Dark Rose Valkyrie is the latest Japanese role-playing game presented to us by developer Compile Heart and publisher Idea Factory. It’s set in an alternate version of 1929 Japan where Black Garnet, a meteorite, has hit the Earth and caused a virus that transforms the public into deadly creatures called Chimera. The protagonist, Asahi Shiramine, is the captain of Task Force Valkyrie – a special unit created by a military agency in order to defeat these beings.
The title starts off as a standard JRPG. Meet main character, meet supporting cast, sit through copious tutorials to get you used to the needlessly complicated game mechanics. It later evolves into something more unique, adding in a different, welcome element - but we'll get to that in a bit.
Made up of two areas of exploration, the world of Dark Rose Valkyrie isn’t huge. We’re presented with a more open outside world where we’ll be heading to fight Chimera, and a closed-off military base where the characters live. The military base is hub to all of the central activity: resting, upgrading equipment, taking on quests - but it also gives the opportunity to interact with the rest of the task force and increase your trust with them. The characters feel very familiar, and the task force often seems like a team that's made up of pretty much every character trope you could think of; the rich girl with no grip on the real world, the charming pretty-boy, the soldier who takes her job way too seriously - there are even twins for good measure. That being said, they're all charming in their own way, and the character designs are bright and nice to look at, fitting in with each individual personality.
Strangely, characters don’t seem to differ too much in terms of skill. Each party member has the opportunity to learn the same skills as every other ally, and the only difference between them seems to be the core skills that their weapons possess. You can upgrade weapons by buying new parts and paying for upgrades, as well as buying developments for outfits and equipment. The whole process is poorly explained, though, which leads to needless confusion. What's more, the lack of an explanation for each beneficial option can lead to a lot of wasted purchases.
However, the missions are where Dark Rose Valkyrie really lets itself down. In order to progress to the next main storyline mission, you’re forced to take on a slew of side quests. All would be well and good, but the map in this game is so diabolically bad it’s very common to find yourself just wandering around and hoping for the best. “Clear out Chimera from location X”, missions tell us, but with no waypoints or location names actually on the map - save for the dungeons - where location X actually is is anyone’s guess. This leads to a lot of frustration and feels like the game is padding itself out by not providing the means to complete objectives effectively.
Mostly, missions will send you out to reclaim an area, defeat a certain number of Chimera, or defeat specific enemies to get item drops. There’s hardly any variation, and this is a real problem. Aside from the way the enemies actually look, it’s a very repetitive task that wears thin very quickly. Battling itself also feels unfairly tedious. It seems to take a while before characters gain access to any skills of value. We learn early on from being on the receiving end of enemy attacks that some blows have an area of effect, but it takes several hours of gameplay to actually learn similar skills, and as a result, initial battles feel like an unbalanced, difficult slog. Compounding the problem is the fact that you have to revisit the military base to rest up and replenish after spending all your resources on chipping away at singular enemies.
Eventually, the game will progress enough to develop some actual plot, and it’s revealed that there’s a traitor within the task force. This is the very welcome element that we mentioned earlier, as it opens the game up, bringing some visual novel-style segments as you interview characters to root out the traitor. It’s interesting to see how the way you play is affected as suspicions switch, but sadly this is just about the only interesting part of the game, and it isn’t quite enough to save it. The traitor is at least randomly selected for each playthrough, so for those who enjoy slogging through the arduous plot and tedious missions, there's a reason to replay.
Dark Rose Valkyrie offers opportunity for excitement, but ultimately fails to deliver. Weak concepts and a suite of poorly crafted gameplay systems sink an otherwise semi-interesting premise. This is a frustrating and slow slog all the way to the end.