Japanese role-playing games have always been something of a strange lot looking at them from my admittedly very Americanized vantage point. Generally they're made up of a collection of odd, quip-minded anime characters swinging gigantic swords and splattering lots of gore as they tromp through some sort of murky medieval fantasy world. But every once in a while, a title in the genre will cross over the line marking the end of merely peculiar and the beginning of something completely bizarre.
Square Enix's Drakengard 3 is one of those titles, slipping out to explore the very edge of gamedom with the same ease that an incontinent dragon might relieve itself for comic effect in stressful moments.
Oh yeah, it's that kind of game.
Players take on the role of a beautiful but ruthless goddess named Zero. She's the outcast sister of five other comely, singing goddesses—conveniently numbered One through Five and collectively called the Intoners. These Intoners are all magically imbued ladies who, we're told, have used their powerful songs to bring peace and harmony to the roiling world of man.
Zero, however, isn't interested in her siblings' musical abilities or their unifying accomplishments. No, she's much more interested in … killing them all! Actually, that's too tame an assertion: Zero doesn't want to just kill them, she wants to butcher them, hack their corpses into pieces, grind their bones into powder and wallow in their blood.
Oh yeah, she's that kind of sister.
Zero Makes the Cut
After a game-opening battle of the squabbling sibs—where Zero loses an eye, an arm and her giant pet dragon—the battered goddess limps away to lick her wounds. Skip ahead about a year and she's regrown her arm, replaced her eye with a flower and taken on a newly reincarnated dragon sidekick. She's donned another pristinely clean goddess-worthy gown and set off once again on her unexplained quest for blood. Learning from her "mistakes," this time Zero decides to take out her magical family members one by one. But she'll also have to take on their cavalcades of generally immoral and pruriently psychotic disciples … but more on that side of the squalor in a sec.
All that taking on and taking out is where the fast-paced combat comes into play. With a scheme of jumping, dodging and slashing combos, the game readily gives us a sense of what it might be like to be a supercharged goddess who can move with balletic grace while using her weapons (dragon included) to devastate scores of foes.
And devastation in this case is a gory ordeal. Limbs are lopped, skulls are cleaved and death is dealt in maliciously gruesome ways. Men, monsters and goddesses alike are grotesquely hacked and torn, with Zero and others ripping open flesh with the scary skill of a crazed Iron Chef dismantling a tuna. Crimson dribbles and squirts blossom into full-scale floods, painting the scenery and coating Zero's flowing white gowns.
Once Zero bathes in the gore of enough slaughtered enemies, a blood-o-meter fills up and allows her to activate Intoner Mode for a short time. This mode powers her up to nearly invincible levels and enhances her acrobatic skills to the point at which she becomes a goddess-powered Vitamix blender savagely pureeing and liquefying everything within reach of her bloody blades.
But There's More Than Gore Dragon Me Down
That mulching and skewering and dragon-breath frying is only part of Drakengard 3's mess, however. As mentioned earlier, there's also a particular perversity to its parade of characters.
It turns out that Zero's sisters aren't really as sweet and innocent as they initially seem. Each has her own twisted core that we fully see later. One, for example, likes to snip, cut and experiment on her human worshippers, turning them into creepy dolls/puppets. Another is a buxom dominatrix who is as adept at spitting out lusty double entendres as she is at sexually abusing a male disciple … who used to be an animal. (We hear about what she does.)
Indeed, each of the Intoners has a male underling recruited by magically turning animals into people. When Zero bests her sisters, she takes their "men" and is soon followed around by a group of unlikeable sorts who revel in their past (deadly) misdeeds and gleefully discuss their hypersexualized fetishes. One in this motley crew takes pleasure in measuring his manhood while in the heat of battle. And Zero regularly reports how sexually unsatisfying they are.
As you might imagine, then, the language here can become rather raunchy as well. F- and s-words and all manner of other foul exclamations riddle the cutscenes, battles and grim humor.
It's a title that a gamespot.com reviewer called a "heavily flawed game, set in an ugly world and filled with despicable people." And that's from a gal who also thought it was a "one-of-a-kind" experience.
One of the wrong kind.