There have been many good games that have been held back from achieving greatness. Some aspect of their design leaves a stain on the experience, forcing the player to question what in the world were they thinking. Fatal Flaws examines these scars that are left on games, whether they are just mildly out of place or come close to ruining an otherwise quality game.
As stated in the general description of this column, almost every game has some flaw I can find reason to complain about. Some of these can be very minor and do little to interrupt the flow of game, but one in particular was so aggravating it lead to pitching an idea for a monthly column solely to be used as a public forum to vent my frustration. This is that flaw. Drakengard 3 ended up on my radar thanks to the indirect influence of a clickbait article about obscure RPGs that are worth checking out. In this list there was a game called Nier which sounded interesting and was cheap enough to take a chance on a purchase after reading a one paragraph synopsis. Nier is not a triple A title, nor is it one that is expected to top the majority of favorite RPG lists, but for whatever reason it clicked with me and I was completely enthralled by it. The sense of humor, story and especially the music all appealed to me. So naturally after learning that Nier takes place after the fifth endings of Drakengard, my interest was instantly piqued in Drakengard 3 some time later when I saw it at a local game store, and despite mediocre reviews, it ended up in my collection.
Drakengard 3 is not Nier, which shouldn’t have surprised me since that was a common warning in customer reviews from some online store. Aside from better graphics and more interesting enemy design, Nier was superior in all other areas. Drakengard 3 has a good soundtrack but it was not as a impressive. There is a sense of humor that is prevalent throughout the game, though it is cruder and more juvenile than what was in Nier, and none of the characters in Drakengard 3 are particularly likable. All of this aside, Drakengard 3 is not a bad game and I enjoyed it from beginning to close to the end. Drakengard 3 is an action RPG that plays very similarly to Nier albeit in a more linear fashion. The story is vague for most of the game but once the player reaches Branch B a lot of the mysteries become clear and things get more interesting. Generally speaking, I try to complete the main story of a game and depending on how enjoyable it is determines whether or not I go for a full 100 percent game completion. Most of the time I don’t bother, but this was turning into one of those cases where I wanted full completion and even purchased the DLC which focus on Zero’s sisters.
That is until I reached the end of Branch D. The head honcho of Hardcore Gamer won’t let me print my nickname for this boss, but fans of The Angry Video Game Nerd have heard this phrase used in reference to Simon’s Quest. As stated earlier, Drakengard 3 is an action RPG. Most levels are typical hack and slash affairs. A few levels involve aerial battles on Mikhail, Zero’s dragon side kick with the mind of a toddler. For the final boss battle of the game, which would lead to not only learning how this story ends but also a requirement for 100% completion and the platinum trophy, the game decides to throw a curve ball and decide it is a rhythm game. This makes about as much sense of having to do a Dark Souls boss run for the final song in Dance Dance Revolution. An argument could be made that music is a theme of the game with Zero and her sisters being Intoners and each one having a song but that is an argument I am going to ignore since the theme of music does not cross over into the actual game play mechanics.
Those of you who may not have played Drakengard 3 or made it to the end of Branch D might be thinking so what? They felt like changing it up at the end, stop whining, a lot of great games have very difficult final bosses. While they are not my game of choice, there are some rhythm games I do enjoy and there are some rhythm mini games in other games I like. The end of Branch D is no ordinary rhythm game, Branch D is a rhythm game from hell. Branch D is about as much fun as letting Jason Bohn with his considerable weight river dance on your crotch in stiletto heels. You might read that and think it cannot be that bad. It is, and not only will I explain its badness but I will also present video evidence.
To start off this ordeal clocks in around eight minutes and you are allowed zero mistakes. Part of the beginning cutscene can be skipped, but the introductory animation has to be watched in its entirety every time this level is attempted. Being able to play off sound cues gives an advantage in this “fight” since only sometimes are there any visible visual cues. The stage begins easy enough, rings of light are released and the button gets pressed when they reach Mikhail. Not too long into the fight the camera zooms out and Mikhail becomes a tiny spec, but this is still better than later on when none of the light rings or Mikhail is visible at all. This was attempted many times by myself, both being honest and also with a cheat video. I was able to get to about the five minute mark without the cheat video but even when I was cheating I couldn’t get past the 6:20 mark. I had a friend give it a go who is a drummer and with the exception of Street Fighter is generally better at video games than I am and he couldn’t do it either after numerous attempts. I am sure one of us would beat it eventually, but the motivation to invest the time in memorizing the pattern or trying to sync the cheat video up isn’t really there since this level feels more like a chore than a game.
The actual design of this floral abomination is creative and something I like from an artistic perspective, and the song during this battle is arguably the best piece of music in the game. Unfortunately, the high level of difficulty in beating this boss due to intentionally bad camera angles and zero room for error prevents the presentation from being enjoyable. Challenging bosses and levels exist in many games that are enjoyable and generate a sense of achievement when they are finally beaten. There are some games in my collection from childhood that I still have not completed but every blue moon I will try to take on a challenge I never won. Occasionally I succeed, usually I don’t, but I always have a good time when I try. Switching game formats at the very of end feels like one of those practical jokes that ends up not being funny to anyone. The challenge is high but the enjoyment is absent. Losing repeatedly in other games can motivate you to try again, here it is just an irritation. The only motivation to beat this level is to see how the story finally ends. The process is laborious and the video can be found online if you only care about seeing the game’s ending. The fact that someone made a cheat video (which I am very thankful) is a testament to how irritating this final boss can be. Drakengard 3 is an otherwise solid action RPG, not a must play, but it is worth checking out for fans of the genre. It is a shame that it had to end on such a sour note.