Saturday, June 28, 2014

Drakengard 3: Four

Drakengard 3 arrived last month. It’s a very strange game, abusive and self-mocking and technically graceless. It’s a monster that won me over in ways I never expected. It’s a lot of things, but it’s most clearly a portrait of Zero, a goddess-like Intoner who goes around a twisted medieval Europe and murders her deified sisters with a mixture of vicious abandon and blasé cruelty. I’ve talked at length about just what Drakengard 3 did to me, and it’s time for an addendum about one of the game’s more interesting characters. She’s not who you might think.

Four is the least threatening among Zero’s numerically named sisters, all of whom decided to rule the world and rather rudely didn't invite Zero. We meet them when Zero attacks their city stronghold. One is the rational leader, Two is cheerful, Three is spookily distracted, and Five is hedonistic to no end. Four seems the most reluctant to fight; during an initial free-for-all with Zero, Four pleads for her sister to reconsider such violent rebellion. Later in the game, Four is the second victim in Zero’s conveniently numbered murder spree. En route to a mountain fortress, Zero tells her companions that Four is an uptight virgin and that “deep down, she’s evil.”


If Four’s evil, we don’t see it in the prime stretch of Drakengard 3. Upon confronting Zero, Four again begs her to stop and proclaims how highly she thinks of the murderous Intoner. So great is Four’s faith in her sister that she’s even willing to fall for a blatant and deadly ruse. Later, as the game’s timeline unravels into chaos and paradoxes, Four reappears as a lunatic, driven mad by the ominous floral entity that birthed all of the Intoners. She’s a piteous sacrifice, hiding in poorly concocted innocence and a mess of happy, Zero-centered memories that aren’t even real.

For a look into Four’s true depths, one must venture beyond the central game. The short stories available on the Drakengard 3 website introduce Four as a teetering stack of neuroses. Traveling with her sisters (minus Zero), Four worries about her sibling Intoners, mends their clothes, tries to keep a borrowed house clean…and then explodes into a room-wrecking fury and seethes with hate for her family. And herself most of all.

Among the Intoners, Four seems caught between the thoughtless cruelties of Three and Five and the orderly lives of One and Two. Simultaneously fretting over and jealously loathing her sisters (the lustful Five in particular), Four is a creature of bitterness, obliterated self-esteem, and thick sediments of repression, all bottled up behind her conscientious veneer and feigned moral superiority. She gets no help from her Disciple, a polite masochist named Decadus. Ruled by his fetish, he sees Four entirely as a means for punishment—even in her refusal to indulge it. This only frustrates her further, of course. Violence is Four’s sole release, but she couldn’t inflict any on Decadus. That’d be dirty and bad and a dead giveaway of her darker impulses.

All of this comes out in the playable Drakengard 3 bonus chapters, each of which focuses on a different Intoner. Four’s side-story sees her butchering enemy soldiers on her elder sister One’s orders, with Decadus and the dragon Gabriella tagging along. Sanctimonious as ever, Four laments all of the killing she carries out, and her tone nauseates Gabriella. Four excuses the bloodshed as necessary for One’s noble future, but she can’t pretend in the quest’s last act. Astride the dragon, Four chases down and incinerates a fleet of shakily defended elf pirates, who wail and plead for clemency in absurdly high-pitched voices (as though Four is massacring The Littl’ Bits). And Four? She laughs with all the racist glee of a Blackwater mercenary or an Einsatzkommando.


So Four is evil after all. Yet it’s not obvious as to why. In one of the side quest's cutesy storybook interludes, Gabriella gazes within Four’s heart and sees a gaping hole with only a frigid breeze to fill it. So the viewer may decide just what completes Four. She could be a pure sadist, masking her many little envies and criticisms under a prissy rectitude just so she can feel better than her sisters at something. And there's no redemptive fantasy fulfillment in her story, in contrast to the whole “moe” fixture that persistently paints women characters as just flawed enough to be rescued by some heroic male avatar.

Or perhaps Four is more pathetic than a mere joke. Her downloadable quest unlocks a string of her memories, and they’re all hateful diatribes spewed in the split second before her death. Four lashes out at her sisters, her Disciple, her public, and her creator with all the spite and sarcasm of a catty teenager, but her last little jab is aimed within.

Even Four’s vilest moments seem spawned by her self-loathing and those frequent reminders that no one really cares about her. In her side-quest, Decadus doesn’t listen when she shares how unappreciated she feels or lectures him that sex shouldn’t come before true love. There’s a barely disguised plea for him to treat her as an actual person, but Decadus sees Four’s words as deliberate and delightful sadistic denial of him, while Gabriella mocks her false piety. Four is that lost kid, the one who isn’t bullied or abused but rather just neglected to the point where something dies deep inside. So home she goes to burn some ants or rip apart some stuffed animals. Her one remaining hope is that her absent sister Zero will befriend her…but we see how that turns out.


Drakengard 3’s Intoners appropriate familiar women in fiction: the spooky amoralist, the shallow peacemaker, the bloodthirsty sociopath, the shameless hussy, and, in Four’s case, the priggish, virginal nutjob. Yet they often seem attacks on those same deadly-sin archetypes. They’re all incomplete in some way, forced into roles that they can’t escape. Four’s part defines her through sexuality even when she avoids it, and Decadus is there to remind her unintentionally with his constant eroticism of misery. Squashing back a tide of frustration, Four turns to thinly justified wartime brutality—the only way she can let out everything without cracking her good-girl façade. Because that façade is all she has.

It’s a shame that this sort of thing has to be tucked off to the side. Modern games have an unwelcome habit of hiding important details in easily overlooked audio logs, official websites, and places that aren't part of the initial tour. Drakengard 3’s ancillary tales add a lot, and they’d be more helpful if they actually were in the game from the start.

But that's not how this era works. In fact, the Intoner-specific vignettes probably wouldn't exist at all if Square Enix couldn’t sell them for six dollars apiece. At least the game should include the website's short stories in the same way it includes the characters’ memoirs and a lineup of weapon backgrounds. Without their sides of the story, Zero's Intoner sisters just seem incomplete. And not in any intriguing sense.

One other thing about Four. As shown in this artbook page scanned in by Something Awful forums user Pesky Splinter, Four’s original design differed a bit from the final incarnation.


The early illustration, presumably by character designer Kimihiko Fujisaka, envisioned Four as a vivacious corsair brandishing pistols with elaborate underbarrel blades. This gave way to the clawed gauntlets and reserved expression of the Four seen in the game. Handguns seem unknown in Drakengard 3 continuity despite the prevalence of cannons, and a cocky smile didn’t suit the prim-laced landmine that Four became.

But this early design need not go to waste. You can assume that it’s from yet another alternate version of Drakengard 3, one where Four confronts her horrible corrupting insecurities and strikes off as a pirate who may not need to murder a fleet of Happy Little Elves. The entire Drakengard series is a mess of multiple paths and parallel timelines, so feel free to imagine your own. It’s the only way to find any sort of happy ending.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Loved this game, ever since I managed to get hold of an English version of it.

You're not the only one who found Four to be perhaps the most interesting of the sisters.

I also echo the same sentiment that it's downright frustrating that the most important details of the sisters are kept out of the main package completely, and it seriously hampers people's personal feeling towards the games, unless they happen to take the time and effort into reading the novellas and play the DLCs.

Whilst the game is deeply flawed, there's no doubt the game would've been better received by the gaming press, and gamers, had they been included.

On a side not, KF, it's only just come to my attention that you live in Japan(?)

What part of Japan are you currently residing in? I'm roughly a 30 minutes train ride outside of Tokyo.

- Terramax

Kid Fenris said...

I'm afraid I don't live in Japan. In fact, I haven't visited there since 2007. I wouldn't mind going back, though!