Action games are not a uncommon genre in the realm of gaming. They are diverse and offer a large selection to chose from, ranging from games with hidden depth like Devil May Cry 3 to very simple hack-n’-slash titles like Hyrule Warriors. But one game series should ring a few bells if you own a Vita or 3DS; Senran Kagura.
This series is infamous for it’s ‘plot’, ‘hometown’ and ‘life’ that attracted gamers to the franchise. But the series story and combat were major draws as well, offering a simple sense of depth that can grant one some mindless fun. Valkyrie Drive is a franchise made in mind for a lot of growth; a very suggestive anime series, manga and Vita-exclusive title were produced in-tandem but every part is completely unique. Many did not expect this Vita action title to get localized but P-Qube Games had confidence in the title and recently released the title in both North America and Europe.
After spending a lot of time with the title, I come away surprised. Similar to my thoughts on games like Gal*Gun and Criminal Girls 2, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. What’s on display here is a game packed with ‘plot’ but also has a really fun combat system and lot of modes to play in. Just a word of caution though before moving on to the review; this game is for mature audiences ONLY and I do not advise younger readers to continue reading onward. If you are under 18 years old, do NOT play this game.
The game follows the story of two sisters, both having the a special virus which allows the them to turn into powerful weapons when aroused. In an effort to control this virus and return back home, they travel to the Bhikkhuni Island. This island is known for having a high success rate at curing and controlling the girls powers, so game’s characters fight each other to master the virus.
Honestly, the story really doesn’t offer much to the game, as it really feels like a string that leads you to the next combat scene. It is not very serious or has major conflicts between the games cast of characters. But the interactions can be charming, with my favorite character being Momo. She is a stoic warrior who frequently tells her peers ‘I will kill you’ but her backstory has a nice layer of depth, making me enjoy her character arc across the game.
The main sisters work well together and some members of the games cast can be quite funny. One great example is a girl who always wants to eat….which sometime means having wide eyes at her female peers.
While I wouldn’t call the story bad, it feels like it is present to only push the core gameplay along. What is here is fine enough and has some bright points with depth but not enough to make up for how bland it can be at points.
Design & Lasting Appeal
Valkyrie Drive is split up into a number of different modes that each offer something different. The game’s main mode is the story one of course, with you playing through over 17 Drives (Chapters with 1-3 parts) that have you run around on battle maps, getting EXP, fighting foes and butting heads with rival Valkyrie’s. The set up works thanks to the being able to fast-forward story scenes by holding down triangle and being able to continue playing through a Drive despite clearing one of it’s missions. Each mission has a good deal to collect and discover which includes special metals you can collect (three parts), special clothing you can equip to your characters and missions hidden throughout specific levels.
This offers a lot of depth and with the story missions having three difficulty levels, you have a good deal to dive into with just the story mode. But you also have survival (which you fight waves of foes at a time) and challenge modes (where you complete specific missions split up into different difficulty tiers). The game also has an online mode, which can be quite fun with a friend.
While you can get around using menus, you also can explore a special dojo hub where you can chat with the other characters. This is not unlike the ‘hubs’ from the Senran Kagura series, so it is a nice call-back to that game. Sadly, I had the game crash when accessing modes through this hub, so I recommend using the drop-down menu you can access by pressing triangle when exploring the hub or just use the base menu from the games title screen.
The last bit of the game’s design is the dressing room, where you can interact with the girls and dress them up with clothing you collect/buy throughout the game. I honestly didn’t mess with this mode much but it has a number of clothing options for your characters. Can see this be a fun challenge for some gamers; getting every piece of clothing to mix and match outfits.
This game has a lot of content regarding game modes meaning it has a lot of replay value, but what about the core gameplay?
Valkyrie Drive’s gameplay is simple on the surface; you run around semi-open levels where you attack waves of foes until you reach the Valkyrie pair at the end of the level, to which you must take them out to complete the level. But the mechanics of the game offer a hidden level of depth.
You have the basic melee attacks with Square and Triangle, with Circle being used for charge attacks (Hold) and launching your foes in the air (tap it twice). Chaining these attacks feel satisfying thanks to each character offering a very different play style. One character uses a bow and arrow for combat for example, with her ranged attacks being effective but in order to launch them in the air, you need to get in close with some melee Triangle attacks. Another example is Momo, with her lance having a very far reach and some very powerful area attacks once you level her up enough.
But one of the games core mechanics is the air juggling system. You need to play with the areal combat, as it give you more Drive points and increases your combo chain. Thankfully you have a lot of tools to do this. By holding down the X button, you can spring in the air toward any object you are locked-on to (tap the screen or press Down on the D-Pad). When you launch foes in the air and hold down X, you spring high in the air carrying them with you. You can keep this chain up (Square attacks than hold X to start another launch) and it is very rewarding to do right. But you can just slam the foes down to the ground by pressing Triangle, which has a loud audible ‘thump’ making it rewarding to pull off.
This games second major mechanic is the ‘Drive’ system, where your partner character you bring into battle lets you arouse her to trigger the special virus. This turns her into a weapon, which increases the damage output greatly of your attacks. Depending on how strong your partners dive level is, you can ‘Drive’ up to Four Times, making your weapon even stronger. When in Drive form or normal form, you can pull off one of two special attacks (hold shoulder buttons and press Square or Triangle).
Combat offers a lot of options and it makes fights very enjoyable. The one-on-one fights at the end of a level are rewarding as they use the games core mechanics well; pushing you to keep up your areal offensive and Drive abilities. If I have any issue with the combat is that it can be too easy on Normal. But you can crank up the difficulty to hard mode if you want a tougher challenge.
To make your characters stronger and unlock more moves for combat, you need to level them up. You can do this across all the major game modes (Story, Challenge, Survival) and each character has two meters to level up; Base and Drive. Base is for your health/stats/moves while Drive is for what Drive Level(s) you can access if they are on your team. You can only level each meter based on who is within a specific role during combat (you can’t raise your base level if you are the Drive partner for example). I never had issue leveling up my characters but this is important to point out for the harder difficulties and Challenge mode.
This game looks great on the Vita with bright colors, stable performance and very little slowdown. Character models have some great animations and are very expressive. Those who enjoyed the Senran Kagura series will see some of that series look influence the character designs but they are unique and original to this game.
Levels have a lot of detail and the audio for the game is solid. The game does not have English Voice acting but instead Japanese voice acting with English Subtitles. I didn’t mind this though, as the JP voices sound good. I must preface and say I download the ‘High Quality Audio DLC’ before playing this title, meaning that I played the game with the best possible sound quality. If you get the retail version or download it on PSN, you will have to get the Audio DLC on it’s own (Free DLC). I state this as I didn’t play the game without the high quality audio, so cannot comment if the base audio of the game suffers from audio compression.
Like mentioned in the design portion of the review, the game has a bug with the Dojo Hub but outside of that one glitch, I never encountered any other problems during my time with the game. This is a polished experience with solid production values.
Story: 3.5 out of 5 / Design & Lasting Appeal: 4.5 out of 5 / Gameplay: 4 out of 5 / Presentation: 3.5 out of 5
Valkyrie Drive is a solid action title for the PlayStation Vita, offering a game with a lot of ‘plot’ but also having a great combat system, a fun selection of characters to play as and a lot of content to dig into. While you might have some issues with the games audio with the Audio DLC and the story can be stronger, the overall package is a surprise title for the platform this Fall.
Overall: 4 out of 5
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita using a review copy provided by P-Qube Games. You can play this on the PS Vita or PlayStation TV.