If you’re a fan of Japanese video games, the PS Vita continues to deliver games pretty regularly. There’s plenty of localised RPGs and action games, with Senran Kagura boasting plenty of story, customisation and content – not to mention buxom anime girls. Not everyone gets on with that series’ Dynasty Warriors style button-mashing, though, and that’s where Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni comes in.
Coming from Kenichiro Takaki, producer on Senran Kagura, Valkyrie Drive Bhikkuni has a lot in common with that series. Both are action games with goofy, anime trope characters and plenty of outfit customization. They also both feature plenty of fan service, but while most of the provocative bits of Senran Kagura can be skipped over, a fair amount of this is tied into the gameplay of Valkyrie Drive. If the game piques your interest for the gameplay or story, just be prepared for the scantily-clad anime girls that come with it.
Two strains of virus have infected many girls across the nation, with the A-Virus giving girls the ability to transform into deadly weapons when sexually aroused, while the V-Virus enables someone to wield an A-Virus weapon in battle. The island of Bhikkhuni houses a battle school for girls to travel to in order to train and control their virus symptoms through, well, battle. The girls on this island are unique, though, in that they’re infected by a special VR-strain, allowing them to both transform into and wield Valkyrie weapons.
It’s a lot of very goofy, contrived nonsense that serves as an excuse for girls to touch each other’s breasts and get into fights, and for the first half of the campaign, that’s really all the story ever feels like. Characters are mostly one dimensional and nothing engaging or significant really ever seems to happen. It feels like a chore to get through, but things start to open up a lot in the second half. With a sudden island wide conspiracy and factions causing rifts between characters, the second half of the story deals with a lot of interesting, morally grey characters and situations.
For many, the narrative won’t be the most important aspect of this game. For me, the gameplay is absolutely what shined as the biggest part of this package. Where Senran Kagura can be compared to Dynasty Warriors, Valkyrie Drive is much, much more like Devil May Cry.
The game has seven playable characters, each with a designated weapon partner, which may seem like an awkwardly small roster at first. The depth to each character, though, more than makes up for that. Characters can perform various combos using the square and triangle buttons, chaining normal attacks and special attacks for a variety of results, as well as simply using the triangle button for a unique special attack that requires good timing to use.
You can get away with a lot of button mashing, but the fun starts when you begin to use launchers and dashes. Pressing the circle button will launch an enemy into the air, while holding it and letting go will send enemies flying backwards. Holding and releasing cross in tune with your launcher animation will send you flying toward the launched enemy, and from there, you can mix in combos, additional launchers, and ground-slam attacks to unleash chaos.
On top of that, the Drive system mixes things up even further. Similar to Shinobi Transformatons from Senran Kagura, filling a special meter bar will allow you to transform your weapon-partner into an even stronger and larger weapon. There are four Drive levels, and each one makes you stronger, and at the second level you can also use an ultimate attack by holding down both bumpers.
My DMC comparison also comes from the fact that there are Secret Missions hidden throughout each stage, as well as secret items hidden behind locks that you need to perform a lengthy combos on in order to unlock. The inspiration is clear to see with this game, and I couldn’t be happier about it. The sheer amount of depth and variety in the gameplay kept me hooked, and it made me excited to retry levels and tackle difficult missions.
The actual missions don’t quite have as much variety, though. Most will have you navigating a level filled with enemies, and then battling another character in a faux boss fight. Variety comes from exploring the levels for hidden collectibles, but even then, there isn’t anything unique going on in most missions. Some will have you fighting huge bosses, but in classic Devil May Cry fashion, these fights just aren’t as fun as the ones against characters your own size.
The game has a fair amount of unlockables, but as I mentioned earlier, a fair few of them are tied into fan service mini-games. In the Dressing Room, you can customize each character with a variety of accessories, lingerie, and a disappointingly small number of costumes, but in order to unlock some of these items, you’ll need to raise their “Rack Rank”. You do this by prodding and poking them in the Dressing Room to fill an experience bar, and at a certain level unlock a mini-game involving lingerie and floating hearts.
For people who like those elements in a game, the fact that they’re not just mindless easter eggs and actually provide unique unlockables is a fun twist. It incentivizes you to explore those extra modes. However, for some, fanservice might be the last thing they want to deal with, and the game tying unlockables behind it might be a big turn-off for those players.
There’s also a variety of multiplayer modes, but good luck finding anyone to play with. Despite numerous attempts, I could never find anyone online. Still, if you manage to coordinate something, there are three different modes to explore, featuring basic deathmatch and capture the flag style objectives.
Worth noting are the handful of localization hiccups present in the game. While there aren’t many, typos and grammar errors present themselves through the length of the entire story. The weirdest error, though, is the fact that when you go to give a name to a custom character costume, the Vita defaults to a Japanese keyboard instead of an English one. They’re weird errors, but nothing that ruins the experience.
Visually, the game also really stands out. It does a lot with the art style to differentiate it from Senran Kagura. Character models are rendered in a smooth, almost watercolor style that adds a beautiful amount of detail that’s rare in a Vita game. In classic Japanese Vita game fashion, though, environments are relatively flat and basic, though there is at least a good variety of them.
Valkyrie Drive is an incredibly fun and addictive game. While it doesn’t have the same crazy narrative or visual flair as a Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, it certainly shares their vibrant and satisfying combat. Valkyrie Drive is also a game very focused on fan service, and overt sexual themes. For some people, that will be a deal breaker, but if that’s right up your alley and you’re looking for the next great touchscreen supporting Vita classic, then look no further than Valkyrie Drive.