Game Review – Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni (PC)

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Short Version: The PC version is WAAAAAAAY better than the PS Vita version. The addition of 60 frames per seconds, higher resolution and controller support makes this game much more fun to play. However, all of the other problems the PS Vita version had still plague this one; in other words, the story and characters aren’t that good, and the combat is still pretty clunky. This is no Senran Kagura by any means, but it’s still a pretty fun distraction before loading up Estival Versus again.

Long Version: I remember when I first imported Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni for PS Vita when it first came out in Japan. I played through all of it and found it very frustrating and disheartening that I couldn’t bring myself to like it all that much. The frame rate was a big problem, the combat was slow and everything else felt like a beta version of something that should’ve been much bigger. In the same way that Senran Kagura Burst felt like it needed some improvements (that were then later delivered in the sequels), the same thing I could say for Valkyrie Drive on PS Vita. However, now that the game is out on PC, there are some significant changes done that created a vastly different experience for me. This change is so different in fact that I actually feel good recommending this particular version. It still has many problems, but it makes up for it in other areas that help it barely come out of it with a passing grade.

A Kiss For Good Luck

Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni is brought to you by the same people involved with the much more popular Senran Kagura series. They essentially created a hack n’ slash brawler that takes place on an island filled with girls that are quarantined. They all have a virus that can turn them into weapons and the only way to cure themselves is to fight each other. This is essentially the main focus of the game’s story as seen through the eyes of the very small cast of characters. Here’s where the first problems start to arise: the story and characters are incredibly uninteresting. All of them seem like generic anime stereotypes that you can find anywhere else. All of their motivations are paper-thin and anyone that isn’t the two main sisters are the most unlikeable and annoying people in the world. There is some potential here, and I even started to warm up to them, but you never see it come to light, which is much different to the Senran Kagura series where they create backstories for why every character fights, therefore making them more interesting.

Valkyrie Drive is not like this. Instead, you see a blender of moldy anime tropes that have already been done to death, brought back to life, and then done to death a second time. The elite group of students who look down upon everyone else (or at least the one student and the assumption that there are others out there), the brooding amnesiac that took too many notes from Shadow The Hedgehog, the tomboy, the stupid overly cheery character that loves food, and the main character that always prevails with the power of friendship and love. These amongst many other things like spelling mistakes and odd localization choices make the story a frustrating chore to go through. Granted, there are some more intimate conversations that the characters have that I did enjoy, but they are very few and far in between.

Yadda Yadda Yadda

Not only that, but the dialogue takes forever to be over before you can actually play anything. I’d love to tell you that this only applies to certain parts of the game, but no. Every single chapter is filled with incredibly long and boring talks that either try too hard to explain their world or simply don’t go anywhere. One great example is when the game tries to explain what all of the different viruses mean and why the main characters train the way that they do. They spend so much time trying to have it all make sense, but most of it doesn’t matter since it doesn’t apply to the main cast, but rather to everything else that you never see. The whole game is just the same handful of characters talking to each other about things that are happening, but we never see it happen or have things change. The teachers of the island also talk about hope and the future of the students, but it’s always the same people standing around with the world never changing at all. It’s kind of like when little children play pretend in the park and make up this wild story in their heads just for the fun of it, but nothing’s actually going on. It’s exactly the same here. It’s no Nitroplus Blasterz, but it’s still a bit too complicated than it probably should.

Everybody talks and talks and talks and talks, but the world is left unchanged by all of it. Even when you spent more than half the game fighting the same two or three people over and over again, I don’t feel any progress happening other than what the characters tell me is happening, which is a horrible way to tell a story. Sometimes, changes do happen within the characters, but thanks to their Microsoft PowerPoint template of a personality, you see them all from miles away. Oh, the cold, brooding and mean amnesiac girl is actually smiling and starting to like people, to which then everyone is shocked by it? So unexpected! Oh, the tough tomboy is actually afraid of bugs, making her a lot more girly than she initially seemed? What a surprise! To see the people that made me get emotional over Senran Kagura characters make such a half-assed job with it’s characters is very disheartening.

Battle Motivation

Of course, there is a giant big-breasted elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, and I’m not one to shy away or feel ashamed about those kinds of things, so let’s get to the point: the girls look awesome. I wish everything else had the same amount of care and detail put into it, because all of the girls are very visually appealing. From their outfits to even a lack of them, I like seeing them in movement. Even their voice actors are top notch, with many Senran Kagura fans surely recognizing most of the voices. Obviously, you see them in many sexually suggestive positions and acts such as groping and kissing, but it all works to good effect all things considered. Add to that the improved frame rate and the higher resolution and you have yourself a feast for the eyes. Granted, the clothing variety is incredibly lacking and left a ton to be desired, and considering the large amounts of clothes you can use in Senran Kagura, it’s difficult to play this and not want a little more.

I’m well aware that I’ve been giving the game a hard time so far, but there are a few improvement to this PC release that, in my opinion, completely rescue the game for me, and that’s the combat. Back when I played the PS Vita version, I didn’t like the combat due to its slowness and overall clunky feeling. But now, the PC version has mostly fixed it by having it run at 60 frames per second and allowing controller support. This makes the fights faster and much more responsive than before, which also makes them more fun. However, because of this change, the game is now way easier than it already was on Vita. The only time that I felt like I had to grind or practice more was during one of the last boss fights in the game, but that’s it. I pretty much plowed through everyone else without any effort, which can be a potential waste of the mechanics in place that allow you to dodge or air juggle people. There’s a lot to use during fights, but there are almost never any moments that prompt you to use them. You can essentially win any fight by just hitting enemies with your regular attacks over and over until they die without using anything else. It is mostly up to you if you wish to be flashier with your attacks, but you’ll never truly need them. I never really felt the need to do a “Drive” transformation until near the end of the game.

Phantom Everything

There were some fights that did get pretty intense, with some even feeling choreographed. There is definitely a satisfying feeling to getting a groove going, but that is only if you choose to be acquainted with the clunky controls. When pressing buttons, the characters always have these long lines of attacks with only a couple presses. It takes a while for the game to actually catch up to what you’re doing, so you always need to think what your next move will be ahead of time. You can see this clearly in the tutorials where you can notice the second button press activating when you where already done with your fourth one; it’s like playing as Maxi in Soul Caliber. But even with all of these flaws, the fighting was still pretty entertaining; even though I will never understand the people that claim that the combat in Valkyrie Drive is better than Senran Kagura. Those people are insane.

Lightweight

At the end of the day, Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni is just the appetizer before the main course that is the Senran Kagura series. I can see an enormous amount of potential in this IP, but unless they completely overhaul their story, characters, environments, music, enemy designs and even some elements of the combat, I don’t see it happening at all. Just like how Senran Kagura blew me away with Deep Crimson, I want to see the same happen for Valkyrie Drive. It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst either. I really do wish we get a sequel, because I see a great game hiding underneath all of my problems with it.

This review was made possible by a Steam code given to me by Marvelous and XSEED Games. Thank you!