Dark Rose Valkyrie Review – Compile Heart´s Masterpiece?
Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Release: 6th June 2017 (NA) / 9th June 2017 (EU)
Disclaimer: Review Code provided by Idea Factory International
Compile Heart´s latest game, originally released in Japan last year , finally got a release in western countries. On first sight, Dark Rose Valkyrie sounds like one of their most promising games, featuring scenario and character writers from the Tales of-series, as well as a whole new IP. These two components mixed together in a whole new JRPG could be one blast of a game, unfortunately, there´s a reason why it wasn´t that well recieved in Japan …
One day a mysterious disease, caused by a fallen meteorite, starts to spread, transforming everyone infected by it into chimeras, evil creatures with only destruction and death in their mind. In this seemingly hopeless alternative Japan of 1929, we play as Asahi, the newbie captain of the new Valkyrie Force, formed to clean Japan from all chimeras once and for all. Yet, not soon after the bonds between these thrown together people start to crumble, the danger, of Japan´s only hope gettin completly torn apart by a traitor hiding in the Force itself, starts to become more and more apparent. It´s our job to not only keep the group together, fight the chimeras but also to find the traitor, before the Valkyrie Force and Japan get annihilated.
With a scenario and characters written by people behind the Tales of-series, I naturally expected a lot from the story itself, and overall, it´s Compile Heart´s best so far. Instead of a more parodic plot, similar to Neptunia or Fairy Fencer, Dark Rose Valkyrie tells a pretty serious tale about hope and trust. The focus on the traitor, as the symbol of the chimeras being more than just brainless monsters, as well as showing how human our heroes are, works and sounds great on paper. Especially because it didn´t back away from showing consequences in form of conflicts or even deaths, needed to give it weight, something mostly unseen from previous games, yet by far not comparable to Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds‘ approach.
Unfortunately, the whole plot eventually gets dragged down by an overall bad pacing and the characters themselves. If you already played a Compile Heart game, you´re probably aware of the heavy grinding, needed to progress, pushing the different story-scenes apart. In comparison, Dark Rose Valkyrie isn´t much different but manages to hide them by forcing you to fulfill different side missions before you can advance. Both have basically the same effect, lengthening the playtime and implementing “idle phases”, however these phases simply don´t work in combination with a dramatic plot. Their normally comedic and silly dialogues worked hand in hand alongside said gaps, providing some fun, self ironic insertions, something serious ones can´t. A genuine storyline can´t be torn apart into little pieces, without sacrificing the player involvement over the dozens of hours, if you only see it every hour and return to your normal procedure again, it just doesn´t feel like a big overreaching conflict.
The characters on the other hand can´t carry nor support Dark Rose Valkyrie´s more serious approach either. They´re just the average clichés we would expect from their previous games. Like Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds, it tried to characterize a main cast of 8 persons, in the needed depth to carry the game over its lengths, but fails even harder than Hakuoki. Nearly no character has original traits, unseen before or mixed together in an interesting manner. Just imagine an overused cliché and you probably got one of the characters. Later in the game Compile Heart made an attempt to change that, by giving them some sort of background and inner “face”, yet only used other superficial clichés. In contrast to Hakuoki, which had the required knowledge of storytelling combined with a great plot to overshadow this flaw, Dark Rose Valkyrie may has a decent story on paper, but didn´t understand how it has to be told, dragging the whole thing down to a new low.
Especially the lacking characters are also the reason for the disappointing “interrogation system”. One of the big new features of Compile Heart´s latest game, implemented to give the traitor theme a whole new level of depth. Rather than solving the issue through linear dialogues, what I initially expected, we actually have to find the traitor by ourselves, or will suffer some additional deaths in the end. All in all, you´re offered the choice between different characters to interrogate from time to time, get their opinion about a person or event and compare it to other ones, once you gathered enough “data”. All in all, not a revolutionary nor unseen but an enjoybale implementation, giving the whole traitor idea a whole new weight, yet dragged down by the flat characters, denying any sort of great emotional participation.
These passages, as well as Dark Rose Valkyrie in general, tell themselves through typical Visual Novel dialogues, as expected characters are both beautiful and amazingly animated, through the Live2D engine, enabling some cool dynamic animations instead of changing pictures. If I would have only seen the dialogues, Dark Rose Valkyrie would be a great looking Visual Novel, unfortunately 3D environments are the places, you´ll spend most of your time.
Honestly, nothing about the actual graphics felt “worthy” of the PS4, even for Compile Heart standards. The whole world feels so uninspirired, no bright artstyle, cool or funny ideas, just dark, orange cities, malls, parks and more, enhanced by mushy textures and stiff animations. Nothing looks as quirky as in previous games, failing to overshadow the lacking graphics, due to realistic places, designed to fit into the story. Combined with awful Framedrops I rarely enjoyed the presentation.
Oh, did I mention there are cloth breaks too? What a great feature for such a serious game …
So, after an extensive story part, let´s finally talk about the combat itself. First of all, forget the combat of Neptunia or Fairy Fencer F, gone are the positioning and movement options, replaced by a very classic JRPG round based system. One of the only unique touches made by Compile Heart is the time-based nature, revolving completly around the needed “time” to perform attacks, recover and halt the enemy in progressing on the timeline. Except the different time requirements for attacks, mixed with a cool sounding but lackluster combo-system, everything seems very similar to other classic JRPGs, just in fancier, making me miss the more dynamic Neptunia.
Often, encounters will just be experienced through the fast forward button because of the slow and passive combat, running nearly by itself against weaker foes. Of course you´re offered different special attacks, items and overdrive modes, similar to Neptunia, yet only necessary in boss fights. It also adds quite a new tactical depth to it but the fact most encounters are boiled down to clicking a button, fast forwarding and clicking the next, feels so passive. In my opinion, I loved Compile Heart´s combat for it interactivity and simplicity, I didn´t need any of those changes to be happy and a lot just doesn´t feel like the Compile Heart I learned to love.
The open world is also a very disappointing experience. On the one hand it constantly tries to give you some sort of progression through unlockable bases or districts, giving you access to new areas, unfortunately without much success. Due to the often empty unlocked areas, only needed to complete a mission you had to do anyway, everything about the system feels forced, rather than natural. On the other hand, the whole world is big but empty, except items and fast travel points there´s nothing great to find here, even tho it has a ton of empty places.
Last but not least, something really nice: The character progression got actually improved. Now, every character gets points for every level-up, that can be spent on their different skills like Melee or health, allowing for some pretty neat customization in character roles and a great addition to the formula. On the other hand however, the weapon enhancing made a step back, in my eyes. Since every team member has their own unique weapon, there´s no possiblity to buy new weapons or much new gear in general, instead we´re improving our exisiting ones. Compared to Fairy Fencer, which had own Fairies in weapons, or Neptunia, with unique gear and weapons equippable and buyable, Dark Rose Valkyrie feels like a very static game, only granting us a feeling of power with a ton of different numbers.
Don´t get me wrong, Dark Rose Valkyrie isn´t a terrible game, hell it´s actually pretty enjoyable, it´s just a disappointing one. Compile Heart always had a special place in my heart for their silly, self sarcastic humour and their simple but fast combat. These are mostly gone here, replaced by a mediocre working plot, which takes itself too serious, a new combat, making it slower and more passive than ever, along with somehow worse graphics.
The few new features, like the interrogation system or the character customization, are neat, yet not able to carry the pointed out flaws. All in all, Dark Rose Valkyrie resembles a very classic, decent JRPG but doesn´t come close to Compile Hearts previous ones, disappointing people like me, who just needed more of the same to be happy.