VALKYRIE DRIVE -BHIKKHUNI- is a hack and slash, button mashing action brawler intermixed with heavy visual novel style storytelling.
Type: Single-player, Multiplayer
Release Date: 20 Jun, 2017
I’m just going to preface this with a couple of things so you know where I am coming from with this review. I’ve been a fan of the Neptunia series for a considerable length of time now, and played a similar game a little while back called Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed. More recently I played MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies (Neptunia) so I am quite well versed with the gameplay style of this unrelated game. That is to say, games that choose the format of having shorter game play sessions bookended by heavy dialogue-laden story elements which are more often than not somewhat weird, and at times wacky, though thoroughly enjoyable. For me the Neptunia series is more about the characters and their stories rather than the actual gameplay. I’m also generally comfortable with quick-time events and with the notion of stringing together button presses to form long chaining combos. Lastly I’m also familiar with, yet still a bit puzzled by, the odd fixation that female Anime-style characters have with regard to their need to frequently compare certain elements of their physique with each other.
About the Game
With that out of the way, let’s talk about VALKYRIE DRIVE -BHIKKHUNI- and what it has to offer. First off, it’s one of those games where you control the actions of a single character as she takes on hordes of enemies coming at her from all directions.
Your weapon swings can strike multiple foes at a time, so it isn’t uncommon to kill seven with one blow. Most enemies only require you to beat on them enough for them to die, while others will die quicker if you target their glowing weak points. Levels come in two different styles: arenas in which wave after wave of enemies come at you until you kill enough to progress to the boss, and exploration stages that you can explore to find hidden objects while dealing with a couple of waves of enemies at each spawn point you encounter until you reach the end boss. I enjoy the latter style more because of the fun to be had in tracking down hidden fragments that unlock cosmetic customisations, chest guards, and secret mission areas. Sometimes the hidden objects can be quite tricky to find or reach, so you do have to actively pay attention and think about it in order to ensure you find them all.
The game keeps track of how long it takes you to reach the end of the level and how much damage you do as well as a few other things in order to determine how many experience and points (money) you gain from your conquest. A kind of nifty thing about this is the fact it then lets you distribute your experience between your playable character and the “Drive weapon” she used during the battle, rather than just automatically distributing it.
You might have noticed the quotes around “Drive weapon” and took that to be an odd style choice, but there was a reason for it: the “Drive weapon” is actually another playable character from the game. No, that doesn’t mean that you can play as a sword or bow in this game, which would be quite silly. Instead, this game does something far sillier than that, and it actually makes it kind of amusing, especially with some of the post-Drive commentary. Your chosen playable character equips and uses another one of the island’s students as her weapon. Basically she picks up her classmate and bashes the enemy to death with her! It’s not surprising that can make the one being used as a weapon feel quite ill if she is swung around too fast or too much.
Before we get into too much detail about that, we really should talk about what is going on here. You see, a mysterious virus broke out that turns people into super soldiers of sorts. Those infected individuals are sent away to places like Bhikkhuni in order to cure themselves of the virus. The only way to truly rid themselves of the virus is to battle other infected people, allowing their battles to be studied. It’s slightly confusing as to whether the battles actually will cure them, or if the research will cure them, or if it is all just an elaborate ruse to make a well-trained super-human army. Regardless of the reason for it, the main idea is that the characters should attend their classes (since they are all school age) and then beat each other silly in order to get better.
There is another effect of the virus besides changing the girls into fighting machines known as Liberators; it also lets them turn into physical weapons known as Extars that someone else can wield. So earlier when I mentioned you could spend your experience on the playable character, the Liberator, or on the “Drive weapon”, I was really meaning you could spend the experience on the character turned into the weapon: the Extar. Each playable character has two experience bars: one for her Liberator form and another for her Extar form. You can only add experience to the current form, so if you want well-rounded characters you have to ensure they get to play both roles equally.
Besides increasing their stats, as characters increase in level they also unlock new things. For example an Extar will unlock higher Drive levels with the more Extar experience she gains. While playing through the story the first time, you have no choice who takes each role, but if you decide to replay any of it you are free to choose from any of your unlocked characters and assign them to whichever role you wish.
The game developers also included an interesting twist: the bosses are often other playable characters you have used. That means any experience and levels you have earned for them are used against you when you fight them. So it isn’t a really good idea to super-boost your favourite characters too much at the expense of others.
You may have gathered that this game is a hack-and-slash button-mashing action brawler. Let’s talk about the button-mashing aspect of the controls now.
This game gives you a few basic attack options. There’s a standard spam-able attack that has you pressing the same button repeatedly until you eventually wear down your enemy and your controller, but only doing that would get quite dull. There is also the heavier attack that takes a brief moment before it can be used again, making it too slow to spam effectively. Lastly there is the launch button that lets you send your enemies into the air, isolating them from any allies they may have and making them quite vulnerable to an aerial pummeling. And there is the ability to dash to and from combat; this doesn’t cause any damage, but may help you avoid taking some.
Some of the buttons have multiple purposes depending on how you press them. For example, the dash occurs if you hold the jump button down long enough for the dash to charge; otherwise your character would only jump. You can also modify button effects by pressing an additional button. For example, the dash/jump button, when pressed together with one of the shoulder buttons of the game pad and a direction button, makes your character quickly dodge. You can already see what I mean by button mashing, but this is nothing yet!
If you are incredibly quick — the timing is very unforgiving — you are able to pull off some really powerful moves that carry the Phantom prefix. The ones I can most easily pull off are the Phantom Dance, which basically takes an enemy into the air then pummels them, and the Phantom Revenge, where you are knocked away by an enemy but you recover in the air and launch yourself back at them, dealing damage in return.
There is also one move that I just can’t pull off, no matter how hard I try. It is one of the few times I nearly gave up on a game until I think the game took pity on me and stopped forcing me to have to be successful at it: the Phantom Delude. The basic idea behind it is that you dash at an enemy and right before their attack strikes you, you pull off a dodge dash. The thing about it is that the game’s timing is so unforgiving that it just refused to register that I performed the move successfully. You have to have split-second timing just to pull off most of the Phantom moves and the Phantom Delude is made to be even trickier due to involving the enemy’s attack timing and movements as well as your own.
I watched others perform the maneuver on their how-to videos, which included their exasperated remarks when they finally managed to pull it off. At least I am happy to see that it isn’t just me who is unable to effectively perform the move quickly or reliably. Perhaps down the road a bit, it may be something that will be made a little easier. If you are able to get skillful and quick enough to pull off combos effectively, you will find your enemies swiftly falling at your feet. As for me, I kind of gave up on proper combos.
With that out of the way, let’s get back to the finer points of the game.
VALKYRIE DRIVE -BHIKKHUNI- has an interesting cast of characters, which is something these kinds of games desperately need in order to keep you playing them. I won’t go into detail on them all, because getting to know them yourself is always better than to hear about it from someone else, but I’ll give you a little taste.
First off, the island store is run by someone who seems to be quite peppy and a bit of a shyster who has cornered the market on the island. The director of the island seems to be a friendly lady who seems more interested in research than she is in treating the virus victims. Turning our attention to the playable characters, the first ones you meet are the sisters who seem to have a strong sisterly bond that is borderline incestuous; the withdrawn girl who wants nothing to do with anyone else to the point she threatens their life for almost any offense or even friendly gestures; the gluttonous girl who seems to be able to eat non-stop without gaining weight, and will do anything you want in exchange for more food; and the elitist bit… strong-willed lady who thinks she is better than anyone else and isn’t afraid to let them know it.
There are other characters to meet, too, including the power-hungry one who everyone assumed would amount to nothing, the wise class president, and the battle-armored teachers, but I will leave you to discover them on your own. There is enough character variety to keep things interesting, although most of the time they all appear to be very narrow-minded. They tend to focus on their need for battle or the cure, their own personal concerns about various things, or how they compare to others in either skill or certain physical characteristics.
Besides just playing the story there are actually plenty of other things to do on the side. You can interact with the characters to see what they have to say between battles, and also every 10 minutes or so you can collect a golden friendship heart. As you collect these, you unlock interactions between characters that let you listen to a conversation between them.
There is also the dressing room where you can choose every detail of the outfit the character will wear. This has importance in battle because of something I have not mentioned yet, but will shortly. While in the dressing room, you can play a sort of clicker game. Clicking on your character (which she doesn’t appear to like very much), will increase her Rack Rank (since it is a dressing room, one might assume they are referring to a clothing Rack… but I don’t believe that to be the case here). Once her Rack Rank reaches level 20, it will unlock another clicker mini game that lets you collect pink hearts in order to boost her Rack Rank even more. Increasing her Rack Rank unlocks costumes and hair styles associated with the character in question. The store is available for you to purchase items and the various things you have unlocked in the Rack Rank mini game or you can spend your points to try your luck at printing something new via the Shopkeeper’s 3D clothing printer.
You can also take on challenges, such as having to do a Phantom Delude three times in a row without failure, which I swear I will eventually do, even if I end up bald in the process. Additionally, you can take the game online and play the multiplayer component with up to three other players, but I didn’t manage to find a match whenever I tried. This is most likely due to the fact the game only just came out, so doesn’t yet have an established player base
It’s time to talk about the visuals and a little bit more about combat.
The virus in this game has clearly had another effect besides increasing the combat skills of the infected girls and granting them the ability to turn into weapons. This game takes the fan service slider, pushes it to maximum then turns it up another notch and then overclocks it with a complicated liquid nitrogen based system. Vert of the Neptunia series would feel inadequate in comparison to even the least well endowed of the girls in this game.
I just do not understand how with gravity and Newton’s Laws these girls are even able to stand up, especially after swinging their weapons around… But I need to remind myself this is just a game so I really need to relax! Okay, with the cat out of the bag, I can say that the girls on this island are all obsessed with each other’s chests, including the sisters. Especially the sisters. Every time any of them reacts to anything in the game, they have jiggle fits that take a while to stop which give me the impression they are all wearing padded bras which they padded with gelatin, pudding or water balloons.
One humorous quirk of the game is that objects seem to get caught in a weird gravitational vortex too if they are anywhere near the girls’ breasts. Neck ties bob up and down freely, even if everything else is still, often clipping into shirts. Hair that is nearby seems to randomly spasm as well.
This leads me on to the battlefield for a moment. In a similar way to Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, armor gets damaged as you fight in this game. Except the girls are not wearing armor; they are just wearing clothing. So basically their clothing gets torn and eventually comes off leaving them in their underwear, which you can customize in the dressing room as I alluded to earlier. Once you get strong enough, not even their underwear is safe from being torn away. Light beams to the rescue!
Also, do you remember that 3D clothing printer I mentioned? Well it doesn’t print just any clothes. No, it solely prints underwear. And those hidden collectibles I mentioned? More underwear! This might be considered a big deal to some. After all, getting to beat the other girls out of their clothing might be fun, even though most of them were not wearing that much to begin with.
Graphically the game looks ‘oversaturated’ in the chests. But ignoring that, most of the characters look quite nice. There is something about Ranka’s face that is off, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. (Please don’t tell her I said that!). She looks a bit weird in comparison to her sister Rinka.
Ignoring Ranka though, all the characters in the game look interesting and have their own personal flare and charm. The elitist girl I mentioned earlier wears luxurious and stylish outfits — and virtually no underwear for some reason — and the others also have outfits that are suited to their personalities. The food-obsessed girl wears food object decorations on all her clothing and her hair. The class president dresses modestly. The sisters wear almost matching outfits, other than their accents and bow ties. Even the teachers all look drastically different in their oversized (for once not just in the chest!) armor. All in all I am happy to say the characters all seemed to have a lot of effort put into making them unique.
The menu areas even hold a lot of detail. If you choose to use the dining room as your central hub rather than just relying on the word list menu, you will be able to see plenty of small details scattered around to inspect, rather than just a boring flat background like you might come to expect. The battlefield has mostly the same enemies sent at you repeatedly with some recolor here and there, but the models for the enemies are detailed enough to make that forgivable. The battlegrounds have objects of interest scattered around them, and each is set against a pretty well-detailed backdrop. While the backgrounds might be reused a bit, the level design varies enough that it isn’t that noticeable. Plus since the game is set on an island, it makes sense that some visual will be reused as they revisit the areas.
When there is story dialogue going on, you are treated to the typical visual novel style with the 3D characters standing next to each other in front of a background image to establish where they are. As the characters talk they get to be quite expressive, moving their arms around and showing expressions as they react and interact or are startled by other characters. Any such movement triggers the fan service jiggle system to kick into overdrive. The scene background will likely change several times before the game is ready to let you play it again.
As for the sound, it is all crystal clear. The music sounds very suitable, helping accent the mood of the game. The voices are all in Japanese, but despite me having no clue what they are saying, the voice actresses do a good job conveying personality and tone, which really helps accentuate the dialogue I am reading. The dialogue itself is sometimes a bit questionable and often times feels like it is there more as padding than anything else, but it still adds to the charm of the story.
I did experience a few crashes while playing the game, invariably occurring after I finished the battle and post-battle dialogue but prior to the game auto-saving. It was a bit frustrating but at least the game lets you skip dialogue so you don’t have to sit through it all over again. Luckily it appears that the game is still being actively developed, as a patch recently entered the beta pipeline. I’m thinking these issues will soon be history.
The controls of this game are difficult to talk about.
As mentioned earlier, the game is very unforgiving on timing and requires you to memorize key combinations in order to pull off the Phantom moves. If you are the kind of person who has incredibly quick reflexes and you’re able to pull off a 20+ button combo without breaking a sweat, then the controls for this game might actually be fine. If you are more human and need more than 1 nanosecond to switch to a new button, then the controls might be a bit tricky for you.
While I am capable of pulling off most of the moves other than the accursed Phantom Delude, I don’t really find myself bothering to try on regular enemies; the reward of doing it isn’t really worth the effort. Yes, if I pull off a good move I will kill the enemy a few seconds faster, but if I fail to pull it off, it might actually take me longer to kill an enemy than just bashing at it. It’s a hard call to know what to do: “Get Good” or just be happy being mediocre. The combat is still fun enough if you ignore the advanced stuff anyway.
With all that said, the controls seem quite responsive and none of them are awkwardly situated when using a gamepad. Speaking of a gamepad, I do want to make note of something. While I am sure this is becoming more common, this is the first game I have seen with an obvious default profile for Playstation 4 controllers separate to the XBox 360/One default profile. The proper PS4 buttons are displayed on your screen when needed rather than the XBox or generic ones that are typically displayed when using a gamepad. This is mostly likely because it is a port, but still, it’s something to give kudos for!
So should you get VALKYRIE DRIVE -BHIKKHUNI-?
If you are looking for a story-driven, gravity-defying jiggle simulator with light combat elements, then VALKYRIE DRIVE -BHIKKHUNI- is certainly a game you would likely enjoy. If you are like me, and don’t really get drawn into fan service, instead playing the games for the characters and the story, then it might still be fun for you to play, too. If you are looking for an intensive button-smashing brawler, well it has some potential for you as well.
However, I feel this game needs to recognize the player base for a little better and realize that those purely seeking intense battle brawler games and craving the thrill of split-second button combo chaining and those that play visual novel hybrid games are unlikely to be one and the same. Visual Novel people are usually more relaxed, either happy with just the story and no real gameplay or with light gameplay elements that are not too stressful, such as the Neptunia series.
I think if the key prompts that are given during the tutorial are left turned on (perhaps optionally) to help guide you entering your combos, and if it is slightly more forgiving to your being a split second too slow, then VALKYRIE DRIVE -BHIKKHUNI- could be a much more enjoyable game. A feature I think would really help me is if I press a button and the game puts up prompts on the side of the screen of all combos that are possible, and if I press another button it reduces the list to those that combine those two buttons. That would help me see that my combo is forming properly and give me a hand remembering how to chain the combos (because combos have combos too!) Right now it is slightly marred by the fact that the combos are too difficult for me to pull off in comparison to the rewards they offer.
I’d give this game a Pause; however, I am willing to accept that may just be me (other than Phantom Delude!) and ignore that criticism of the game and I will upgrade it to a Save for Later. Well I have just about run out of jiggle room so I guess it’s time for me to bounce on outta here!