Compile Heart have made some fantastic RPGs over the years and now they're at it again. Dark Rose Valkyrie is a rewarding and unique take on the genre yet it retains enough classic elements to make it an overall familiar experience.
Dark Rose Valkyrie stars Asahi Shiramine, the fresh-faced leader of the brand new special military unit called Special Force Valkyrie. This team was assembled after a meteorite named Black Garnet crashed to Earth and eventually started transforming humans into monstrosities known as Chimera. This Chimera Virus went on to kill and transform a healthy chunk of the human race so Asahi and his gang of military misfits take it upon themselves to hunt Chimera and hopefully end the outbreak once and for all. It's a very intriguing premise for a story and it stays engaging as you slowly unravel the mysteries surrounding the virus.
The world of Dark Rose Valkyrie is set in 1929 Japan albeit within an alternate history (obviously). The cast of characters in your unit are quite a collection of personalities including an outspoken woman, an entitled heiress, a stubborn soldier, an androgynous and energetic young man, an extremely timid girl, a ladies' man, and a kind-hearted laundry attendant. All of these personalities interact with Asahi in their own unique ways which is a fun dynamic but the cast is very stereotypical of an average Japanese game. Even after learning characters' back-stories and getting to know them through plenty of humorous and often cheeky moments, it all still comes across as "been there, done that".
All of that being said, an interesting component arises when you realise that members may be influenced by the virus and you have to piece clues together to figure out who is. The process for doing so involves interviewing teammates and using their statements and opinions of each other to find inconsistencies. It's simple stuff but it adds a layer of immersion to this component of the story.
Customizing and upgrading your party is an extremely involving process in Dark Rose Valkyrie. This isn't the sort of JRPG where you just mindlessly level up and equip the best gear. For starters, you choose how to spend points upon levelling a character up so you can either focus on specific attributes or distribute them evenly. Equipment primarily consists of a main weapon that can be upgraded through remodelling and custom add-ons as well as additional pieces such as rifles, shields, and missiles. There are also armour, accessories, and upgradable uniforms that you can tailor, strengthen, and repair. That's right; the uniforms will fall apart and you can eventually see people's undies! Yay...? Anyway, you can also sell items for money and development parts, buy special items with medals, customize combos, select learned boosts per character, change the party's battle formation, and assign auto-tactics.
All of this in-depth party customization pays off in the involving turn-based battle system. You can't rely fully on brute force all the time as you'll need to strategize to beat tougher foes. Doing so requires you to cancel attacks, exploit enemy weaknesses, choose from three levels of customizable combos, unleash either solo or cooperative arts by using up some AP, deploy a more powerful Ignition mode, and go into Overdrive in order to unleash hell on your adversaries. As you can see, there are so many factors to keep in mind which makes both party setup and combat extremely rewarding. On the other hand, gamers who lack patience may find all of these complexities overwhelming so be sure you have the discipline to take the time to learn all of the ins and outs.
Dark Rose Valkyrie's campaign consists of a series of missions. Basically, you'll slowly uncover the world map as you traverse it, unlock warp points, and claim bases for your own. From this map, you can enter many "dungeons" that are various parts of the city such as a shopping mall and a military complex. Unlike Compile Heart's other recent JRPG Fairy Fencer F, these areas are enormous and very enjoyable to gradually uncover. As you explore, the day / night cycle is always changing. Of course, the Chimera are more aggressive at night so being able to rest in your room until daylight comes is a welcome option.
The missions themselves are unfortunately a mixed bag. I found the ones that involve exploring new areas and discovering additional parts of the city to be the most rewarding. On the other end of the spectrum, some missions require you to battle through a dozen or so enemy hordes which becomes monotonous quickly. However, the most annoying missions have you try and research specific enemies. If you're lucky and have a rare item on hand that scans monsters for you then these can be a breeze but if you don't then you're forced to unleash all sorts of attacks in order to figure out what they're weak against and fill out their profiles in the process. As you can imagine, this is a very tedious undertaking. Thankfully, once you progress past the tedium, things start to become enjoyable again.
Hardcore JRPG enthusiasts will find Dark Rose Valkyrie to be one of the most rewarding games in recent memory while casual genre fans may be put off by the overall complexity and repetitive missions. Either way, this is one RPG that you don't want to overlook.
- + Intriguing and engaging story premise
- + Satisfying in-depth party customization and involving battle system
- + Uncovering the huge maps is rewarding
- - Characters are too stereotypical
- - Takes forever to learn the ins and outs
- - Some missions can be rather tedious