Dragon Star Varnir review for PS4, PC

Platform: PS4
Platform: PC
Publisher: Idea Factory
Developer: Idea Factory / Compile Heart
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

To some extent, Dragon Star Varnir is exactly what you?d expect from an Idea Factory/Compile Heart game. It?s a JRPG with turn-based battles against various monsters, and the main characters are all scantily-clad girls. It?s a formula they?ve been working on for more than a decade with Hyperdimension Neptunia (a series I know far too well) and Record of Agarest (a series I don?t know at all), so it should come as no surprise that this game doesn?t stray beyond their comfort zone all that much.

That said, Dragon Star Varnir still feels very different from Hyperdimension Neptunia. Whereas the Neptunia games were all fairly light-hearted tales that liked to parody many of the dumber elements of the genre, Dragon Star Varnir takes itself much more seriously. This is a high fantasy game that embraces some of the grimmer elements of the genre, with a story about witches who need to devour dragons in order to maintain their sanity, in a world where witches are hunted and killed by the state. Dragon Star Varnir?s plot is built around what happens when a male knight is saved by female witches, and he learns that their battle against the empire he serves isn?t as cut-and-dried as he?d always believed.

Now, because this is Idea Factory/Compile Heart we?re talking about, the execution of that plot features an ample amount of heaving bosoms and witches whose special attacks require that their clothes all go flying off, leaving them covered with only thin strips of fabric. At the same time, though, the game gives the witches some amount of depth: they?re born with dragons inside their wombs which will eventually drive them insane. The only way to stave it off is by drinking dragon?s blood, but that in turn makes it more likely that the dragons will burst forth from them, leading to their violent deaths. I don?t even want to begin getting into the symbolism and politics of that, but it?s undeniably deeper than what you?d ever have seen in a Neptunia game.

The real attraction in Dragon Star Varnir, though, is the battle system. It?s turn-based, but it?s also done across multiple levels, and you have to be mindful of defending and attacking across all of them. As someone who always struggles with a single level in turn-based fights, I found it challenging to adapt to three of them, but I also found it much more interesting than the standard battles we usually see in Neptunia games.

And that?s really the best way to think of Dragon Star Varnir: as a much more interesting take on the Idea Factory formula. True, I may think differently if it turns out to be the first of a dozen or so takes on the high fantasy genre set within the same universe over the next decade, but right now, this seems like a fresh new direction for the venerable JRPG maker.

Idea Factory International provided us with a Dragon Star Varnir PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: B