Dragon Star Varnir (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Nayu 24.08.2021

Review for Dragon Star Varnir on Nintendo Switch

Originally released in 2018 on PlayStation 4, Dragon Star Varnir is a turn-based RPG from Compile Heart and Idea Factory, with frequent visual novel elements. It is set in a world where witches are women who have the power of a dragon that they carry inside them, a dragon that threatens to one day claw out from their body if they don't go insane by refusing to eat dragon meat needed to nourish the dragon within. In this world the imperial knight Zephy ends up in a situation where he becomes the beings his organisation strives to hunt and kill. Wanting to be free of the curse, and return to the life he was cruelly separated from, Zephy must fight alongside the witches who initially view him with contempt, but bonds of friendship form which prove vital when faced with incredibly tough choices.

The protagonist, Zephy, certainly has a traumatic start. Devoted to serve the empire as a knight who seeks out and destroys evil witches, his loyalty is tested when he is saved by those cursed ones. Being given dragon blood by the witch Minessa despite her fellow witch KariKaro's protests, Zephy alarmingly discovers he too is now a witch. The emotional conflict within his heart is most evident at the beginning when he must rely on the witches to help keep him safe from harm. He had no choice in the life changing act; initially he is furious at what they did to him, but he is soon amazed by the powers he now possesses when he learns he can fly using his sword in the place of a broom which looks very much like surfboarding. There is a purpose to flying in dungeons as it can speed up travel and help escape from an enemy. The other witches can also fly with their respective weapons too, and like Zephy it is time limited until the gauge is depleted, although it doesn't take long for it to refill. Weak from the transformation, Zephy is led to the witches' home, called a den. There he meets the three younger witches whose antics provide much needed fun during grim circumstances.

These are different to their older sisters, as they can not fight and are defenceless. Until late in the adventure, one has to balance feeding the younger witches enough dragon meat to keep them satisfied so they don't go insane, yet not too much because if one meter becomes maxed out then they will disappear forever as their inner dragon will break free. They then have to be fought within a dungeon to reap favourable items from their dragon selves. It can be advantageous to let the worst happen, but it is hard because their charming nature is easy to like, and it becomes a central component of the den dynamics. Zephy may be an imperial citizen taught to hate witches, but hatred is furthest from his mind once he interacts with the playful and innocent younger witches, whose hunger levels rely on an invisible timer that activates once the den is left, which influences how hungry for dragon meat the smaller witches are upon returning to the den. In one playthrough it is possible to keep all the little witches satisfied without going mad, and is one condition of achieving the true ending which is one of three possible endings.

Screenshot for Dragon Star Varnir on Nintendo Switch

It takes until late game for Zephyr's team to become a unit of six, because one of the younger witches, Faria, needs training to become strong enough to join her sisters, but early on Laponetta joins her sisters Menissa and Karikarom to fight alongside Zephy. There can only be three main party teammates; the rest are partnered with a main teammate, and can be switched in and out of battle at any time, with no waiting period required for them to act. Unusually, an early game antagonist, Charlotta, ends up on the team. This creates conflict between the characters, providing much entertainment from the witty dialogue. Perhaps because of his position as a new witch, Zephy seems to understand Charlotta's issues as an unwelcome outsider, and it is because of his views that he is able to mediate some of the conflicts that arise.

Friendship is central here, not just because it's a mechanism to get to know the characters by giving them gifts when back at the den, but there are strong familial bonds through being witches that makes the visual novel parts engaging. These scenes build upon the characteristics of each witch, and slowly improve their relationship, primarily with Zephy, but also with each other. From the shy Laponetta, to the constantly wanting-to-kill-Zephy nature of Karikaro, Minessa's mothering nature and Charlotta's deliberate antagonistic traits, each witch has a strong likeable personality. These in turn reflect in their transformed outfits when they go mad in battle, with Karikaro having the most revealing clothes. Going mad brings out the strength that the dragons growing inside the witches have, makes normal attacks significantly stronger, skilled attacks that are learned through devouring also seem to cause more damage, and a special madness devouring skill unique to each witch is available for use.

The madness transformation scenes are 'Magical Girl' in nature, most particularly for Faria, who, once she joins the team later in the game, acts like a magical girl in how she transforms and what she says during her madness induced devour skill. Equally spectacular is Minessa's special devour skill, which an Olympic gymnast would be proud of. Devouring does not mean enemy's guts are splattered across the screen - similarly with transformation a dragon related image is used on screen, if the enemy is weak enough it will be "eaten" by the witch, ending the battle if it's the sole remaining monster. This gives the individual a dragon core of that particular enemy, enabling skills to be learnt once enough points are accrued from fights. Skills can be learned individually, or there is a way to learn all the skills at once; these are both passive and active skills that are used in battle. All party members receive a boss dragon core regardless of if they fought in that particular battle. It can be advisable to make a note on which character has devoured each enemy; while the game does record this, the information is not available during battle, and having a pen and paper chart keeping track is one way to decide who needs to devour the enemy.

Screenshot for Dragon Star Varnir on Nintendo Switch

Devouring is not the sole special ability. Battles are engaging because Dragon Star Varnir has a somewhat unique battle format: instead of just fighting on one level, there are three levels that both the enemies and the witches can occupy. Large enemies will be on all three levels, smaller enemies may be on one, but depending which skills are used in battle can be pushed down a level. Battle formation tactics are important, because choosing certain formations affects allies' stats in battle if the formation is kept until the end. Moving between levels is permitted at any time, and does not use up a turn. Magic spells are another key element. Εach witch can learn any spell so long as they devour the correct enemy. Elemental magic can really turn the tide of battle if an enemy's weakness is exploited - the weaknesses are shown on screen using symbols which makes it easier to decide how to attack an enemy; it is not only a magical weakness, but weapon type weakness is also shown.

Travelling to a specific place usually involves first going through another dungeon area that has enemies who respawn at a regular, but not too fast rate, and finding treasure. Not all treasure is visible to the eye. Each character has a special ability to use in dungeons, be it escaping from the dungeon, becoming impervious to poisonous air for a short period of time, or having the ability to make hidden treasure chests appear for a short period of time. Skill time is finite, but they can be reactivated immediately upon depletion, and the hidden treasure can often be valuable equipment. It is important to note that if the equipment (which was DLC in all other consoles but is freely given in the Nintendo Switch version) is used in game, it will render most other equipment useless due to the significant stat boosts they give. It may be wise to save using that equipment for later in game or another play through if collecting and using the normal equipment is important to a player.

Screenshot for Dragon Star Varnir on Nintendo Switch

Once a dungeon has been traversed it can be accessed without having to repeat the journey. Repeated dungeon visits can be necessary to complete quests or as part of the story, with new bosses available to fight. There is an indication on the simplistic map screen where the main story progression is, and where a side story event is located. Environments within dungeons are predominantly pleasing to the eye, and match the graphic style of the characters. The first dungeon may trigger motion sickness if the blurry trees are focused on rather than the character when moving through it. The temples unfortunately are all identical in appearance, probably due to budget constraints which is a pity, as it would have been nice to have different scenery for each one, but the story and battles are engaging enough that it does not matter that the walls are exactly the same - the interior of each temple in terms of where rooms and walls are does change.

Fanservice can be synonymous with Idea Factory and Compile Heart games, however, while there is some in the character designs of Dragon Star Varnir, especially once the girls transform, there is surprisingly little mature content in the game as a whole. Some of revealing outfits look more like the sheer parts found in ice skater competition clothes, with perhaps a neoprene swimsuit style material. Outside of the transformation outfits and very occasional innuendo, there is one scene per character that hints towards a romantic element which is only witnessed if the friendship gauge is maxed out. It is possible to max out all friendship gauges - nothing special happens after doing so other than being able to witness the character scenes.

Screenshot for Dragon Star Varnir on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Dragon Star Varnir is a highly enjoyable RPG with its emphasis on friendship development, interesting battle mechanics, and strong plot that frequently tugs heartstrings and is not afraid to use surprising and dramatic plot twists. The repetitive nature of some dungeon environments and overall dark theme may not be for everyone, yet there is so much to enjoy with the devour system and trying not to send everyone insane to get the best ending, that the less desirable elements don't matter much. The post-game content includes new parts to the story and new bosses to fight, and coupled with the inclusion of DLC from other consoles makes Dragon Star Varnir a must buy on Nintendo Switch.

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   

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