Drakengard (series)

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This article is about the video game series. For the first game in the series, see Drakengard.
Drakengard
Drag-On Dragoon
Drakengard logo.png
Drag-On Dragoon logo.png
The western and Japanese logos for the series.
Genres Action role-playing game
Developers Cavia
Access Games
Macrospace[1]
Publishers Square Enix
Take-Two Interactive[2]
Ubisoft[3]
Creators Takamasa Shiba
Takuya Iwasaki
Platforms Mobile devices, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Platform of origin PlayStation 2
Year of inception 2003
First release Drakengard
  • JP September 11, 2003[4]
  • NA March 2, 2004
  • PAL May 21, 2004
Latest release Drakengard 3
  • JP December 19, 2013
  • NA May 20, 2014
  • EU May 21, 2014
Spin-offs Nier

Drakengard, known as Drag-On Dragoon (Japanese: ドラッグ オン ドラグーン Hepburn: Doraggu on doragūn?, commonly abbreviated as DOD) in Japan, is a series of action role-playing video games. The eponymous first game in the series was released in 2003 on the PlayStation 2, and has since been followed by a sequel, a prequel and a spin-off. It was conceived by Takamasa Shiba and Takuya Iwasaki as a gameplay hybrid between Ace Combat and Dynasty Warriors 2. The story was created by Shiba, Iwasaki, Taro Yoko and Sawako Natori, who were influenced by European folklore and popular anime series and movies of the day. Shiba, Yoko and Sawako have had involvement in every entry of the series since its debut.

The setting of the main series is a Northern European-style dark fantasy world where humans and creatures from myth and legends live side by side, while the spin-off game is set in an alternate reality leading from one of the first game's possible endings. The stories generally focus on the fortunes and personalities of a small group of protagonists either directly or indirectly connected to and affected by the events of the story. Dark or mature plot and character themes and multiple endings have become a staple of the series. Their popularity in Japan has resulted in multiple adaptions and additional media in the form of novelizations and manga.

The series is considered highly popular in Japan, having sold well and gained a cult following, though it appears to be a niche series in Western territories. The main games have become noted for their dark storylines and mixture of ground-based and aerial combat, while Nier stood out because of its mixture of gameplay styles. The series has received mixed to positive reception in both Japan and the west: the majority of praise has been given to its story and characters, while the gameplay has come in for criticisms for being repetitive or poorly designed.

Common elements[edit]

Setting[edit]

Midgard, the setting of the main Drakengard games, as it appears in Drakengard 3. The world has been described by Anime News Network as "a warped version of medieval Europe".[5]

The Drakengard games take place in a dark fantasy version of Medieval Europe called Midgard.[5][6] Humans appear to be the predominant species, although races such as dragons, fairies and elves are shown to exist. The setting, mythos and landscape borrow extensively from the lore of Northern Europe.[7] The world is overseen by a group of unnamed gods who have yet to make a personal appearance.[8][Note 1] The gods are served by beings known as the Watchers,[Note 2] entities created to destroy humanity because they are considered a failure.[6] The Watchers are kept from entering the world with the seals, which act to keep the world in balance: should the seals be destroyed, the Watchers would enter the world and destroy humanity. At the core of the seals is the Goddess of the Seal, a mortal virgin female chosen and branded with the final seal: if all the seals are destroyed, all that stands between the Watchers and the world is the death of the Goddess herself. A core element of the Drakengard universe is the ability for humans and beasts to form a Pact,[Note 3] a magical bond which links their souls and grants the human partner great power at the cost of some physical ability or personal trait (their voice, singing abilities, etc.). Pacts are normally entered into by beasts so they can feed off negative emotions, but sometimes they will enter a pact for other reasons.[6]

The universe of the Drakengard series is split between multiple timelines. Events in those timelines are separate, but they can also overlap. The core timeline is formed from Drakengard and its sequel. Drakengard 3 acts as the first game's prequel, but most of its events take place in separate timelines leading to different outcomes.[9] In Drakengard 3, a mysterious malevolent flower uses servants called the Intoners, women gifted with the power to use magic through song and the ability to summon Watchers, as instruments of humanity's destruction. In Drakengard, which succeeds the a fifth version of Drakengard 3 '​s events detailed in a supplementary novel,[10] the Watchers use a group known as the Cult of Watchers[Note 4] to spark a religious war and destroy the seals.[11] In Drakengard 2, the Watchers continue to use the former head of the cult to destroy the new seals, while the dragons prepare to usurp the gods and rule over the world. Nier is set in an alternate reality created by events stemming from Drakengard '​s fifth ending: in this reality, the world was decimated by a plague created by the magical beings who came through the portal, and by the events of the game, humanity is nearing extinction.[12]

Gameplay[edit]

The Drakengard games feature a mix of action-based hack-and-slash combat during ground-based battles and aerial combat mixed in with RPG leveling mechanics. In the original, the player guides the characters around ground-based battles to combat small groups of enemy units. In aerial combat, the player takes control of the protagonist's dragon partner. In these situations, the dragon can either lock onto a target and unleash a barrage of small fireballs, or the player can manually aim and fire large bursts of flame, which do more damage but do not home in on a target.[13] Basic gameplay changed little for Drakengard 2, but there are some differences and additions, such as weapon types being tied to the character they are associated with, with changing them also swapping the character.[14] The dragon gameplay remained virtually unchanged, apart from the ability, during air-ground missions, for the dragon to swoop down on a group of enemies in a special attack depicted in a short cutscene.[15]

In Nier and Drakengard 3, the player controls the main protagonist with two other characters acting as AI-controlled supports.[16][17] Drakengard 3 was designed to be a faster experience than the previous games, with the protagonist being given a special hyper-mode and the ability to freely switch between weapons without pausing the action.[18] Aerial gameplay was also changed, with the dragon now capable of ground combat.[19] Nier, while featuring similar hack-and-slash combat, also includes other gameplay types such as a top-down view for puzzle areas, 2D style areas for buildings or similar structures. Side-quests were also added, which often involved fetch quests, fishing and farming.[20]

Themes and influences[edit]

One of the running narrative themes for the main series is Immorality, which also became the key character theme and was expressed through their personalities and actions.[21][22] The second game also focused on themes of war and death.[22] The theme for the world of Drakengard 3, as described by composer Keiichi Okabe, is "the sense of contrast".[23] Multiple anime series have influenced the series' characters over the years, including Neon Genesis Evangelion, Sister Princess and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.[7][24][25] The series writer, Sawako Natori, drew inspiration for her writing from shōnen manga.[26] The original game world was designed around Celtic and Norse myths, together with Japanese-style revisionism.[7] The team for the original game were influenced by Asian epic movies and western action-adventure films such as the 1999 remake of The Mummy and Dragonheart.[27] While developing Nier, the team drew inspiration from the God of War series,[20] while the narrative structure was inspired by the September 11 attacks and the War on Terror.[28]

Games[edit]

Title Year Platform Notes
Drakengard

Released in Japan as Drag-On Dragoon

PlayStation 2 The first installment in the series, Drakengard released for the PlayStation 2 in September 2003 in Japan, March and May 2004 in North America and Europe respectively. Square Enix published the title in Japan and North America, while Take-Two Interactive published it in European territories.[2] A Europe-exclusive mobile port was released in August 2004.[29] The mobile version was co-developed and co-published with Macrospace.[1]
Drakengard 2

Released in Japan as Drag-On Dragoon 2: Fūin no kurenai, Haitoku no kuro

PlayStation 2 The second installment in the series and the direct sequel to the first game, Drakengard 2 was released in the PlayStation 2 in June 2005 in Japan, February 2006 in North America and March of the same year in Europe and Australia. For its release in western territories, Square Enix partnered with European game developer and publisher Ubisoft.[3] Ubisoft also handled the game's localization.[30]
Nier PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 A a spin-off from the main series stemming from Drakengard '​s fifth ending, Nier was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in April 2010 across all regions. It was published by Square Enix across all regions.[31] It was the last game developed by Cavia, as the company closed shortly after Nier '​s release.[32]
Drakengard 3

Released in Japan as Drag-On Dragoon 3

PlayStation 3 The third main installment in the series and a prequel to the first game, Drakengard 3 released on the PlayStation 3 in December 2013 in Japan and May 2014 in North America and Europe.[33][34] Like Nier, it was published in all regions by Square Enix.[35]

Related media[edit]

The games received multiple adaptations and additional story content in the form of novelizations, manga and supplementary material. The first game received two novelizations: Drag-On Dragoon: Side Story on November 28, 2003, and Drag-On Dragoon: Magnitude "Negative" on January 23, 2004. The first book was written by Emi Nagashima, writing under her penname of Jun Eishima, and the second by Takashi Aizawa.[36][37] The novelization of Drakengard 2, written again by Nagashima, was released on September 30, 2005.[38]

Nagashima wrote character stories and manga for Drakengard 3 leading up to that game's release. The manga were Drag-On Dragoon: Utahime Five, a prequel following the game's main antagonists, and Drag-On Dragoon: Shi ni Itaru Aka, which acts as a sequel.[39] A book detailing the narrative connection between Drakengard 3 and Drakengard, titled Drag-On Dragoon 3 Side Story, was released on 28 August, 2014.[40] Drag-On Dragoon 3 Complete Guide + Setting, a complete guide to the game with extra features explaining the game chronology and a novella set after the events of Shi ni Itaru Aka, was published by ASCII Media Works in 2014.[41]

Nier was expanded after release with a CD drama which told of events immediately after the events of Drakengard '​s fifth ending,[42] and a supplementary book titled Grimoire Nier containing extra stories and concept art alongside a fifth ending for the game.[26] Square Enix also paired up with WildStorm to create a digital comic which detailed the backstories of the game's characters and world.[43]

Development[edit]

History[edit]

The idea for Drakengard originated in 1999 between Takamasa Shiba and Takuya Iwasaki. The gameplay was conceived as a blend of elements from Ace Combat and Dynasty Warriors 2.[24][44] The team developing the game went under the moniker "Project Dragonsphere".[7] The team was joined by director Taro Yoko, who was the main drive behind the game's dark atmosphere.[24] It was Shiba's first project as a producer.[44] As Yoko was told there would not be a sequel, multiple endings were created.[45] When it was localized and released in the west, references to things such as sexual taboos were censored.[46] In addition, the title was changed, as Drag-On Dragoon was considered wrong for a western audience.[7][27] Drakengard was considered enough of a success that a sequel was commissioned.[47] Multiple staff members returned for the creation of the second game, although Yoko was mostly tied up with other projects and was replaced as director by Akira Yasui. Yoko still had a role in development, and he and Yasui had creative clashes during development. Yasui ended up making Drakengard 2 the thematic opposite of the previous game, employing a lighter tone and broader color palate.[48]

Nier originated when Yoko and Shiba teamed up to create a third Drakengard game. As the project continued, it became more detached from the main continuity and eventually developed into a spin-off.[21][49] Despite what it became, Yoko has stated that he considers Nier to be the true Drakengard 3.[49] After the release of Nier, Cavia closed down and was absorbed by AQ Interactive,[32] then Taro Yoko left the company to pursue a wider range of projects.[50] A stalled attempt to begin production of further games in the series at AQ Interactive was blamed by Shiba on a prevalent trend at the time for light-weight games for the general gaming community.[51] Later, Yoko and Shiba came together again to create a proper second sequel to Drakengard, with the intention of creating a hard core RPG for the fanbase.[52] Unlike the previous games in the series, Drakengard 3 was developed by Access Games, a developer whose noted games included Deadly Premonition, and brought in team members used to creating action games.[44][53] During the run-up to Drakengard 3 '​s release, both Yoko and Shiba expressed their willingness to continue the series on the PlayStation 4 if the latest game was enough of a success.[46][54] Speaking in 2014 after the game's release, Yoko stated that the series was on hold due to lack of funds.[54]

Writing and character design[edit]

The stories of the original game's characters were written by Yoko, Shiba and Iwasaki, while the main game script was written by Sawako Natori, who would go on to co-write the main scenarios for future Drakengard games.[21][55][56] Yoko designed the darker elements to both contrast and actively compete with the likes of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.[7][24] Yoko conceived the "insane" characters around the premise that people who killed hundreds of people in pursuit of their goals and took satisfaction from it were naturally insane. During the production of Nier, his focus changed to writing a story where everyone believed they were in the right whatever their actions. Through the series, Yoko has also been attempting to answer the question of why people are driven to kill.[57] Although some of the dark narrative themes were kept for Drakengard 2, many of the other narrative elements were made more mainstream.[22][58] Drakengard 3 was intended to return to a dark aesthetic, but also to include moments of humor and tie in with Nier.[46]

The character designer for all entries in the series is Kimihiko Fujisaka. Initially a minor staff member at Cavia, the team were impressed by his skill as an amateur artist and he was recommended for the post of character designer for the game.[7] The designs for both the characters and the world were influenced by armor and clothing of Medieval Europe.[27] He returned in the same capacity for Drakengard 2, and later for Nier. Disliking some of his initial designs for Drakengard, he took the opportunity to remodel them more to his liking for the arcade game Lord of Vermilion.[25] For Nier '​s international release, the protagonist was redesigned from a teenager to an adult character. This was because the publishers felt an older character would appeal more to western players.[59][60] In Drakengard 3, Fujisaka designed the protagonist Zero around the dark themes of the game, although some unusual elements were nearly cut.[49] The other female characters were inspired by Puella Magi Madoka Magica, while the male characters, considered a low priority, were designed around male archetypes and approved quickly.[25]

Music[edit]

The first game's soundtrack was created by Nobuyoshi Sano and Takayuki Aihara. The two created the score using samples from well-known classical composers.[61] The second game's soundtrack was composed by Ryoki Matsumoto and Aoi Yoshiki, who had never before been involved with video game soundtracks.[62] The game's Japanese theme song, Hitori, was sung by Mika Nakashima.[63] The music for Nier was composed by Keiichi Obake, who composed the soundtrack as something different from the main series, and to directly reflect the sombre tone of the game's setting and story.[64] Singer Emi Evans (Emiko Rebecca Evans) wrote and sung the vocal tracks,[64] and performed many tracks in different languages, including an invented one for one of the tracks.[65] Obake returned to compose the soundtrack for Drakengard 3: in an interview, he stated that, in composing the music, he tried to emulate the work of the earlier composer without imitating them. He also commented that the result was very unlike the traditional Square Enix game.[66] The game features two theme songs: "Black Song", performed by Eir Aoi,[67] and "This Silence is Mine", the game's theme song proper, written and sung by Chihiro Onitsuka.[68]

Reception[edit]

Aggregate review scores
Game GameRankings Metacritic
Drakengard 65% (PS2)[69] 63/100 (PS2)[70]
Drakengard 2 62% (PS2)[71] 58/100 (PS2)[72]
Nier 69% (PS3)[73]
69% (X360)[74]
68/100 (PS3)[75]
67/100 (X360)[76]
Drakengard 3 58% (PS3)[77] 60/100 (PS3)[78]

The Drakengard series has received mixed to positive reviews over the years. So far, the original Drakengard has received the most positive response.[69][70] Nier has the highest aggregate score overall so far for the PS3 version of the game and slightly lower scores for the Xbox 360 version.[73][74][75][76] Drakengard 2 and Drakengard 3 have received lower scores.[71][72][77][78] Each title in the series has received favorable review scores from Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu.[79][80][81][82]

The common point of praise for the series through most of its life has been the story. While individual aspects have come in for criticism, the dark atmospheres, unconventional characters and general scenarios have been cited as one of each game's strengths.[83][84][85][86][87][88][89][90] Despite some mixed feelings from reviewers either for the story as a whole or certain aspects of it, the characters and plot of Drakengard 3 have also been praised.[16][91][92][93][94][95][96] The major exception is Drakengard 2: the story's lighter tone and more traditional narrative were noted and sometimes criticized for being overly simplistic or too similar to other games in the genre.[97][98][99][100] The Drakengard characters have remained popular in Japan, with Dengeki holding a popularity contest for those characters to celebrate the series' tenth anniversary and the announcement of Drakengard 3.[101] Among the most popular characters were the first game's main protagonists, Caim and Angelus (the former having earned the nickname Prince (王子 ouji?) among fans).[102] The characters of Drakengard 3 have also proved to be highly popular.[103]

The gameplay has so far come in for major criticism, with the original title's aerial and ground-based gameplay being seen as repetitive and dull, although some reviewers found it entertaining.[83][84][85][86] Drakengard 2 also came in for such criticism, although minor improvements were cited.[97][98][99][100] In contrast, the gameplay of Drakengard 3 was generally praised or seen as an improvement upon the previous two entries, though the dragon-riding segments came in for criticisms for difficult controls.[16][91][92][93][94][95][96] Opinions were divided on Nier '​s unconventional mix of gameplay styles from multiple game genres, with some praising the variety and others seeing it as poorly executed.[87][88][89][90] The series as a whole has gained a cult following in Japan.[26]

Each game has sold relatively well in its home market. The original game was a commercial success, selling over 120,000 units in the first week of release[104] and eventually selling over 240,000 copies in Japan.[105] Drakengard 2 '​s first-week sales were similarly impressive, selling 100,000 units.[3] It sold over 203,000 copies by the end of 2005.[106] Drakengard 3 sold just over 15,000 units in its first week,[107] and over 150,000 units by May 2014.[108] The two versions of NierGestalt and Replicant—sold roughly 12,500 and 60,000 copies in their first week respectively.[109][110] Replicant eventually sold over 121,000 in Japan by the end of May 2010.[111] The series has sold over 770,000 units in Japan as of May 2014.[sales 1] Sales figures for western regions are unavailable. The first two games in the main series have both been included in Square Enix's Ultimate Hits series, re-releases of popular titles developed or published by them.[112]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In the Japanese versions, the world is ruled by a single eponymous deity referred to as "God" ( Kami?), and are also referred to in the English version of Drakengard 2 as "the Nameless"
  2. ^ Watchers: Angels (天使 Tenshi?) in the original Japanese and the English version of Drakengard 3, also referred to as "Grotesqueries" in Drakengard
  3. ^ Pact: Contract (契約 Keiyaku?) in the original Japanese
  4. ^ Cult of Watchers: Church of Angels (天使の教会 Tenshi no kyōkai?) in the original Japanese

References[edit]

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Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Drakengard series:
    • Sales as of April 2014:
      • Drakengard: 241,014 units[105]
      • Drakengard 2: 203,336 units[106]
      • Nier: 181,000 units (60,000 plus for Gestalt,[109] 121,000 plus Replicant)[111]
      • Drakengard 3: 150,866 units[108]