Developer Compile Heart has been known for their specific brand of JRPGs, which while aren’t high budget productions like the Final Fantasy entries are still filled with tons of gameplay mechanics and usually a good helping of fan service. Their past few games, such as the Fairy Fencer series, were however a step in a new, more serious direction for the company. And that is what their latest entry, Dark Rose Valkyrie, aims to carry forward. Channeling other great collaborations of the past where multiple minds were brought together, such as Chrono Trigger, this game brings together two notable talents from the Tales series, character designer Kosuke Fujishima and script writer Takuma Miyajima. So how does this all play out in the end?
Dark Rose Valkyrie presents the player with an alternate take on Earth’s history where meteorites hit the earth and spread viruses across the globe that turned humans and animals both into beasts known as Chimera. However, Japan managed to escape most of the carnage by sealing themselves away and escaping the effects. The game itself begins with protagonist Asahi Shiramine joining a military group that’s fighting off Chimera using special technology that gives them an upper hand, but at the cost of a possible risk of inflicting a split-personality within the user’s psyche.
It’s an interesting premise and one we’ve seen bits and pieces implemented in various other JRPGs in the past, but how Dark Rose Valkyrie does it is a bit haphazard at best to say the least. Usually the smaller side events aren’t as much of the standouts compared to the antagonists — but in this game the antagonists often feel like filler for the main course. Often times you run into a pattern of tracking down an enemy, finding them and then fighting off waves of more boss-like enemies as they escape. And this isn’t done a few times — it's done for at least a good portion of the game.
Honestly if the side events, and the neat mechanic it brings I’ll touch upon later, didn’t redeem things, I’d honestly want to stop playing due to the banal repetition. When you’re not in a story-led sequence, you can converse with your party members. While each member tends to stick to a specific anime-style trope to a degree, the developers & localizers did a good job in making them feel multi-dimensional once you get to know them.
That helps quite a bit, as there’s a “traitor" mechanic implemented where one of your party members (determined at random at the beginning of the playthrough) is a traitor and you have to determine who it is. When you get to the point where you need to determine the person, you have a neat little interviewing mechanic which was a fun side diversion that you don’t typically get to experience in a JRPG. The fact that the party members are so well developed helps here, as otherwise you might not feel as heartbroken when that specific character ends up being the traitor.
The uneven implementation problem rears its head again with how the developers implement the overworld compared to the dungeons. The city area doesn’t have any NPCs like you might expect and while it isn’t the usual menu-based affair you would expect from Compile Heart, the uneven presentation and slow frame rate at times doesn't give a great impression to the player. This clashes greatly when the story sequences present some of these areas in a completely different manner as well, but when you get to said “area” it looks completely different.
Dungeons, at least, are far more varied in their design, layout and mechanics, as you can climb up and crawl under to find new areas. The problem is that the Chimera in these areas have essentially superhuman vision and speed, as you really can’t outpace them once they have their sights locked on you.
And speaking of Chimera, battles in Dark Rose Valkyrie are most comparable to the turn-based Final Fantasy games that employed the “Active Time Battle” mechanics, putting things in their most simplistic form. There’s a gauge on the left-hand side with the characters’s actions ticking down on a bar from one of four levels depending on their strength. What kind of attacks you use can delay or possibly even push back the enemy’s own actions, and if you can deal enough damage to them you’ll break their defense and be able to land a group attack. The problem with this mechanic is that often times players will either defeat the enemy at the same time as the bar fills up or far beforehand, so this mechanic gets heavily underutilized due to the game’s balancing. Additionally, the game also requires all enemies in one “line” to be defeated before moving onto the next line and while there are AOE attacks that hit everything, you don't get access to these until the latter half of the game.
There were aspects, such as the characterization and varied dungeons, that showed developer Compile Heart can switch things up if they attempt new things. But at other times in the game, it feel like a half-step when they resort to their old habits or employ new techniques which don’t work well at all in practice or are heavily unbalanced. It’s not a bad JRPG by any means, but it goes to show that even with high-budget talent headlining the game, if the core mechanics aren’t there it can’t save what’s still an average JRPG at heart.
|The side events really do a lot to help bring characterization to the characters, even if they are initially built on tropes.|
|Dungeons are somewhat varied, compared to the usual standard rote we've come to expect from Compile Heart.|
|The reuse of how you encounter antagonists over and over again becomes incredibly annoying.|
|Almost near impossible to escape enemies once they discover you in dungeons.|
|Battle mechanics are incredibly uneven in execution.|