Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni Review

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Game Title: Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni
Developer: Marvelous, PQube (Publisher)
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 3.2 GB
NA Availability: Retail | Digital Download
EU Availability: Retail | Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

Valkyrie Drive is something that I have a love-hate relationship with. If you have seen the anime, Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid, you should know that half of the anime is about lesbian fondling, kissing, and all around over-exaggerated sexual activity. Valkyrie Drive as a whole is about girls sexually assaulting one another to turn themselves on and transform into powerful weapons to be used in combat with other sexually-transformed girls.

The series is something I hate but something I love. When I watched the first half of the anime, I wasn’t sure what to think about the overly sexual focus, but once I got halfway through, story started to have the focus. By the end of the anime, I started to really enjoy it.

Knowing this, I was shocked to find out that the video game based on the series got the green light for a Western release. The only thing in my mind was imagining the anime as a game and thinking ‘How in the world was the ESRB okay with bringing this to the West?’. Yet, it’s here. So let’s get to the review. Here’s my official review of PS Vita exclusive, Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni.

Story

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Valkyrie Drive’s game starts in a very similar manner of its anime. There is a virus affecting women in their teens and 20s called the V-Virus, slowly spreading and eventually killing them. The virus also grants them superhuman strength and powers when they initiate “Drive” with another victim of the virus, transforming one into a weapon, and they are dubbed “Valkyries”. In order to learn to keep themselves in check and society safe, these girls are sent to artificial islands until they can be trusted to keep themselves from harming others with these powers.

While the anime takes place on the island known as Mermaid, the game takes place on the island known as Bhikkhuni, an island with a high reputation of now only learning to control the virus, but a record of completely curing girls of it. Two sisters are sent to this island to be cured, having a special strain of the virus, known as the VR Virus. As they come into the island, they begin training towards being cured through intense battles with other Valkyries.

The story of Valkyrie Drive is actually pretty good. It plays out like an anime with arcs around characters, fleshing out a good amount of character development, and moving towards finding out the dark secrets of the island and what that means for the main cast of characters the story revolves around. With the way each chapter is laid out, it feels like episodes of an anime, even down to artwork transitions between parts. I honestly enjoyed the game’s story more than the anime’s story. Sure, there are some fanservice scenes thrown here and there, but it’s an overall serious story that develops well.

It’s not all good, though. The game’s localization has a lot of typos in story scenes, ranging from misspelled words to completely wrong words in place of words that should be there. You see this from time to time in games nowadays, but it happens A LOT in Valkyrie Drive. A lot of times there are several dialogue sequences in just a few minutes of scenes with these typos. Not that you can’t understand what is being said, but it looks like they translated it but didn’t proofread.

Gameplay

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Valkyrie Drive is a 3D brawler with RPG elements in the same vein as the Senran Kagura Versus games on the PS Vita. In each stage, you’ll be navigating 3D arenas as you take down hordes of enemies and gain points to power up in transformations and end in taking down bosses to finish each stage.

The first order of business is how the fanservice is in the game. After watching the anime, I was expecting non-stop fondling, kissing, hands being thrust into panties followed by near-nude transformation scenes. What I got was something far more tame. The game’s story doesn’t even mention the whole sexually pleasured aspect to transformation but you still do get a lot of parts showing characters in skimpy swimsuits and, if you do certain tasks, nude with lights shining over their private parts.

Unlike Neptunia U or Estival Versus, the fanservice sections cannot be turned off. Every time you do a transformation for Second Drive and higher, you’re going to see a lot of fanservice, as well as in combat. The Costume Break feature from the Senran games returns here, so do so much damage to an enemy (or they to you) and the costume will break, all the way down to being nude with lights hiding private parts. That doesn’t make up a lot of the gameplay, but it’s there and there’s no way to get around it.

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Now, main progression. In the game, you have several game modes to go through. Story Mode for playing through the storyline, Survival Mode to fight endless hordes of enemies, Challenge Mode for specific objective-based missions, Online Mode to battle with other players over the PlayStation Network, Vault to view music and artwork, Store to purchase new accessories or swimsuits for the different characters, Dressing Room for using the touch screen to interact with the characters, and the Cafeteria, where you can interact between characters to increase their bonds and relationships.

When you go through stages, you’ll only be controlling one character, despite going into the stage as a pair. You will fight off hordes of enemies that come at you when barriers appear in the arena and combat is combo-based. Everyone has their own type of combo chains based around their weapon type and attack style. Playing as Ranka is more of a button-mashing fist-bashing playstyle while Mana is more of a ranged archer with fewer combos available due to her increase combat range.

The combat is similar to Senran Kagura games, but there is a little difference thrown in. In Estival Versus, you had a focus on dashing and Valkyrie Drive has changed this system. You can still chase after knocked-back enemies, but when you do so, you can enter special combos unavailable during normal circumstances, and only if the enemy doesn’t recover before you reach them. This is called Phantom Drive. It’s similar but a little different and more combo and timing focused.

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As you fight, you’ll fill up an energy gauge and be able to use those filled gauges for transformations, special attacks, and power-ups. As you level up characters as both Liberators (Playable Characters) and Extars (Weapon Forms), they will gain new transformations, from First Drive, Second Drive, and all the way up to the 4th, called “Final Drive”. The higher the Drive Form you’re in, the stronger your attacks are and the more combos you have access to.

This is all formulated to build up strength against mobs as you make your way to the boss. The game allows you to build up Drives so you’ll already be in a significant form when the boss fight starts, be it a boss against another Valkyrie or against a giant multi-part boss that will mostly take place in the air.

This brings me to the difficulty of the game, or rather, lack of difficulty. I won’t lie and say no boss fights are hard, because a select few I had to really think about towards the end. However, for the most part, the Normal Difficulty is very easy. Aside from a few select bosses, you could easy just button-mash your way through the entire story campaign. I rarely had to dodge and strategize how to approach bosses. If you’re used to the Senran games, I suggest starting the game on Hard Mode if you want a challenge.

As far as time is concerned, it’s a pretty long game for a brawler. I played most of the game on Normal, and reached the Final Boss after about 25 hours of playtime between stages and cutscenes. Considering Estival Versus was only about 12 hours, that’s a pretty meaty experience. Granted, a lot of that is story cutscenes, but it’s still pretty long for a non-RPG Vita title.

Controls

First off, Valkyrie Drive is fully compatible with the PlayStation TV though there are no special controls here. But since the touch screen is only used for the interactions in the dressing room, there’s no required control feature that you can’t do on the PSTV.

The Left Analog is used to move around stages and the Right Stick is used to move the camera or switch locked-on targets. With the mention of locking on, the D-Pad is used for locking onto enemies and using potions during combat. Then, we have the triggers. L is used with the D-Pad for potions and L + R are used for initiating transformations.

Now, the face buttons. X is used to jump, double-jump, and charge the Phantom Rush. Square is used for light attacks and Triangle for Heavy attacks. Finally, Circle is used for knock-back attacks.

Presentation

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Visually, the game looks really well-done, just like the Senran Kagura games. Zoomed in, the character models look very detailed and the cell-shading is done well. On the PSTV it looks like you’re playing a console game, despite it being a handheld title.

The main downer here are the frame dips. If you remember how the Vita version of Senran Kagura Estival Versus had frame drops, you can expect the same here. They don’t happen terribly often, but when weilding certain weapons or in certain areas, you’ll see quite a few frame drops. It won’t really knock you out of your flow, but it’s a blemish on an otherwise pretty presentation

 

Summary

Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni is a fun beat-em-up that is not what I was expecting it to be. Past a typo-filled translation and occasional frame drops is a game that has an engaging story for anime fans and enough combat and fanservice to keep fans of both quite busy.

8/10

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