Dragon Star Varnir is a JRPG set in a fantastic fantastic world where dragons roam the land. The Knights were assembled to fight the scaly menaces, but also to hunt those who birthed them into the world: witches.
Witches get a bad rap, but that’s where things get interesting. As you play and get closer to the beings that you’d previously misunderstood to be evil, you realize that these beauties get the short end of the stick as far as Fate is concerned. For a witch to live, she must consume the flesh of dragons. If one eats too much dragon meat, they’ll become one. If one fails to eat enough, they lose themselves to madness. If one eats just enough, they feed the dragon within that will someday eat its way out of your stomach, killing its host. As a Knight-turned-witch, you must join forces with the ones you considered your mortal enemies, turn your back on your past way of life, and maybe just maybe find a way to purge the curse that is a witch’s birthright.
It’s this premise that will fuel your adventure through perils and certain heartache. Dragon Star Varnir’s gameplay is broken into a main hub consisting of menus, dialogue exchanges, and exploration segments where you’re able to gather items, complete quests, and engage in combat. All witches live in dens and your team is of no exception. In the witch’s den, you have access to a shop where you can buy items and equipment, an apothecary where you can create potions that summon foes to fight in exchange for equipment, accept and turn in quests, and bond with the other witches. The rest is self explanatory, but I’ll take a moment to explain the last point.
Interactions with the witches varies between the little sisters that stay behind while you explore and the older witches who accompany you. The former must be fed dragon meat and blood gathered during your travels, lest they become dragons themselves or lose themselves to madness. This system becomes particularly poignant the closer you become to the characters as you’ll want to keep them safe. The girls can actually disappear for good if you don’t keep a close eye on them because either outcome will result in them appearing in the dungeons where you must end their life with your own hand. I liked the idea of this, but not the execution. The parts that the little sisters eat are also used to brew potions, putting you at a disadvantage if you’re trying to spawn enemies that will drop powerful equipment. The girls can eat quite a lot and if you aren’t the gathering type, this can become quite a chore–especially since their hunger meter drains every time you leave to the field and return. The older girls, on the other hand, can be given gifts you find or buy to increased their affections. Every node filled results in a cut scene that will make you feel closer to the character.
Upon leaving the witches’ den, you can select a dungeon to explore from the world map. As you progress the story, more areas become available to you. In dungeons, you have control over a single character, though you can switch between them to take advantage of special skills that do helpful things like help you overcome obstacles and find hidden treasures. Equipment, items, and materials can be found within dungeons by opening chests, gathering from specific points, and breaking objects. You can also find enemies within dungeons. Every single enemy within Dragon Star Varnir is–you guessed it!–a dragon. They come in a variety of forms and shapes, though in some cases enemies are much of the same, just with a different colour palette.
Encounters are not random. You can see your for moving about and can gain the upper hand in combat by striking first. Simply hitting the enemy outside of combat using square ensures that you go first; however, striking from behind means doing so while also damaging the enemy. The battlefield is broken into three sections based on height, which is one of Dragon Star Varnir’s gimmicks. This aspect doesn’t really add any depth to combat (no pun intended), unfortunately, except maybe to adjust the range of your skills. This isn’t true during fights against larger monsters that take up the entire field, but games like Ray Gigant did it better. Turns are determined by speed and during your turn, you’re able to attack using melee or magic. What really sets Dragon Star Varnir apart from other RPGs is the Devour system.
The Devour system speaks to my inner Pokemon trainer… Except, instead of throwing capture devices at wild creatures, Dragon Star Varnir has you consuming dragons and absorbing their abilities by acquiring Dragon Cores. Much like in Pokemon, the lower the enemy’s health, the better your chance of Devouring it. Additionally, a Weak Point Rush is activated by increasing enemy Fear Level via traps or attacking with super effective element. During a Weak Point Rush, each of your active party members attacks the enemy and the Devour’s success percentage increases. If enemy health hits zero during a Weak Point Rush, Devour success is guaranteed, so using this system well is key to felling heftier foes. Once you have a Dragon Core, you can use Factor Points awarded after battles to learn skills. Skills fall into one of four categories: physical skill (attacks with weapons that fall into blunt, slash, etc), magical skill (elemental and trap), devour skill (increase your range and damage type), and passive skill (fortify stats).
Additionally, there are bonus factors in Dragon Cores that give your character’s stats a boost much in the way that leveling up does. My absolute favourite part of this style of ability acquisition is the ability to customize a character any way you see fit. Characters can be molded into the roles you want them to fill, rather than being constrained by predetermined limits. That means no two witches will be the same across different players’ playthroughs because there are just so many options. The system is not without it’s flaws as just five slots per category feels way too small a pool. I found myself constantly shifting around at the beginning when I didn’t have as many skill options per character. The skills you can set have a cost and are limited by a total, but I never found that to be an issue.
Finally, we have the narrative aspect. Per the genre, Dragon Star Varnir is story heavy and its narrative is presented in anime art style. Characters, which look fantastic as expected from IF and Compile Heart, are expressive and stand in front of elaborate static backgrounds for the most part, though on occasion a cutscene features their 3D models in the dungeon you’re currently exploring. Not everything is voice acted, but there are both English and Japanese options. Dragon Star Varnir’s high energy sound track is befitting of battlefield, though there are more somber orchestral tracks to accompany more serious moments. Some of what is portrayed on screen won’t be for the faint of heart, though given the fate of witches that’s to be expected.
The campaign will take you around 80 hours to complete–longer if you’re the type who likes to collect everything. The story is well written and the characters are likeable, so the time will fly by. All in all, Dragon Star Varnir is well worth the asking price.
A great addition to your JRPG collection. The graphics are gorgeous, the story is fascinating, and the characters will tug on your heart strings, but Dragon Star Varnir’s skill acquisition system is what really makes it shine. Having the ability to build a character as you see fit in a world where nothing else seems to be going your way is truly great and my drive to Devour them all will ensure my team is unstoppable. Will there be a happy ending for witches?
There’s only one way to find out.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Dragon Star Varnir Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Dragon Star Varnir’s graphics are gorgeous, the story is fascinating, and the characters will tug on your heart strings.
- Great story premise.
- Skill acquisition system.
- Characters not constrained by classes or predispositions. Can be built any way you want.
- Excellent character development. I bonded with these girls and you will, too.
- Dating sim and little sister feeding seems like an afterthought and could have used more fine tuning.
- Prone to difficulty spikes that force you to grind.