Japanese RPGs are always a hit-or-miss experience in the west. I’m not a huge anime fan, I don’t consume a lot of Japanese content, and the last games I played from Japan really held back on too much anime styling. However since my press copy of NieR: Automata no longer wants to work on my new PS4 (just seems to be an issue centred on my PS4, let’s not bring out the pitchforks) I needed a new game to justify using it for more than Netflix.
I would call Dark Rose Valkyrie a solid hit. The game has plenty of charm supporting an interesting story with even more interesting characters and twists the traditional RPG system in a way I’m rather enjoying. Part of this probably comes from a number of staff being veterans of the Tales series, including character designer Kosuke Fujishima and scenario writer Takumi Miyajima. That isn’t to say the game is flawless but its issues definitely do not revolve around its story.
The story sets you in an alternative history of Japan in, where in the 1800s years earlier a meteorite struck the planet. The meteorite, dubbed ‘Black Garnet’ brought with it a virus which infected a large portion of the planets population and killed 3%. While making you smarter and stronger for a short period, eventually people turn into ‘Chimera,’ monstrous animals wanting nothing more than to destroy everything. You pick up the reins of Asahi, a young man who has just been promoted up to take command of a new task force titled ‘Valkyrie,’ comprised almost entirely of young women. Your job is to work to eradicate the Chimera-infected population and stop the virus spreading and destroying mankind.
None of this story is very ‘out there’ in terms of Japanese RPGs, but it provides more reasoning and depth than many. The limited number of men for example (there are only 4 including you) is explained that men are far more likely to contract the Chimera infection. It also makes a point of fleshing out new ideas given to you just enough to make it sound like a believable conversation, rather than a deliberate explanation forced in.
Your duties are broken down into three areas: The command centre, the overworld and the dungeons. The command centre covers most of your RPG activities, repairing equipment, picking up mission and talking to your allies. The layout is nice and simple, and you are given plenty of notice if someone wishes to talk to you. Missions usually involve defeating a certain number of creatures, or collecting a certain number of items, simple stuff to keep you going and enough to keep you grinding.
These, including your story missions will require you to head out into the overworld and to the dungeons, beating up any enemy you encounter. Fights carry out in real time, with each character slowly moving up a bar on the left until they hit the point they can perform an action, which depending on the strength requires a charge up. You and the enemies are both on the meter, so nobody is at an advantage to one another. Over time you naturally level up, with experience being doled out to all characters rather than just party members.
Now neither of the two aspects I have discussed – the fighting and the command centre – are bad. In fact they are really good. The command centre is laid out nicely, with each area dealing with nothing more than two or three aspects. The fighting is high paced, and while you can zerg rush through most fights require a degree of thinking.
The biggest bugbear is getting between them. Moving around the world feels like the most unpolished part of the game. Asahi transitions straight into a movement animation from still with no transition and turns on a dime whilst annoyingly huffing or spouting useless phrases every three seconds. This clunky movement makes it difficult to gain the upper hand, especially when you can strike enemies first to gain a free attack in battle. Given time you will learn the nuance, but considering about a third of your game time will be spent moving around it becomes a nuisance, added on to by the fact the frame rate can tank seemingly at random in a lot of areas.
And these stop me from enjoying the game any more than I do. The story is remarkably well written with quirky and interesting characters, the fighting is smooth and well thought out; but the clunky movement and muddy framerate just adds grievances which should not have ever left the studio for mastering. Hopefully these will be fixed later down the line, but even in this unpolished state I still recommend giving Dark Rose Valkyrie a go, awarding it a hearty 8.
It definitely has lessened my salt about NieR.