Dragon Star Varnir (Steam) Review
Release Date: October 8, 2019
Publisher/Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart
Platform: PC (Steam, reviewed), previously on PlayStation 4
Price: Deluxe Edition is $69.99 and includes soundtrack and artwork. 20% discount for first week, and then a permanent 10% discount afterwards. No information on “standard edition” as of writing, will edit when have information
Previously exclusive to PlayStation 4 since June of this year, Dragon Star Varnir comes to Steam. The game tells the tale of a warrior named Zephy whose primary goal is to hunt down the last remaining witches. Witches are the source of dragons, as they are literally born with the seed of a dragon inside them. His family was destroyed by dragons, so he hopes to bring peace to the world whilst getting his revenge.
Witches must eat the meat of dragons in order to stave off the insanity that comes with a dragon growing inside of you. Eating too much will cause the dragon to grow faster. All of this seems like a terrible concept with zero sum, after all you have to eat far more dragons, made from witches, in order to keep one alive, but the premise of these last few witches regardless is to fight off the urges causing their insanity or to turn into what they hate the most. Zephy enters the fray whilst hunting a dragon in the woods. He is mortally wounded and found by a couple of witches. They heal him using dragon blood, which manages to awaken witch powers within him. Zephy is now stranded: he can’t return to his clan, as they will kill him for the witch he is. He also doesn’t want to join the clan of witches he was sworn to kill. Soon, though, a possibility to cure his disease, as well as the malaise facing all witches, comes to light. Together, they decide to try to find the cure, saving the lives of the witches and Zephy as well.
Dragon Star Varnir has core RPG elements, but it is just as much a visual novel game. A good chunk of the game centers around reading or listening to the well-done voice actors, available in English or Japanese. The PC edition also includes English, Japanese, and Traditional Chinese subtitles. The story sequences polish comes from the audio, as the characters are barely animated and slide around the screen like paper dolls to interact with each other. There are occasional 3D rendered story bits, but Compile Heart does their best to present the story as-is. The extensive voice lines help bring the story to life.
Each member of your team of witches levels on their way through the RPG style grind. My biggest concern when playing this game was how much micromanaging you had to do. You can get man different abilities, but only equip a certain amount at a time. Factor Points work on a “Sphere Grid” like chart, but there are several charts for every single character with each one having many individual nodes that have to be activated individually. Cross this with basic weapon and armor management and finding items and giving the right presents to the right witches to build relationships, and there is a lot to do before you even get out of the menus.
Once in the main field, you traverse maps with your team. Each teammate has a particular ability that helps them navigate the field, like opening chests, building bridges, or knocking down barriers. This can get tedious if you need a particular person cycled into your party just to progress in the map.
As I said in my previous review, the game shines the most in combat. The basis is turn-based RPG, but with a system like Final Fantasy X where certain actions can delay your next turn. If you do basic actions you can get up to three attacks in during a turn, or you can charge a big magical attack. The game literally gets deeper with several levels to the battlefield. Everyone can fly, and go up and down a total of three levels. Certain attacks can cover whole layers or columns, and certain formations can net combat benefits. You can set powerful traps on certain tiles and then use other powers to force enemies into those squares for big damage bonuses. All of the witches can attempt to “consume” enemies to gain new powers and abilities as well. Despite all these options, the “overdrive” style power that comes from dealing and taking enough damage just goes off when full. This is frustrating if it pops on a grunt right before a big boss it would have been a big help on.
Dragon Star Varnir can be a very fun turn-based RPG but gamers need to go in understanding it definitely is a visual novel first and foremost, and it does follow a lot of typical tropes, from the One Male with The Power to Save the Women, and the Super Powers that Conveniently Involve Skimpy Clothing and Lingering Camera Shots. Witches ride brooms, but Man Witch surfs on a Giant Sword! The story is well told, and though some of it’s presentation can be eye-rollingly predictable, it is told with heart and makes you really feel for the characters. The micromanaging and relationship trees can be cumbersome or insanely exciting depending on how you like your RPGs, and the battles can get repetitive but always prove to be fun due to the extra dimensions included in each fight.
PC gamers will not find a whole lot different from the PS4 counterpart. There’s the additional subtitles, and a new tab in the config menu to tweak a few basic graphical possibilities. I am also seeing reports online that a couple of CG scenes were modified from the Japanese release to censor things in the US PlayStation 4 version. This edition is based off of the Japanese release, meaning whatever was cut from those scenes is back, so you are getting the “original vision” through and through, even if it is just a couple shots that got tweaked. I did find it odd that the game started in a windowed mode and I had to dig into the menu to find the “full screen” toggle. The game is completely set up to utilize a controller. I know that’s probably part and parcel for traditional PC gamers, but I did have a few struggles getting menu options to make sense with the mouse and keyboard I was using when I started. There is a launch discount of 20%, followed by a “permanent 10% discount” (wouldn’t that just be a new retail price?) on the “Deluxe Pack,” which includes collections of art for the characters and backgrounds, PC and mobile wallpapers, and the soundtrack.
-Great combination of RPG and visual novel
-Multi-tiered battle system has great depth, with risk and reward based on “consumption power”
-PC gamers get a few bonuses in the “Deluxe Edition”
-PC gamers also get the Japanese edition, censor-free
-Strange restrictions in battle: difficult to swap out KO’d characters, default use of overdrive power
-Micromanagement is rather extreme in the menus
-Paper Doll storytelling is a bit corny at times, tropes can override the generally good story
Thanks again to Compile Heart and Idea Factory for allowing a new review for the Steam release!
*images in review are from the PS4 release of the title, though no major graphical differences are noted save controller icon changes