By William Haderlie / July 3rd, 2019
On the surface I really love the idea of the Dragon Orb skill system. Basically the Witches are able to feed enemies to the dragon inside of them, and they will gain back some HP and SP depending on their power and the power of the enemy they absorb. But if it’s the first time eating that particular creature, the dragon inside of you will absorb the Dragon Orb within that enemy. That allows you to learn skills and stats specific to that creature in order to build your own power. Major boss enemies will apply their Orbs to your whole party, but smaller enemies will only apply to the Witch who absorbs them. It’s a really cool idea, and instead of having one huge sphere grid (like in Final Fantasy X or CrossCode), you have many smaller ones. Characters gain relatively small stat gains with each level, and they don’t gain any new spells or abilities. As such, feeding your dragons is the exclusive route to new skills and massive stat gains. Unfortunately that means you need to spend a lot of time spreading out the love between all your party members and tracking down 6 versions of each monster. I would normally love that, but with the limits on your time due to the Little Sisters system, that makes the skill system an issue. Equipment is also powerful in the game, but you need to fight in order to gain enough gold to purchase or enough parts to craft an Elixir.
Elixirs are special alchemical items that the Witches can brew up at their Coven. When the character of choice drinks the potion, a dragon will appear out of them relative to the power of the Elixir imbibed. That creature will drop a weapon or armor piece that can have characteristics making it more powerful than anything you can buy in the store or find in the dungeons. This does make it so that you don’t have to earn a massive amount of gold in the dungeons in order to upgrade your characters. And you can tell that the game encourages this method of gearing up, because battles offer relatively small gold rewards compared to the XP they award. Unfortunately the Elixirs also require dragon parts in their brewing, and it can be difficult to find enough parts to equip up all 6 members of your party without grinding for those parts. Also, no matter how good your equipment is, they are no substitution for Magic skills. As you would expect from Witches, physical attacks are not their strong suit unless that enemy is specifically weak to their weapon type. Casting magic and elemental weakness are far and away your key to success in battles, and ended up being one of my favorite parts of Dragon Star Varnir.
Even if the Madness System and the Little Sisters systems encouraged me to not fight as much, it wasn’t only grinding that made me deny that impulse. The fighting system in this game is actually really good and quite innovative. Your fights are always in the air, and as such it’s a bit closer to 3D chess (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) than traditional chess. You have to factor in height into your strategies, both in the formations that your party starts with, and in how you can crash enemies into each other. During your journey the party will find special books in dungeons that will teach them new formations and give them access to some pretty nice percentage buffs by having a member in the top and mid and low, or some different combination of the three. Your skills both physical and magical can also apply either vertically or horizontally, so enemy formation can determine which one you may want to use in order to hit the most enemies. Also, you can use skills that will cause enemies to be knocked back, knocked down, or knocked up. If they crash into another enemy, both will take damage and the first one will take significantly more damage than they would have without the crash. It’s a rather complicated system, but with practice it becomes second nature. Additionally each enemy and each Witch have physical and elemental affinities for you to take advantage of, and that is very important. The miss rate for physical attacks in this game is extremely high, to a frustrating level if you are just going to try to brute force your way through. Instead, remember that they are Witches and as such are primarily spell casters. If you can, always prioritize using magical spells first, and then physical weaknesses second. If you don’t use either, it’s going to be a much longer and more dangerous fight.
Another interesting combat mechanic is Dragon Star Varnir is the Dragon Rage modes for each character. They each have a circle next to their HP/SP bars that fills up the more the character attacks and are hit in battle. It also slowly builds over time so even the Reserve Party Members will slowly build up those states. When those bars become full, they turn red and on the next character turn they will Awaken their Dragon Rage form and seem to fuse their dragon side and their witch side. This gives them access to a super powerful move that is of the elemental type for that character (in other words, Light for Zephy and Water for Minessa and so on). But the more functional use is that it makes their spells about 3 times as powerful. That super powerful move also has a high miss rate, just like all physical attacks in the game, but it does try to hit a great many times. But in general I found that it does more damage to just use a spell against that enemy of the type they are weak to, unless you are trying to Devour. The Dragon Rage form special attack will always Devour an enemy as long as it’s the killing blow. No matter how low the percentage chance of Devour is at the time of use. Like anything else in the game, there is also a risk to using Dragon Rage too much. Rarely you will have a Madness infused Dragon Rage, which will do even more damage to the enemy but also raise your overall party Madness Level.
The Madness system is the final aspect of Dragon Star Varnir that I have to go into. And unfortunately, I’m not a fan. The gauge you see in the upper right of the party menu is the Madness Level of your Coven overall. Madness seems to grow if you allow Little Sisters to either go mad or transform, if you make the wrong dialogue choice, and if you transform into Dragon Rage mode too often. If it gets too high, you will start getting Madness Events at the end of Chapters, and that will lock you into the Bad Ending (also known as the Madness Ending). In order to get the Normal Ending, you need to only allow it to slowly build and you have to end with it under 75% in the Final Chapter. Additionally 2 of the 3 Little Sisters need to still be alive by the end. In order to get the True Ending you need to at least have all the sisters alive and Madness under 75%, but I also think you need to be max affection with at least one of the Witches. But I haven’t tested that out. Your first time through, I wouldn’t expect to do that without sticking very strictly to an online guide. In fact, the way I play JRPGs, there was no way I was getting anything but a Bad Ending my first time through. Thankfully after gaining so much power with that first run, it made getting the Normal Ending much easier. But that story experience the first time was extremely unpleasant. And it still colors my opinion of the game as a whole.
Dragon Star Varnir has a lot of the same dungeon aspects as you would expect from Idea Factory/Compile Heart games. But two nice additions are the exclusive dungeon actions to each Witch in your party, and the ability to mount your broom (or sword) to fly around quickly. That being said, one step back is how difficult it is to use your weapons to initiate a preemptive strike. All field attacks are extremely short compared to the hit boxes of the enemies, so it can be a source of frustration to get clipped by a tail while trying to move in for an attack. Also an issue is how small all but the last couple dungeons are. They were moving in the right direction with the new dungeons in Advent Dark Force, but this seems to be a step back. More of a wash with this latest installment is the music. While there is some good music, especially for the opening FMV, there is also a rather low variety to the songs. Enemy variety also is a bit low because of so many reused assets from previous monsters to their new form. In almost every way this seems like a game that was intended to be a larger project, but ran out of either time or finances. That doesn’t make it bad, but it does make it incomplete. The only aspect I can say definitively received a lot of attention are the character art, which is gorgeous, and the innovative battle system.
What I would love to see is a similar situation to Fairy Fencer F. That game also felt rather incomplete when it came out, but Advent Dark Force definitively cleaned up all those issues for me and ended up being a truly great game. Dragon Star Varnir isn’t a bad game, but it does need some more time in the oven to make it a lot better. Even the story itself felt perfunctory at times, and the game was pretty short for a JRPG, even if you aren’t rushing through in order to prevent Little Sister deaths. It only took me 40 hours my first time, with a severe Madness Ending (I was pretty much 100% Mad by Chapter 9 out of 11), and about 20 hours to get the Normal Ending. That is pretty standard for a AAA game in other genres, and justifies its $59.99 price tag, but for a JRPG that is pushing the limits of size. But overall the combat and characters do make up for a lot of the shortcomings, and more than likely another reviewer might have enjoyed it more if they like brutal and dark stories. So, not exactly what I was looking for, but I don’t regret playing it either.
Review Copy Provided By The Publisher
Pages: 1 2Compile HeartDragon Star VarnirFairy Fencer FFairy Fencer F: Advent Dark ForceGalapagosIdea FactoryJRPGPlayStation 4 proPSN