If you ever wanted to be in the army and wield massive weapons to slay ferocious enemies, yet still have time for a nice relaxing trip to the beach, then Dark Rose Valkyrie is for you!
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Release Date: 10 Apr, 2018
I have to preface this review with a comment about myself. I am a huge Idea Factory and Compile Hearts fan. If there was a Creativedimension Neptunia: Neptune Watches Paint Dry that contained nothing but Neptune looking at a wall for 60 hours straight, odds are I would pick it up and play the full 60 hours. Those games are not for everyone but they are gold for me. I’ve played enough of this style of JRPG to know exactly what I am getting myself into. With the preamble aside, I will outright state that I did not enjoy Dark Rose Valkyrie nearly as much as I expected I would and even if it was Neptune and Co., my opinion would not have been impacted.
The Issues I had
This game at times ran incredibly poorly for me even on the lowest settings. This was despite my beating the system requirements. A quick trek to the various forums seemed to indicate people with even top of the line systems (which I am totally not jealous of) seemed to have issues with this game. The game takes quite some time to transition between areas especially when leaving the base to the world map or from the world map to another area. It also occurs when going in and out of fights or even when you are just near enemies. The game has a system in place where if you swing your weapon at an enemy before it touches you, you can get a preemptive strike. Failing to swing in time or just not swinging when an enemy is provoked will lead to the enemy having the advantage. Failing to do either of those things will lead to a normal battle. The issue here is although I swing my sword at an enemy first and the animation will complete before the enemy touches me, the enemy still gets the advantage or the battle starts normally. The reason for this isn’t input lag, poor timing on my part, or hitbox issues, it’s purely that the game is lagging. Okay, I know what you are thinking, I just have an older machine, and perhaps that is the case and it is worse for me than others experience and that is quite possibly true which is why I am not letting this issue overly sway my opinion. A friend of mine picked up the game and tested it out for me and experienced the same issues as I did, and I will begrudgingly admit their computer is superior to mine. A little performance issue here and there has never bothered me enough to rant about it (like I just did) but in this case, I felt the problem was serious enough that I had to. I will also note that it is a bit inconsistent, sometimes the game ran smoothly as one would expect it would.
The second thing about this game that soured me a bit to it was the armor damage system. Don’t get me wrong, I love the armor damage system! I have always enjoyed it when games are realistic enough that gear takes damage over time and I like it even better when you can see that damage. This game did an excellent job there as the more damage the uniform takes, the more ripped up it gets until you are down to your skivvies. I applaud that level of detail and wish they would bring that back to the Neptune series. The problem with it is that the repairs early in the game are priced far too high. If I go out into the field, grind monsters for a few hours and come back to the base, I have to spend 2000 times 8 (or 16,000) Marks (money) to repair the damage… and odds are when I went out I only made a couple thousand. Even if I sold every item I found, I still barely had enough funds to repair my gear let alone upgrade it. There are DLC you can buy cheaply which gives you a ton of starting money, but I did not have access to that. There are some free DLCs out right now that gives you a nice starting point; unfortunately, I didn’t have access to that for the majority of my playtime for the game. Even then, although it might have helped a bit, it wouldn’t have lasted long. When I was still in Chapter 2 due to spending so much time grinding for upgrade materials and money and over 10 hours into the game, I knew something was seriously wrong. Why was I bothering to grind? Read on!
The third thing I have to mention is semi-self-inflicted. The game has three difficulty settings. Easy, Hard, and Very Hard (no normal). Having played virtually every previous Idea Factory game, I know that they tend to be fairly easy especially after you have been playing a while and without any need for grinding so I opted to go for Very Hard. Pretty huge mistake on my part, I should have listened to the warning and started on a lower setting as you are sort of punished for playing on Very Hard. The game went fairly decently, the battles were challenging but fun and were not mindlessly easy. The issue was there was a huge difficulty spike when I reached one of the early bosses and it wiped me out. I paid for my delusions of grandeur by being unable to pass the boss. The reason being I was still using a starting kit with barely any items due to all those expensive repair bills. I then went to grind some marks and experience so I could do some upgrades. I left myself without armor (because I refused to repair it at this point) and ran through the early areas repeatedly until I had enough materials and marks to upgrade myself… and I lost again. So, I decided to swallow my pride and reduce the difficulty settings which you can do at any time. After I did that I just barely squeaked by that battle. I managed to progress more until I encountered a random monster. This guy turned out to be a boss even though unlike all the other bosses up to that point, there was no event marker for it. It killed me most soundly and almost instantly because as most bosses seem to, it had first strike, losing me a couple of hours of progress (because I had not been to save point for a while because I had been grinding decently easy stuff). After I regrouped and tried again, I progressed the story and lost to the next boss too. I persisted and managed to get through without having to take the ultimate pride sucking move of dropping the game to easy. I do wish there were more save points or a quick save option. Having to hunt down a save point is really a pain especially when you are killed on the way!
The fourth complaint I have is about the AI in the game, not Ai the character, she is a lovely person, but AI as in the auto-control for the characters you can turn on if you like. The AI would likely lose a fight to a wet paper bag. Before I say anything though, I will tell you this. You can tailor how the AI works in the game. You can tell characters to focus on certain elements of gameplay, you can turn on or off their ability to cast spells or use items, etc. so the system is quite good in that respect. Picture this for a moment: You have four characters, two at full health, one has lost 0.1% of their total HP and another that has lost 99.9% of their total HP, the auto-piloted healer is allowed to use items or use Arts (magic) and has an adaptive command (meaning it should tailor what it does based on the situation), the character has to make a judgement call here about which one needs to be healed first. The AI will invariably make one of these two choices: Attack an enemy with very little chance to kill it (even if it did there are 5 other enemies) or heal the one who has a scratch leaving the near death one to die. Even when I turned it on so the healers would focus on healing, they would still 9/10 times heal the one who isn’t hurt at all and leave the wounded ones to die. Maybe since they are military, it’s battlefield triage, heal the ones who will make it, let the others die slowly and in great pain for getting themselves hurt in the line of duty in the first place. This makes the game even more challenging because now you have to either play manually or carefully time the stop-auto fight to let you heal manually. Issue is, the aforementioned lag means that even if it prompts you that you can turn off the auto-battle right now and you press the button, the game may ignore your input and keep on auto-battling.
The fifth and last thing is just annoying. Way back in the day I played a game called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64. In that game there was a fairy named Navi who followed you around. She would constantly say things like “Hey!” or “Hey, listen!” as you wander around, often telling you need to go to the place you are currently heading to. It was a little annoying and to this day I still make the whole “Annoying Navi” joke with my gaming friends. This game has Navi beat in spades. I would welcome Navi back over what this game has to offer. Every few seconds your character grunts as they walk around. Each character does have a unique sounding grunt/pant sound, and some of them are far worse than others, it was an interesting and potentially nice touch of realism but it sure gets old and annoying quick. Bonus, you can’t even turn it off as far as I can tell! Some of the pants/grunts they make are also somewhat suggestive sounding so people walking by likely will think you are playing an entirely different kind of game.
The Real Review
Phew. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the positives! There are a ton of customization options in the game, both cosmetic and in how you build your characters. At the most basic level, you have 3 main attack combos you can program as well as a wide array of abilities you can use. Within these attack combos, you can make “Riot” combos which further enhance that particular combo string by carefully linking together compatible moves. You are also not limited to a single weapon type, and those weapons themselves can be customized to suit your tastes. When it comes to leveling up your character you are given points you can spend in order to enhance the various attributes of your characters. Sometimes, depending on where you have spent those points, you will unlock new abilities as well. Some of these abilities will be usable in combat, other ones require you to assign them to a combo button before they can be used. In all cases, you need to have the correct kind of weapon equipped to use the ability. Character customization is also available to dress your character up a bit. To further your preferences, your customization can also change your formation to gain bonus effects (often at a cost of a detriment to something else, such as getting extra money at the expense of some of your experience gains). Another thing I can mention about customization is about how your troops will see you. Depending on your interactions with them, their opinion of you will change over time.
The combat also is actually quite good as well if you ignore the lag I was experiencing. As mentioned above, you can tailor your characters to fit your needs, however, the combat itself is what I want to talk about. Each of the enemies have different elemental strengths and weaknesses that you need to be aware of if you want to maximize your damage output. Some enemies even have breakable components that you can target to weaken the enemy even more. As the battle wages on you also charge up more powerful abilities you can unleash, but they come at a cost. You have to determine if you want to use the powerful ability and increase the fatigue of your character or just ignore it and use normal attacks. The only real way to reduce that fatigue is to put them in bed back at the base for a few days and pay for their treatment. One thing that is nice though is the fact the characters not currently in battle but are in your back row can swap in at any time to take over for a weakened front-line character. Sometimes they will join together to help out the front line by either offering a shield or an all-out coordinated assault on the enemies. Additionally, there are also team attacks that can be used to have multiple front-line characters work together to pull off special moves. There are plenty of things available to keep the combat interesting such as the enemies changing depending on if it is currently night or day.
The story of the game is an interesting one, it’s one I have heard before to a certain degree, but it is still told in an interesting way. A virus has transformed people into monsters (Chimera), conveniently enough while they are still not immune, women are less susceptible to the infection so they make up the majority of the army tasks with defending the world from the Chimera threat. People who are infected usually turn into a monster eventually, but before that they can gain a split personality which is kind of like a negativity fueled version of their former self. Your characters can actually tap into that split personality in combat to help them turn the tide of battle. To help make the game more interesting, between missions you can have conversations with your teammates. During these conversations, you are typically given a choice to make in how you will respond to that character. Choosing the right one may have a positive impact on your relationship but choosing the wrong thing might have a negative impact. Going beyond that, there are also other things that can occur, such as the Interviews (investigations) where you try to find out which of your team is guilty.
The scenery in general leaves a little bit to be desired and so do the character models when on the world map. When they are in Visual Novel style mode they look great, they even have the facial movements and body movements that the latest Neptunia Game (Cyberdimension) was lacking probably because it is actually an older title, but still. When you are on the world map or in a dungeon the models, landmarks and monsters are kind of a little washed out looking but still looked good. It was reminiscent of Playstation 2 era graphics. There isn’t that much in terms of decorations or other purely visual flairs that one might expect in a modern game to help break up the scenery, but again, those are really just flourishes that waste resources anyway. I actually think part of the issue is that since the game was running a little poorly for me (again despite beating the system requirements) that the game just wasn’t rendering it as well as it could. The reason why I am suggesting that as a reason is that when I turned everything to low to try to compensate for the lag, it didn’t really make that big of a difference to the appearance of the game (nor the lag). I’m thinking the game automatically was rendering in a lower mode rather than doing it in high like it was told to likely to compensate for the fact I do not own a liquid nitrogen cooled, heavily overclocked quad GPU system to run the game smoothly. To ensure that this was not just on my end, as mentioned previously, I had a friend who played the game on their system and had a similar opinion of how the game looked. With all that said, the graphics do not detract from the gameplay even if some areas are a little dull to look at.
The sound, I have to say the voice acting, both in English and in Japanese are both well done. None of the characters have annoying voices and they all actually suit the characters quite well. Amal, who is gender ambiguous (she is biologically female, but identifies as male) has a voice that quite suits her/him to the point that until the game actually spells it out to you, you are left kind of guessing if it was an error on her/his military file stating she/he was female, or if she is really biologically a male. Mind you when they have the beach scene (all these sorts of games have a beach scene or other water-related activity… actually this game has hot springs style scenes too) Amal wears a two-piece bikini and all the other males only wear shorts, so modesty aside, it is a bit of a giveaway at that point. Getting back to the sounds, the music in this game is also excellent as it is in pretty much every Idea Factory game. This one seemed to have particularly good music for some reason although I can’t really put my finger on why that is. The sound effects for the most part work well. While there is nothing that stands out as extra special in the sound effects department, nothing really seems to have been missed. The only real complaint about the sound I have I already mentioned which is the constant grunting/panting. It’s not like I have them jumping up and down and that is the sound of exertion, and it isn’t the sound of me making them run for too long. It’s literally just them walking, they take two steps and are tired or something like that. Not sure how they passed their army physical if they are in that bad of shape, mind you with the Chimera threat maybe it’s the best the army could do.
The controls in this game are hard to really talk about. The input lag caused by the game lagging did cause me issues. Often times I would try to stop the auto fight but end up turning it off and back on again accidentally because graphically it didn’t show auto-attack mode turning off after the button pressed which usually lead me to believe I had missed the window when I had not. Other times when I thought I had hit the button in time I truly did not, so it was really a no-win situation. Ignoring that, the controls for the game worked quite well. Nothing was confusing or difficult to use. The addition of a fast-forward button was a really nice touch to help you get through auto-battles or even normal battles faster by skipping the waiting periods. There are quick time events of sorts, but they generally appear to give you plenty of time to hit the button, however, thanks to that bit of graphics lag you sometimes miss the window even if you pressed the corresponding button before it vanished from the screen.
So, should you get Dark Rose Valkyrie? This is a hard question for me to answer for you. I want to say yes, if you like Neptunia games, modern Japanese Role-Playing Games, or even military-themed games then you would probably enjoy this game. There is so much going on that even if the actual combat gets a little repetitive, there is plenty of other stuff to look forward to and keep you entertained. In its current state, I have to say that unless you have a really strong computer, you might want to wait a little bit. I’m not saying don’t get it, but I am suggesting either the system requirements need to be raised on the store page or a little more work on the port needs to be done. I’m actually a bit disappointed, I think this the first Idea Factory game that I didn’t finish before writing the review and it is certainly the first Idea Factory game that I can’t strongly recommend. With that said, I’d say it gets a Pause rating for now with a possibility to be updated to a Save for Later if a few patches down the road fix the bugs and the high amount of grind required by the game.
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of our team members owns a copy of this game on PS4 and it had no bugs or issues through 2 hours of gameplay. So, if you want to play this game we recommend using the console version.