When it comes to an Idea Factory and Compile Heart-made game, I’d say I’m a huge sucker for just about anything they’d pull out of their arses at this point. Because ever since I was first recommended to try out the Hyperdimension Neptunia series back on the Playstation Vita, it honestly got me hooked to the entire franchise. The quirky and fun antics of the playful goddesses invites such a great and fun aura to an RPG that would honestly feel bleak and uninteresting without it. Its combat while still, turn-based offers some pretty unique mechanics on its own to keep it engaging. And as an overall package, it’s one that I would never regret playing more often than once especially with its imaginative visual flair and ideas that normal people would just simply call bonkers.
Fast forward to 2021 and here we have the Nintendo Switch version of Dragon Star Varnir which was previously only available on both PC and Playstation 4. Similar to IF and Compile Heart’s other IPs like Neptunia or Fairy Fencer, the game looks and feels the same as what you’d come to expect from the company. There’s the same brand of character art style while also following the same format of just about anything like its visual novel-like storytelling to the RPG elements that have been around since ancient times. However, what’s disappointing here is that it never really moved beyond that level and just tried to hover over the same brand of stuff we’ve been seeing for the past couple of years but never any better.
Dragon Star Varnir is set in a time where witches are real and they’re mostly made up of cute pre-teen girls in fancy attires with a huge appetite for dragon meat. And yes there are dragons too but they’re mostly just food so let’s go back with the girls okay? The story starts out just like every other anime out there… if every anime out there includes cute girls and a main protagonist that would eventually make everyone fall in love with him or have everyone else be crazy enough to go after him. But all jokes aside, basically, Zephy, the main protagonist who is in a near-death experience after being badly wounded was saved by two witches when they let him drink some dragon’s blood which then healed him while also making him the first-ever male witch. The crazy part about this story is the deep struggle of the humans that hate the witches because they are told to bring disaster and calamity to the world. And as a knight himself who is tasked to defeat said witches, he then finds himself in a nasty predicament where he’d eventually had to side with the witches when the empire that he was sworn to protect is now after his own life.
The overly serious and darker tone of its core campaign isn’t terrible nor is it anything to write home about though but unlike the quirky and fun antics of what a Neptunia brand of storytelling brings, Dragon Star Varnir’s story often feels dragged on for hours before you can find the next big objective or just a time to quit and save. Now while this is also often the case with a series like Neptunia, the funny and constant fourth-wall-breaking moments glues you into the overly dragged conversations that Dragon Star Varnir failed to have.
Meanwhile, its combat is something more akin to a traditional RPG but the twist here is that it also follows more of a multi-level grid-based turn-based combat system. It’s multi-level because since witches can fly, they can hover over at certain levels of elevation which would then let you avoid an enemy’s wide breath attacks for example that could hit multiple characters at once if they’re all at the same elevation. The grid-based concept here on the other hand pretty much means what it sounds like… enemies and characters are placed in grids where attacks or spells can have different areas of effect which determines how many or how few of them you can hit with a single move. It’s definitely something that sounds fun on its own but it falls off pretty easily when its execution can be rather dull and somewhat confusing. Although there’s definitely something cool going on with the way you learn new skills and passives by devouring your enemies that on its own is hard to save when the overall gameplay can go stale pretty quickly when most unlockable skills are often visually underwhelming and outright samey.
In all honesty, the game’s combat system and flow just didn’t sit right with me for the most part but should you get a deeper appreciation despite its shortcomings, Dragon Star Varnir’s combat becomes pretty manageable thanks to its multitude of skill types and effects like something similar to Death End re; Quest’s knockback system where you can knockback an enemy of its grid to hit other enemies which is honestly really fun to pull off. And since you’re getting new skills from devouring enemies, you also get tons of ways to mix and match how you build your teams or how they support each other in every situation. It’s those little intricacies to make each character unique in its own way which really excites me the most.
Visually though… it’s a bit of a hit or miss. Going with the handheld mode is fine with most characters and the environment itself is pretty sharp but the problem rears its ugly head once you land it down and docked. This is where the game kind of starts showing the jagged lines on the 3D character models which really stings so hard when other games don’t particularly show the same problems. So the game doesn’t exactly feel great playing it docked more than it is on handheld mode despite the smaller screen size. However, if there’s any saving grace here is that characters are visually pleasing with a lot of that Compile Heart magic to the mix. Each character is unique in their own way and with a personality that reflects how they look and sound.
All in all, Dragon Star Varnir is honestly just a fanservice game with a very simplistic plot that failed to carry its own weight. Its lack of better delivery and pacing to the core campaign became its undoing and the story never evolves into something that is interesting enough to keep you glued to your screens. Often times I find myself dozing off before I can even get the chance to save my game and exit. Now if this was a console game like on the Playstation 4, I would probably go crazy already. However, its battle system does carry a bit of its own weight if you can manage to understand it’s still not the perfect nor greater combat system for most Compile Heart games.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch and can be purchased here for £26.99RRP
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