Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Drakengard: Caim and the Red Dragon

One thing from the Drakengard games that I have really wanted to discuss is how characters from the first game are used in Drakengard 2, and how the characters are shown to grow and develop. Since Drakengard 2 only follows the first ending from the original game, I will only discuss how the characters are portrayed in that path of first game's plot.

The hero of the first game, Caim, is a man of complexities and contradictions. For one thing, he hates the Empire and dragons because his parents were killed by one of the Empire's black dragons some time previously. Of course, this kind of hatred is an over-used cliche, but unlike in the cliche situation, this hatred is not a minor attribute of the character, it is one of his most defining aspects. Caim's rage is so all-consuming that he is nearly self-destructive in his aggression and is merciless to his foes. His violent nature is so extreme that it terrifies his allies and makes the even the red dragon comment on his cruelty, such as the time he slaughters the Empire's child soldiers. At the same time, Caim is a survivor who does not die without a fight. Rather than die fighting a hopeless battle against the Empire, he makes a pact with one of the dragons he hates so much, bonding his life to hers. The interesting thing is that he is as much driven by his hatred of dragons in that act (in which he at first tries to coerce the dragon into obeying him) as he was defying that hatred. His hatred is terrible, but at the same time it is what drives him on to survive and gives him the strength to defeat his enemy (which is portrayed so monstrously that you never feel unustified in hating it). As such, the game doesn't condemn Caim's hatred, nor does it portray it as a necessarily negative quality.

Adding on to the complications of Caim's character is his genuine protective nature. Caim is a man who looks out for other people and protects them, and this is clearly seen with his desire to protect his sister Furiae. He fights to protect the world, and he seems to have a strong sense of justice. These attributes drive him as much as his hatred does, even though they seem like very contradictory things at first glance (certainly, the way Caim both spares Manah's life and condemns her to life of suffering is a sign of this contradiction, though perhaps more of his just side). Of course, anything more clear than that gets a bit difficult to describe, because after only a short time in the game, Caim becomes completely mute due to his pact with the red dragon, the relationship which easily defines the first game.

The red dragon is certainly one of the most unique and fascinating characters I have seen in videogames. Certainly, one of the most unusual things about her is the fact that she is probably the only female dragon I have ever seen which is portrayed as a powerful creature capable of widescale destruction (female dragons are rare enough). Added onto this is the combination of her pride, honest cynicism and hatred for humans (refusing to even tell humans her name), her lines being all voiced by a very good voice-actress, and her being the most talkative character in the game, resulting in her being a very memorable and entertaining who does not fit into any typical mold. Her talkativeness is in fact one of her most important qualities. Because Caim can't speak, the red dragon pretty much does all of his speaking for him, while also constantly commenting on his actions (usually mocking him for his human flaws and violent cruelty) and expressing her own feelings and opinions. In a sense, she serves as the main narrative voice who describes the action and the characters (though she is certainly not an objective voice, since she expresses somewhat inhuman thought and a lot of disdain for the people around her).

Because the red dragon is so open about her disdain for humankind and pride in her draconic nature, and Caim hates dragon so much, the very act that the two form a pact is an interesting contradiction. In a sense, the fact that they share one life after making a pact is a metaphor for how the two have to give up their own identities as a human who hates dragons and as a dragon who hates humans as a result of their partnership. Caim progresses from a person who pretty much hates everything, especially dragons, to a person who trusts the red dragon, depends on her, and encourages her. The red dragon progresses from an aloof dragon who looks down on humans to someone who respects Caim's strength and is willing to fight against incredible odds on his behalf. The way Caim can encourage the red dragon to fight a legendary dragon by just rubbing her nose with his hand is a sign of that growth, and the red dragon's eventual sacrifice to save the world is the end result of that change.

The bond between Caim and the red dragon is shown to be even greater in the events of Drakengard 2. In this game both the Empire and Caim's sister are gone, leaving him neither his hatred or the person he wanted to protect. In their place are the Knights of the Seal who protect the world and the imprisoned red dragon who suffers as the final living seal. With personal hatred behind him and no more reason to act as the world's guardian, Caim becomes the One-Eyed Man, the enigmatic destroyer determined to save the red dragon, even if it means destroying the world in the process. Nowe, the hero of Drakengard 2, fights Caim to avenge his parents (an interesting repeat of the same motivation) and to save the world, but against Caim's determination to save his pact-partner, even Nowe's noble (and traditional) motivations seem hollow (a fact that Nowe comments upon himself). At the same time, the red dragon's hatred of mankind is revealed to have never been lessened, and has grown even worse (enough for her to try to burn the world), but her bond with Caim has never wavered. She sacrificed herself to be the world's seal to protect Caim, not to protect mankind. Both of the two were willing to give up the world for the other's sake, and while this results in a tragic end, it is still portrayed as a wonderful thing.

Anyways, I only have a few minor observations left. First, the games go with an unconventional theme of condemning naive ideals while making terribly violent actions to selfishly protect loved ones the role model, never condmending characters like Caim and often soflty condemning the ideals of people who hold back in battle where violence is needed and harshly condemning people who choose to sacrifice others rather than protect anything themselves. Also, while I didn't comment on them too much, the character Manah's development in these two games is fairly good itself, and the relationship between Nowe and the blue dragon Legna both serves as both a parallel and an opposite to the relationship between Caim and the red dragon.

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