Drakengard 3 Preview: Producer Takamasa Shiba reveals an insane prequel
Drakengard 3 is taking a stand against the impenetrable wall of marketing forces. It seems to actively hate the tropes of traditional JRPGs. It doesn’t really care what you think of it, unless you’re a fan of off-kilter JRPGs.
Producer Takamasa Shiba says that the decision to make Drakengard 3 was a direct reaction to some unfortunate marketing trends. In Japan (and in the West as well), the market has shifted more and more toward casual gaming. As a result, publisher Square Enix has been careful to stick to their core franchises. However, Shiba argues that if developers and publishers follow trends and make less JRPGs, they’ll only help to shrink the market. As a result, key members of the Drakengard and Nier teams have teamed up with Access Games to challenge themselves and give something to hardcore JRPG fans.
I sat down with Shiba for a hands-off gameplay demo of an in-progress version of the game. On either side of the TV were promotional posters for the game. One featured the main character, Zero, covered in blood. The other featured Zero’s five sisters, One, Two, Three, Four, and Five. In Drakengard 3, Zero is abandoned by her sisters, powerful figures known as Intoners, who can control the world with their singing abilities. From there you’d think this was a typical vengeance tale, but Shiba is quick to point out the key difference: “It’s not a revenge story, she’s simply trying to kill them.”
That detached, deranged, psychopathic aspect is something that carries over to other characters as well. Zero travels with a group of companions who help her in battle and keep the story moving along during gameplay. Shiba ran down the list for me, and it read like the patient list in an insane asylum. In the demo, Zero was traveling with Dito, a sadist who loves to watch people dying and suffering...oh, and he’s a little boy. In addition she rolls with an old man, Octa, who has an overactive sex drive and constantly talks dirty to Zero. Then there’s Cent, a heroic, stock Square Enix style character who is “wrong about everything.” Oh, and she mainly keeps them around to satisfy her sexual desires.
For all that weirdness, though, when you look at the gameplay and ignore the dialogue, Drakengard 3 looks like a typical hack and slash game. Comparisons to Dynasty Warriors seem apt, though it’s quite a bit bloodier. You’ve got a health bar and a special attack meter to tend to, and when you cover Zero in enough blood you can enter Intoner mode, which stops and leaves nearby enemies helpless. The gameplay seemed pretty straightforward, but there were a few neat tricks I saw. For example, when Zero decapitated one monster she could stand under the fountain of blood to get to Intoner mode more quickly.
Drakengard 3 also offers the dragon-riding combat the series is known for, but with a twist. Now, rather than allowing players to get off the dragon at will, they’ve introduced the ability to land and fight on the ground with the dragon. Shiba explained that in these dragon battle sections, most players never got off the dragon anyway, so they modified the gameplay to something that made more sense.
Unlike previous games in the series, where the dragon was a protector for the hero, the roles are reversed here. Zero is the powerful one, and her dragon is still a baby. It only adds to the weirdness when you hear the dragon’s child-like voice.
With Drakengard 2 released 8 years ago, I wondered if there was a large enough audience for the game, but Shiba explained that that’s why they decided to do a prequel. Whether you played the previous games or not, you’ll be able to enjoy this new game. Fans can see how certain events in Drakengard and Drakengard 2 were set up, and Shiba even teased a Nier connection somewhere in there, but none of it is key to appreciating the game.
The audience here isn’t just Drakengard fans, but anyone who enjoys JRPGs and unique storytelling. “We made a conscious decision to feature an antihero, for example, because we wanted to cater to core gamers,” Shiba explained.
Still, I wondered if Drakengard 3 wouldn’t ignite the usual HD remake for the previous games. Shiba sensibly shot me down, though. “Rather than relaunching them, we’d probably make a new game.”
Drakengard 3 will be a PS3 exclusive, unlike it’s spiritual predecessor Nier, which came to Xbox 360 as well. “JRPG gamers primarily play on PS3,” Shiba said. “Also, as you probably know, Xbox 360 has a very small market share in Japan. For this particular userbase we don’t forsee them being all over PS4 [either]. They’ll continue to play on PS3, so we wanted to release it on the console that they’d be playing on.”
As a big fan of Nier, I’m cautiously optimistic about Drakengard 3. The gameplay Shiba showed me seemed a bit on the shallow side, but the weirdness of the story drew me in. Either way, it’s commendable that the team and publisher Square Enix are continuing to take chances on niche JRPG products. Now we just have to keep buying them.
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