Dark Rose Valkyrie, developed by Idea Factory of Megadimension Neptunia fame is set to release June 9th here in the EU and UK; labelled as IF’s first ‘Serious JRPG’, how does this brand new IP hold up against the JRPG juggernauts seen in this first half of 2017?
Well, to tell the truth…
Dark Rose Valkyrie sets you in the shoes of Asahi Shiramine, a commanding lieutenant of the Special Force Valkyrie (SFV) Unit – You and your fellow warriors set out to repulse an alien virus known to twist and mutate organisms into “Chimeras”, dark beasts that prowl the nighttime seeking to spread their virus…Through unidentified means, albeit.
This virus is combated through the use of anti-Chimera weaponry that allows the Valkyrie Force to use a power known as Overdrive to essentially go Super-Saiyan, amplifying their abilities exponentially – The catch? The drug used in these weapons to cause Overdrive causes the user to develop a split personality (Admittedly this does look like a way to shoehorn in a sort of Persona-esque ‘Shadow’ form)…
As you progress throughout the game, and more characters use Overdrive, whispers of a traitor amongst your midsts emerge, and it’s up to you to filter through varied statements to identify the perpetrator, and to filter out what is genuine, and what is fabricated from the split personalities…
Please note, I will be expanding on this point and fully spoiling this twist later as I feel it’s key to discussing what this game does right, and is fairly interesting and discussion-worthy in it’s own right.
Within Dark Rose Valkyrie, the battle system works on a time-scale of sorts, with heftier actions taking more time to execute, leaving you to juggle this odd sort of balancing act between actually dealing damage and trying to out-speed your opponent.
Tying into this, characters have three main melee attack levels, being Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 (Light, Normal and Heavy) – These are associated with the amount of time needed to attack; characters can also gang-up on enemies to combo for minimal damage increases, and to wittle down an enemy’s guard.
Characters can suffer this too, as their armour degrades and gets broken in a “sexy” break-off scene; the positioning of your party in battle too takes a part to play ala Persona 2, as repositioning takes a whole turn, and can be used to evade massive attacks.
There are even more mechanics at play however; other such supposedly needless mechanics such as Charging (Literally just a weak attack) and Ignition (Just makes your attacks faster and a little beefier) that serve to overcomplicate things further, however I was easily able to plow through the first 4-6 hours of the game on Hard without ever using them.
Now, one issue in particular I had with gameplay surrounds how the overworld and dungeons were created in Dark Rose – Dungeons are, essentially, nothing more than long corridors with branching paths, with no direct reason to explore other than finding a little bit of loot – This was painstakingly obvious in the first dungeon, where I was lead down a straight pathway for around a minute, before reaching what turned out to be a flat-out dead end. No enemies. No loot. No different scenery or secret. Just a dead end. Why? Why waste time like that?
Enemies in the overworld and in dungeons too acted sporadic at best, often getting stuck on tree branches, behind fences, or invisible walls, pinging their little “!” icon whenever they spotted me…However they’d hardly move at all, allowing me to mess with them in a never ending array of pinging just by wiggling my left stick.
Exploring the city outside the Valkyrie HQ too was a confusing mess, with the whole thing being void of any interesting elements, a minimap that I had to squint to see even on my 55″ TV, and a lack of quest markers gave it an SMT IV air around it with all the lack of direction…
Hoo boy…Now for my biggest gripe with this game…The “characters”. Essentially, characters in Dark Rose Valkyrie can be boiled down into standard character tropes, with every single female party member being a standard Waifu. The exact thing I was hoping IF would evade in their ‘serious’ IP.
To prove my point, every character can be summed up in a simple pair of words – Ai Yakumo is the Cutesy Calligrapher; Luna Ichinomiya is the Regal Flirter; Yue Hiragi is the Stoic Solider; Amal Franson is The Trap; Coo Franson is the Quiet One; Naoyuki Kazami is the Typical Toyboy; Kengo Shinohara is the Optimistic Adept. There. Done. All you need to know about all your party members.
Honestly, I haven’t seen character generalisation this bad since Persona Q butchered the original characters of Persona 3 / 4. Pair this up with any character from any other received JRPG, and you’ll find just how multifaceted and better written those characters are in comparison to the water-thin personalities of Dark Rose Valkyrie’s cast.
I understand the excuse of “But it’s just an Idea Factory game!”, but when you get your first bit of free will and already have characters trying to jump on your man meat, I think that’s the point where it needs scaling back just a tad.
The “Big Twist” (A.K.A. What Dark Rose Valkyrie actually GETS RIGHT)
WARNING. THE BELOW SECTION WILL COMPLETELY SPOIL THE ENTIRE PLOT OF DARK ROSE VALKYRIE. PLEASE MOVE ONTO THE NEXT SECTION (After the grey image) UNLESS YOU WISH TO BE SPOILED.
Now, with the game’s major, central conflict of the Traitor/s being revealed around a quarter-of-the-way through the game, Dark Rose Valkyrie actually does something that I have to commend – The way that the game (Supposedly) chooses the traitor for your run.
See, with Dark Rose Valkyrie, there’s not one, but two individual traitors ready to slap you in the face; the first being one of two male party members who turn on you in relation to a series of events and questions asked of you; the second one, however, is much more interesting – The girl you’ve been getting closer to, being in essence your Waifu, turns on you and your party; this means that there are a slew of multiple endings that you can experience, and can change up each and every playthrough rather drastically depending on who you seek to romance – This sort of mixup in the story isn’t at all expected, and gives players a genuine “What what the…?!” moment I haven’t experienced in a JRPG in a long, LONG time.
The thought of if something like this was implemented in a game like Danganronpa or Ace Attorney excites my mind, as I believe more and more games with a narrative and character-oriented focus should implement this form of personalisation within their stories; I hope some can learn from Dark Rose Valkyrie’s mistakes…And also it’s successes.
This, however, is where this little gem of plot gets snuffed – There apparently isn’t even a true route! Even a game such as Shadow the Hedgehog, with it’s dozens upon dozens of endings had a defined “True Ending”, yet if anyone actually likes the plot of Dark Rose Valkyrie, and wants a true closed off conclusion, you’d be hard pressed to find one here.
All in all, Dark Rose Valkyrie is a flawed game. It’s a disappointing game. It’s a game that falls prey to every single issue Idea Factory is known for…However if you like Idea Factory’s games (Unlike me), then this may very well be your new favourite IP from them…It’s certainly for a niche market, having not sold well even over in Japan shipping only 12,000 copies at retail on the first week of release back in 2016, however if you’re in that niche market, you could find more positives than I could.
I’m giving Dark Rose Valkyrie a 4 / 10.