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Drakengard 2 (PS2)


Ikari Warrior

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2005's Drakengard 2 took me by surprise, to be perfectly honest. As a matter of fact, I groaned when I heard they were making another one. I said to myself as I was playing the first one "There sure is a lot of potential in this title, but it went sadly unused." The logical answer to that statement was a sequal, and it looks like my words did not go unheeded.

Gameplay: If you love hack 'n slash, then Drakengard 2 is where it's at for you. Your main character Nowe runs through the battlefields striking down one opponent after another, as he's surrounded by a whole host of enemies. Gone are the bland, flat landscapes of Drakengard 1. Instead, you run through hilly terrain and can jump down small cliffs, and have to use the ground to your advantage, or else be nicked to death at the ankles by your enemies' blades.

In the first game, your hero Caim used all the weapons that he found. In this game, there are four characters: Nowe, Manah, Eris, and Urick, each with his or her own individual weapons. Nowe uses longswords and swords, Manah uses staves, Eris uses spears, and Urick uses axes. Instead of having a character-select screen, you simply put weapons on the "weapon wheel" (same as the first game), and select the weapon you want; the appropriate character will appear automatically to use it.

Another interesting element is that different characters have strengths and weaknesses against certain enemies. For example, Nowe's weapons deal more damage (appearing in red numbers) against Soldiers, but deals less damage (appearing in blue numbers) against mages and the undead. The game basically tells you who is effective against which enemy types when you get that character, and it's something to bear in mind in order to gain a strategic edge.

Magic also becomes more useful in this game. In Drakengard 1, your magic was handy, but not truly necessary. In this game, you need to closely watch your magic points, and use them at just the right time. Also, the vast majority of spells are on Manah's staves, since she is the designated magic-user.

Of course, what is Drakengard without the dragon? Your dragon is much more helpful in this game. It has introduced Dragon Overdrives (DOD's) which are basically the dragon's equivalent to magic. His standard attacks are the fireballs, and he can lock onto ground targets with seeking blasts. The DOD's are essentially mini-cutscenes, but they truly are a sight to behold. My personal favorite is the Merciless Fang attack, where the dragon crashes to the ground and devours an enemy.

Another aspect the developers did right in this title is give each character his or her own magic and life bars. In Drakengard 1, you could summon an ally who would be on the field for a limited amount of time; this time was gauged by an ever-decreasing life bar. The dragon could not be killed, so Caim and Angelus (the dragon) shared a life bar. Getting hit a certain number of times knocked you off your dragon in the first game. Now, the dragon has his own life bar, as does everyone else, so there is a little bit more character management going on.

Combos are a little more difficult to execute, but it's to the benefit of the player, as you will not have to press as many buttons. Drakengard 1 had you pressing the square button until your weapon flashed, at which point you press the triangle button to execute a combo. In Drakengard 2, combos are 5-6 buttons, alternating square and triangle. It takes a little getting used to, but overall, it's an improvement.

My only complaint with having different characters using different weapons is that the transition time is a little lengthy. A yellow column of light surrounds your character, and then replaces him or her with the next character. While this is isn't buggy at all, it can be aggrivating when you have to switch characters on a regular basis, especially considering only Nowe can summon the dragon.

Graphics:A major improvement over the first. It helps matters a lot that they added monsters to their regime of opponents to slaughter. Drakengard 1 featured little more than soldiers of about three different varieties. This one features goblins, orcs, ogres, minotaurs, as well as flying enemies for the aerial missions. Some opponents from the first game reappear in this one, and have received a major graphical facelift. The environments are immersive, the characters well done, and the weapons all have a unique feel to them.

The combo attacks your characters make are much more impressive looking, and are very well animated. The monster animations are generally well-done.

My primary complaint in this department is that some enemies are reused with a different color palatte, but that's been done so many times in the past, that it can be forgiven.

Sound: The sound effects have seen some minor improvements, but are overall the same standard fare, neither good or bad. In the sound department, that is where the game's improvement really shines. My biggest complaint with Drakengard 1's soundtrack was how repetitive and aggrivating it was. Now it's addictive, not repetitive. It's envigorating, not aggrivating. The tension of the moment is enhanced by the tension in the music, and that's how it was always meant to be.

AI: The developers actually made your opponents a little bit smarter. They no longer line up to be skewered by your blade. If you stand blocking, they will not attack you, they'll wait for you to lower your guard. I found myself being slashed in the back and attacked from multiple directions more times than I can count. While this can be frustrating, it shows that you have to do more than swing your sword to survive.

Other: Not too much in the way of other issues here. The camera work is solid. You may get amushed from different directions, but the developers did the best they could giving the player multiple radar/map options. Changing characters can be a hassle, and they could have made it more smooth, but as it stands, your allies in Drakengard 2 are a great deal more useful than those in the original.

Overall, this title fulfills the potential of the original. It's a Dynasty Warriors-style hack-'n-slash with SquareEnix's patented role playing game goodness. It was a lot harder to find places for improvement in this title, but this one is definitely worth a rental at least, if not a purchase. There are unlockables for subsequent playthroughs, so you may want to keep this one in your collection, to get all the goodies.

The story is very engrossing, and picks up almost two decades after the first one left off. I found myself completely immersed; admittedly, the story was a little predictable, but that didn’t hinder its effectiveness at all. It is still a fairly dark story, but they toned down on truly weird stuff a lot. Hopefully, it will stay that way (the end of the last one got REALLY messed up, to put it mildly).

Score: 8.5/10

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