I Can’t Believe The Original Drakengard Got Away With So Much

Did you know – Yoko Taro was originally worried that the story and themes of Drakengard wouldn’t go down well with Sony. He raised concerns with Enix producer Yosuke Saito ahead of its release, who was poised to present the game at E3. To their luck, and in a turn of events that is extremely on brand, Sony had worked through so many pitches throughout the show that it approved Drakengard without further inspection, tiredness finally having taken its toll.

So – Nier, Drakengard, and everything beyond likely wouldn’t exist if some Sony producers weren’t in desperate need of a nap. This is the kind of situation that almost feels like a parody of Yoko Taro’s personality, a figure in the gaming industry who is never afraid to speak his mind whether it relates to sexy anime girls or deep, poignant analysis on the nature of virtual narratives. Nothing is off the table, and given the intensely morbid subject matter of Drakengard, such a scenario almost makes complete sense. The game is, by all accounts, pretty fucked up.

Released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2003, Drakengard was originally intended as a fairly standard action experience that would combine the hack-and-slash combat of Dynasty Warriors with the aerial dogfights of Ace Combat – except with dragons. A western fantasy setting would be adopted to help it stand out against other games at the time, and at first glance, many of its elements became par for the course. When I first played it as a child, much of the grim, nihilistic storytelling passed me by as I simply wanted to cut fools to pieces and fly my sick dragon.

But even back then, it was clear that Drakengard was aiming to do something far more sinister and ambitious. Its cast of characters were locked in a perpetual state of misery, their fight for happiness becoming increasingly futile with each passing battle. Part of this absurdist storytelling likely came from Yoko Taro being told this game wouldn’t receive a sequel, and thus he decided to throw everything at the wall and never look back. In hindsight, we know what happens in the end, but back then, it was unlike anything games had seen before.

Drakengard follows a young man known as Caim, whose parents are mortally wounded by an evil black dragon during the game’s opening moments. To survive, he makes a pact with Angelus, an ancient dragon with a general dislike of humanity and a super raspy voice. But she is also on death’s door, so the two make an agreement, binding themselves together for eternity regardless of the consequences.

Pacts in Drakengard require a sacrifice, the location of such things being marked on a person’s body in the form of a distinct black tattoo. Caim’s is found on his tongue, removing his ability to speak. Throughout the narrative we see characters robbed of sight, song, and even the ability to age – leaving some in a state of eternal childhood.

Each sacrifice reinforces the thematic foundations of each character. Caim becomes a remorseless killing machine, unable to voice his hesitance of cutting down all who stand before him, while his close friend Inuart is robbed of the ability to play music, one talent he held that nobody else did. Now, he feels worthless.

Leonard, a heinously controversial character, is a paedophile, and thus to save his life the sense of sight is taken away, with the man no longer able to leer upon those he’d seek to abuse. He suffers from immense guilt for his past actions, seeing the loss of his ability to see as a rightful penance for his sins. Ironically, he befriends Seere, a young boy who is unable to age and can glimpse into the darkness present in people’s hearts. Taro wanted to explore such ideas further, but Enix pushed back, agreeing on what would be acceptable without feeling crass. They might have settled on a good balance, but it’s still horrendously wretched in its execution.

I won’t spoil exactly where Drakengard goes as the plot progresses, but it’s both a sombre character study into a cavalcade of twisted individuals and a wider analysis on the cycle of violence that perpetuated gaming at the time, and the emotional impact this bloodlust would have on a normal human being. Nearly everyone is pushed to their own personal brink in Drakengard, all while trying to prevent their world from falling into the realms of chaos. They don’t really accomplish that mission, with the final ending leading to the inevitable creation of Nier and Automata – two games which carry over many of the ideas that started with Drakengard. Taro’s later games are a bit cheerier though, which is really saying something.

Drakengard is a game that many haven’t played, only being aware of its existence through how it connects to Nier and its sequel. I’d love a remaster or even a classic port to modern platforms, but I can’t help but feel some of the writing and more tumultuous themes would need a second pass before release, since Sony weren’t that bothered back in the day. I’ve talked about the desperate need for a revival of Drakengard 3 in the past, so perhaps the entire trilogy deserves another chance in the spotlight one of these days, although 2 is a bit rubbish. While it was a one-and-done experience back when it first launched, now its legacy is firmly cemented in gaming history, and I feel that is something worth preserving.

Given that Yoko Taro expected Drakengard to be an isolated exercise in murder and human suffering, it’s so fascinating to glimpse at the beloved universe and characters that have spawned from it. I can’t really think of a similar example of absurdly connected adventures similar to this in the industry, and I think that’s why we’re so infatuated with his work.

Yoko Taro is a man who never makes the same game twice, and this unpredictability in both gameplay mechanics and storytelling is what will draw me in again and again. Giving me the option to summon a paedophile to murder kids was a bit of a curveball I’ll admit, but we wouldn’t have the Yoko Taro games of today without it. Maybe don’t pull that stunt in Nier 3, though.

Next: Nier Replicant Complete Guide And Walkthrough

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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously Gaming Editor over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.

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