Dragon Star Varnir (PlayStation 4) Review

By Eric Ace 02.07.2019

Review for Dragon Star Varnir on PlayStation 4

Compile Heart tapped into a huge and successful market when it first introduced its Hyperdimensional Nepturnia series. Focusing on fan-service, fourth wall breaks, and simple RPG fare, the series brought some new life to the genre. Unfortunately, the formula was changed almost... zero times, and the series became largely stale. Dragon Star Varnir represents a very welcome change, as it is completely unrelated to it, yet retains the good parts of the developer's games, while introducing a much darker story about groups hunting each other and a constant race against an ever-present parasite within the characters that will eventually kill them.

Compile Heart was a major rejuvenator in the JRPG genre around the PS3 era; for better or for worse Dragon Star Varnir is going to have comparisons to the Neptunia series. To get it out of the way immediately, this does a great job of actually being different from that series, as there was serious doubt if Compile Heart indeed was capable of producing something that was not a clone of every other Neptunia instalment it had cranked out.

Right off the bat, you'll see how much more of a dark story this sets out to create. The main character is a knight named Zephy, whose job it is to hunt witches and dragons. The world the game takes place in is overrun with violent dragons, and it is up to the knights to kill them. Further, these beasts are born from Witches, and as a result the Witches are hunted by the Knights as well to try to quell the invasion.

Our hero is wounded in battle, and a hapless witch decides to try to save him by giving him dragon blood. It saves him, but comes at a cost in that he is now a witch himself. This matters because it gives the game an interesting spin: as a witch you grow a dragon inside your body, until it eventually bursts out Alien style. Now his fate is tied with the very people he hunted.

Screenshot for Dragon Star Varnir on PlayStation 4

The opening setup of the plot was surprising in a very good way. Of course there are some complaints like how evil the knights actually look, with their generic 'bad guy' leaders, despite the heroic main character not questioning this. However, this was overall a very nice change of pace, having him stuck with characters that did not like him, with trying to escape. This alone is refreshing for an JRPG.

A little of this opening plot seemed hamstrung such as "I am just helping you because I can't let you die" type logic, but for what it was, it is nice seeing the characters not instantly be best friends. It was also great that Zephy did not fall completely into the stupid "ideal dumb hero" trope, and many of his internal thoughts centre around doing anything he can to escape from the witches and merely biding his time until he had an escape.

Gameplay is a typical fare of selecting a dungeon, fighting through it, progressing in the story, going to town and repeating. The dungeons themselves are massive, massive improvements for Compile Heart. The music is also quite good, and the first forest dungeon's theme sets a high quality tone to the experience. Future dungeons have very cool designs, such as a cave with large dragon bones and mystical symbols on the wall, with water puddles to trudge through.

The characters themselves fit the physical archetypes most have come to love and expect from a JRPG: a character with breasts bigger than her head, a pseudo-loli character, the outright lolis, the tsunderes, and the hot-blooded males. The game is pleasantly surprising in that these are much more complex than what they seem, making it easy to change your evaluation of them as the story progresses.

Screenshot for Dragon Star Varnir on PlayStation 4

Battles are turn based, and despite the "Mid-air battle theme," they were moderate at best. Gratefully there is a skip animation button that pretty much every game of this type needs. The idea is that everyone is a witch or a dragon, so naturally they fight in the air. Riding their brooms, they fight on different levels of height. At any one time enemies can occupy one of three heights, and certain moves hit different heights or areas.

For all intents being in air does not matter at all, and is downright odd at times seeing a few enemies like huge oxen floating midair. There are other options such as putting traps on the battlefield, or moves that knock enemies to different areas. It was clear they were trying to go for something deeper here, but it simply didn't pan out.

A major reason is it mostly doesn't matter. The most important move in battle is 'devour' which is a attack that does decent damage, and potentially grants an item related to levelling up. Your basic attack or devour move is almost always preferential, short of some elemental weakness on specific enemies. The issue is that part of levelling up involves a sphere grid system that is directly determined by how many enemies "devoured" in battle. Again, the idea was cool in theory, yet bad in practice.

Screenshot for Dragon Star Varnir on PlayStation 4

When devoured, each enemy grants that character (and that character alone) its mini sphere grid - a sort of unlock system of minor stat boosts and moves - but there is not really much depth here. The unlock cost is often fairly low, and limited merely by making sure each character devours each enemy in the dungeon. This is a grindy aspect that also leads to a benching of characters as it takes far too long to get every single character levelled up this way.

Back at base, there are some minor upgrades to making some simple gear that could have been expanded out more. There is a simplistic dating element that mostly involves shoving endless gifts at the girl until she likes you. Lastly is an interesting part where the younger girls have to be fed dragon meat to stop them from going insane, but too much meat literally kills them as the dragon bursts out of them and has to be killed. Also because every character can get every sphere grid, each character ultimately ends up the same, excluding players temporarily equipping their moves. It might have been much more engaging have perhaps special spheres for each character, which would also decrease the grind.

These last systems mentioned bring the experience down, no way around that. A lot of them feel slapped on for the sake of depth and other things to do. While this is in no way perfect, it is carried by its plot. Not to say it is at all award winning, but it is definitely original. The twists and turns it takes overpower any general weakness within the game. Compared to other offerings by Compile Heart, this shows tremendous growth and everything from its graphics to its story is a major step up.

Screenshot for Dragon Star Varnir on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

There are things that are easy to point out as flaws, such as the unnecessary and weird flying battle system, but the root of Dragon Star Varnir is solid. The story is interesting, the characters create a curiosity to see where the plot goes, and the darker tone is so revitalizing to the genre. Yes, anime tropes exist, but when the plot revolves around girls trying to save their life from the creature growing within them, a lot of these issues can be overlooked. The beautiful artwork of the characters, the graphics of the dungeon, the music are all high points, adding the cool plot brings this package to a high recommended level for JRPG players.

Developer

Compile Heart

Publisher

Idea Factory

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

Comment on this article

You can comment as a guest or join the Cubed3 community below: Sign Up for Free Account Login

Preview PostPreview Post Your Name:
Validate your comment
  Enter the letters in the image to validate your comment.
Submit Post

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?
Gabriel PVJ Jones, hinchjoie

There are 2 members online at the moment.