in that it isn’t an overpowering orchestral one. Instead, the music is very ambient and atmospheric. It is truly one of the best game soundtracks in quite some time. The voice acting is solid, if not a little melodramatic at times, and the effects are also quite nice. Overall, a solid release aurally.

So what do we make of Drakengard 2? It could have been one of the finest releases in the RPG genre for quite a while, especially with other Square releases taking so long to reach PAL regions. However, the game is full of flaws that bring its overall score down significantly. Basically, our suggestion is this; if you like RPGs, wait for the price to drop a bit, then buy buy buy! Otherwise, perhaps you’d better wait until Final Fantasy XII early next year.

Review By: Michael Hutchesson

GRAPHICSThey are nice. But that’s about it. Nothing more, nothing less.
SOUNDAmazing music. Solid voice acting and effects. Can’t go wrong here.
GAMEPLAYA mixed bag. Varies from great to frustratingly bad. Badly varying difficulty and many flaws bring this down considerably.
VALUEPlayers who enjoy the game will enjoy it many times over, with at least 3 plays needed to get the true story. About 30 hours of game time.
OVERALLWe want to rate it higher… But it just seems too rushed and unfinished to justify it. Still a nice title though.

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