In May of 2019, Death end re;Quest was my game of the month. In June of 2019, Mary Skelter: Nightmares was my game of the month. For July of 2019, Dragon Star Varnir is my game of the month. These three titles come from the same company: Idea Factory/Compile Heart. I’m still in disbelief. Their products are usually filled with messiness and oversights, but these days they’ve seemed to have really stepped up their game. With Dragon Star Varnir, we have a brand new IP that retains some of that IF/CH-ness , yet manages to stick out. As expected, it’s a bit rough around the edges. But, there’s a fun RPG underneath those edges that is worth playing.
Dragon Star Varnir takes place in the Empire of Varneria. Soldiers of this empire called the Knights of Requiem are trained to battle both witches and dragons, as well as spread the word of the the Holy God Varnir. Witches are feared for the magical powers, however most of the fear comes from their curse: the ability to give birth to dragons. Dragons run rampant throughout the empire; wreaking havoc and destroying civilization. During a dragon hunt, a knight named Zephy gets separated from his party and encounters a massive dragon. After getting beaten close to death by it, two witches named Minessa and Karikaro come to his rescue. Minessa feeds Zephy dragon’s blood in order to heal his wounds. In doing so, Zephy unlocks the powers of the witch. Why did these witches save Zephy? Can Zephy adjust to this new normal? How is it possible that a man could become a witch in the first place?
There are lots of questions. There will be lots of dread in answering those questions. Bleak things are going on the moment you start Dragon Star Varnir. Obviously, the most unsettling thing is the burden the witches bare. As long as they’re alive, then there is a chance that will give birth to a dragon. If they don’t nourish themselves, then they will go insane and transform into a dragon. It’s easy to empathize with Zephy: he was taught to hate witches and now he’s become one, complete with a dragon living inside of him. We also have Minessa and the other sister witches he meets that have to take him under their wing. It’s a fantastic tale, but I would have liked just a bit more development with everyone that wasn’t a main character. Varneria is an interesting, dark, and atmospheric place. We could have seen more of it through the eyes of other characters.
Still, despite this complaint, Dragon Star Varnir’s story is excellent. The narrative is intriguing by itself, but Zephy and his new family are great in their own right. They’re a fantastically realized and developed bunch of individuals against all odds in a depressing world. As you progress, Zephy will have to make dialogue choices that can effect which ending you get. If you continue to answer poorly, then the dragon inside of Zephy will cause him to go mad. This will cause you to get the “Madness Ending.” In other words, the game will end. Usually, you’ll be able to tell which dialogue choices keep the madness gauge in the menu screen low. I made some wrong choices and it was still below 50%.
However, when you reach Chapter 4, another twist gets thrown at you that will easily make or break Zephy’s madness. In the Witch’s Den that serves as your team’s hub, there are three little sister witches named Monet, Pio and Chiquita that you need to care for. Each girl has a sanity meter that will rise every time you venture out of the den to explore a dungeon. These adorable girls are running on borrowed time. To keep them sane, you need to feed them dragon food. If you feed them too much, then they’ll give birth to the dragon within them and die. Don’t feed them at all? They’ll go insane and transform into dragons. This soft time limit adds a level of stress and tension to an already stressful situation. I know that no one likes the idea of a time limit, but let me say this: as long as you don’t dillydally and/or grind excessively, you won’t need to worry about losing your little sisters to their growing dragons. If you keep them alive by the time you reach a future chapter, then then the limit will be fully removed.
Aside from feeding your little sisters, the den allows you to shop, take on simple side-quests, give your friends gifts to raise their affection towards Zephy, and create magical elixirs. Elixirs are used to make better equipment. While they’re not necessary on the standard difficulty levels, they’re fun to play around with if you want to take a break from dungeon crawling. But, it’s the dungeons where Dragon Star Varnir shines. Well, no. That’s not entirely accurate. Dungeon layouts are pretty standard stuff: underground hallways, ancient ruins, creepy forests, and other areas filled treasures and gathering points. But, throughout them are dragons that you’ll battle.
Dragon Star Varnir uses a three-tiered battle layout. Your team of three and the enemies will move between the three tiers. It offers a nice level of strategy, plus there are various formations that you can use that offer bonuses. You can equip your party members with a variety of skills, magic spells, passive boosts and Devour Abilities. Devour Abilities are the best part of the battles. Taking a small cue from Digital Devil Saga, your team will use these to eat their enemies and acquire Dragon Factors. Using the Factor Points earned from battle, you will unlock new abilities and stat bonuses from the factors. Experience points will level you up, but you won’t learn any new skills without eating your foes. In a word, devouring foes is AWESOME. Finally, as battles progress, your teammates’ Dragon Meters will slowly rise. When it’s full, they’ll transform into a powerful Dragon Awakening form.
It sounds like there’s a lot to keep track of in Dragon Star Varnir. There is, but it’s not necessary to master it all at once. Tutorials will pop up all the time when new things get introduced, but you’re better off ignoring them so you don’t get overwhelmed. Things will click by the time you finish the first chapter. Note that it’s not necessary to take the time to get all of the Dragon Factors. Also, with your little sisters’ lives in the balance, outside grinding would cause an untimely end. But, there’s no denying that there’s an addictive and exciting nature to seeing what each new enemy has in store after you consume them.
In the introduction, I mentioned that Dragon Star Varnir had some roughness around the edges. Much of it has to do with the presentation. Dragon Star Varnir looks and sounds fine. Graphics are typical IF/CH style: beautiful character art that overstays its welcome, somewhat polished polygons, and over the top special attacks. At this point, I’d really like to see them try something different. The PlayStation 4 has the technology. IF/CH should use it. The soundtrack is lackluster, which is a bummer. Finally, there is a fraction of the English voice acting compared to the Japanese voice acting. It’s a shame because the English voice actors do a good job. Unexpected difficulty spikes and a boring post game dungeon top off the issues.
Unless you activate the Madness Endings, Dragon Star Varnir can be finished in 30 hours. Multiple difficulty options and a variety of ending related trophies can slightly extend that time. No matter what you decide to do, I recommend taking some time to experience Dragon Star Varnir. Idea Factory/Compile Heart have something special here. If some extra effort was made with the presentation and a few technical hiccups, then this could have been close to perfection.
Overall, 8.5/10 – Embrace the curse of the witches. Dragon Star Varnir’s intriguing story and captivating game play come together for a great RPG experience.