Can you save humanity, even at the cost of your own?
Dark Rose Valkyrie is one of the latest Rpgs to come out of Compile Heart. Boasting designers and staff from other great series, the game is beautiful and polished and has a unique system. Painting a picture of a dystopic future where humanity is pushed to the brink of destruction by horrible creatures. The only hope going forward is unique weaponry that can use the strength of the same such enemies against them. You are Asahi, the new leader of a group of individuals who can take the fight to these dangerous monsters, called Chimera, and present the best chance humanity has to win the war against the disease that seems to be taking lives at an alarming rate. The only catch is that using the weapons that destroy these monsters exposes you to the disease as well. Will this game be your only hope to stave off the end times, or will you too be consumed by the virus and left a terror to all who approach?
Dark Rose Valkyrie (Abbrieviated to DRV) presents a great story and it is told in a style very similar to a Visual Novel. Using the “living characters” Style present in many of their games, the story flows through dialogue and scenes detailing the interactions, as well as letting you into the lives of your teammates. As Asahi arrives at the base, like you, he is new to the fight and you hear firsthand how badly the fight is going. The Initial outbreak, while killing a low percentage of the world’s population intially, has infected many, many more, changing them into mindless beasts that care only for the flesh of their once kind. The story comes off as very similar in sound and almost practice to the God Eater series with a few differences. You are in the commander of the Valkyrie Squad, with the best weapons for the fight, utilising the Valkyrie System to enhance combat abilities. The weapons that you use in DRV are larger than people and boast a gorgeous array of moving gears and parts; they are swung and smashed with abandon by the characters, who are granted the strength to use them by exposing themselves to the same Chimera Virus that plagues the world. As the virus affects men more severely than women, thus you are one of three men to five women and you have to navigate personal issues along with military ones. The game blends the two together very well, you have several scenes where you discover the personalities of the characters, their thoughts, feelings and experiences which become increasingly important in later stages. As you soon discover, the virus doesn’t turn people into mindless drones, instead it turns them smarter and cruel. Your squad being exposed in the fight with the creatures and through the system carry a risk of turning into Chimera themselves and becoming the very enemy you fight. In one heart wrenching scene, one of your comrades takes a risk at turning into a chimera by unleashing the full force of the Valkyrie system in order to allow the rest of the team to escape. With the constant fear of knowing a member of your team could become an enemy at any moment, each interaction carries a sense of intimacy and urgency as the next time you speak to them, they could turn on you.
The story always keeps you on your toes between missions and you can often be rushing to discover the next twist in the narrative. I very much enjoyed how the characters interacted and while some could see them as tired anime tropes (words I hear thrown about wit as much reckless abandon as the Valkyrie Squad threw about chimeras.) they are so much deeper, especially when one takes into account the “other selves”. Yes, one of the dangers of the System is that it creates a split personality that oftentimes are polar opposites of the person they inhabit, sometimes they are just the expression of that person’s deepest desires. It is down to you to discover whether you are talking to a split personality or something far more insidious. With investigations and dialogue choices that shape future interactions, between you and your teammates, you can make the slightest error in who you are talking to and be forever without their trust. Sometimes even an option you wouldn’t normally choose is the right choice for the particular person. I really felt that they characters were their own because they didn’t always respond to the “comfortably good” answer, sometimes they wanted to be criticised, sometimes they didn’t want you to tell them it would all be okay when it wasn’t. It is an aspect of the game that left me greatly satisfied even if, at times, the only difference in reaction was the initial comment.
The story and the gameplay are deeply interwoven, by using the Valkyrie system, you can increase the abilities of your characters in combat. This takes the form of turn-based action, where depending on levels and the bond between you and your comrades, you have access to extra attacks and stronger abilities. With four people on the battlefield at once, each character has a buddy who is resting, and can swap whenever it is their turn, with stats such as speed of you and your enemies determining the turn order, you have to plan and strategise in almost every battle who you want to use to give you that edge. Each character has different specialties and abilities, strengths and weaknesses and with the game occasionally throwing certain characters at you for certain battles, you pick favourites at your own peril. With the ability to make all out attacks and to have the off field allies in your squad jump into do extra damage, you can rack up huge combos and impressive amounts of damage. The combat has a great variance in difficulty, it almost feels that the computer is watching your every move in preparation for the next boss battle so it can ramp up the difficulty. Combat become extremely difficult as the enemy can exploit the same mechanics you do to hammer you with effects and debuffs. One of the complaints I had early on was that it seemed the enemy had a huge advantage in combat when fighting, as they would be able to attack enmasse and take down one of my units, causing a snowball which eventually caused my death. I then noticed I was doing this to weaker opponents, and when I was close in level to the enemies I was finding that it was a more intricate battle of who could act first, who better understood the mechanics of the game. There are very few attacks that attack all the enemies at once and even fewer abilities a wide enough area to heal, so you are reliant on single heals and items. It makes for a very stressful yet rewarding time in combat. Customisation is king so it is very much your fiddling and tinkering that brings the dividends. If you put in much to understanding and learning the combat, you will bring results. This means you are left with a huge sense of achievement after defeating the harder enemies, especially when you have access to the later game abilities, such as the Valkyrie System that has a different look for the characters and a boost in abilities, and weapon options, such as being able to increase the amount of damage your weapons do to certain enemies. I would often find myself cursing the fact that there were so few area affecting abilities, and that the changeable formations were inadequate for what I needed. My only true complaint was that the base formation had no customisation, so your units are eternally too far away from each other to revive two people at once, so if by chance you lost three members of your team, you’d be helplessly trying to revive one person before the enemies killed your last remaining. The difficulty in the game meant at times you could be fighting above 6 enemies, some of which would be faster than three quarters of your active party.
With combat and story being almost pivotal to the game, the soundtrack of DRV does an amazing job of immersing you into each activity. Running about the field, exploring dungeons, often times I found my hand or foot tapping to the beat as I would remark how much I enjoyed the songs that played. The little details, like how the music changed when you got in trouble in battle or you had the characters sounding a little more distressed really added to the experience. The art is very reminiscent of the Tales series where some of its developers are involved with and it is a treat for the eyes to watch the expressions of Asahi and his teammates and superiors as they interact, especially when Asahi is told by a commanding officer he has twenty seconds to present himself. The comedy and dark humour almost brings a sense of realism to the events, as you realise that the people need to laugh or else they would be crushed by their situation.
Dark Rose Valkyrie is a wonderful game that, while sometimes very difficult and requiring you to grind or die horribly, delivers a compelling narrative with interesting combat and a tense experience as you try to navigate the end of the world and come out on top. I feel like the game was too hard at times with almost no way to alleviate the pressure as the formations were a greater enemy than the monsters you were fighting. Many of the systems in place, like multi target items just didn’t help at all and you were left to try and trick the system to attempt to get the most basic uses out of it. The amount of customisation is staggering and if a player doesn’t realise how important the individual combos can be, they can be left doing a fraction of their potential damage and that can be extremely unforgiving, I would have to spend almost an hour at times, reviewing my items and skills to make sure I was using the best skills for what I needed. It is a great game all in all and I spent many fun hours dying to monster bees and pigs before having a moment of brilliance that would carry me through till the next praying mantis handed me a game over screen. Save often and definitely save before every conversation and you’ll be happy!
Humanity is overrated... the Valkyrie System is our only hope!