Rather ambitious media mix project, Valkyrie Drive had launched in three different formats last year in Japan. First a sexy mobile application, then a borderline hentai anime, and finally Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni, the console game part. And for the game to live up to the rest, the IP needed no other than Kenichirô Takaki, the creator of Senran Kagura.
This new game from Marvelous starts with a heftier synopsis than Senran Kagura. Teenage girls are affected by a mortal virus of strange properties : some girls can transform into weapons, and others acquire the formidable strength to wield them. Dangerous for the society, they are quarantined on distant islands. Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni (not Bikini, although you’ll surely find some) tells the events happening on the island called Bhikkhuni, where are treated the girls who bear both symptoms.
But of course, what’s important is not the base of the scenario, but what you do with it. Whereas Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus actually told great stories from almost nothing, Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni fails to correctly develop its original setting. There is some long and tiresome part where the game introduces every character without making them really charismatic. This lasts about 10 hours and features mundane dialog with few humor strokes, nothing to be remembered. The story gets some interesting twists at the end, including more existential talk : you’ll learn the truth about the V-Virus treatment program and the risks implied for the persons affected. No illustrations have been made for the side stories, which are told on a black screen. This is boring to say the least. You might still be curious to discover the strange universe of the school-island Bhikkhuni, the professors of which being giant robots of animal aspect. This, at least, was surprising and entertaining.
There are seven playable cuties in the game (four times less than Senran Kagura Estival Versus), but of uneven importance. While the sisters Rinka and Ranka bear a somewhat tragic past, all the others have little background. Viola (back on photo) may well be the most charismatic of the rest by its elitist and haughty personality, and her voice actress Yû Kobayashi (Katsuragi’s voice in Senran Kagura) performs that quite well. The real disappointment remains that the past of the secondary characters is often hinted at, but never explained. There’s clearly a feeling you’re missing something and that the story lacks a lot of substance. And seven is no lucky number here : as characters fight in groups of two, there’s always some strange nonsense with Manpukumaru (absurd character with zero personality) coming randomly to balance the teams.
Immediately when you start playing, you realize that Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni wants to go beyond Senran Kagura in terms of gameplay. Adding to the traditional combos, complexifying at each Drive (see below), the battles put some emphasis on various aerials. Initiated with circle and X (although in some cases, X alone can trigger them), they allow different final blows like Phantom Dance (long aerial combo) or Phantom Fall (throwing the enemy back on the ground). Each character can also charge a more powerful attack with triangle, capable of wiping out large groups of opponents.
Like said previously, the character you control can resort to a Drive, that is to say the weapon form of her buddy provided the Drive gauge is filled. The aforementioned gauge has four levels that correspond to as many steps in the Drive state, with each time a more lavish look and more destructive skills for the weapon. The good point in Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni is that dodging (elegantly rendered by a quick slow motion) makes the gauge fill faster, ideal base for intense beat’em all action.
Like in Senran Kagura Estival Versus, three special attacks of superior firepower are available, but that will empty your Drive gauge in no time. You’ll have to take that into account since you might also want to use the healing capabilities of the Drive, which heals your character at each transformation. The girls have their own particular weapon and fighting style, which is slightly more developed than in the rival series. So in theory, the game developed by Meteorise (which worked on Senran Kagura Bon Appetit before that) has a compelling gameplay.
But there is theory, and there is the actual experience. Once more, Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni ruins its good intentions by a simple drawback : it’s ridiculously easy. Even in hard mode, 90% of the game is piece of cake, as challenging as easy mode in Senran Kagura Estival Versus. The foes might far outnumber you, their I.A is close to a newborn chick and they’re barely threatening. The regular ground combos end up the best way to clear the stages quickly : no need of dodging, aerials, special moves whatsoever to prevail, the player might perform them to escape boredom. Bosses aren’t any stronger, since your fellow highschoolers can be beaten as fast as in twenty seconds… The “teachers“ are way tougher but they’re just longer to defeat but not especially strong. In such circumstances, you can hardly be motivated to throw yourself in challenge mode (which asks you to perform a definite set of actions in limited time), not to mention the even longer survival mode. The most worthy goal still is to tackle the true end, which can be unlocked by clearing missions at high rank. In such case, the game should last you thirty hours or so.
All this is a real pity, because Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni is seriously good to look at : it’s colorful, it’s over-the-top with lots of nice special effects and the moves are stunning and detailed even though the framerate could be better. As you could expect in a Takaki-made game, you’ll have your load of oversized breasts, underwear shots, suggestive poses and the mischievous changing room full of naughty touchscreen communication. Special mention for the Connect form for its glowing and deliciously revealing cybernetic “armor“, it’s an absolute work of art in the ecchi style. Costume break might be a little shy compared to Senran Kagura, there is clearly no deceit in the fan-service.
Valkyrie Drive Bhikkhuni wanted to transcend the Senran Kagura formula but forgot the most essential part : game sensations. The appeal of fresh game mechanics vanish given the clear lack of challenge, and the incomplete story and universe don’t help it make a stronger experience. The fan-service is still met with fine graphics, design and direction. Up to you to decide if it’s enough.