Sequels are hard. They rarely outperform the original in both acclaim and sales. And then there is the unique dilemma that only creators of strange things face: whether to make it more accessible (and risk alienating fans) or go full retard (and possibly live in a cardboard box for the rest of one’s life).
The makers of Drakengard 2 chose the former, and the world is poorer for it. I blame the absence of the series’ resident director/lunatic Yoko Taro. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Ahem, the sequel to the most messed-up thing I’ve ever played, read or seen takes place in a timeline that vaguely follows the original’s first ending. Eighteen years have passed since the red dragon had agreed to become the next Seal, and the world is at peace once more. The Union has taken over, and you play as generic JRPG protagonist #9999. Let’s call him Nowe, since the game does so already.
One of the first things the Union has done after winning the war was to install a brand new set of Seals, and appoint some badass knights to defend them. This organization is headed by a guy named General Gismor (a definitely-not-evil guy), and the new Hierarch Seere (the kid from the first game). Four lieutenants serve under them, and they are just about the only interesting characters this game has to offer. With the exception of a happy few.
But let’s get back to our boy Nowe, who is incredibly boring. He is a reformed semi-wild child that was found in the company of a black dragon, and is about to become a knight. His draconic partnership (mysteriously attained at no Pact cost) basically makes him a special snowflake that rises through the ranks rapidly, and is in turn hated by more or less everyone. Everyone but his friend Eris.
Eris is your prototype First Girl We See. That means that she is bossy and serves to spout a whole lot of exposition, but is ultimately more or less useless for the plot except as a victim. She doesn’t even get to be Nowe’s love interest, besides showing an obvious infatuation with him. More on that later.
Anyway, despite becoming a knight, Nowe still hangs out with the black dragon who had raised him. This dragon (called Legna) is very fatherly and seems to have genuine affection for the young man. Together they embark on a series of jolly (and relatively unimportant) adventures in the name of the Union, until the actual story of the game takes off: the new Seals are under attack and their breaking must be stopped.
Nowe and Eris are then sent to defend a seal alongside a Lieutenant called Zhangpo. Like all Lieutenants, Zhango has a Pact with a supernatural creature, except his doesn’t actually appear in the game. Probably cut. The price he paid for his Pact was very strange: he is unable to eat, yet somehow still lives.
After visiting a Seal location, Nowe learns that the place is being kept in existence by draining the life-force of incarcerated Empire soldiers. He is horribly upset by that, despite having nothing better to suggest. Then again, the man hadn’t seen the Watchers/flying babies from the original, so he isn’t exactly acquainted with the alternative.
In defending the Seal, the party meets a fully-grown Manah. She is on an apparent crusade to liberate the soldiers of the old Empire, despite the fact that doing so would end the world. An amazing way to atone for almost destroying everything, I think. Of course, Nowe is instantly smitten with her. Manah kills Zhangpo, breaks the Seal, and is captured… for about an hour. As Eris prepares to burn her at the stake, she escapes by using sorcery.
Nowe returns to have a drink with General Gismor, only to be betrayed and poisoned, but Nowe’s apparent Super Saiyan heritage lets him survive it with zero consequence. He fights the general and escapes the Knights’ stronghold. Eris stays behind to mope, and Nowe and his dragon are left seemingly without backup.
They pick up Manah as they flee, and our hero decides to help her in breaking the Seals. Why, you ask? No idea. Men do silly things to impress women, I guess. The two of them proceed to the next Seal, this one defended by someone called Hanch. Hanch is a beautiful young woman whose Pact cost was her charm, so now no one willingly approaches her. She dies, of course, and her Seal breaks.
A new character joins your party; a guy called Urick. He is an… interesting sort.He is one of the Lieutenants of the Knights of the Seal, which means that his is the duty of defending one such location. Like all other Lieutenants (and Gismor for that matter) he has a little Pact himself. With Death. In exchange for his ability to die. I think this is a pretty sweet deal.
The game then kind of loses steam for a bit… until THIS happens. That’s right. The man, the legend, Caim arrives to save this game from being completely horrible! It turns out that our old friend is out to destroy the new Seals so he could see his dragon again. Manah flips out entirely, and I can’t say that I blame her.
You see, in-between the two games, Caim got a little bit busy. He took little Manah by the hand and basically dragged her out to every place that survived the disaster she had brought on. I presume the point of this was for the people to point at her and laugh, which they of course did. After a bit of time, Manah mistook this genuine affection for torment, so she escaped after stabbing him in the eye while he slept. He is understandably pissed.
You get away from Caim and proceed to the next Seal. It is being kept by a guy called Yaha, who is you standard elven fabulous blond guy. Yaha’s Pact with gnomes (yes, all of them) gives him ridiculous beauty, but also prevents him from feeling any sort of pleasure. He dies horribly and another Seal falls. Nowe doesn’t question why this is being done.
You reach another Seal, the guardian of which turns out to be Urick. He tells you that he wishes to help you out by dying, but doesn’t know how. Luckily, Caim arrives and fixes this problem by killing Death itself. Urick expires after throwing Caim into a deep chasm (he gets out pretty fast), and you can proceed further. Wheeee.
In continuation of this glorious pattern, you all reach the final Seal, which is defended by Gismor himself. Nowe tries to kill him, but hits Eris instead, who seems to die. Gismor drops his set of armor, revealing that he had given up his body for a bunch of darkness-based powers. How exactly this works, I have no idea. He seemed to have had a functional body for pretty much the entire game. So you fight, he loses, and he breaks the Seal himself. Just to spite Nowe or something. I don’t know.
We are then treated to a pretty cool scene of the red dragon getting freed from her shackles. It turns out that all of these previous Seals were in fact only there to keep her from getting free. Driven mad by the pain and imprisonment, the red dragon decides to set the world on fire. She doesn’t even recognize Caim. You have yourselves a major fight, and she plummets to the ground, mortally wounded. Caim meets her where she falls, and they die together, still bound via their Pact.
The sky breaks, and the world starts going crazy again. Eris turns out to be alive somehow, and Manah starts acting stranger than usual. Nowe and his dragon fly to an ancient dragon temple because reasons, where Nowe learns that he is something called a New Breed. Basically, he is the posthumous progeny of Inuart and Furiae from part one. Inuart had found a unique Seed of Resurrection (called the Bone Casket), entered it while still carrying her body, and out came a superpowered child who also had a partial pact with Inuart’s black dragon.
Manah gets possessed by the Watchers again (like she was in the first game), and Nowe gets inside her mind via means unexplained. He then basically exorcises them via the power of love. Legna reveals that he had only raised Nowe as a weapon to fight the Watchers (i. e. the flying babies), and that he expects the young man to step up and help him in conquering existence.
In the first ending, Nowe refuses, and Legna conjures up a legion of so-called holy dragons. Seere fights them with an army of golems, and Nowe officially goes Super Saiyan. He then proceeds to fight the dragon in a surprisingly poignant air mission (since he can now fly without assistance). Legna dies, and Seere makes Eris into the next Goddess/Seal. Nowe and Manah go off to lead their lives in enjoyment, while Eris does what she did throughout the game: watch them.
Now… I am getting tired only writing about this. Actually playing it is even worse, and becomes damn near intolerable when it comes to getting endings two and three. Why, you ask? Well, because unlike the original, Drakengard 2 doesn’t allow the player to start any mission they’ve beat at any time at all. What this means is that in order to unlock the additional endings, you need to play the whole game again, start to finish. At increased difficulty. I’d tolerate this if the different endings were in any way good. But they aren’t, and the game suffers horribly from it.
Ending two has Nowe actually choose to side with Legna. The Bone Casket appears, swallows up Manah, and Nowe has to destroy it along with her. Eris and Nowe then ride Legna up to the heavens to fight the floating babies for dominance over the world.
Ending three… is basically ending one with some additional scenes. That’s it. Whoopededoo. I’ll have you know that unlocking it takes up about 60 hours of one’s life. Truly, truly masterful.
So… what went wrong? Well, other than the Caim/red dragon stuff… pretty much everything. Every component of this game is lighter in tone than in the original, from the scenery, to the music, and all the way up to the characters themselves. The protagonist is absolutely insufferable, and can basically be summed up as a kid who chooses to end the world in order to impress a girl. Absolutely brilliant, I say.
There is a distinct lack of trying in everything. Character models stay still in cut-scenes as if they were statues. The game over-explains everything, so you see every possible twist from miles away. I wouldn’t be surprised if the development team had intended the whole Knights-of-the-Seal-not-being-that-bad thing as some kind of crazy twist, but their fear of losing your average player caused them to spoil their own story. And the thing with the endings was just horrendous.
Perhaps they hoped to compensate with the slightly improved gameplay, but in my eyes this wasn’t nearly enough. Drakengard has always sucked in that regard, and a slightly more fun Drakengard is still a thoroughly underwhelming game. Take away the madness, and all you’re left with is another me-too.
All in all, a game I can’t recommend even in summary form. It genuinely tired me to write this up. Luckily, the franchise only became better after this.
But that is a story for another time.
M. T. Miller