A world filled with magic, knights, and mystical creatures always sounds like something worth exploring when compared to our world but as we’ve seen through the years, the threats that exist in such a world are far greater than most of us could imagine. This is especially true when almost every element of such a fantasy world is at war with each other and that just so happens to be the case in Compile Heart and Idea Factory International’s Dragon Star Varnir. Does this interesting take on a fantasy realm create an intriguing storyline worth exploring?
Set on the world of Varneria, humans, witches, and dragons all exist but continue to battle against one another. The Holy Empire of Varneria has proclaimed that all witches are evil while the dragons that they spawn lay waste to the lands and has formed the Knights of Requiem to hunt down both in an effort to keep the world safe. On the other hand the witches are cursed at birth with only two options left to them. Either feed on dragon meat and blood to sate their ever growing hunger only to have the dragon that was born within them at the time of their birth grow and eventually rip itself out of them and wreak havoc or starve the dragon and eventually go mad, becoming a hazard to all those around her and die as a result.
Our story begins with Zephy, a fresh member of the Knights of Requiem who lost his family to the dragons in the past, being chased by such a creature. Nearly killed by the dragon a pair of witches stumble upon him and after slaying the beast, choose to feed him dragon blood in an attempt to revive him. To their surprise not only does Zephy manage to make a full recovery but also becomes a witch in the process. Shocked at the first male witch they’ve ever heard of, the pair of girls wish to use him as a bargaining chip to recover their captured friend.
While this plan hits a few snags it does end up working out but Zephy now finds himself an outcast from the Empire as the knights will now hunt him and the witches that he used to hunt are the only people he can turn to. Through the appearance of a mysterious and risky ally Zephy and the rest of the witches in their den learn that there may be a way to lift the dragon curse and turn them back into humans, but with only rumors to go on, distrust among the group, and an ever ticking time clock in their body, this may be a journey that they won’t return from.
As one may surmise from that description, Dragon Star Varnir‘s storyline starts out rather fast and heavy by quickly introducing many of the characters in the game and the dangers that they will face. Thankfully things do start to slow down to a more reasonable pace a few hours in but players should be prepared for quite a bit of storyline as this game happens to feature an extensive amount of dialogue even by RPG standards.
Thankfully this doesn’t come as a negative, though it can feel like a bit much at times, by any means as the story does have some great foundations that are built on as players progress through the game. Initially none of the characters really want to trust one another as not only was Zephy someone who used to hunt the rest of the witches but one of their first new allies proclaims that they have slaughtered hundreds in the past. Watching these characters grow and eventually learn to trust one another while facing off against danger makes for a compelling storyline that sees every character get developed (including special scenes should the player give the witches appropriate gifts) all while unveiling more of the history of the world with various twists and turns, some of which are easy to see coming.
Rarely does it feel like a scene was unnecessary and considering there are actually dialogue choices to be made in this game players will want to keep a close eye on the story. These choices, as well as having characters fall in battle and suffer various traumas, can affect the group’s madness level. The higher the madness gauge fills the more random events occur and, potentially if you happen to get too high, can lock players out of a good ending in the game. While it does depend on the player, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue but be wary of it as certain events can be triggered beyond the player’s control should you take too long in the game.
In various ways Dragon Star Varnir plays similar to many other games from the developer as it only features one true hub area with no open world. This hub area serves as a shop, side-mission area, and alchemy shop. Instead players will leave the “den” and travel to various dungeons where they can explore the area and open treasure chests, harvest items, and face off against enemies that roam the map. In a bit of a unique fashion, each character has a special field skill that can be used to further explore certain areas of a dungeon at the cost of SP but this rarely feels limited. Should the player strike a foe before entering battle they will have an advantage but being touched from behind will give the enemy the first round of attacks.
Once entering battle players will immediately be able to see what sets Dragon Star Varnir apart from many other turn-based RPGs. Rather than fighting on the ground all battles are fought in the air with their being three levels of height though boss battles make use of all three levels at once. Physical attacks require the fighter to be on the same level as their target while magical attacks can strike from any level. Various skills can target enemies in a row or within a grid and players can even set various magical traps that they can strike foes into for extreme levels of damage and of course healing, buffing, and debuffing skills. Normal attacks can be chained up to three times or cancelled out of at any point should the player wish and enemies all have different elemental and weapon type weaknesses that allow for the player to deal extra damage should they target them. As the battle progresses a gauge will fill next to each fighter that, when filled, automatically sends that witch into a super-powered state. This state greatly boosts their stats and allows for them to use a special finishing technique that can devour their foes. Unfortunately this state is entered automatically and is immediately exited once players finish a fight so there is no way to properly save such a transformation for an important moment.
As you deal damage to foes and increase their “fear” by targeting weaknesses, players will be able to use a special “Devour” skill that has a certain percentage to immediately defeat an enemy and heal the user at the same time while giving them access to that enemy’s dragon core. Enemies that are fully “feared” can trigger a weak-point rush that sees all three fighters attack the enemy at once with the final unit attempting, and almost always succeeding, with a devour attack. These dragon cores each have specific skill trees locked inside of them that range from simple stat boosts to unlocking new offensive and defensive skills as well as passive buffs. Players can unlock these skills by using points obtained from every battle and it is worth noting that while the amount of skills each character can equip is limited, it is entirely possible that properly devouring enemies and boosting your characters in various ways can make them nearly unstoppable.
In fact, even playing on a harder difficulty will occasionally seem too easy at times outside of a rare difficulty spike so be wary of over-prepping yourself though the game does have a bit of a counter against that later in the game. You see, while initially it is possible to grind your characters for quite some time, players will need to also eventually take care of the witch’s little sisters. These girls are too young to fight against their fate and it is up to the player to make sure that they stay alive. As you play through the game and spend time fighting the girls will grow hungry in your asensce. Properly feeding them will keep them sane and happy but feed them too much and the dragon inside will murder them. This creates a unique balancing act that will see players needing to make sure they are eventually strong enough to progress but not enough that they may send the little sisters down a horrific path.
Visuals & Audio
Players will find that the character portraits that are used for nearly all of the dialogue scenes in Dragon Star Varnir are extremely well detailed with a solid variety of expressions to work with, though the mouth flaps are a bit tiny, while the actual character models on the field are also nicely detailed. The aforementioned transformation sequence does see each character strip down with various jiggles but outside of this bit of fanservice the transformations are a nice touch that can easily be skipped should the player choose. The battles are detailed enough with certain skills being very flashy and while enemy variety does feel rather high at the start, it doesn’t take long before they start to repeat a bit.
Players have both the English and Japanese voice track to choose from and the English cast does a swell job with their characters (outside of some cartoonish villains) here so players won’t miss out should they go with one over another. The soundtrack features a nice mix of orchestral pieces and other types of music that work great during battle and are varied enough per dungeon to keep things from feeling repetitive.
With an excellent combat system that may have too many mechanics that end up feeling a bit meaningless but a unique sense of style and set-up help bring it all together, even if players may end up a bit overpowered in the end. Delivering an engrossing storyline that helps draw players into the world and giving the lengthy story scenes enough room to breath and develop the cast of characters helps make Dragon Star Varnir a strong RPG with a number of unique little features and some limitations.
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