Compile Heart can't seem to stop making top-notch JRPGs and Dragon Star Varnir is yet another triumph so let's slay some dragons.
Having reviewed Death end re;Quest only a few months ago, I was not expecting Dragon Star Varnir to be of similar quality. I absolutely loved my time with Shina and her chums and now, a new hero steps up to the plate in the form of Zephy. As a soldier tasked with battling witches in a literal witch hunt, Zephy soon finds himself in a dire situation. However, a couple of witches named Minessa and Karikaro save him from the brink of death only for him to discover that he is now a witch himself. Although initially shocked by this revelation, he eventually comes to accept and embrace his newly found powers. On top of that, he realises that the witches aren't so bad after all and that his fellow soldiers may be more devious than he would have ever imagined.
Throughout the story, you'll learn about many twists and turns yet the central cast remains loveable and a joy to watch via the mostly lengthy dialogue sequences. Whether it's Karikaro's comically blasé attitude or Minessa's kind-hearted nature; observing the characters interact with each other is a treat, especially when you factor in the fantastic voice actors who do a spot-on job of fleshing out each character's personality. Also, the fitting orchestral soundtrack helps establish the mysteriously charming atmosphere.
When it comes to gameplay, Dragon Star Varnir places a heavy emphasis on party customization and character growth. If you've read any of my RPG reviews, you'd know how much this matters to me as a huge long-time fan of the genre. Aside from levelling up and equipping better equipment, you'll also devour enemies which awards party members with Dragon Cores. Each one of these acts as a separate miniature skill tree where you use Factor Points to unlock stat boosts as well as active and passive skills. I imagine that trying to acquire every Dragon Core for each party member would be an unfathomably arduous task as simply dealing with what you're given naturally can be quite time consuming. That being said, watching your party's capabilities gradually expand is super-rewarding.
Aside from character growth, Dragon Star Varnir features plenty of supplementary content to master. For starters, you can visit your witch friends in between dungeon trips in order to give them gifts and strengthen your bond with them. There are also 3 Little Sisters that you have to feed so they don't get grumpy. Unfortunately, I overfed one and now she's gone forever but live and learn, I guess. Anyway, you can also turn in quest items for rewards and craft Elixirs that you can use to summon dragons in order to potentially earn better equipment after a grueling battle. Finally, you can fill out a library of information as you play which includes a handy bestiary.
Dragon Star Varnir's dungeons are quite large and intricate. As you traverse them, you can fly which helps get you around faster and use character-specific Special Magic that allows you to break barriers, summon bridges, escape, uncover hidden treasure, and more. There are plenty of gather points and breakable objects around that give you materials as well as optional side areas where you can snag treasures and fight tough enemies. Speaking of combat, the battle system is typical of a turn-based JRPG although a cool mechanic is that you can ascend and descend through 3 planes as you fight. You can also set traps for enemies and push them back into them with certain powerful blows. Finally, characters will enter Dragon Awakening mode once in a while which makes them much stronger.
Even though all of this sounds great, Dragon Star Varnir's battle system has some notable issues. First of all, some aspects feel needlessly restrictive. For example, only being able to equip 5 spells on each character is nowhere near enough to allow them to adapt to any enemy that they may face. On top of this, I found the fact that you can't move around to make the battles a bit too old-school as opposed to the amount of freedom that you get in Death end re;Quest. Another issue is that regular enemies range from impressively challenging to disappointing 1 hit kills. This randomness just isn't fun and when you consider the fact that you'll encounter tons of mid-game difficulty spikes, it's hard not to wish that the challenge level was much more balanced and enjoyable.
Dragon Star Varnir does what few JRPGs do as it features in-depth party customization as well as a delightful cast of characters. Factor in a boatload of additional content to master and you're left with a must-have RPG.
- + Rewarding party customization and in-depth character growth
- + Fantastic characters and voice acting
- + Loads of supplementary content to master
- - Battle system feels needlessly restrictive in certain aspects
- - Normal enemy difficulty is too random
- - Annoying difficulty spikes force grinding