A virus that turns lesbians into giant swords and other incredible weaponry upon arousal: Welcome to the insane world of Valkyrie Drive.
Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni
Platforms: PS Vita (Also supported by PS TV)
Release Date: 10/11/2016 (USA)
Developed by Marvelous Entertainment
Published by PQube
(Note: This review was conducted using the North American retail release on a PlayStation TV.)
From the creator of the Senran Kagura and Uppers properties comes Valkyrie Drive, a cross-media project from Senran Kagura Producer Kenichiro Takaki. The sophomore project continues Takaki’s signature brand of ridiculous fast-paced action placed inside an equally insane less-than-modest universe.
Finally making its North American debut, Takaki’s second project features a group of young women all plagued with the fictitious “V-Virus”, a disease that transforms the carrier into a massive weapon upon stimulation. A series of islands were erected to house, study and quarantine those with the V-Virus; hinted at by the title of the game, the entirety of the game occurs on the island of “Bhikkhuni”, the only facility to successfully manage and subdue the effects of the virus. Players control seven girls over the course of their year on Bhikkhuni; the obsessively-attached sisters Rinka and Renka, the ninja-esque war-child Momo, underlying schemer Mana, the self-proclaimed “Elite” Viola and rival ace-student Koharu, and the offbeat food-crazed Manpukumaru-chan. All residents of Bhikkhuni possess the V-Virus, however the seven girls in particular all carry a unique strain- the VR-Virus; the VR strain in particular allows its carrier to act as both an “Extar” and a “Liberator”- one who can both transform into a weapon, and wield others in battle. Under the supervision of “Miss Director” and the four “Pillar Gods”, the seven discover that while a legitimate cure is not available, the V-Virus can be subdued and controlled through battle.
Valkyrie Drive has the potential to make a name for itself with its frantic gameplay, but those who truly invest in the Story Mode will find a jarring amount of dialogue across static visual novel images and character dialogue animatics; the Story Mode is approximately split 70/30 between text and actual gameplay. Albeit the absurd amount of story content over actual gameplay, Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni doesn’t build momentum until the midpoint of the Story Mode. Players wanting a large overarching story may be disappointed to find the 16 Chapter (or “Drive”) Story Mode focuses more on individual character development than the true intentions of Miss Director and the Pillar Gods. Bhikkhuni isn’t exactly a game with the “compelling narrative” element that many players long for these days, but each character is given an exceptional amount of depth and personality to drive the title forward; if not for discovering what the Bhikkhuni officials are actually trying to achieve, players can at least find solace in watching the drastic changes unfold among characters, particularly Momo and Mana.
A quick glaze over Bhikkhuni‘s surface reveals multiple similarities to spiritual successor Senran Kagura, but at a marginally slower pace due to a noticeable input delay. Each character possesses a series of basic attacks performed with the “Square” and “Circle” buttons, with the latter doubling as both a launcher and a lunge depending on how long the button is held. The “Triangle” Button can be used to end a combo with a heavy attack, or to perform a charged wide-angle special attack.
Explained away in the Story Mode, each character can be selected as either a Liberator or an Extar; the seven girls also possess individual EXP gauges for each role. Players select a main character- the Liberator- and a secondary to act as the Extar; while this may not change the primary character’s weapon, her available abilities depend on the secondary character’s Extar level. When the secondary character achieves specific Extar levels (1,3,6,10), the primary character can activate a “Drive” transformation. Similar to Senran Kagura‘s “Shinobi Transformation”, Drive transformations will enhance the Liberator’s main weapon, granting new attacks and high-damage combo techniques. A Drive can be performed up to four times (“Drive”, “Second”, “Third”, “Final”), with each level upgrading the Liberator’s stats and available techniques; available Drive levels are indicated by a segmented multi-color gauge under the combo meter in the top-right corner. Once a Drive of any level has been performed, the player unlocks the ability to perform a “Drive Attack” or” Super Drive Attack”; players will gain one special attack each time the pink gauge fills underneath the health gauge. Bhikkhuni‘s ultimate transformation, a “Connect” can be performed in place of a Third Drive with “L+X”, however this isn’t unlocked until the boss fight against the fourth Pillar God.
Flashy, longer air combos can be executed via Bhikkhuni‘s “Phantom” mechanics: After successfully launching an enemy into the air, the player must hold the “X” Button until green rings appear around the Liberator’s feet; when charged, she will enter the brief Phantom mode, lunging towards an enemy at incredible speed. In this darkened state, the player can follow up with a “Phantom Strike” (Circle), “Phantom Dance” (Square) or send them rocketing into the ground with a “Phantom Fall” (Triangle). Phantom techniques can be stacked only with perfect execution, as the player needs to recharge the dash between Phantom attacks.
Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni provides other modes outside the extensive Story Mode for players to flex their skills and grind for experience points. Training Mode features the standard guided tutorial, however a customizable free-fight option lets players hand-pick the type, behavior and amount of enemies for their training session. The Survival Mode thrusts players into a stamina test, placing them against an endless horde of enemies, while Challenge Mode includes a series of missions with specific requirements. The Dining Room, Dressing Room and Store are present in the Story Mode, however players can also access them at any time from the Main Menu. The one safe haven from battles on the island- and the main hub for the title’s activities- characters can chat among themselves in the Dining Room or venture into one of Valkyrie Drive‘s other modes; this is also where players can manage their save data, view individual character stats and unlocked gallery content. Present characters may have gold hearts pulsing over their heads in the Dining Room; tapping on these will increase the relationship score between the current player-character and those in the Dining Room.
Points earned in each chapter can be spent towards outfits, accessories, underwear, pictures, videos and additional gameplay content at Echigoya’s store. Points can also be gambled away on Echigoya’s random Lingerie Printer, though extreme Valkyrie Drive fans also have the option of spending real-money on DLC coins purchased from the Playstation Store. Purchased clothing can be applied to characters in the Dressing Room. One of the more lewd features of Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni, a mini-game can be unlocked within the Dressing Room by tapping the chosen character in suggestive places using either the rear touch-pad or the screen, or by clicking “L3” and “R3” on the Playstation TV.
(Note: As stated earlier, this review was conducted by playing Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni on a Playstation TV. The title has since received numerous DLC items, including the two main characters from the anime, however they will only show up by accessing the PS Store through the game, and not from the pre-launch splash screen. An online Versus Mode with player-hosted rooms is present, however I was unable to find nor host a match.)
It certainly doesn’t compete with the likes of Killzone: Mercenary or Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but Valkyrie Drive is still a visually-impressive 3rd-person action game for a handheld system. Each chapter features a massive environment with expansive free-roam areas. Later levels include branching paths that lead to hidden areas with “Lingerie Tokens”, “Chestguards” and “Secret Missions”; one chapter in particular has a completely optional indoor palace to explore, filled with strong enemies and a figurative pool of experience points and items. The environmental sorcery wears off once players are deep into the game, as it becomes apparent that many levels are repeated using different areas of the map.
Those who may be worried as to whether or not Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni is a “brown bag purchase“, the fan-service is relatively moderate compared to its raunchy anime counterpart, Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid. Players may find themselves to be the subject of concerned onlookers when customizing a character in the Dressing Room or watching one of Japan’s ever-popular “costume-break” sequences, but a large portion of the suggestive material is kept to the dialogue between characters and is never present on-screen. The background soundtrack is admittedly lacking in each chapter, however the music truly shines with each character’s individual themes; from Manpukumaru’s bright pop-rock to Momo’s intense strings, the music flawlessly captures each characters’ energy and personality.
Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni doesn’t quite match the gameplay insanity of its predecessors due to the marginally slower pace caused by an apparent input delay, but those who can look past the fan-service- or those who just want to soak it in- are in for a high-octane treat on the Vita.