From the mind of Kenichiro Takaki – the producer of games like Senran Kagura, IA/VT Colorful, and the upcoming Uppers – comes a game about seven girls, all with amazing abilities. These girls, enhanced by something called the V Virus, are able to harness their bond with each other and either “liberate” or “exterminate” their opponents.
How, you ask? By groping and kissing each other until one of them turns into weaponry, of course! Valkyrie Drive is a lot more than just the sexual bits though, and underneath the Senran Kagura similarities like clothes breaks there is a game that has both familiar aspects and something that makes it unique.
But before we break it down, there’s a little business we have to cover regarding the story.
Unfortunately, this title is a non-English import – so I can’t really speak to specifics regarding the story that you get alongside your gameplay. What I can tell you about the premise for the story is this; most of the main bits follow Rinka and Ranka – a pair of sisters – however there are seven girls involved as playable, and an additional girl who serves as your mission commander (via a TV of sorts). The girls have been modified by the V Virus (not the T Virus like in the anime) such that they can become either a liberator – a weapon, or an Ecsta – a weapon wielder. To do this however, they must bond with another girl – which is done through touching.
That’s pretty much all I can say about it at this point – the language barrier has prevented me from getting anything but bits and pieces along the way. It’s worth flicking through for some of the fanservice bits if you’re into that sort of thing, but otherwise there’s a fast-forward button that lets you skip it and get right to the ass-kicking bits; the true meat of the title.
Moving on from the story to the gameplay, the main mode (and the only mode available at the beginning) is called the Story Mode. In this mode you’ll be introduced to the basic gameplay mechanics and tested in a progressive setting. Due to the way things are explained, there is a little trial and error to be had here to figure out what is wanted of you – but aside from that there wasn’t that much uphill battling for a non-Japanese speaker to face. You’re generally presented with a bunch of low level baddies to beat up, which then opens a path to another area, and things repeat. At the end of the level there’s usually some sort of big boss to take out (like another V Virus infected girl – or a giant mechanized robot), however aside from that there’s not too much variation.
There are two different endings to Story Mode, with the appearance of the “true ending” depending on the scores you get in the first sixteen levels. Scores of SS in the bulk of the levels will unlock the true ending, while scores below SS will unlock the standard ending. Each ending consists of four levels, and as always each level consists of two or three parts.
The story part of the game is not short by any means, though in the same respect it’s shorter than Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus. Part of this is attributed to the fact that Senran has separate stories for its characters (of which there are more than twenty) however, which Valkyrie Drive does not. Valkyrie Drive has some other modes to keep you interested though – ones that might have a little more longevity for the returning player.
In Survival Mode (which opens up part way through Story Mode) you play through waves of enemies, with every ten levels throwing in a “boss” for you to take on. Some levels will have breakables (barrels usually) to aide you in keeping up your strength and power, though the harder ones opt for less on top of the extra enemies and difficulty. In all there are six different survival levels, ranging from a basic 10 level run, to a bone crushingly hard 100 level run. This is the mode for the seasoned player, for sure – and will take skill to complete fully. Don’t expect to breeze through just because you’ve maxed out your abilities. 😉
There’s also Challenge Mode, where you’re given a specific task to complete and a time to complete it in. Most of these are skill or enemy based, and take some trial and error to realize, however there are translations on the internet that can help you get through them as well. Where the localization community isn’t, the fan community is on this one – a welcome sight to us importers!
Online Mode is all about creating or joining a match with other people, battling it out in a variety of modes. The ones I could discern either had you looking to KO an opponent, strip them of their clothes completely, or knock them off a stage (sort of like king of the hill, or Sumo wrestling). They’re all pretty fun if you can get a match, but I often found myself sitting at the “searching” screen for hours with no opponents. Bummer.
Moving past the standard modes, there’s also Training Mode. Here you can set the parameters and simply beat the stuffing out of your enemy – of which you can set to be hostile, or simply stand there and take a beating. This is a great way to learn how to play the game for someone jumping in without the language knowledge, and I recommend you spend a little time here at the start of your gameplay.
“But how does it even play?” you might be asking, and that’s a completely valid question; this isn’t Senran Kagura, and the way the controls are set up is one of the biggest contributors to that.
- To start, “X” is both jump (press) and a super-dash (hold) that can zip you to a locked enemy in an instant. It works both in the air, mid combo, and on the ground to make sure you’re always within reach of any enemy you’ve got in your sights.
- A press of “Circle” controls your “uppercut” like ability, which can be performed differently depending on the character you pick, but ultimately lifts your opponent off the ground. This is the move you should be using to “juggle,” and get the upper hand on your opponents. Alternatively, you can use it as a battering ram of sorts by holding circle – turning you into a lunging fireball of power.
- Holding “Triangle” initiates your charge attack on the ground, or your ground-pound attack in the air. If you’re high enough in the air when initiating it you’ll even get a cool view of your pummeling targets below – so watch for it. 😉
- Lastly, “Square” is your standard attack button, offering unique combos and/or charging attacks depending on who you’re using.
But that’s not all you’ve got to worry about, as there are plenty of other buttons that come into play. The right trigger and “X” combine for a dodge move (which looks bad-ass on the ground), “Up” on the D-Pad locks onto the nearest target, and select removes the HUD for a clean view.
Next are the DRIVE and Overdrive controls. DRIVE is available once you’ve filled the purple gauge top left, which in turn fills the bars top right (and the special moves once in DRIVE). One bar gets you level 1, two bars level 2 and access to a special move slot, three bars gets you to level 3 and a second special move slot, and four bars gets you to Final DRIVE and three special move slots available.
DRIVE-based special moves are executed by having a slot filled (glowing), and then using the left trigger and either “Square,” “Triangle,” or “Circle” to modify – the order in which they’re written denoting how many slots they need to use. The more slots they need, the “bigger” the attack – so keep that in mind!
Overdrive is the last bit we need to worry about, but can be one of the most useful ones in the game as using it will render you invulnerable as well as over-powered for as long as you’ve got the DRIVE to fuel it. Overdrive eats DRIVE just to run, and will deplete any reserves you have to keep it going. Overdrive is activated with the left trigger and “X,” so use it if you’re in a pinch! Controls will be normal otherwise, but all attack power is upped!
That said, DRIVE levels, additional specials, and even Overdrive must be earned by gaining experience through gameplay. At the start you’ll only have the most basic options available, but by raising your character’s level (Ecsta abilities) as well as the level of your partners (Liberator abilities) you can activate higher levels of DRIVE and achieve dominance over your enemies.
Moving away from gameplay, some additional menu options you’ll need to be aware of include the Collection Room – where you can check out stats and earned/bought items, the Dining Room – where you can interact with the girls for some conversation (in Japanese), the Communication Room – where you can poke, dress, and play the heart game (a touching mini-game) with the girls, the Store – where you can use the lingerie printer or simply buy things from the shop girl, and the Records area – where you can save your game.
Looking to the graphics, Valkyrie Drive is done in 3D – making it look very different from what we see in Senran Kagura. While Senran has a very anime/manga look to it, Valkyrie Drive tends towards a more CGI style 3D imagery that gives it a different feel. It also has a camera mode that’s quite close to your character when not locked on, calling for more detail than the Senran game would require.
So what do I think about all this?
Well, Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni is a game that fills the needs of life and hometown to anyone coming from the Senran series, but is different enough to feel like it’s not just slapping a skin on our favourite shinobis. While the Senran series on Vita is very much a medium paced musou title with unique characters and tons of tits, Bhikkhuni is a fast paced action title that’s slightly more akin to Devil May Cry. It’s all about quick change, grand moves, and being able to close the gap in a moment. It’s a bit of a different beast, and while that’s not immediately apparent, it soon becomes so once you begin to play.
That’s why I recommend that you don’t just take my word for it here. Buy it, play it, and feel it out for yourself; you can thank me later. 😉
This review was sponsored by Play-Asia, who kindly provided the import copy for us to review. If you like the look of Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni we suggest you give them a visit – both because they’re a quality import dealer, as well as because they’ve been kind enough to help us out!