Compile Heart has really cut out a solid niche for itself both here and in Japan producing turn based RPG’s. They are famous for the Neptunia series a kind of deliberate farce based on video game console rivalry that has now blossomed into a massive franchise with over seven main sequence games. They also developed the hilarious Mugen Souls and the ambitious, but ultimately disappointing, Record of Agarest War.
Superficially, Dark Rose Valkyrie looks like Compile Heart’s attempt to create a game similar to Sakura Wars and Galaxy Angels. Kōsuke Fujishima was brought on to handle the character designs and he was the character designer for Sakura Wars, so the whole thing has a very similar feel.
Asahi Shiramine arrives in a city, which looks gorgeous in the drawn backgrounds and dull and empty when rendered in game, and despite being a complete rookie he is assigned to lead his very own Valkyrie unit. Not unusual in this kind of game, I mean it is an irritating story contrivance that really should be gone by now and it is pretty irritating how the boring dude main character always ends up in charge near the start of the story even though they barely display basic competence or leadership.
Asahi is put in charge of a Valkyrie unit. The Valkyrie are specialised military units focused on fighting the Chimera, dangerous mutations of local fauna that become more aggressive at night because the game needs something to make its day-night cycle meaningful. The Valkyrie are selected by the Valkyrie system allowing them to wield special weapons called the TCS, arms borrowed from the very back of the God Eater prop shed, which allow them to fight the Chimera.
The active time-based battle system will be familiar to anyone who has played Grandia 2 but just in case you haven’t played a Dreamcast game from seventeen years ago, in Dark Rose Valkyrie when your characters turn arrives, after they move through a waiting bar like the most moe sushi in all of Shinjuku, you can then decide what they will do for their turn. Depending on what move you select though the character may need some additional time to charge up before the move is executed. As the battles are constantly in ‘active’ time, only pausing for you to command your characters, this means that you can have your entire party attacking an enemy all at once. This is a good early tactic as constant attacks wear down not just the enemies HP but also break down their ‘guard meter’. Wear that down to zero with the right kind of attacks and you can do even more damage.
Does this sound a bit convoluted yet? If it does, hold on, because this is the simplest part of the battle system. I haven’t even touched on the enemy’s ‘berserk’ mode, the elemental weaknesses, the destructible clothes, switching your character’s personalities and the battle formations. Dark Rose Valkyrie’s fights are an amuse bouche of RPG battle mechanics from the last decade. Conceivably this game could then be a greatest hits album of RPG battle mechanics. That is if the game took any time to properly teach you them.
It is not that there is no tutorial. Everything is explained, but Dark Rose Valkyrie’s idea of explaining everything from how a battle goes down to how to upgrade your items is to throw you to a huge encyclopaedia page that explains everything, and I mean everything, all at once. Nearly everything about the battle system is dropped on you in dry text in your first few battles; long before you have even got a hand on the basics. This is terrible because the game expects you to keep some pretty advanced stuff tucked away in your memory long before you need to think about them. This constant pausing to read ten to fifteen pages of text each time you start a battle or go into a room turns the first few hours of the game into an intolerable slog.
This would be forgivable if you had a rich an engaging cast of characters, but the principle characters of Dark Rose Valkyrie are somehow even more boring. Like the tutorial, the whole cast is dropped on you all at once. Like being introduced to everyone at a party you just arrived at; you are shuffled from one person to the next for the briefest of introductions. Limiting it to just the characters in your party you are introduced to eight people Asahi has to manage in about fifteen minutes. I resorted to writing down everyone’s name next to their main stat and boring cliché character trait.
Luna Ichinomiya is the dullest rich ojo-sama, you have seen every scene with her fifty times before. Naoyuki Kazami is such a boring letch you actually understand why he hasn’t been thrown out of the military for harassment because he is too boring to do anything, even something that would increase the drama in a gross way. Yue Hiiragi seems overly serious and by the book at first and would you be surprised that she actually collects cute character goods? No, because that is the first thing you thought when you saw her embarrassed character animation.
It is sad that these characters are so bland, as the animation in the story sequences is very impressive. Not perfect though, they still use a stretching effect to simulate breathing that makes every character’s chest heave as if they were hyperventilating but nearly every major character gets a very well animated unique piece of animation for their story sprites. It is a really fluid piece of animation that is only hampered by the fact that I noticed on every character because looking at the sprite animation was way more interesting than the actual dialogue that I should be reading.
This leads to the final nail in Dark Rose Valkyrie’s coffin. Asahi finds out later in the story that one of his unit members might be a traitor. So the player must figure out who is betraying the team by interviewing and investigating the team members and searching for contradictions. It is legitimately tense and interesting when you are introduced to it and there is even an option to state that you don’t think anyone is a traitor. This means that you really have to be certain about your suspicions lest you mess up. The number of questions you can ask everyone is limited so you need to be sure that you are heading down the right track from what you gathered from your earlier investigations and interviews. It also really ramps up the drama of the plot, up to that point in the game was a slow dribble of uninteresting events separated by thick patches of completely unrelated side quests that you have to finish before the next story segment starts.
The only problem is that you have to interview the cast which we have just described are as dull as dishwater. So you have this fantastic new interrogation system, that any sensible producer would have set a whole game around, not only that sharing space with an over-busy and poorly explained RPG battle system but also focused on a cast that is so boring that having to listen to them give testimony is a chore. In order for this whole thing to work, you have to be invested in all of these characters, positively or negatively, but every character is such a hollow cut-out with only half a dimension to their personality that spending time with them and actively listening to them is like pulling teeth. This goes both ways as well, the whole game could have been solved if Asahi was an interesting main character but he is just as bad as everyone he works with.
So why am I even putting all this mental effort into this admittedly delightful part of the game when I could be playing Ace Attorney again or even Lost Dimension? Those games have been out for so long you could buy them both for less than Dark Rose Valkyrie and have a lot more fun.
There is a reason to buy Dark Rose Valkyrie. Play it so that you can see the investigation segments, put that system into your own game and create the world’s next Danganronpa.
Review copy provided by Idea Factory International