By William Haderlie / July 3rd, 2019
|Title||Dragon Star Varnir|
|Developer||Idea Factory, Compile Heart|
|Publisher||Idea Factory International|
|Release Date||June 11th, 2019|
|Platform||PlayStation 4 Pro|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
I have been greatly anticipating the Western release of Dragon Star Varnir ever since it was announced. Seeing Idea Factory and Compile Heart together in the credits will definitely get my interest, but when I also saw the art style and the studio Galapagos logo, they upgraded to having my attention. While Fairy Fencer F had some issues on its initial release, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force has become one of my favorite JRPGs of this console generation. In fact, I now own that game on PlayStation 4, Steam, and the Nintendo Switch. Even if what I really wanted was a sequel to that game, I was still interested to see whether they could recapture some of that magic in their new title.
The main character of the story is a Knight of the Empire named Zephy. He has an extremely tragic past where his mother disappeared and his father was eaten by a dragon while he was still a child. As such, he trained hard and joined the Knight Brotherhood in order to rid the world of Witches. That may seem like a leap of logic, but in the world of Dragon Star Varnir, Witches give birth to dragons out of their own bodies. Basically Witches are born with dragons inside of them, and when the dragons have consumed enough sustenance to reach maturity, they tear their way out of their human form. The dragons retain very little of the Witch’s memory and none of their personality. So ostensibly the Knights are there to prevent dragons from forming, but the torture and murder and glee with which they do their job tells a different story. Obviously this brings elements of the Witch Hunts from our own history into the story, so don’t plan on a very pleasant tale most of the time.
The Witches Minessa and Karikaro come upon Zephy after he is attacked by a dragon while lost in the forest. By all rights they would have left him to his fate or killed him themselves, but unfortunately their Coven member, Laponette, had been captured by the Knights. So in order to rescue her from certain torture and death, they wish to save Zephy and engage in a prisoner transfer. Of course, they overestimate how much the Knights would care about any single member of their order. But that is because, as you can imagine, the Witches are much more upstanding and moral people than humans generally are to each other. But Zephy does not respond to traditional First Aid, and in an act of desperation Minessa feeds him the blood of the dragon they killed while protecting him. This is something that should only ever work on Witches, but it seems to also work on him. Not only that, but he gains the power to fly and cast magic just like the Witches. To say this is shocking would be an understatement, in the world of Varnir Witches are only ever female.
Now that Zephy can fly and use magic, he is obviously not welcome within the Empire anymore. So he has to become the first male to join the Coven of Witches. There used to be many Covens and quite a number of Witches, but a major event that the Knights did not even know about happened in the recent past. One of their fellow Coven members destroyed hundreds of Witches and obliterated many Covens. There is a balancing act that Witches must engage in. If they don’t eat enough dragon meat or blood, they will eventually go insane and start attacking and eating anything indiscriminately. But the more they eat, the quicker the dragon inside of them grows. It is thought that the Witch who destroyed them all went insane for that reason, but it’s fairly obvious that is an unlikely reason. While you see an early example of the madness, a single witch being that powerful at the time of madness doesn’t really check out. But likewise, Zephy’s past doesn’t really check out, or his reasoning that the dragon blood suddenly made him have powers without him already being a Witch. So instead a journey is begun where he and his new Coven try to discover the truths hidden around them and to save all the Witches from the curse they were born with. Meanwhile they have to beware of the Witch of Hellfire (who disappeared after killing all those Witches), the Empire who hunts them for who they are, and the nebulous group of mercenaries called The Ravens. The world of Dragon Star Varnir is not a pleasant one, and you should probably not go into the game expecting a light and airy story. Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force had its dark moments, but this game turns that up to 11.
There is frankly too much doom and gloom in this game for my particular tastes, but at least there were some moments of reprieve. There is an affection system like you see in many Compile Heart games where you can give Presents to the Witches in your party. How they react to each gift will depend on the recipient, with rare exceptions that are universally appealing. With each new level of affection, you earn a side story moment with each of the women and the later ones tend to have a slight romantic appeal to them. This is also the route to achieving the individual endings for each of the girls as well. There is a Normal Ending, a Madness Ending (more on this later), and then individual endings for each of the girls that you max out their affection. However, the five Witches in your party are not the only ones at the Coven, there are also the three Little Sisters.
The three Little Sisters unfortunately represent my largest problem with Dragon Star Varnir. It’s not that they are awful to look at or poorly voiced or poorly written, quite the opposite in fact. That they are so adorable explicitly works against you. As I mentioned before, Witches have to eat dragon enough or they will go mad. But if they eat too much then the dragon inside of them will mature and destroy the Witch. This strongly applies to your Little Sisters. While they don’t have the same affection gauges that your party members do, they have a Madness Level and a Dragon Growth meter. You have to feed them enough dragon flesh or blood in order to keep them from going mad and leaving the coven but not enough that the dragon inside of them bursts out. If either happens, you will have to defeat them in the dungeons. In practice that means you can’t spend so much time in a dungeon that they go mad in your absence, and you can’t spend too long playing the game itself or they will need too much food to stay in human form. That would be frustrating on its own, especially for someone who is a notorious RPG grinder like me. But what makes it even worse is the skill tree system in the game.
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