I’ve never actually seen Game of Thrones! That’s unfortunate, since otherwise the intro to this review would be pretty easy. Something something mother of dragons, so on and so forth. No idea what I’m talking about. Either way: dragon fans, we’ve got the game for you today. Dragon Star Varnir is absolutely packed to the brim with fire-breathing reptiles. Try to stay calm.
Witch-hunting knight Zephy’s world is a little messed up. There’s dragons everywhere, see, and they’re as evil and nasty as dragons usually are. The messed up part is where the dragons come from – they’re born from witches, women with dragon embryos growing inside of them who are forced to subside on dragon meat to survive. Eating too much causes the dragon to forcibly burst from the witch, killing her; eating too little causes the witch to go mad from hunger. Either way, it’s a pretty bad state of affairs.
It’s even worse for Zephy – after a dragon blood transfusion, he becomes the first male witch, with all that entails. You can’t be a witch-hunting knight if you are a witch, after all. Now, with other witches, he goes on a journey to try and figure out what’s causing the witches’ curse…and perhaps also discover a way to remove it.
Dragon Star Varnir is fairly typical as Idea Factory games go – it’s an interesting concept mixed with dungeon crawling and a fair amount of fanservice for those who are into that kind of thing. It’s a little less dark and cynical than their last original effort, Death End Re;quest, though. That’s not to say this isn’t a pretty bleak tale at times, it’s more that Death End just laid it on thick and never really stopped. Varnir at least has its lighthearted moments.
So what’s the gimmick here? Well, we’ve got a few of them, actually. First, the combat system uses an unusual three-layered vertical tier system, basically meaning that characters fight on different height levels. This boils down to another consideration when you’re positioning your fighters or using area-effect attacks, and it’s more interesting in practice than it probably sounds in text. Second, you’ve got an interesting character growth system where you can consume enemy dragons to gain their powers. There’s no limit on how much a character can consume, so having all your characters eat every dragon can result in some pretty beefy fighters.
That, however, ties into the third gimmick: see, you’ve got some little sister witches who are too young to fend for themselves hanging out back at the witches’ den. They need to be fed regularly or they’re going to go crazy…but if you feed them too much they’re going to turn into dragons. If you ignore them they die, if you pay attention to them they die. Their progression into dragons is only slowed by feeding, rather than stopped, so either way they’re toast unless you can wrap up the game quickly enough. This lends a severe sense of urgency to the game as soon as the system unlocks…but even allowing them to dragonize has its perks, as you can, well, find their dragon forms afterwards and gain powers from them. Like I said, this is still a pretty bleak game.
Altogether, this leads to a surprisingly deep experience by Idea Factory’s standards. There’s a lot going on here between combat, dragon collection and keeping your little sisters as alive as you want them to be. The plot also picks up a bit over time, which is nice. There’s an addictive quality to either pumping up your characters into dragon gods or minimizing combat to keep the younger girls alive.
As for presentation, well, if you’ve played any Idea Factory game since Fairy Fencer F you probably know what you’re getting into here. The character designs are nice, though given how numerous artists worked on this game they can be a little incongruous. Dungeons and battles look great too, even if there’s some very obvious asset re-use from Death End. As for sound, well, turn on the Japanese voice acting and you’re good to go.
Death End Re;quest wasn’t a terrible game, but its constant onslaught of misery made it a somewhat exhausting experience. Dragon Star Varnir, meanwhile, is a little more dynamic and endearing. Its myriad interlocking systems make for a varied, interesting adventure that’s worth a look for RPG fans.