Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- is a fanservice-laden hack & slash title set on a man-made island by the name of Bhikkhuni. You follow the story of 7 girls infected with the mysterious VR-Virus & the only hope of cure is more cowbe-… uh, fighting. Yes, fighting, makes sense, don’t question it. How they go about it is akin to magical girls transforming except these well-endowed ladies ditch the tutus for transforming their entire bodies into weapons thanks to the V-Virus. Just pick your Liberator (wielder) & your Extar (weapon) & battle on.
There are 7 ladies to choose from & customize to your heart’s content with a myriad of accessories & lingerie that can either be bought from the in-game store, unlocked through challenges, story progression or a “gashapon” machine. Each girl has their own fighting style, weapon & stats. Sadly, outside of Manpukumaru, the ‘“joke character” that hits like a damned tank & Mana, the only one having access to a ranged weapon, none of them really felt unique to me compared to the cast of the Senran Kagura series. This is not to say that they don’t work or are fun to play as I do rather enjoy their choice of weapons & their changes when performing Drive… except for Mana, her bow sucks.
Combat is where you will spend a fair portion of your time be it through the story, survival, challenge & Multiplayer modes. The mechanics are rather deep but easy to pick up, you’ve got your standard Light & Heavy attacks, a knockback & a chaser that allows you to perform follow-up attacks on an enemy you’ve knocked airborne. There’s also dodge button & a dash one. Dashing is performed by holding & releasing a specific key, in the case of an Xbox controller, the ‘A’ button. This is where it gets a bit deeper, dashing serves the simple purpose of faster movement but also following up punishment to enemies you’ve stunned in some way much like the simple Chase mechanic. Unlike Chasing, attacks done during this ‘Phantom’ moment as it is called gives you a small bonus to your attack which is retained for as long as your combo counter is alive.
The other & biggest aspect of combat is the “Drive”. Though missions are, gameplay wise, a solo affair, you are always paired up with another girl. After giving out enough of a beatdown on enemies to fill up the Synchro Gauge, you can activate ‘Drive’. This transforms your weapon in a flashy cutscene that gets more titillating as you level up the girls & unlock higher levels of Drive. These transformations improve stats, increases the length of your combos plus allows you to perform special attacks. Cloth ripping is in as expected, deal or receive enough damage to other girls & watch as their clothing rips to shreds. This doesn’t really provide a benefit, but I’m not complaining about that.
Overall the combat mechanics are amazing though they don’t shine through the story mode. It gets on the boring side as the enemies are brain-dead fodder, most of them having attended the school of politely attacking one at a time. I understand that one should not expect much out of the fodder enemies in hack & slash games, but I question this having played the 3DS version of Senran Kagura & its sequel, an equally fanservice laden game whose fodder enemies managed to pose a threat.
The biggest flaw is that outside of a few specific bosses that have their own minor flaws & the fodder enemies, your only other opponents are whichever pair of the other girls you are not currently using for the story segment. They drop at a tip of the hat, sometimes activating their Drives a few hits away from death to no benefit whatsoever. The combat might translate better into the multiplayer aspect of the game which to my understanding features PvP, but I was not able to try that at the time of review as it was barren for obvious reasons. I certainly will give it a go once the game is released proper & see how that goes.
The story is… something. Slow as molasses, boring both due to lack of a big threat & the girls being plain & with as much character development as rocks. I understand creator Kenichiro Takaki’s view on how SK became a bit convoluted with its large cast of characters & starting fresh is a good thing, but I would have expected that with such a small cast, the focus on backgrounds, connections & growth would be better done. That is not the case, 5 of the 7 girls feel bland & never getting anywhere with their lives & of the other 2, one is annoying right off the bat & eventually grows some semblance of the ‘tsundere’ cliche. The last one while I found her growth more noticeably changed from an appealing character into a right ol’ mean one as time went by, I never felt that the game showed much of a reason as to why her change, it just seemingly happened overnight. By the end of it all, I just wanted the story segments to be over with so I could get back to the action.
Enough of me ranting and onto a more positive note. The port job was pretty well done, ignoring my low spec pictures & setup, the game does support 4K resolution, anti-aliasing, & does run pretty damn well on an Integrated Graphics chip. It rarely goes sub 30FPS on my laptop with options to lock it at 60FPS or uncap the framerate to as much as your PC can handle. Only once did it take a huge dip as I was unfortunate enough to have moved into a spot where a specific class of enemies spawned though that lasted like a second or so. The characters look amazing, combat animation fluid & the myriad of customization options will sure to make the girls pop in more ways than one. The game is voice acted & is done well enough. The music did a well enough job to get me pumped though I did have to lower voice & effect volumes because I found BGM levels so damned low.
At the end of the day, Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- is mechanically a pretty good game with amazing fighting despite the brain-dead enemies. It has decent enough music & bodacious ass-kicking ladies. It is a shame that it does not live up to Senran Kagura’s showing of being able to have a decent story with amazing gameplay all the while rocking the fanservice I love. All in all Valkyrie Drive is a game that I apprehensively recommend to people that know what they are getting into. I do certainly welcome its inclusion on Steam & hope to see more of games like it though I would certainly like their stories to be a whole lot better. Enough for me to brag about how those that scoff at fanservice games as “trash games” can see that both amazing gameplay & fanservice can work together.
[Review copy was provided]