A world of knights, witches, dragons, and the capricious wheel of fate intersect in this dark fantasy RPG.
Title: Dragon Star Varnir
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart
System: PlayStation 4 (coming to PC this Summer)
Length: 35-40 hours
Many people might not know this about me, but when it comes fantasy material, I consider myself quite the nerd. Loving stories of knights, witches, dragons, and all other mention of myths and legends, the cliches and tropes associated tend to be apart of the innate charm. Dragon Star Varnir, one of Idea Factory and Compile Heart’s latest ventures makes full use of the concepts resulting in a dark fantasy world that has a heart in the right place for compelling storytelling, yet slightly lacking the drive to pull through all the way where it counts.
With the story placing the players in the role of Zephy, a young knight out on a dragon hunt, a series of events lead him to accept the help of Witches: cursed beings with great power shunned by society and considered the enemy of humanity. Through his new lifeline, he has also acquired the curse all Witches bear that will mean his death, yet with the hope of a cure, his newfound allies set out to find it. Being a step down from Death end re;Quest in both presentation and style, Dragon Star Varnir still manages to perfectly carry the dense and dark atmosphere. Compared to the execution, the motifs and themes within the narrative are engaging enough to hold your attention, despite the simple and deliberate movement of events. Where I can’t say that the overall narrative itself is the most interesting, it does hit a few notes in order to push players from start to finish. Of course, with 3 different endings depending on choices made throughout, it is more than worth it trying to reach the various conclusions.
Like past titles, the game will see players through different areas and dungeons to progress the story. Taking a note from titles like Death end re;Quest, exploration will require switching between different characters in order to reach other areas as well as acquire items. With large maps to explore, one of my favorite features is the option to fly for a brief period of time to get around slightly quicker. In comparison to the expansive maps, the game isn’t at all shy about loading it full of enemies – many pathways guaranteed you will run into something to beat up. The enemy density is not a bad thing, in fact, it does play a role into a few mechanics and features going forward.
Unlike past games, battles take place on a 3 tier map and able to move to any tier freely. With certain attacks and skills only being usable at certain points, positioning yourself accordingly is a critical in defeating the opposition. However, where beating foes to death is an option, many new encounters will call for devouring them, a skill each of the playable characters has in order to take the enemy core. With some fights requiring enemies to be wore down extensively with attacks before you can eat them, the system is simple once you get hang of it, but also enjoyable. This goes double for bosses were the command won’t work at all, so it can be an easy out in specific situations. After battle, in order to learn new skills, you will have to spend skill points on the core nodes, each different enemy core holding different skills. Not only does this encourage facing nearly every encounter for new foes, but also places emphasis on leveling up, something the game won’t assume you will do naturally. Even though they are different ways to deal with the unbalanced encounters you run across (even on the easiest difficulty), the skill system proves itself to be paramount. That being said, there is one more reason why you should be fighting often.
Back at the Witches Den, the hub of operations, everything from buying items to turning in quest is an option. However, one of the more important tasks is to feed the Witch siblings, a group of 3 youngsters you meet during the story that are none too experienced to hunt dragons. Feeding the sisters dragon parts you obtain from battle will keep them happy and in return, you can get different items as a reward. As great as that sounds, feeding the girls drives them closer to becoming dragons themselves, something you want to prevent if you’re going for specific endings. You can opt not to feed them, but that option is worst: the girls will go insane and disappear after a certain amount of time. Of course, in an unexpected turn, if the girls manage to go dragon, you can encounter them in specific dungeons and have to kill them. Both being a way to trigger key events and get strong skills, this is one of the mechanics that ties itself deep into the story and enforces the macabre atmosphere. If you’re taking the option of not sacrificing the siblings, you can also brew elixirs that will call forth dragons and once defeated, drop character specific equipment depending on the user. Not being the biggest fan of the simulation aspect that can easily get you shafted into a position you rather not be in, it isn’t a tall order to get the desired ending on a first playthrough.
Going with the usual style from Kei Nanameda, the character designs are as vibrant as always, yet interestingly distinctive from his past works. Both the in-game artwork and CG scenes look great, yet the game still seems less impressive with the overall effects and visuals. The soundtrack is another area of favorability: a small selection of tracks that range from sentimental to dire. As the tracks are split evenly between Motoi Sakuraba (know for his “Tales Of” compositions) and Yoh Ohyama, the latter is certainly more enjoyable for the range and variety rather than the former that is more consistent but also very formulaic. The English release of the game features both English and Japanese voice-over tracks.
Given the fact that Idea Factory and Compile Heart has been trying to take their titles in a few different directions over the past years, Dragon Star Varnir is one of the titles that is not the best representation of that change but has a few elements that make it borderline appealing. Having a few compelling and downright gripping details interwoven into the story and systems, the narrative itself is average at best and does take a little more time to get into for as short as it is. I can’t exactly say that Dragon Star Varnir has enough going for it to please the larger crowd, yet for those that are the niche-ist of the niche, it should have more than enough.
Final Verdict: Featuring a bleak storyline and uncompromising motifs, Dragon Star Varnir has the ambiance to carry it far, yet the simple narrative and uninteresting story beats tend to stifle it to a degree. Where the battle system and mechanics have their high points, once conquered, the joy reduces itself to tedium. In spite of all this, those willing to stick out will find an average title that unfortunately takes longer to feel whole.
Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form was I compensated for the composition or publication of this review. This is by my own volition. A review copy of the game was kindly provided by Idea Factory International.