Dragon Star Varnir finally makes it’s way to the Nintendo Switch after several months of already being available on home console and PC. Will the portability of the Switch give this JRPG from Compile Heart a second wind? Lets find out
The young knight Zephy is part of an order whose role within the empire is to hunt witches – cursed folk that wield magic and are said to give birth to dragons. Out on patrol one day, he is mauled by a dragon, and on the verge of death, is saved by two witches giving him dragon blood – a death-defying magical substance that also, surprisingly for a male, grants him witch powers. With nowhere to go now, Zephy reluctantly joins the witches that saved him against a slew of enemies: an Empire out to destroy his kind, ruthless dragon hunters, and a witch more powerful than any in existence. Can this group hope to fight off all these enemies and save themselves from the dragon’s curse?
Story delivery is as expected from the developer, lengthy fully voiced visual novel-esque dialogue sections, with the odd fully animated event using the in-game engine sprinkled in for good measure. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I like the way the story is delivered as it allows for a lot of depth to events, early on for example you’re left questioning whether there’s a reason to Zephy having witch abilities and if it is due to something in his past. There’s no multiplayer or anything to distract either, so its full steam ahead on the story and the game will keep you wondering as you go along with how things are within the world and the forces at work within it.
As expected the 2D artwork shines here, should please anyone that has played the likes of Fairy Fencer F, with detailed sprites during dialogue and screen filling event stills. The 3D side of things is no slouch either with the detailed characters & environments to explore. Texture work is a bit lower than what you find on other versions, but as a whole it looks quite similar to PS4/PC when playing on the go. This is also backed up by some good voice acting during the copious amounts of dialogue and a soundtrack that just gets the job done.
I know what you’re thinking, there’s gotta be a catch right? For the rest of the game to keep up with the big boys there had to be a sacrifice somewhere and its the resolution, clearly not native at all. It’s less noticeable in portable mode to be honest due to the small screen, but gets majorly exacerbated when docking the ol’ Switch. Disappointingly docked mode offers no upgrade really, the game is relatively smooth anyway portable so there’s no performance boost either, and you are left with what looks like 480p on the big screen.
If you’ve played a JRPG from this studio before, then you’ll an idea of how its gonna play out – tho as always there are some tweaks to the formula. Battles are still turn based but now take place on a multi tiered area due to the bouts usually being in the air. A few different systems come into play with this, but you can freely change tier to get around them. Magic for example can attack any tier but physical attacks can only be on your own tier, and th games formation system also plays into this. You can just ignore that and grind to the point the default is good enough, but the formations do carry other benefits such as stat boosts and quicker transformations.
The rest of the game, in how levelling up & item management is handled for example, is much the same as most every other Compile Heart JRPG you may have come across. Almost forgot to mention the devour system. This is actually pretty neat as not only can it be used as an attack during battle, but defeating an enemy with it will devour them for health etc and also the rare chance of learning new skill trees and abilities. I suppose the only issues with the game would be the typically Compile Heart things, the showering of tutorials during the opening section of the game and the usual difficulty spikes. Just a heads up that the first difficulty spike is at the end of the second dungeon, so be sure to warp out of there and redo it unless you wanna get one bopped by the boss at the end. Those like myself that have seen their fair share of IFI & Compile Heart RPG’s will feel like this is second nature, but newcomers could end up annoyed so best to keep difficulty spikes around boss encounters in mind.
Dragon Star Varnir is a relatively high quality offering from Compile Heart. The story and world crafted is interesting, graphics do a good job of showcasing it, and there’s some great tweaks to the usual turn-based JRPG combat to keep you on your toes. To be honest the only major downer for me was the resolution drop to keep those graphics up on Switch, luckily portable play isn’t so bad with it, but docked is best avoided. Whilst some folk will turn their nose up given the developer, anyone else will find an enjoyably meaty JRPG to sink plenty of time in to on the go.
Dragons, Witches & Knights make for an interesting concoction here, so long as the glass doesn’t need to be crystal clear.