Known mostly for the Senran Kagura series, Marvellous’ latest title shares some similarities with that franchise. Teenage girl fighters with big assets? Check. Combo-based combat system? Check. An odd obsession with exploding clothes? Check. How has doubling down on the busty anime brawler turned out?
Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- is an arena brawler set on Bhikkhuni Island where girls infected with something called the VR virus go to be cured. The VR virus allows those affected to transform into literal weapons called “Extars” or wield them as a “Liberator”. This is exactly as ludicrous as it sounds. Especially as it immediately leans into the stereotypical anime school trope.
How and why these girls can transform into spears, swords and other assorted weaponry is never explained, nor even shown during transformations. Whilst in their weapon “Extar” form the characters are apparently still sentient and bond in some way with their Liberator but none of that is ever communicated or relevant in gameplay.
The plot is essentially just an excuse to have the girls pair up so they have ample setup for lewd jokes, the main protagonists being sisters makes a lot of the humour pretty cringy. Lots of references to grabbing boobs or touching various character’s rears.
So far so awkward, but what is the gameplay actually like? The game uses a very simplistic combo system where combinations of two attack buttons lead to different attack sequences. This is combined with knockback and dashes to mix things up. In practice it feels like a neutered Dynasty Warriors, the combos you pull off are more simplistic and the amount of enemies onscreen is nowhere near that series’ scale.
Each of the seven characters have their own moveset but they all play in a very similar manner due to the basic combat. That’s not to say the combat can’t be fun, it can tend to devolve into button-mashing but in the moment it can still be enjoyable. It’s just not got a lot of depth.
As you deal damage you fill up a “Drive” bar, which when activated causes your partner to transform into your weapon giving your attacks more damage as well as adding or changing the available combos. This ties into the basic levelling system where XP earnt in battles gets spent on raising the stats of each character in both Extar and Liberator forms, as the Extar level rises the Drive attacks become more powerful.
Each stage typically starts with you moving from arena to arena taking out groups of enemies before you end up in a one-on-one fight with one of your fellow classmates as you learn to control the virus and get stronger. Each chapter consists of multiple stages and has a boss fight as the story extends to reveal there is more going on that what is initially suggested.
Initially, you have to complete each stage with character pairings as dictated by the story but can be played with any character after the fact. There are multiple difficulties, hidden stages and collectables to be found encouraging replaying stages. There are also unlockable items purchasable with in-game funds, these include music tracks, images and video but items also extend to clothing and accessories for characters.
These items include the expected cat/dog/bunny ears type of things but also a ton of lingerie designs. Let’s talk about boobies; like Senran Kagura before it, there is a heavy focus on bouncing mammaries making the most of all those lingerie patterns, and also like that series the game has clothing explode from character’s bodies after particularly successful combos. This is completely over the top and feels like the cheap titillation is there solely to distract you from the distinctly average combat.
This combined with the creepy incestuous/perverted relationship of the main protagonists might be enough to put anyone off that might’ve been interested in the core brawling gameplay despite it being nothing spectacular. It’s surprising that those elements are so prominent in the localisation as it has trimmed down the sexual focus of the transformations from the original Japanese release so I’d have expected the sister’s literal love for each other to be toned down.
This PC port has had very little done to it in terms of upgrades from the Vita original, in general, the visuals look very clean and sharp due to the higher resolution but the stages looking very angular and empty. Character models, however, look good and benefit greatly from the resolution boost. The game also only has English text with Japanese voiceover which is a shame as dual language support is always a nice bonus. Though the Japanese voicework is solidly performed with some recognisable actors in most of the roles.
All in all Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- is a distinctly average 3D brawler and whilst there isn’t exactly anything wrong with the core gameplay it’s also very bland and uninspiring. The focus on bouncy breasts, lewd comedy and incestuous teens may or may not turn you off before the gameplay does but it’s hard to recommend to anyone who can’t see that kind of stuff and go “Oh Japan!”.
Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- hopes the abundance of cheap titillation will distract you from the uninspired repetitive brawling. There isn’t anything wrong with the game per se but it doesn’t do anything you can’t find done better elsewhere and that’s a shame.