Compile Heart and Idea Factory are well known for their visual novel and RPG series, most notably the Hyperdimension Neptunia, Mary Skelter, and Psychadelica series of games. Personally, I became a fan with MeiQ and Monster Monpiece, but that’s beyond the point. Most recently, Compile Heart applied their RPG knowledge to Dragon Star Varnir. While still retaining a lot of the charm and general feel of both companies previous games, Dragon Star Varnir brings players to a world inhabited by knights, dragons and witches. How these various factions are tied together and how/why witches are cursed to have the power of dragons while being devoured by the very same creatures they give birth to will have players engrossed in an expansive RPG for many many hours. Read on to find out why!
Dragon Star Varnir
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Developer: Compile Heart
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Windows PC
Release Date: June 11th, 2019
Players: 1 Player
I feel that I should start with the part of the game that I found the most engrossing: the gameplay. Dragon Star Varnir has an absolutely insane amount of customization when it comes to character stats and skills.
Every enemy, major or minor, is either a dragon, dragon-kin or uses dragon power in some way. Since all the player characters are witches who consume dragons to survive, it stands to reason that, obviously, dragons and dragon powers play a major role in how your characters upgrade.
Beyond just the standard “gain exp to level up” mechanic, each character starts off with a basic “devour” ability. Characters can attempt to devour an enemy and gain their strength. The lower the HP of the enemy, the greater the chance the devour succeeds.
Should a character successfully devour an enemy, they will gain a “dragon core”, which can have several different nodes on it. These nodes can either be a new ability for your character such as attack magics, physical attacks, passive abilities or new devour abilities.
They can also have various ability upgrades for your characters. This means however, that to fully max out your characters, you will have to go back to all the previous areas and have each and every character that joins your group devour each type of enemy.
You can seriously spend hours in each area devouring enemies to gain each of their cores. Luckily, however, each character will have all previous boss monster cores and each character will gain the core of each boss you defeat. So you can’t miss out on those one time only types of monsters.
Outside of grinding for hours to gain what basically equate to Blue Mage spells and stats, combat itself is actually quite basic. Battles take place between your three main battle characters against your draconic foes.
These battles all take place in the air with three different levels: Upper, Middle and Lower. Magic attacks can attack any level regardless of what level the character is on, while physical attacks will only connect with enemies on the same level as the character.
Varying physical and magical trap attacks can move enemies up a level, down a level, or even in the same level to a different spot. Even with all these abilities, every enemy and every character has an elemental weakness and a physical weakness.
If this all sounds a bit much, having to move between several different layers of the battlefield while attacking physical and magical weaknesses, moving enemies about the battlefield while laying down traps and trying to devour enemies… don’t worry about it.
Yes, you can deal immense damage by laying down traps, moving enemies about and all that, but there really is no reason to. If you spend any amount of time grinding for dragon cores, your levels will be much higher than the enemies in the area of the game you’re supposed to be in.
Your stats will be amazingly high due to the nodes you activate in the cores. You’ll usually find at least one weapon upgrade for your characters in the dungeon further increasing their attack higher than what you can buy from the shop.
All of this makes everything beyond the first area basically a cakewalk due to player power level. In addition, a successful devour will restore HP and SP and resting at the dungeons save point will fully restore your health.
Is it wrong to complain about the difficulty of a game because the player power leveled stats and levels? Usually I would say yes, but in this case? Grinding is really the name of the game, as the only way to get abilities for your characters is by making sure each character devours each type of enemy.
It may sound easy to make sure that each character devours each type of enemy, but there are a few extra battle mechanics that are more or less out of the players control. What originally drew me to Dragon Star Varnir was the dragon transformations, which gave me massive Legend of Dragoon vibes.
Since each witch is cursed with a dragon growing inside them, during battle, a meter will increase. When this meter fills, the character will undergo a transformation in to a scantly clad version of themselves, with increased attack, magical attack and a full HP restore.
This transformation also unlocks a new devour ability with high SP cost. You have no control over whether or not your character transforms, and due to the attack increase, even basic attacks have a good chance of killing your foe. Which, if it’s a foe you need to devour for a core for a character, can make having the right character devour and kill the foe more difficult.
There’s also the fact that if you attack a foes weakness enough times, either physical or elemental, all three characters on the field will attack the foe in an all out attack similar to the Persona series.
The character that gets the last hit, if they fell the enemy, will devour the enemy. This means either the other character will get the core and abilities, or, if they have already devoured that enemy, gain nothing outside of a health and SP restore.
Combat and exploration are still very fun with Dragon Star Varnir, but due to how the mechanics work, you can really just ignore a lot of it and just put the battles in auto mode. You can then have your characters use their devour attacks while just focusing on a few characters to max out while the other three characters act as support, further increasing their stats.
There are even more ways to increase stats and give yourself an advantage in battle. Later battles and optional battles will require these methods of stat increases, but for the most part, it’s all overkill.
I will say that I did enjoy the story of Dragon Star Varnir quite a bit. At the start, none of the characters really trust one another and the party dynamics reflect this. As the game passes and they must all work together to unravel the mystery between the Knights of the Empire, the witches that give birth to and feed off dragons and why witches and dragons are tied together in a world made from literal dragon bones.
The player will need to make decisions throughout the game. These decisions will affect the balance of the game and lead to various branching story paths and drastically alter the outcome of story scenes depending on your choices. Just like with the abundant amount of combat options, there are a lot of various aspects to manage outside of combat as well.
Between watching out for the little sisters, creating elixirs to fight stronger enemies for even stronger gear and giving gifts to party members to get closer to the (mostly) buxom cast, there are the story options that the player will need to choose from.
Visually, Dragon Star Varnir is very well done. The character portraits that make up most of the story scenes are amazing. There is an abundance of detail and little movements in otherwise still images. The various locations are well designed with little details to notice while you are exploring the different maps.
The character model scenes for the story, while slightly less detailed than their portrait counter parts, offer up different little variances, like the jiggle effects for the more endowed characters. Enemy variety is good and you will eventually learn to differentiate the different dragons and dragon-kin from each other. The battle scenes themselves could have more variety, but spell and attack animations are well detailed.
The graphics and graphical theme that the game has just exudes what most players have come to expect from Idea Factory and Compile Heart. So if you’re a fan of their previous games, you will definitely enjoy the eye candy that they have presented to us here.
While the game can seem overly complicated and convoluted at times, the core gameplay is solid and it can be as simple or as complex as the player wants to make it. There are issues when it comes to balancing all these various actions, the ability collection aspect of character ability growth and the characters themselves make it worthwhile.
The story is engaging and really makes you feel for the characters as you travel the broken world with them. However, the mechanics of the game are the primary reason why this generally enjoyable gem of an RPG is scored a bit lower.
There’s a lot to enjoy with Dragon Star Varnir, but if you take advantage of the mechanics and wish to have your characters have a wide variety of skills, you will quickly overpower most of the story enemies, making the game much easier than it really needed to be.
If you want an enjoyable RPG to add to your collection or are a fan of Idea Factory/Compile Heart or dragons and buxom magic users, by all means, add this one to your collection and devour all the fun and engagement it offers.
Dragon Star Varnir was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a review copy provided by Idea Factory International. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.