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Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni (Vita) artwork

Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni (Vita) review

"Not The Island Vacation I Expected"

I adore Senran Kagura. When I heard that producer Kenichiro Takaki (best known for his contributions to that very franchise) was working on a new series called Valkyrie Drive, I was fully on board. I waited for word of a localization, despite thinking it would never happen. Well, here we are in a world where Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni has finally been localized, and Iím awash with disappointment.

Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni opens with two sisters, Rinka and Ranka, who have been sent by their parents to the island of Bhikkhuni. The island is one of six man-made islands that exist to assist young women who were infected with a virus that gives them superhuman strength, and even allows others to transform into weapons. Bhikkhuni is special, however, as it hosts seven girls who can both wield these weapons and also turn into them. Their goal is to control the virus, and the only way to do that is by fighting each other. Thus begins our melodramatic tale of love, unchecked ambition and hidden conspiracies.

When Valkyrie Drive was first announced, I was interested to see what would happen if Takaki got a little serious. After all, Senran Kagura is nothing but silly, even though I love it. The lack of maturity is fine, since the game never really presented itself as trying to be more than what it was. Valkyrie Drive, however, stumbles in that regard. It takes itself way too seriously. The cutscenes between missions drag on for far too long, as each girl must make her motivations for fighting abundantly clear. It would be fine if the dialog were snappy and got to the point. Instead, it spends way too long defining said motivations again and again, in between snippets of often-boring exposition that does little to make me care about these girls or their situation.

Iím willing to accept a boring narrative if the core gameplay shines. Unfortunately, it doesnít quite reach that point here, but letís start with the good. Fighting in Valkyrie Drive is fast-paced (for the most part), and each character feels unique. Since Valkyrie Driveís seven-character cast is small compared to Senran Kaguraís 20-plus roster, itís easier to determine which character you gel with the most. In my case it was Viola, a woman who wields a longsword and gun, who stole my heart with her combination of short and long range attacks.

The partner mechanic, which has each girl pair up with another, adds another interesting wrinkle. Instead of having two characters fighting together, the backup girl (called an "Extar") waits on the Liberator (the one engaged in active combat) to call on her once the Drive gauge filled by defeating enemies is full. The two allies then enter Drive mode, which sees the Extar transform and replace the Liberatorís weapon. It's a neat mechanic that encourages players to thoughtfully dole out experience to both Liberator and Extar.

My favorite feature, though, is the attack gauge that increases a characterís max damage output every time they pull off a trick. The best way to increase this gauge is by utilizing what the game calls the ďPhantom Jump.Ē When the player holds X and then releases it once a charge is complete, the character will charge at the currently targeted enemy. If that foe is stunned, the move will knock it into the air. From there, you can launch the enemy even further, knock them down to the ground or repeatedly pummel them. It's a great motivation to play around with all the mechanics, but some issues hold it back.

Speaking of which, Valkyrie Drive often fails to reach the heights toward which it so desperately reaches. The Phantom Jump, while a really neat mechanic in theory, never really worked for me in practice. I found that the input lag during hectic fights, especially one-on-one fights when plenty of particle effects are flying about, hindered my ability to nail the inputs. I also felt that some inputs requiring a press followed by a hold followed by another press sometimes felt counter-intuitive. Games like Ninja Gaiden Black succeed because they run smoothly and the inputs, while sometimes complicated, flow naturally once you get the hang of them. Valkyrie Drive never really nailed either quality.

Outside of the main event, Valkyrie Drive is even more annoying, with what the game calls the ďRack Rank.Ē In essence, some levels feature a robot that judges the girls based on their ďrack,Ē to unlock extra accessory slots. To level this up, players have to go into the changing room and start rubbing one of the girls on her face, butt and breasts (to be fair, though, a button press will also do the trick). After a while, the ability to give the girl a massage unlocks, allowing for the Rack Rank to level up even faster. It took me an awkward 29 minutes to go from level 1 to 120. Itís thankfully an optional diversion, but locking enhancements behind a boring (and arguably offensive) mini-game is not cool.

If the main story and increasing Rack Ranks do nothing for you, the game does at least feature three other modes. The challenge and survival modes are pretty self explanatory, but one of the three online modes is actually quite clever. The first two, Liberation and Strip, are basically copied from Senran Kagura, with the first being a basic deathmatch mode while the second tasks players with stripping their opponents to score points. The last mode, Melee, is a neat Smash Bros. clone that plays much the same as the source material. Players attempt to launch others off the stage and score points. The catch is that the percentage that dictates how far a player is launched is now tied to how much clothing they have remaining. I found it a witty use of the property, and something I think they could turn into a standalone game one day.

While I may have been disappointed in Valkyrie Driveís gameplay, its visuals are top notch. Itís easily one of the best looking and best performing Vita games Iíve played. The wide open levels and the detailed character designs really pop on the Vitaís screen, and its runs pretty smoothly as a general rule. My only problem came with the aforementioned input lag that didnít seem to come from slowdown, but something else that I couldnít quite put my finger on. Itís just something that players will have to get used to.

Overall, I didnít like Valkyrie Drive as much as I would have hoped. I bought into the hype, based on my affection for Senran Kagura, and I was let down as a result. I donít want to be too hard on Valkyrie Drive, however, as it at least tried something different. It set out to separate itself from its sister series, and I applaud it for that. With some refinement, I think Valkyrie Drive could be the next Senran Kagura. Itís not quite to that place quite yet, but Iím down for another game to see if it gets there.


Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (November 07, 2016)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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