So, to recap the scene after the previous article, we have the following situation: Zero is infected by a flower that wants to end the world. Her previous suicide attempt created five girls, who became known as Intoners. They can only be killed by a dragon, or a weapon made from a dragon’s body.
The Intoners waged a war to overthrow the cruel Lords of the Land, but they’re not much better themselves. And Zero, knowing what will happen if they live, attacked and tried to kill her sisters, allied with the dragon Michael. But she was unsuccessful: One’s dragon, Gabriel, destroyed her arm and killed Michael.
Michael reincarnated into the child Mikhail, and now, after a year recovering from her wounds, Zero is ready to resume the fight.
- A couple of notes on the game
- Branch A: the usual tragedy
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Lost Verse 1
- Chapter 5
- One’s brother’s novella
- Where Branch A leads…
- Branch B: the corrupted forest and the pact
- Lost Verse 2
- continuing Branch B
- Branch C: decay
- Lost Verse 3
- Branch C continues
- Branch D: the beautiful tragedy
- The climax of Branch D
- THAT boss fight
- Zero’s DLC: the sad fate of Mikhail
- ‘Branch E’: the Story Side Novel
- What next?
A couple of notes on the game
DoD3 is somewhere between a musou game (i.e. a game like Dynasty Warriors where the main character uses special moves to slice through hundreds of weak enemies) and a character action game (i.e. a game like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta focused on executing stylish combos). The game is split into chapters, each one representing one of the records made by Accord. The big picture described in the previous article is revealed only slowly: at first, all we know is that Zero wants to kill her sisters, supposedly to gain power.
As you progress through the levels, you typically come into an enemy room where you have to kill a set group of enemies to proceed. The levels are largely linear, with a few optional puzzles to get chests and items. The main strength of the game is the enormous amount of dialogue and character interactions: the enemy soldiers express a variety of reactions before they die, your party members have rambling conversations (like 50% about sex), and there’s some really well-timed and acted cutscenes for both comic and tragic scenes. By the end, you really feel these characters.
The combat system has four weapon types, each with their own set of combos, but this is in some way foreplay for ‘intoner mode’: Zero screams and starts glowing, lyrics enter the soundtrack, and you become invulnerable as well as ridiculously fast and high-damage using just your hands. There’s a cool feature where, if you’re mid-attack-string in intoner mode and your enemy dies, it teleports you to another nearby enemy without skipping a beat. Killing enemies and taking damage fills up the meter you spend on intoner mode, and in a large group of enemies, you can keep it going indefinitely as they die faster than the meter depletes. Even now, it feels pretty great.
The big letdown is the repetitiveness of the levels: you see basically every map over the course of branch A, and later levels send you backwards and forwards through the same maps, occasionally on your dragon, fighting for the most part variants of the same enemies. The game’s strongest arc is branch D, which is just an escalating emotional cascade as everything comes together, but to unlock it you have to do some grinding to obtain every weapon. (Thankfully, you do not have to also fully upgrade each one!)
Branch A: the usual tragedy
Zero wakes up in her house in the Land of Seas, from a dream of Michael’s death. The date must be some time in early March, 1000 AD. Now the Flower inside her has started growing out of her right eye…
The Land of Seas is, per the world map, Britain. In the game, it’s mostly the same stretch of coastline, patrolled by soldiers in steam-powered battleships and early-modern landing craft.
She emerges to see Mikhail rolling in the mud and pissing himself. It’s time to start kiling her sisters again.
Zero sets off, rebuffing Mikhail’s suggestions of talking to her enemies. She doesn’t bother to explain her real motives for killing her sisters just yet, leaning into a villainous persona: it’s just for power. (I get this on a meta level, setting up the later twists of Zero’s real motivation, but I’m not sure why Zero hides her real purpose from Mikhail at this point.)
As you progress through the level, a poem appears in a kind of very old-timey language. I’m not sure what this was based on in the Japanese, or why the translators affected this style, which is not used elsewhere.
This is a good place to link Accord’s novella. For the most part, Accord talks about the stories attached to each weapon. (n.b. as the player upgrades a weapon, they get a few sentences more of its story, leading to an ironic or tragic ending. These stories feature in every Drakengard and Nier game.) At the end, she gets ready to open her weapon shop. The player passes this weapon shop midway through Verse 1, leading to a brief conversation…
Zero and Mikhail slaughter their way through the land of seas, making their way to the Shrine occupied by Five. We see their early dynamic… Mikhail desperate to please, and Zero unable to bring herself to acknowledge it because she’s still grieving Michael.
Finally, they come face to face with Five and Dito. After exchanging some taunts, Five begins her song. Dito has a little speech for the summoning:
Behold the Fifth Song:
Grand Light of Antiquity!
The great power made manifest!
The ceremony of glorious arrival…
Burn into thine eyes the punishing lance of divine retribution!
I, Dito, summon thee in my name.
Phanuel is basically a big crab, and Mikhail makes short work of it. Zero then stabs five so brutally that it gets censored by a Yoko Yukiko drawing, but it’s not enough to kill her… not until Dito cuts her in half from behind, no longer bound by the enslaving power of her voice, and then stamps on her corpse. (A version of the scene without the censorship joke was broadcast on Japanese TV, but to be honest it doesn’t add very much that wasn’t already heavily implied).
Thus Zero gains her first Disciple.
The next stop is the Land of Mountains, roughly corresponding to western Russia on the world map. As the name suggests, it’s a lot of grey rock.
Things proceed pretty much as you’d expect: Four’s soldiers, though loyal, are hopelessly outmatched. (The game has a lot of incidental soldier dialogue where they encourage each other, beg for mercy, panic etc.) Dito doesn’t take long to hit on Zero, who responds rather noncommitally.
The façade starts to break a bit when the party kills a Cerberus (here a fairly common monster in the Intoners’ army). One of the Cerberus’s heads leaps up and bites Zero’s arm off… but rather than die of blood loss, Zero sprouts an enormous flower out of the stump, and from the centre of the flower, a new Zero emerges, completely soaked in blood. “This can’t end…” she says, “until all of them are dead.”
We also learn that Zero’s mechanical arm is attached to her by a parasite, much to Dito’s excitement.
The group pursues Four through the mountains, surviving an extensive series of mishaps. They stumble on an enchanted stone circle which describes something about a ‘Mt. Berstein of the Vice Norden’, better known as Mt. Whatever or Mt. Bersomething.
This is where Branches D and E split off, but we’ll go through the branches in order.
Four, it ultimately turns out, is on an airship. She tries to play holier-than-thou even til the end. Here’s Decadus’s summoning speech:
Behold the Fourth Song:
Impenetrable Shield of Antiquity!
The rare power granted to our own…
The stout citadel that protects us…
Cast your blighted sins upon these very skies!
I, Decadus, summon thee in my name.
Armaros is a giant flying fortress held aloft by wyverns, surrounded by green magic rings. It’s able to force Mikhail to fly in particular patterns, and its presence seems to summon wyverns, rousing a deep hatred in Mikhail (a running joke). But Mikhail is able to destroy Armaros piece by piece, and Zero boards the airship. She plays on Four’s fantasy that there’s a nice personality hiding somewhere inside her to extract info about the location of her other sisters, then kills her. Decadus volunteers to die too, but a couple of seconds of Zero making it clear she’ll fulfil his own domination fantasy makes him quickly fall in line.
Mikhail, meanwhile, seems to have have evolved to the second stage of dragon life.
At this point, the game tries to make you think you’ll have an airship to play with.
The airship is shot down almost immediately, dumping Zero in Three’s Land of Forests, which roughly corresponds to Italy and the Balkans on the world map. Zero immediately goes on a furious rampage.
The forests are home to the faeries, who in the Drakengard universe are, as a rule, absolute dickheads whose main interest is ‘pranks’ that amount to ‘something horrible happens to someone and then I call them an idiot’. We’ll see more of them when we get to DoD 1. Zero has no time for it. There’s a classic scene where she encounters the King of the Faeries:
Eventually, they run into Octa. This leads to one of my favourite scenes in the whole game:
Octa defects, finally having an opportunity to get away from Three and her horrifying human experiments. Or possibly, as he suggests, find an Intoner who will actually fuck him. It could be either, with Octa.
This is where Branch B splits off, but we’ll save that for after we’ve fully covered Branch A.
At last approaching the Forest Shrine, they encounter a series of nonsensical riddle puzzles devised by Three. Next, they enter the “Lost Forest”, a misty area full of giant babylike statues.
Soon after, they come face to face with Three. She’s mostly bored about the thought that Octa betrayed her, but raises all her soldiers as puppets to fight some more. (Soldiers, it is revealed, she fucks.) Then, once they die, she takes control of Octa’s mind, forcing him to recite his speech…
Behold the Third Song:
Quickened Puppets of Antiquity!
The raging demon’s deathly gaze…
The army of heretics that rejects the natural cycle…
Render into ash the powers of reason and order!
I, Octa, summon thee in my name.
Armisael turns out to be an army of giant prancing babies, made of soldiers who Three operated on, with glowing purple parts. Mikhail destroys them, and then, just before Zero can finish off Three herself, Mikhail abruptly eats her whole.
Before anyone can process this, Cent shows up, accompanied by Two’s angel, Egregori. He grabs Mikhail and leaves… and Zero finally uses Mikhail’s name, but Mikhail is gone.
The group now pursue Cent into the Land of Sand, which is roughly in the area of France and Germany (the climate makes about as much sense as any of the others!). Dito, at least, has run into Cent before, but he’s not yet aware of what happened to Two.
This is where Branch C splits off! We’ll come back to that later.
Mikhail, luckily, isn’t far in. But of course he’s there as bait, left by Cent. Cent taunts them, and teleports away… so they pursue, cutting through Two’s army. Compared to Three’s monster army, Two’s army emphasises training and employs a lot more magic.
At one point, Zero gets her other arm chopped off. She sticks it right back on.
After crossing an absolutely gruelling desert, they finally come face to face with Two and Cent. Two, of course, is no longer able to speak. Cent tries to play it off, but Zero figures it out pretty quick. “She wasn’t fully developed—her body couldn’t handle the power of her song”, she says.
Cent manages to coax a song (initially, more of a groan) out of Two, and here comes our speech:
Behold the Second Song:
Great Fist of Antiquity!
The blood-wind storms that slash through fate…
The steely hand that has sworn allegiance…
Cross the countless swarms of writhing dead!
I, Cent, summon thee in my name.
Egregori consists of two large icy blob creatures, covered in armour. Once their armour is removed, they shrink away under dragon fire.
Somehow, the fight causes Mikhail to evolve a second time. In her last moments, Two speaks again, saying the name Michael just before she dies.
Cent immediately surrenders and offers to serve Zero. Any Intoner will do, he tells her…
Lost Verse 1
The date is April 20, 1000 AD. The gang’s all set to go to the Cathedral City and take down One, but first of all, Zero takes a detour back to her house in the Land of Seas. She doesn’t mention it, but she’s there to see Accord. (There’s also a great conversation about food in this level.)
Accord tells her that that she’s already doomed on this branch. Zero asks if she’s making this all up… and experimentally attacks her. Accord parries it easily with her large suitcase.
This time, there’s no lengthy hunt. One and Gabriel attack as soon as Zero and Mikhail enter the Cathedral City. The two dragons have a fierce dogfight, with Gabriel sending phantom swords like missiles. Eventually, Gabriel calls in some wyvern backup and flees.
There’s some dialogue from Mikhail that’s rather tragic knowing what we do about Gabriella, where he speculates on the bond between One and her dragon. Zero, meanwhile, can’t believe One really summoned an angel into her dragon without Disciple support. Foreshadowing her brother…
On foot, Zero storms the same area she fought through in the opening. They climb up to the Cathedral, now overrun with undead and monsters (thanks, we know, to Two’s song). The Disciples discuss their hopes for the future, and promise, in each of their ways, to serve Zero to the end…
Then, Zero turns them back into birds. “Disciples can’t remain in human form without an Intoner’s power,” she says… so she’ll turn them back before they disappear altogether.
Alone, she climbs the steps to the Cathedral, despite the best efforts of some 90 soldiers. One is waiting, alone in the Cathedral hall.
One has been furiously researching the history of the Cathedral City. Of course, she finds that there’s no historical record of the people of the old world. Zero can’t wait to start the fight, and One calls Gabriel in, with Mikhail in his jaws.
(Incidentally, it’s easy to make the mistake of trying to take Gabriel on from the air. This is a bad idea and the fight will be needlessly difficult, since you can’t make his fireballs explode very easily. Stay on the ground except when you need to jump to dodge an attack, and it will go a lot easier!)
Gabriel, nearing defeat, opens fire with his lasers. Mikhail takes the brunt of it, and explains the deal with dragon resurrection: they have a ‘final wish’ which they almost always use to reincarnate. But Mikhail… will use it to kill Gabriel.
Zero realises, rather too late, that she actually does give a shit about Mikhail. She begs him not to go through with this, and finally uses his name to his face. But Mikhail is determined. His wish creates a magic blast which absolutely wrecks Gabriel’s shit, allowing Zero to finish off the wounded dragon.
One offers Gabriel a final apology, and then Zero advances. One is too weak to fight, and Zero neatly finishes her. Then, at last, she turns back to Mikhail’s corpse, her work done… only for One’s brother to reveal himself at last! He stabs her with the dragonfang sword, and the spray of blood dyes his robe red (recalling the design of DoD1’s Manah, who we’ll meet later).
Zero, at last, acknowledges that she had no intention of surviving. Crawling around in a large pool of her own blood (a Yoko Taro staple), she thanks Mikhail by name as her last words.
So One’s brother is the only survivor. But he’s just lost his only confidant in the whole world. He goes on a monologue, breaking down, and promising to make a new religion to protect the world, one which worships the Intoners and especially One. And then he starts calling himself the ‘true’ One.
Accord shows up, disappointed… another ‘failed’ branch.
One’s brother’s novella
We see the brother’s point of view in his novella. He’s hiding in a hidden room in the Cathedral with stained glass windows, where he once waited for the day when Zero would attack. He dreams of creating a religion in One’s name, and has a dialogue with an imaginary One in the mirror. But One is dead.
We learn that One, like Zero, intended to eradicate the Flower. If she managed to kill Zero, she would have her brother kill her with the dragonbone sword. (If they’d only talked, everyone could get their suicides with much less stress…) We also learn that, despite dialogue in One’s DLC where she told him it would be inappropriate with her ‘brother’, they fucked.
Slowly, One’s brother convinces himself to play the role of One. The hidden room is discovered, and he declares his plan to create a new church, to worship the Intoners and the Angels they summoned…
Where Branch A leads…
We’ll stop following Branch A for now. You could be forgiven, given the significance of the Cult of the Watchers/Church of the Angels in DoD1, for thinking that this route leads to the DoD1 timeline. In fact, it doesn’t: it leads to a timeline explored in the manga Shi ni Itaru Aka (variously translated as The Red Unto Death or The Fatal Crimson), and the novel Drag-on Dragoon 1.3. Although sharing many events with the game, this is a separate timeline. We’ll discuss Shi ni Itaru Aka and DoD 1.3 in the next article in this series.
Branch B: the corrupted forest and the pact
At this point, Accord finally reveals herself to the player. She explains the “multiple world divergence phenomenon” arising from “singularities” such as Zero. She seems to be looking for another branch which might end a bit better: apparently it’s not enough for the world to be saved from the Flower, she wants Zero herself to survive.
Branch B diverges shortly after Octa joins the party, on April 1, 1000 AD. Like in Branch A, you’re in the Land of Forests, but this time something is very much up. Cent is somehow already in your party, but he has no memory of Two—not even her name, though he can’t stop thinking about the mysterious absence. The forest, meanwhile is now full of a strange poison fog, and all the faeries who tormented the party the first time through have vanished.
Before long, they meet an army of Armisael puppets. How could these have been summoned without Octa? Then, Three herself shows up, and announces that there are crying voices and something wrong with the forest. One, she says, holds the secret, elsewhere in the forest. And she disappears, leaving nothing but a pile of Armisael heads.
As Zero progresses through the forest, she suddenly loses her connection to Mikhail. Not long after, she gets ambushed by some powerful enemies, forcing her to once again regenerate through her flower. But she’s attacked again mid-regeneration, pinning her to a wall, and control passes to a riderless Mikhail. The three Disciples discuss whether to run away as Zero finishes her regeneration, naked and covered in blood.
Lost Verse 2
At this point, on the suggestion of Cent, the two make a brief detour into the Land of Mountains, pursuing a ‘legendary fruit’ which can supposedly be found there (according to… Cent. Yes. They willingly follow Cent). There is of course no such fruit, but sheltering from the cold, Zero does once again run into Accord.
Zero tries to snatch Accord’s book out of her hands, with no success. After an extended slapstick scene, Accord throws the book in the air and grabs Zero’s boobs, much to her understandable shock and discomfort. She explains that she’s been instructed ‘not to interfere with the world’, and that she’s a ‘recorder’ whose job is to record world events. She identifies herself as coming from the Old World. And despite her instructions, she’s gotten tempted to help.
Zero is not impressed.
continuing Branch B
The ‘corruption’ of the timeline continues further and further. Soldiers are falling ill to the strange poison, and as April presses on, our protagonists can feel something is up with the world. (A brief glimpse of Accord’s timeline shows 13 and 16 April.) Progressing through the forest, they encounter a series of statues of Three, each of which spouts a cryptic, possibly nonsensical riddle when destroyed.
Moments later, they come face to face with Three herself. She collapses a second later, explaining that she invited One to the forest in order to kill her, and then dies. From this point on, the soldiers in the forest have nothing to say except laughter, moans, and invocations of Three’s name. Apparently, her song was the only thing protecting them…
Finally, they reach the centre of the forest. One is skewered on a pike, and Two is dancing and giggling. Dito runs to go stab her, but Cent abruptly regains his memories, and cuts Dito down. He pledges himself to Two, who laughs and instructs him to ‘kill them all’. Decadus manages to run Two through, and Cent cuts down Octa, only to be finished off by Zero. “It’s over.” Zero says, as two and Cent do the classic ‘crawl towards each other in a puddle of blood’ thing… and then, a beam of light descends from the sky to surround the two. Cent calls on ‘Raphael’ bless the pair, and suddenly a new angel appears: this time a kind of big spider!
Mikhail swooops in, but as the fight progresses, he rapidly succumbs to the poison. Zero, at this point, is showing genuine concern… but she can’t do anything to save Mikhail. Zero breaks down… “don’t you dare leave me alone again!”
Then, she gets an idea. The Story Side Novel elaborates that this is kind of instinctual. In any case, she calls on “Gods of the East, Goddesses of the West” and offers up her life as payment to form a pact to save Mikhail. Mikhail wakes up, and Zero’s flower is growing out of his eyeball… and Zero is there, not shown onscreen, but her voice suggests she’s now a child?
Pacts are very important in the time of DoD1, but we’re not on that timeline yet! Nevertheless, Zero has introduced something new and significant into the world of DoD using the ‘reprogramming power’ of the Flower. But what happens next in this timeline, we never quite find out.
After the (alphabetical!) credits roll to Hana Kikuchi’s Black Song, we hear Accord comment on the significance of the pact, and get the date: 22 April, 1000 AD.
Branch C: decay
Branch C interrupts Chapter 4, where the group were pursuing Two into the Land of Sands after Cent briefly kidnapped Mikhail, on April 13, 1000 AD. Accord identifies it as ‘extremely worrisome’. Two, apparently, has exerted a magical influence on Mikhail—the first Intoner to do so other than Zero. She nominates the branch for special observation.
Once again, Cent is with the party in this branch. This time, he remembers who Two is, but cannot remember their relationship: “a servant, or perhaps a butler.” He can’t remember why he left her.
As the group fights various wizards across the Land of Sands, Mikhail becomes increasingly pained, and before long collapses altogether. He apologises profusely to Zero, who treats him with (for Zero) surprising amounts of sympathy, frequently telling him to get rest. He seems to have dropped down a stage of dragon-ness, or ‘devolved’…
The soldiers you fight here are more fanatical than even the quite fanatical soldiers of most of her sisters: she’s not just a military commander but a goddess. They pursue Two towards the Cathedral City, where she’s apparently with One. The soldiers start naming Two as the true Creator, and openly talking about destroying the world.
The gang start to reason that the cause is withdrawal: with Two gone to the Cathedral City, they’re no longer getting her song and becoming all the more desperate. Or, it seems, ready to sacrifice themselves so Two can end the world.
Lost Verse 3
This takes place in April 16, 1000 AD. Zero, who has become openly caring and protective towards Mikhail, dreams of her prior time with Michael. She wakes up to Accord watching her sleep. Accord warns her that if her ‘singularity effects’ become too much for the Recorders to endure, they’ll be forced to ‘neutralise’ her.
The level itself involves Zero bonding with Mikhail, and talking about her memories of Michael, as they destroy a series of wizard towers that were interfering with Mikhail. At the end, Zero is getting very reticent about having to go back to the party…
Branch C continues
Finally, Zero and her Disciples catch up with Two on 22 April. They are, in Accord’s words, entering ‘unstable mental and emotional states’, risking the possibility of a ‘total collapse’. The soldiers are reduced to just moaning at this point.
Zero immediately demands that she uncurse Mikhail. But Two is barely more verbal this time than the first time we fought her. Cent starts blaming himself for her condition (‘consumed by her song’ in Zero’s words), and joins the fight to euthanise her even if he’s not been selected for this mission.
Defeated, Two stumbles over to Cent, still smiling. Dito stabs her. But it’s not a dragonbone sword, and it doesn’t do much. Decadus and Octa stab her too, but she pushes them away. Finally, Cent puts his sword in. But a magic circle appears, and an orb surrounds the four Disciples. Four speaks Cent’s name, and then they all blow up.
Only Zero and Mikhail remain. But Mikhail is still cursed, and Zero is pissed.
She descends into the underground Cathedral, now transformed—as we’ve seen in Two’s DLC—to be bedecked with skulls. (I’m not entirely sure if this is a different section of the main Cathedral, or a different building entirely.)
One is reading a book, and acknowledges Zero’s intent: to save the world. She reveals to Mikhail that the plan is that Mikhail will kill Zero after One is dead… but she doesn’t believe the Flower will let Zero succeed.
“We’re both prepared to die, but since you don’t trust me to off myself, you’re going to try to kill me first.” Zero says—and Zero of course shares that opinion about One. One summons a new angel, Abdiel, which appears as three golems, one of them containing a special magic core—basically a shell game boss! As they fight, One laments that they still don’t understand each other, despite sharing much of the same perspective on the world.
Abdiel destroyed, Mikhail and Zero advance on One. So One summons Gabriel, because only a dragon can kill an Intoner. The two dragons shoot laser beams at each other, and both of them suffer mortal wounds at the same time, too severe to even make a wish to reincarnate.
Zero and One scream at each other, and fight, and ultimately, Zero finishes off One. But as she dies, One whispers… “You’re the only one left, Zero… but where will you find a dragon powerful enough to kill you?”
Despondent and broken, puking and crying, Zero staggers away. This time, the credit track is a version of the dissonant Tsukiru from DoD 1. As the credits finish, Accord recommends ‘sealing off’ the branch, because there’s little chance of finding a ‘solution’ with Zero in this state and Mikhail dead…
Branch D: the beautiful tragedy
This is where it gets really good. Where the other branches had you walk through the same levels, sampling the dialogue, with a couple of unique boss fights, Branch D is just one intense flow of drama ending in a ‘boss fight’ that tops even DoD 1 for its sheer brazenness. (Playing through the game, this is when the Lost Verses are revealed, but I’ve tucked them in to where they fit in the chronological order.)
Branch D diverges much earlier in the narrative, on March 19, 1000 AD, shortly before Zero would have ascended Mount Bersomething. Once again, the Disciples are all in the party, even though at this point even Decadus wouldn’t be there. Cent is the only one to acknowledge the strangeness, but it’s brushed over. Zero assures Mikhail that his ‘cravings’ to eat Intoners are fine…
Four’s fortress falls much quicker than before, but this time, when they find Four, they find she’s pretty much gone the way of Two. “We don’t have to be scared of this world… because once I destroy it, there won’t be a world to be scared of anymore!” she says, dancing on the ramparts. And immediately, without the help of Decadus, summons a new angel: Zophiel, another dragon angel resembling Gabriel. Zero explains that an Intoner can’t summon a demon dragon like this without losing her mind.
(Zophiel’s fight is pretty much the same as Gabriel’s, but thankfully there are no pillars to get in the way this time, so it’s easier to avoid his attacks. Still a pain.)
Once Zophiel’s down (not half as strong as Gabriel), Zero fights Four. She talks about false memories, and rambles about childrens’ games. Zero cuts her down and stabs her, then invites Mikhail to come and eat her corpse. This prompts Mikhail to ‘evolve’ twice, straight into his third form…
We move rapidly from March 19 to March 31. Accord has shown up in front of the entire party. She offers a lecture on the nature of dragons: they have a craving to eat Intoners, the more so the greater her ‘magical force’. She can’t say why this is. She warns them they’re in a ‘heavily damaged’ branch, and the world will grow more chaotic… but there’s also a greater chance of saving it.
This time, it’s not Mikhail but Zero who suffers increasingly as the level goes on: the Flower is invading more of her body. The soldiers, too, are also suffering the effects of the Flower, in a state of semi-undeath, still somewhat aware, with maggots apparently crawling out of their eyes—much to Dito’s delight.
We reach April 4. The next Intoner they encounter is… Five. Wait, what? Five has been reanimated by the power of the Flower, and her rotten body staggers through a field of giant yellow flowers. She wastes no time summoning a new Angel: Galgaliel, an army of undead soldiers. Dito is absolutely delighted and defects back to Five’s side, summoning Phanuel with little preamble. Cent immediately jumps to summon Egregori in response. As Zero mows down the Galgaliel, Dito tries to win Cent around… but as much as he might hate the world, Cent wants only one thing, and that’s to have Two back.
Zero cuts up Five, and she leaps to eat one of the Galgaliel. In a broken voice, she talks about how sad she is and how much she admired Zero. Finally, Zero stabs her and finishes her off.
And then, we see the price of a Disciple summoning an angel without the power of an Intoner’s song. Dito and Cent’s bodies dissipate, and they turn back into birds.
We reach 14 April, and Accord acknowledges she’s becoming a little attached. Zero presses on, accompanied only by Decadus, Octa and Mikhail, the Disciples now finally aware they’re actually transformed birds. We get a bit of a breather as Zero lectures the two of them on just how bad they actually are in bed.
Three, this time, is in the Land of Sands… or rather, above it. There’s an incredible scene where Mikhail blesses us with his singing skills:
Three calls on another new angel: Ezrael, another angel dragon. Or rather, an ancient dragon, which is a special variant of a dragon, that Mikhail is especially afraid to fight. Abruptly, Decadus appears in the sky, somehow flung there by Octa. As Ezrael starts to teleport around too fast to catch, Decadus sacrifices himself to summon Armaros and slow down his movements.
(Decadus, of course, loooves the idea of sacrificing himself in this way. He straight up grabs his crotch while summoning Armaros.)
Three cuts in, a lot cheerier than her usual flat affect. She’s delighted to have managed to summon an ancient dragon. Mikhail, however, manages to shoot a laser strong enough to smash Ezrael, as Armaros disintegrates away…
Octa is the last Disciple left. Zero relates the story of how the other Intoners were created, which we’ve already covered in the previous article. We reach the climax of branch D…
The climax of Branch D
Accord comments: no matter what, she will not forget the journey.
It’s April 22, 1000 AD. Gabriel attacks as soon as they reach the Cathedral City. Zero now trusts Mikhail so much that she is happy to leave him to fight Gabriel, setting out to destroy One on her own. Zero tries for a dramatic entrance…
As Zero cuts her way through the last of One’s soldiers, Mikhail processes the fact that he’s soon going to have to say goodbye. He doesn’t understand, but he’ll do it.
One appears, and starts to fight Zero… but a recording from Accord cuts in. She talks about the Intoners, the free will they gained, and says that despite what some may think, she believes that at least one of them will be able to destroy the Flower and give humankind a future. But then she stops herself, resolving to come back in a later pass.
One activates magic, freezing Zero in place. Octa calls in Armisael puppets, grabbing One in turn. He turns back into a bird, mid-dick joke. Zero attempts to cut through One’s song shield, as the Armisaels break one by one.
And then, out of nowhere, Accord intervenes. She smashes through the shield in a moment, and then grabs an old plastic phone and requests a ‘code’. She informs Zero the shield will disappear for half a second in a precisely specified time. Accord screams, and a mechanical voice responds: ‘understood. executing code.’
Zero stabs One through the head, and her death causes Gabriel to disintegrate. At last, we have a branch where Zero and Mikhail both survive. Accord, meanwhile, has melted… revealing sparking android parts underneath her skin.
“I think this way was… more human, wasn’t it?” she says, in a distorted voice. She asks Zero to put her to sleep, and Zero obliges.
THAT boss fight
Mikhail lands, and he and Zero exchange some final words in a greyscale, musicless cutscene. “You’ve grown strong… Mikhail.” she says, and then the Flower takes over her body.
For some context: we’ll cover DoD 1 ending E later in this series, but you should know: it’s a viciously hard rhythm game in which you fly around a giant statue of a woman on the back of a dragon, as rings of magic power come out threatening to end the world. It was completely out of left field, but this joke ending turned into the NieR series… we’ll see why later.
DoD3 attempts to one-up this ending. You have a seven-and-a-half minute long rhythm game, with several different changes of tempo and tricky syncopations, which you need to match at a couple of seconds’ delay. At first, it’s relatively gentle and the rings are onscreen… but soon the camera starts swooping about and you have to play it entirely by ear, as the rhythms get more and more complex. The final prompts come on an entirely black screen after the final cutscene dialogue starts, with a really long ritardando (or perhaps a rallentando) to make it extra difficult. If you miss even one prompt, you have to go right back to the start.
Very few players can finish it without the help of a timing video. I know I can’t, despite hours of attempts—a few times I’ve gotten to the final section, but inevitably I slip up somewhere. You can watch the whole, beautifully animated sequence here:
Over the course of the flight, Zero and her sisters unfold, one by one, out of the giant flower, each one adding to the song. Each one sings a verse, and then they all sing together. Eventually the song is spent. You hear the last few words between Zero and Mikhail, and he sends a blast which causes the Flower to finally collapse.
Accord, despite being dead, cuts in: the Intoners have been sealed off in ‘another world’. But the possibility remains that it could become unsealed. Accord wonders whether Zero might somehow still be alive. We see four birds land around Zero’s sword.
The credits roll to This Silence Is Mine by Onitsuka Chihiro.
In the final cutscene, we see a new Accord come, and take the briefcase of the previous, dead Accord. ‘Excellent work.’ she declares. Suddenly the ruins of the Cathedral city fill with dozens of Accords, all of them with briefcases, each with a different affect. ‘Another huge mess for us to deal with!’, one of them declares. The Accords line up in a strange, high-kicking walk, and walk away to record some more. The last one addresses the player, to thank us for playing, and shuts off the game camera.
Zero’s DLC: the sad fate of Mikhail
But we’re not done yet! Oh no.
Is this the branch that finally leads to DoD 1? No, actually! But we do learn a little about the fate of (presumably) this branch, thanks to the entries in Zero’s DLC. These take the form of a series of diary entries by Mikhail, written after Zero’s death.
And this is Yoko Taro, so it’s not a great future.
There’s no year on the entries, but we can guess from context that it’s a long way in the future.
- In entry 1, dated January 12, Mikhail pops to some part of Africa, now known as the Land of Animals. He sees a lion, elephant, giraffe and zebra.
- In entry 2, dated Febrary 17, it’s started raining effectively nonstop. Mikhail is stuck on an island with a variety of fish.
- In entry 3, dated April 19, Mikhail mentions meeting a group of people who ‘sing pretty much all day long, even though everything kinda sucks for them at the moment.’ He misses Zero.
- In entry 4, dated May 1, Mikhail mentions seeing more and more humans who move ‘big metal boxes and dolls all over the place’, breaking up forests, mountains and oceans. So there’s a war, and tanks and androids seem to have been invented.
- In entry 5, dated July 1, a girl explains to Mikhail that she’s from a nation constantly at war, killing each other from ‘dawn until dusk’ for decades. Before Mikhail can thank her, the girl dies to a bomb.
- In entry 6, dated September 30, the humans are mostly gone. All that remains are their ‘mechanical children’. It seems nuclear weapons have been invented, and deployed, spreading radioactive fallout.
- In entry 7, dated November 4, Mikhail finds a village of survivors who name him a ‘divine guardian’.
- In entry 8, dated December 28, Mikhail swears he will not give up and surrender to injustice, even if he cannot change the world ‘with rage and destruction’ like Zero.
- In entry 9, dated January 21, Mikhail is dying. The weather is simply marked as ‘fire’. He doesn’t need to fight anymore. He wonders, with his dying breaths, whether Zero would have been proud.
There’s not much to say to that… but we’ll see strong parallels when we reach the story of Emil.
‘Branch E’: the Story Side Novel
So which of these branches actually leads to DoD 1? Branch A, which invented the Church of the Angels/Cult of the Watchers? Branch B, which created Pacts? Branch D, where the flower was destroyed for good?
Actually, none of them! The branch that leads to DoD 1 is related in Drag-On Dragoon 3 Story Side, a novel written by Eishima Jun. It has not, unfortunately, ever received a full translation in English. Luckily, Rekka Alexiel has translated some key scenes and summarised the other parts of the book.
I’ve mentioned a few of the revelations elsewhere in the articles, but what actually happens? Broadly, the story is a combination of the other four branches we’ve seen.
The Story Side is narrated in the year 1017, by Brother One. It follows roughly the same route as Branch D at first, but we see the circumstances where Decadus joined the party early. Four gives in to a paranoid fantasy that Decadus is a secret agent who has been poisoning her, and sends him away. He ends up meeting Zero’s party, and she persuades him that she’ll put Four to rest and stop her from killing everyone.
We also see Two and Cent, from Two’s perspective. Two narrates that she’s been desperately suppressing her song’s power this entire time. She manages to break through just long enough to order Cent away, to ‘protect them’ in her stead.
One and Brother One go to the Land of Forests, and discover the poison that caused the catastrophe in Branch B. The major divergence happens towards the end of Branch D. One summons first Abdiel, then Raphael. This time, One can use the poison from the Land of Forests to weaken Zero and Mikhail. Despite this, Zero is able to defeat One, though not before realising how much of One’s motivation she shares. Unfortunately, Mikhail has been taken out too (much as in Branch C.)
Unlike Branch A, where Zero was also the only survivor, One’s Brother does not immediately run Zero through with the dragonbone sword. Zero has time to realise how to use the Flower to create pacts, as in Branch B. This results in Zero getting age-regressed, and Mikhail being restored to life with the Flower in his eye.
But it can’t last. One’s Brother makes his appearance… and by killing Zero, because of the Pact, he also kills Mikhail. It’s this timeline that leads to DoD 1.
The gap between DoD 3 and DoD 1 is covered at first mostly by the timeline, and I’ll pull out a few of the interesting points here.
In the wake of the Intoners all dying, there is inevitably a big old power vacuum. The Church of the Angels (天使の教会 Tenshi no Kyoukai, renamed Cult of the Watchers in the localisation of DoD1) founded by One’s brother is one of the few institutions that holds power, but even its rule is challenged by the appearance of various secessionist states.
Inside the Church, an ‘Institute of Priests’ is founded in 1004 who conclude that, without some effort, the world will fall into ruin. So they create what becomes known as the ‘Seal System’, anchored in a woman called the Goddess of the Seal. We’ll get into its full nature once we get to DoD 1.
Meanwhile, the Branch A timeline is going its own route, covered in the manga Shi ni Itaru Aka. That’s a whole topic of its own. For now, let’s draw a line: we’ve followed the story of Zero and her sisters to its bitter end, and of them all, only Accord is likely to come back again…