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This review contains spoilers
A beautiful work on the potential of children - two kids raised by the same mother: one with love and the other with hatred.
Seere ended up emulating the hero he admired from the fairy tales of his mother -the 'little hero'- and played an irreplaceable part in the saving of the World.
Manah was abused and did the only thing that was taught to her: to destroy - this led to the collapse of everything as it was known.
Arioch sacrificed the possibility of having children by making a pact with two elemental spirits. With her child gone to the war and an impossibility to create any more life within her she goes mad and becomes a child-eater - probably due to jealousy "my child was taken away from me and I cannot have any more, therefore it's not fair for any other person to have the privilege of their children living".
Some interesting symbolism I found about these two spirits is that they resemble the ovaries of a woman which play an important part in the making of a human being.
It was very subtly told overtime but Leonard was a pedophile (from what I have read this was more explicit in the Japanese version) but it was made more obvious with the cutscene for ending E where Seere hugs him and his reaction is surprisingly descriptive - it seems as if he wants to give in to his urges but ends up resisting; probably due to the memories of his little brothers which he regrets.
These last two might be bit of a stretch but here's my interpretation of it:
Furiae was in love with his brother Caim, as we know incest can lead to genetic disorders in children - the World itself is not fair but on top of that genetic disorders bring a lot of complications on children to live a normal life and adapt to society.
Caim has bloodlust and no compassion for human lives - it's a war so there will be bloodshed but he actively enjoys it disregarding the children he is leaving fatherless and the human on the other side of the War. Something that Angelus and other characters constantly ask of him agaisnt the enemies is for mercy.
There's so much symbolism but I was comfortable with some of my interpretations of it after seeing how the Watchers resemble giant babies. There's also a surprising amount of depth to the characters and different endings.
The soundtrack is beautiful: the abrupt repetition of samples alludes to the repetition of slaughter in the field - this is especially felt while playing with Caim on the ground.
Onto the gameplay: I'm not a fan of musou games but I grew to like the ground combat because of the experimentation of different weapons and I think it was brilliant from a ludo-narrative stand-point to get to know Caim.
I straight up loved the combat with Angelus, so much so that Panzer Dragoon has increased some priority spots in my to-play list.
As if this wasn't obvious with some elements you can find in Drakengard this was named Project Dragonsphere due to drawing heavy inspiration from Ace Combat 3, I was surprised to see so many things that reminded me of it: the canyon which is kind of a small labyrinth as it was in AC3, the city in its demise is also reminiscent to how the city looked in some of the endings (or all of them? I cannot recall) of AC3, the extra expedition where you can fight against fighter jets, the gameplay of Angelus itself, the sometimes atmospheric and electronic soundtrack, etc.
There are so many things I probably missed about Drakengard but that's also the beauty of it, I was really surprised with how much I loved the story and that I ended up enjoying the gameplay. Now I'm shilling this game to my friends.
On another note - sometimes it might be worth asking yourself: can this work as effectively as it is if it was a film or a work in another medium? In the case of Drakengard, I don't think so.
Some personal notes:
This was my previous review for Drakengard but I have been re-playing some games I used to dismiss (e.g. ICO) because of my lack of patience with positive results; it feels like growing as a person.
With how much I loved Drakengard, I will play the rest of the series (including Nier) and eventually re-play Nier Automata (I did not enjoy this last one as much but I want to revisit it)
I also had some things to say about how Caim doesn't care about the unethical behavior of the people helping him to achieve his goals but because of being so focused on saving Furiae he disregards this. This eventually comes back to bite him in the tail...
Wow. What a game. Very few words can describe how great this game is. It's so vast and intricately detailed it borders on insanity. I had so much fun playing this. the world, characters, weapons, enemies, lore, it's all just executed perfectly. This is a game I will be constantly playing. The amount of creativity that is given to you at the start allows for the player to do whatever and whenever they want. I love this game. GOTY 2022
Endwalker is something that I approached with a lot of hesitation, doubting that it had much left of its story to tell, much left of its characters to explore, much left of its world to expand. And in a way, I was right, but Endwalker’s aim isn’t to just be another stepping stone for the overarching narrative. It is as most would say a “culmination”, and it is in this idea where I feel Endwalker once again repurposes that same cognition that made Shadowbringers feel so special.
In this instance acknowledging the titular “End” which this expansion represents, both philosophically and literally. While the former is the one many find the most interest in, and deservedly so, it’s the latter which really came off to me as profound. There’s something special about XIV’s meta storytelling, Ishikawa helmed expansions in particular, that really moves me. It’s not as if these expansions intend to muse upon the nature of the relationship between game and player, or the twisted morality of typical game mechanics, rather it’s an acknowledgement of us, the players, the heroes. A self-aware recognition of the long and arduous journey we have walked, and an assurance that our journey is not over yet.
Following this notion we find in Endwalker’s deep embrace, is a trend of solemn reflection amongst its character. Ruminations on their pasts, beliefs, adventures, echoing the voice of its creators, a voice which extends the same question to us. Has our journey been good? Has it been worthwhile? Amongst the aggregate, a single answer is nigh impossible, each and every soul will provide their own story.
Yet it is this anthology that XIV champions. Each story portraying the never-ending quest of another who has braved the infinite, who continued to walk forward, and at journey’s end found an answer they can call their own.
“Was this life a gift or a burden?
Did you find fulfillment?”
Did you find fulfillment?”
SMTIV acts as a sort of a transitional period for the series before it would reinvent itself once again with V. contemplating on many of the series’ staples. refining what worked and removing what didn’t. never drastically changing anything, but building on an already established base to varying degrees of success. while it has something of its own flair to set itself apart, SMTIV plays it relatively safe in the realm of SMT. I would never claim it personality-less but I would argue that in doing that its rendered itself bit of a less memorable entry within the franchise. on that same token — its intention was never to be revolutionary in a similar vain to Nocturne, but an evolutionary entry. in being (almost) purely iterative of previously introduced ideas it itself would end up being the most accessible introduction to everything that represents MegaTen as a franchise.
as brilliant as I believe Nocturne to be I can concede it is an intimidating game for most. to its labyrinthine-like dungeons, to the cruel way the game can often feel like its sneering at the player in its brutal combat, to save points being fairly distant from one another etc. these are all deliberate artistic choices that make that game as good as it is, but I’m not going to deny the convenience in being able to save anytime and anywhere you please. sacrifices had to be made however. having the option to save as often as you can is nice; the gesture is certainly appreciated. its nonessential at best though with dungeons being as simplistic and straightforward as they are. I can recognize that this simplicity may also be an artistic choice. IV isn’t as concerned with having the player constantly on edge as Nocturne was, its intention is exactly the opposite of that. I can respect and even enjoy the ease of it all to an extent though I will always miss and prefer the pervading tension of Nocturne.
that ease is carried over into the series’ most predominant feature: the combat. I’m more forgiving of this as there’s quite nothing like press turn, even in its easiest iteration. it remains fun and tactical otherwise. what I’m less forgiving of is IV’s very own gimmick: smirk. it’s just that… a gimmick. giving you or the enemy an unfair advantage in battle based on a coin flip. the fact that receiving this buff is entirely in the hands of RNG is fundamentally flawed. the game is already easy as is and the inclusion of smirk can turn it into a complete joke. god forbid a boss you encounter happen to smirk. MegaTen thrives in punishing the players mistakes, but enemies being able to wipe your entire party due to this buff is TOO punishing. to a point that it feels unfair. especially since you cannot accurately prepare or strategize around this; making the occasional encounter where smirk is involved in any capacity either underwhelming or overwhelmingly unfair depending on who it’s given to.
IV’s clumsiest misstep would be its handling of the alignment system. conceptually I find it to be fascinating. three clashing ideologies with their own benefits and drawbacks that make up the framework of the story. the one you choose will likely be the one that aligns with your own ideals. or, it could’ve been. law and chaos are easy enough to get. but you know, in a game that demands you to be morally and ideologically consistent the only way to get the one most players would align with is to rigorously follow a guide in how to make the most morally inconsistent decisions ever? that totally makes sense. funny thing is I actually find the first 2/3rds of the story to be quite good in terms of MegaTen. the characters that rep their ideological alignments make logical sense and are written with enough believability and nuance that when the time comes to side with whoever you choose it’s genuinely hard to do so. it’s just unfortunately dampened by the worst morality system I’ve ever seen implemented in a game probably ever.
as I’ve just shown, IV is a game that comes with many caveats. many of them being minor enough to where I can excuse it. with some of them being a large enough issue that it docked my score by a point or two. but none of them are enough to stop me calling this a great game. at its core its still MegaTen. the post-apocalyptic setting is an interesting subversion of what you’d typically expect from SMT. the tried and true press-turn is as good and fast paced as its ever been and it’s all elevated by Kozuka’s otherworldly composition. even if I believe that at least some creativity was lost for the sake of marketability, it’d make for a far more palatable and relaxing experience. IV was never meant to innovate. its purpose was to closely examine every aspect of the series and nip the bud of the rough edges that would plague the older titles. in ways it’d bring its own in the process, it is certainly not without its own trappings. but I would still claim it an overall success in being the most refined and recommendable entryway into it what is now one of my favorite series’.
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