REVIEW: Dragon Star Varnir (Switch)

REVIEW: Dragon Star Varnir (Switch)

You’re a manwitch, Zephy.

Released: Switch/Steam/PS4
Type: Single Player
Genre: JRPG Visual Novel
Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory
Release date: August 3, 2021

I haven’t played many Compile Heart games as some others might have, but it really seems that they have a 50% chance of me either liking them so much I can’t stop playing or not liking it and finding it a chore to play that I continue because I’m already halfway through (and so I don’t waste the money spent). When I was looking up what Dragon Star Varnir was once the Switch port was announced, I was on the fence. The story and the battle system looked interesting to me, but it seemed to have more in common with Death End re;Quest (or DERQ) which I ended up not liking the further I got in than Mary Skelter which I loved (not much of a secret there) once I got past my initial confusion. Nonetheless, I put the worries away when I got the chance to check out Dragon Star Varnir.

Dragon Star Varnir is set in a world where witches and dragons exist alongside regular humans, but the relationship between them are strained specifically between the witches and the humans. You see, due to a curse these witches have, dragons grow inside of the witches until they eat their way out of their womb (no thanks). It’s believed that this is the reason for the existence of witches and considering the dragons are much more of a threat, the Knights of Requiem was created to hunt them down before they give “birth” to their dragon. The few remaining witches (which you learn pretty quickly are on their last generation due to the Witch of Hellfire killing hundreds of them) have went into hiding since. There is also another group called The Ravens, lead by the mysterious Ruby Eye, whose main target are dragons. The Ravens are up to their own schemes, but considering they go for dragons (and unknowingly filling in for the Knights being terrible at defeating dragons), they aren’t much of a threat to witches.

You play as Zephy who is a low-ranking member of the Knights of Requiem. On one of their hunts, Zephy gets separated from his group and gets fatally injured by a dragon. Luckily two witches weren’t too far away from where this happened, Minessa and Karikaro, and Minessa wants to heal Zephy despite Karikaro just wanting to kill him. After their healing spells don’t work, Minessa instead feeds him dragon’s blood through a… unique way. This not only heals Zephy but awakens the once dormant Witch’s Curse in him. This gives him the same power the witches have, though it’s not quite clear if he has a dragon baby, but considering his past and the fact that he is a Knight, this completely throws him off. Especially when he is labeled as another enemy when he tries to reason with his (old) commander Corberia.

But this fate seems to not be as bad as time passes. He gets to know the other witches more and learn that the witches hate their fate. They don’t see the dragons eating through them as a great duty, but as a horrible fate as eating feeds the dragon inside of them until its satisfied enough to eat through them, but not eating will cause them to go mad… which also causes the dragon to eat through them. They just try to make the most out of each day, as any could be their last, while also protecting the younger witches, or Little Sisters as they’re called, and teach them how to protect themselves once the time comes.

I quite liked the story Dragon Star Varnir presented. One of the reasons I ended up not liking DERQ was because it seemed like it didn’t want to fully commit to a dark story, unlike this game. While there are lighthearted and happy moments, you can always tell that the fact that their dragon can eat through them, or their Sisters, at any moment is always in the back of their mind (and now yours). The characters were also nice to get to know, both through the main story and through their affection scenes when you give them gifts they like.

Before going into the gameplay, the Switch port does include all of the DLC that has been released for Dragon Star Varnir, which is mainly weapons and equipment. However, I don’t really recommend equipping these starting out, at least not unless you’re going through it for a second time. At the beginning the DLC weapons will completely demolish everything, with the armor laughing at the puny damage the enemies are doing. It takes away from the fun in the beginning. I would personally recommend waiting to put on the DLC weapons/armor around halfway through or towards the end.

There are various areas you’ll be venturing into, or dungeons, which you’ll be able to walk around and explore. While exploring, there are various harvesting spots to get items from, breakable objects that give you a chance at getting an item, chests, and situations where you’ll use a witch’s special magic to break obstacles or uncover items. You can even quickly travel through by having the current witch hop onto her staff to fly around for a bit. And of course, this is where your enemies will be lurking, where you can run and hit them or they’ll run to you if they’re a high enough level.

Combat takes place in the air since the witch’s have the ability to fly. There are three levels, which you can set your team’s formation and what bonuses each level will have, that you’ll have to work with. You can freely move between each level, but physical attacks must be done on the same level the enemy is on while magic can be done on any. There are attacks that deal damage to multiple grid squares or even levels (which the game will highlight the affects area). The levels come to be more important when you battle giant dragons, as you’ll be able to target the other parts of it to seal off attacks and stun it. There’s even a system for knockback, like in DERQ but it’s not the main battle mechanic and isn’t dull, which can knock enemies back, up/down a level, or into other enemies to do extra crash damage. There is also trap magic, where you can set a trap ahead of time to do massive damage in the future, but I admittedly didn’t use it as much as knockback wasn’t reliable enough for me (or I was just too unlucky). The witches also have a Dragon Gauge, which fills as they do stuff in battle, and once it’s completely filled it will cause them to unleash their Awakened form and transform. For a couple turns, they’ll give them a special devour attack and boost their attack power.

Though, the most important thing you need to do is use the witch’s devour skill. Dragon Star Varnir’s leveling won’t grant you new skills for your characters to use, just a boost to their base states, so you’ll have to devour your enemies to obtain dragon cores. Each character will have to devour the enemy if you want everyone to have that dragon core though (aside from bosses). The amount of health left and the fear level the enemy is at determines how successful it will be, with defeating the enemy with a devour skill being an automatic success. These dragon cores are basically the way you acquire your skills and other small bonuses. They’ll cost points to unlock, which I never seem to run out of so don’t worry there, and you might have to unlock some you might not want on that character due to the points on each dragon core being connected. And then you can go to equip these skills to your characters so you can use them in battle, though there is a cap as each skill have a equip cost and you can only go up to 20 on each category. This is a nice and unique system, but it can be annoying as there is a chance you miss out on certain skills or the upgrade of a skill you’d want that character to have and the equip cap can get in the way.

Once you get more witches added to your team, you can set the extra two as support, which can do a support skill every so often, but most importantly gives you the ability to switch those characters out. This not only makes it easier to get dragon cores for everyone, but an easy way to hit enemy weaknesses as well.

Now another one of Dragon Star Varnir’s mechanics, which seem to be the reason opinions on this game is mixed, deals with the Little Sisters. Once you get a good footing into the story and battles, you’ll be in charge of feeding the three Little Sisters: Monet, Chiquita, and Pio. As you spend time in dungeons, the Little Sisters will get hungry and if you let them go hungry for too long, you’ll come back to them gone as the madness induced by hunger caused their dragon to emerge. Now real time isn’t factored in, but what you do. From what I understand, walking around and battling brings it down a bit while harvesting or picking up items brings it up the most. You have to make sure to not do too much, or just pick up items from chests, without checking on the Little Sisters. You’re given a rough estimate on which hunger/madness stage they’re at by what face their icon is making. You’ll have to give them enough dragon meat/blood to fill their satisfaction meter to lower their hunger/madness, but this will also cause the dragons inside of them to grow (and having that meter be filled causes their dragon to emerge as well). It also doesn’t help that they’ll give you presents when you fill their satisfaction meter, which can tempt you to overfeed them. You just have to keep a balance so they can stay alive.

I didn’t have much of a problem with the Little Sisters personally, only coming close to them turning once around the time it was first introduced. I guess you can say I’m the weird ones that liked it as it does also tie into the story as it keeps the Witch’s Curse in the back of your mind and even setting Zephy as a “Big Brother” protecting his Little Sisters, just like your Big Sister teammates, despite him technically being a younger witch. I also liked how I found that it was possible to complete the game without grinding, at least on Normal difficulty. It did get rough at the very end, especially since your enemies will start being able to attack multiple times in one turn, but as long as you keep updating your teammate’s abilities, hit weaknesses, keep a dedicated healer, have two others in different slots with revive spells, and keep some healing items on standby, you will come out victorious.

I totally see why some don’t like the Little Sisters mechanic. After all if you want to do a dungeon all in one go, do quests, and grind, you don’t want something that you need to worry about. Especially since even one Little Sister turning will lock you out of the True Ending. Though, if you don’t care about getting the True Ending your first go, you can just completely ignore it, grab their dragon cores, and wait until New Game+ to get the True Ending as you can choose for the Little Sisters meter to be frozen.

The one thing I probably would have changed though was the option to have a rough estimate of where the Little Sisters’ hunger meter is at available in dungeons and having a more accurate meter for when you’re at the Den.

In terms of performance on the Switch, it isn’t too bad. To be honest, I was kind of dreading it with how I heard DERQ’s Switch performance was and was expecting Dragon Star Varnir to be the same. Aside from the forest areas (which were only two as the rest are in enclosed temples or caves with not much stuff going on) which you will note the frame rate dropping, it runs well. And of course, you’ll see the usual use of models being lower quality that they would normally be. I mostly played in handheld mode, with some in TV mode when I wanted to keep playing or I was in the middle of a boss battle, and it runs about the same, but it is real crunchy on TV Mode in the exploration areas.

I also ran across two bugs, one where the game crashed after I used Laponette’s ability and when the game wasn’t acting right during a battle (auto-skipping attack animations, not showing the icons for the battle menu, and not properly showing the AOE effect with the grid highlights) and didn’t properly end it. Luckily, I did save not too long before so make sure to at least save when starting a new chapter and in dungeons (at the start and before boss battles).

Verdict

While I wasn’t quite sure about Dragon Star Varnir before going in, I ended up enjoying my time with it and liking it all throughout. It has an interesting and dark story, I liked getting to know the witches, and the battle mechanics were unique without getting dull and annoying halfway through. I’d say if you’re looking for another JRPG to fill in the time, and you’re a fan of Compile Heart (or just don’t mind their games), Dragon Star Varnir will be for you.

Would I recommend this as a definitive way to play Dragon Star Varnir though? Not really, but if you want to play this on console and want a combination of it not being censored, not having to buy all of the DLCs, having the option to play it while laying down in bed, and it being cheaper to boot? Yeah, the Switch port will still give you an enjoyable experience.

Written by
RipWitch
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