One of the best challenges you can pose to yourself as a writer is to try and write outside of your comfort zone. You might try a new topic if you tend to focus on one particular thing, or, as I’m doing today, you might try and write about something that might make you feel a tiny bit uncomfortable or awkward. Today’s game, really, is outside of most people’s comfort zones. Way outside.
It’s Valkyrie Drive -BIKKHUNI-, and I’m honestly kind of floored it managed to get localized in today’s moral-outrage-fueled world, much less get the localized Steam port we’re going to be playing.
Okay. Hoo boy, this is going to be a tough one. You know how there’s a big contemporary push for games with strong, deep female characters, girls and women with something to offer as characters rather than just existing as eye candy? It’s the kind of thing people talk about with regards to games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Life is Strange. Okay, now imagine that someone made the opposite of that, and you’ve got Valkyrie Drive, a game about anime girls alternatively beating each other up and engaging in softcore romance, all in various states of undress. I’m not exactly an officer of the Morality Police circa 2017, but it doesn’t take a badge to see that this one’s not going to appeal to everybody.
Let’s say you’re part of the intended audience, though. What are you getting in Valkyrie Drive? Well, it’s got a plot: young women who are infected with the Armed Virus, a contagion that grants immense power along with the risk of going berserk, are sent to the artificial island of Bikkhuni to seek treatment. Said treatment turns out to consist of lots and lots of fighting, since martial control is an essential part of curing the Virus.
You’ll choose two characters in each match; one will serve as the Liberator, the character who’s actually present in combat, while the other is the Extar, who transforms into a weapon wielded by the Liberator. The fact that characters fight in couples is played pretty much exactly the way you think it is.
What’s the actual combat like, though? Well, it’s a little reminiscent of the extremely similar Senran Kagura games; it’s 3D combat focused on locking on the opponent and closing in with speedy footwork before launching punishing combo attacks. Characters possess a variety of simple combo attacks that can be chained together to achieve launches, juggles, knockbacks and so on. Landing hits builds up a super meter that can eventually be used to activate Drive, which causes the Extar to transform into her weapon form, powering up the Liberator you’re controlling. The meter can be filled further after performing a Drive, allowing the Liberator to use powerful super attacks or to further increase her power with later stages of Drive. At the highest levels, it’s possible to activate Connect, a super mode that fully transforms the Liberator and makes her unstoppable for a time. Battles tend to turn into fast-paced back-and-forth rallies of dodges and attacks, which is actually fairly engaging if you’re into less complex fighters.
Naturally, all of the above comes with associated cutscenes that are almost certainly exactly the kind of thing you think they are, particularly when it comes to higher-level Drive transformations. Valkyrie Drive is not here to be subtle, and something must be said for a game that’s so uncompromisingly willing to do…this. Characters jabber on about fighting spirit, breast size and so on during story segments; statues called Chestguards measure characters’ growth via their Rack Rank and offer prizes for, uh, performance; new underwear is obtained for our heroines via the Lingerie Printer.
No, I’m not making any of this up; here’s a video game that exists in 2017 that you can buy on Steam with your US Dollars right now if you so choose. It even runs nicely at a resolution of your choice, and you can play it with your XInput controller. Welcome to the future.
Look, here’s how it is: there’s a whole lot of people in there who are really invested in video games being art. We seem to have gone ahead and accepted that at this point. It follows, then, that much as we generally accept that Serrano’s Piss Christ is art despite its provocative content, so too would Valkyrie Drive -BIKKHUNI- be art in its own way. Let’s mull on that for awhile, think about putting this one up there on the gallery walls next to artsy-fartsy games about crying like Dear Esther and marvel at the world we live in. Oh, and in terms of beating people up it’s not that bad of a game either, assuming the content’s your bag.