If there is one positive of living in a world of mindless, bloodthirsty monsters, it’s that it’s easy to tell who the enemy is…because of the claws and fangs and violence. Unfortunately, the situation becomes a touch more complex when said monsters are actually humans, infected and transformed by the unholy fusion of alien matter and a virus. Not that that changes what needs to be done…
Asahi Shiramine is moving to the big city, with little more than a dream in his heart and a mission on his mind. With a brand new work opportunity and the Ultimate Beginner’s Luck, his life is looking up…at the giant monsters who stand before him: Chimera. Horrid abominations that prowl the world and threaten the uninfected populace of the world, with both violence and the fear of contracting the Chimera Virus. Naturally, the military is all over this and Special Force Valkyrie now stands as humanity’s best hope for survival. Probably. The game certainly promotes their effectiveness, but the simple fact remains that they are only present in Japan, a country that closed itself off from the world when the virus struck. So while it is good that there is a group willing to fight back against the Chimera threat, everywhere that is not Japan is pretty much a non-issue and could be on fire…or frozen…or poisoned. Chimera can do a lot.
Now I know what you’re all thinking, “This is a game about fighting for the safety of humanity, so naturally there is an underlying harem element to the story.” Good job everybody, you’re right. Though it doesn’t factor into gameplay to any major degree, it is enough of a facet that it is noticeable. Yet, it really doesn’t matter all that much. Barring one extra image appearing at the end of the game (of whichever lovely lady you form the strongest connection with), the concept of building trust with anybody on your team exists solely to add drama to another of the game’s mechanics: Treachery. As the plot progresses, it becomes all too apparent that somebody on your team is working for the enemy, leaking intel and undermining humanity’s survival. This leads to roughly four instances where you must interview each soldier, weighing their statements against one another to discern the liar in the bunch. Interesting in concept, the actual mechanics of this endeavour leave a little to be desired and mostly stand out as an obstructive outlier, rather than the crucial gameplay element it was likely intended to be. If it makes you feel better however, the results of these interview seem to serve no purpose other than to provide items (based on the validity of your observations) and a stock standard phrase from your Commander. You also never actually learn if you were right in your investigations…so there’s that.
Internal suspicion aside, Dark Rose Valkyrie revolves around a tried and true RPG battle formula based on turns. With a limit of four active soldiers in your squad, with another four for backup, it is up to you to strategise, use the correct elemental abilities, judge whether a ranged or close up approach is best, swap in backup members when your frontline is looking week, correctly use battle items, wisely distribute stats upon level up and know when to run from battle…or you could simply keep pressing Attack until the bad guys fall. Admittedly not the most strategic approach, it is one that works until the very end of the game. As long as you pump up the Melee stat, you can pretty much activate Auto Battle and wait for your squad to win for you. Granted, elemental specials expedite the victory process and help avoid the need for healing items every now and then, but that’s a matter of how much time you wish to spend navigating your attack list, which can be quite expansive as levels increase. The most troubling issue that arises from this strategy is the game’s inclusion of the story elements. Multiple moments of the game will see your team forcibly reorganised, possibly robbing you of your most powerful characters for a time. Though far from the end of the proverbial world, the overall lack of impact the story has make these moments little more than an annoyance.
When outside of battle, you are occasionally able to talk with your team, building a rapport and hopefully connecting with their various personalities, in order to feel bad when one turns heel. The effect of this relies solely on your interest in certain anime archetypes and your tolerance of heavy handed drama. Fan of the sheltered rich girl who longs for purpose? Luna is your girl. The stoic girl who hides a cute side? Yue. Sweet and innocent girl with secret insecurities? Ai. Twins whose wealthy father despises them for being born as women and wishes they would hurry up and have sons (they’re roughly 16 by the way) and enters the game literally saying that women are useless, just to really rub in the evil? Coo and Amal are your girls. There’s also Kengo and Naoyuki, but they’re mainly hung up on doing laundry and looking for attractive women, respectively. Also they’re guys. And considering they don’t blush and stumble over their words like every girl in Special Force Valkyrie, I don’t think they like Asahi in that way. And if none of these options interest you, hang around until the split personalities enter the fray. It’s basically just an excuse to have the girls double up on tropes, throwing shyness, violence, and a remarkable amount of disdain into the romantic mix. You know, the building blocks of any solid relationship…in an anime.
Though a visual novel manner of storytelling is, by definition, expository, there are certainly ways to mitigate the overwhelming flow of information that comes with telling and not showing. Dark Rose Valkyrie does not do this well. With the opening of the game informing you of story and the various mechanics that comprise combat, it’s a little hard to find the time to care about anything. Though this confusion naturally disperses as you come to terms with Attack, Charge, Arts, Ignition (temporary power-up), Overdrive (even more temporary super power-up) EX Attack, Side Attack, All Out Attack, Co-operation Attack, Special, Melee, Ranged, Fatigue, Remodeling and Tailoring, the initial hesitance born of confusion is hard to move past. Yet, despite this, it is the end of the game that dishes out one of the heaviest expository deluge…for no reason. As the story is wrapping up and the villainous force has revealed themselves, motivations of greed and hatred fueling them, the game decides to suddenly reveal a bevy of new facts that were never once alluded to and serve no real purpose in regards to closing the story. Let’s just say that, in a story about monsters and a virus that transforms humans into said monsters, the idea of an immortal foe who has been working behind the scenes for a century or so, manipulating the development of humanity’s defences in the hope of creating the exact conditions necessary for their super evil goals, never once occurred to me…or any character in the story for that matter. Combined with the manner in which the final moments play out, it feels as if the game simply forgot it wanted to include these story elements and threw them all in at the end. Which is not exactly a high note to leave off on…like, at all.
Dark Rose Valkyrie is not a fantastic game, neither is it a bad one. Though much of combat can be ignored in favour of simply hitting things with oversized weapons, the romantic sub-subplot exists simply to show of anime girl tropes and the story utilises confusion to conceal average execution, a good time can still be had with this game. The enemy designs are interesting, the simple dungeons lean well into a quick burst play style and the overwhelming force you can apply to a single, villainous cobra is cathartic to say the least. Still, Dark Rose Valkyrie very much feels like a PS Vita experience, with its flaws only becoming more apparent on a console that can handle so much more. Especially visible in the final sequence of the game, utilising in battle models in a cinematic fashion. Not the best idea, which is a phrase that sadly applies to much of what Dark Rose Valkyrie has to offer. Chimera and all.
Every Dark Rose has its thorns…