Impressions – VALKYRIE DRIVE -BHIKKHUNI-


[Note: While the title is actually rendered in all-caps, I will not be doing so throughout this review. Japanese games often have their titles in all-caps because it’s the easiest way to write them when using a CJK IME input system.]

Valkyrie Drive quickly established itself as a franchise about lesbian weapons, following its debut with the Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid anime. The gist is that a virus can affect young women in their teens and early twenties, granting them either the ability to turn into a weapon, or to wield such weapons (and in rare cases, to be able to do both). The anime established in full (at least in the DVD and Blu-ray releases) sexy fan service glory, that these girls need to become sexually aroused in order to awaken their powers (to “Drive”); in other words, like Soul Eater but with short bursts of sexy fun time.

While this may sound great in theory, titillating fan service (and full on naked bouncy breasts aside), there was little of merit to be found in Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid. Thus releasing the anime before the Vita and smart device games likely did the franchise a bit of a disservice. For one thing, the expected nudity and sexual fan service in the anime could never make it to either of the games.

This is in part due to a disparity between the rating systems in Japan. Although a ratings body (Eirin) exists for films and similar content, ratings are rarely used for home releases. In addition to that, far more violent and sexual content is deemed acceptable for younger age ranges. Where the brutal graphic violence and implied sexual acts in the Attack on Titan films are considered acceptable for children 12 and up, similarly brutal violence is often deemed unacceptable by CERO (the board that primarily rates console releases in Japan) even with its “adult’s only” Z rating.

In addition to CERO treating nudity to similar degrees of unacceptability, there is also resistance from console manufacturers to allow sexual content on their systems. Which is in part why popular PC eroge (rated by a third ratings board) has its sex scenes removed when making the transition to consoles.

The up-shot of this is that for a game about lesbians needing to fondle and finger each other, Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni – (that’s the name of the island, not someone sneezing), features almost no intimacy between characters. There’s some hugging, light boob touching, and French kissing in Drive cutscenes but that’s about it. Similarly, nudity is brief and covered by “nazo no laser” glowing spots.

All of this is an unfortunate reality of the current Japanese gaming market. Concessions that need to be made to appease powers in Tokyo which could, through peer pressure, force games off the market. And indeed these same powers have already done this to manga which were deemed acceptable when originally released several decades ago.

Like illustrator Kentaro Yabuki has done with his illustration work in the To Love-Ru series, Producer Kenichiro Takaki has become very adapt at skirting the line between acceptable and damned for corrupting the morals of children (who shouldn’t even be consuming such content in the first place). The Japanese script in Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni – offers up opportunities for fairly blatantly implying sexual attraction and for really laying on the fan service, without crossing the line.

Yet the English script in the initial stages of the game feel as if it has been further watered down. A conversation between Ranka and Momo removes specific mentions of Rinka’s bust size — with Ranka saying “I’ll have you know that my sister’s boobs are a very big deal!” instead. This then makes Mana’s comment of “Oh my, they’re even bigger than mine…” seem somewhat strange as the specific context has gone.

Likewise, Rinka clearly comments on how another girl is gorgeous in the Japanese script, only for the to become “Wow, such a nice girl”. These are changes which come off as an attempt to distance the game away from the lesbian aspect of the franchise, in complete contrast to the anime which played upon it.

As with Marvelous’ previous Senran Kagura releases, ages have also been removed from the girls bios. Although in this case, they’ve also been removed from the Japanese text. Where the Japanese Vita version clearly shows that Rinka is 16 and Ranka is 15, the Steam build has empty space. While this won’t detract from the game at all, it does show that even the west still has a long way to go if video games are to be rightly recognised as entertainment in line with their television and film counterparts.

if you have come to Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni – expecting the same level of fan service found in Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid (also an island name, by the way), you’re going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if you felt turned off from Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni – as a result of watching the anime, don’t be. What it may lack in graphic sexual content, Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni – can more than make up for it with an enjoyable gaming experience.

That is, once you’ve got the hang of the controls. The basics are fairly easy, and tutorials are present both at the start of the story and via a separate practice menu to get you up to speed. However, I found the Phantom move set to be far more of a pain to learn. In part due to the tutorial prompts not being clear. This is caused by referencing “entrap” and “pursuit” effects, but at time when enemies showing such effects are obscured by the player model.

It turns out that the “entrap” and “pursuit” effects are the same visual effect; a white-purple ring that rapidly reduces in size. Once this became obvious, it was easier to learn the timings for initiating moves from the Phantom set. But I still find it a challenge at times to land such moves on main opponents. A free practice mode and the ability to replay old missions does provide lots of opportunity to learn how to land most of these moves.

The tutorial for the Phantom Delude move however, is definitely lacking. Where all others will provide helpful on-screen button prompts to indicate timing and to help you pin down where you may be messing up, there are no such prompts for the Phantom Delude (at least in the practice tutorials — I have yet to reach a point in the story where this move may be taught).

As with other brawlers, I have found making a cheat sheet of button assignments to be very helpful. And not just for battle stages. The dressing room also has an extensive list of controls which need to be switched through to perform different actions. As it’s name implies, this is where you get to customise the girls. Costumes can be unlocked through playing the story and subsequently purchasing them from the in-game store. If you pick up the complete DLC pack, you’ll also get a wide range of costumes and accessories to use right away.

Accessories can be customised to some extent. They can be scaled, rotated, and positioned with some precision. Allowing, for example, to have one character wear a pair of headphones on her head, and another to use the same accessory resting around her neck. Sadly, there is no diorama feature so truly playing around with character customisation is not possible to same extent it is in the Senran Kagura series.

The dressing room isn’t just for looking good mind. This is also where you get to be a little more intimate with the girls. You can touch heads, chests, and butts to raise Communication levels. Just to help make you truly feel like a bully, the girls will react angrily, cry, and even plead for help from their big sisters (at least in Ranka’s case). This just further makes the dressing room an enjoyable distraction.

If you have played the Japanese “Bikini Party Edition” release of Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni – on the Vita, you’ll understand why the Steam release is big deal. If you didn’t, then let me explain. The “Bikini Party Edition” comes with over 150 DLC items. All of which are listed in your downloads as separate items.

The PlayStation backend is incapable of downloading these items all at once. Trying to do so without accessing the PC PSN site is nothing more than a sign that you’re masochist (each time you queue one item, you’re sent right back to the top of the list). For Steam, these 150 DLC items are provided as one DLC entry. If you are torn between picking up Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni – on Vita or PC and have any interest in DLC items, save yourself some frustration and get the PC release.

There is, however, something a little off with the physics in the PC version. Breasts are bouncier and accessories retain motion for a comically long time. The bouncier boobies could certainly be called a welcome feature, but the manner in which the accessories sway long after the breasts have run out of energy is very off putting (accessories stop moving in the Vita version far sooner).

Whether this is a result of the increased framerate I couldn’t say. Although it is possible to select from either 30 fps, 60 fps, or uncapped Vsync options, I was still getting 60 fps even when I selected the 30 fps option. As off-putting as these semi-sentient accessories can be, the clearer 1080p graphics (and support for higher resolutions for those with access to such) more than make up for them.

Based on 7 hours of play so far, it is clear that the Steam version is not only a solid port of Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni -, but is actually the definitive version for anyone not interested in playing the game during a commute. With a range of supported controllers and also keyboard based play, the PC release allows for more comfortable play and the far simpler handling of the DLC is the icing on the cake.

Screenshots were taken by the author.

Valkyrie Drive – Bhikkhuni – was obtained as a review copy courtesy of Marvelous Europe and Decibel-PR.

Provisionally scored: