Bursting with fun
Late last year, Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- graced the PlayStation Vita, and I had the honor of reviewing it. Another project from the minds of Marvelous, and the (in)famous Kenichiro Takaki, Bhikkhuni took the developer’s well-known Senran Kagura formula (intense fighting + girls with very little clothing) and injected it into this new franchise. It was a well-made game, and I enjoyed it.
And here we are now. In a little over half a year, Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- has managed to bounce its way from the Vita onto Steam. Boasting a shiny new 1080p coat of paint, a smoother framerate, and all of the Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- action that you’re used to (unless you haven’t played the game, in which case disregard that last part), this new port of Bhikkhuni is ready to bare it all (in more ways than one!) once again. And it’s still just as much fun this time as it was the first time.
Fighting to Survive
To be blunt, Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- is about seven sick girls. Sounds pretty sad for a Senran Kagura-like, right? Well fear not, it isn’t as bad as it sounds. …Probably. I’ll let you decide, I guess. In the world of Valkyrie Drive, young girls have begun falling victim to the A-Virus; a disease that enhances its host’s physical and mental capabilities, but is apparently still dangerous. And it only gets worse from there! Among those with the A-Virus is a small group afflicted with the V-Virus. A more advanced version of the A-Virus, the V-Virus further enhances its host but is even more life-threatening. It also allows its host to turn into a weapon – so long as they’re sexually aroused (yes, I’m serious). What’s the cure for this virus, you ask? Engaging in a number of relentless, fights with other V-Virus patients (also known as Valkyries)!
Bhikkhuni‘s story begins with sisters Rinka and Ranka, two of the V-Virus’ newest victims, arriving on Bhikkhuni – a special, artificial island specifically equipped to handle V-Virus patients. To those staying there, Bhikkhuni is essentially their world. It provides all of the necessities, plenty of luxuries, and even contains a special high-class school. After all, just because you’re being forced to fight people every day doesn’t mean that you can shirk your education! Regardless of what they’re doing on the island, or how much they may be enjoying themselves, however, the fact that Rinka and Ranka – and all of the girls on the island, as a matter of fact – are there to be cured of their undesirable illness comes before anything else – and the higher-ups on Bhikkhuni will never let them forget that.
On the surface, Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- may look like it’s about nothing more than well-endowed anime girls in revealing clothing – and don’t get me wrong, because a good portion of the game absolutely, positively is – but things begin to get surprisingly deep after a while. If you can manage to look past the countless jiggling, giggling girls, you’ll find a story that deals with issues such as the value of human life, the importance of self-worth, and the fact most of the time when we’re alone it’s only because we’re too proud – or perhaps too afraid – to ask for help. Bhikkhuni‘s got a lot more packed into it than a bunch of double-Ds! …Those are still pretty prominent, though.
Battles, Babes, and Bustiers
Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- may have a unique story all of its own, but its gameplay is similar to that of its older sister Senran Kagura. In fact, the best way that I could describe Bhikkhuni‘s gameplay would be to call it something along the lines of “Senran Kagura except slightly more complex and fluid and also you can transform like 4 times”. Very sophisticated, I know.
Senran Kagura‘s mission-based gameplay makes its return in Bhikkhuni, and works exactly as it always has. Most missions will have you facing off against scores of enemies, as you attempt to carve your way through the level – and to the boss awaiting you at the end. Aside from featuring plenty of baddies to hack away at, many levels also have a number of hidden collectibles for you to pick up, and secret missions to complete. While none of these have any real bearing on the core gameplay itself, needing to have another go at a level in order to pick up anything that you missed the first time around gives the game more replay value. If you’ve played Senran Kagura, or any mission-based game really, you shouldn’t expect any surprises in how Bhikkhuni‘s levels are set up. The combat, however, isn’t quite as orthodox.
While Bhikkhuni‘s core gameplay is still the kind of high-speed, combo-frenzied combat that any Senran Kagura fan would feel comfortable diving right into, there are a few noticeable differences. First, there’s aerial combat. Unlike with Senran Kagura, Bhikkhuni will have you constantly launching and chasing enemies, resulting in a decent amount of your time in combat being spent in the air. Properly chaining attacks takes some finesse, though. Players are only able so many Pursuits (the ability that allows them to freely launch themselves in the air) per combo, and attacks that launch opponents require a bit of timing (but not too much, to be fair). You’ll need to practice before you become an aerial combat master. Once you get the mechanics down however, you’ll be tearing through your opponents in no time.
Bhikkhuni also goes for a “less is more” approach with its character cast. In contrast with Senran Kagura‘s ever-expanding roster of supple Shinobi, Bhikkhuni has a modest 7 playable characters (plus an extra 2 characters if you count DLC, but only one of them is actually playable). While this may leave something to be desired for those more focused on the appearance of their characters (Senran Kagura seems to be catering to every sort of preference out there nowadays), all 7 of Bhikkhuni‘s Valkyrie vixen don’t skimp out when it comes to how they play. From Mana’s bow, to Manpukumaru’s slow, but heavy-hitting oversized chef knives, each character’s uniqueness is readily apparent.
Liberators of Love
While the differences I’ve just talked about are all well and good, there’s still one more thing. A mechanic that helps Bhikkhuni stand out on its own more than anything else – the Liberator/Extar system. Although a Valkyrie is strong on her own, she can only truly shine their brightest when paired up with another Valkyrie. Teamwork in this game functions a little differently, however. You see, although you’re technically fighting as part of a team, it’s still just you out on the battlefield. The character that you’re controlling is known as the Liberator. Most of your fighting prowess – your weapon, your attacks, etc. – will come from your Liberator, so it’s crucial to get each of their moves down. I don’t suppose that I really need to explain it more than that, though.
Rather than fighting alongside you, your Liberator’s partner, known as an Extar, takes on the role of your weapon… Sort of. The Extar that you select doesn’t actually change the weapon that your character is using. Instead, Extars act as stat multipliers for your HP, Attack, and Defense. Each Extar features different stat multipliers, so be sure to pay attention to what each character does! While Extars work just fine from a mechanical standpoint, I will admit that they confuse me when it comes to the story. The way Valkyrie Drive explains Extars makes it sound as though each individual Valkyrie changes into their own unique weapon, but with the way the game plays it’s the other way around. Ah well, most people won’t be playing this for its lore anyway.
Finally, you have Drives. Drives are probably an Extar’s most important feature. Seeing as how the word “drive” is literally in the game’s title however, that shouldn’t be too surprising. I’m sure that you Senran Kagura fans out there know what Shinobi Transformations are, right? You know, that flashy thing where the girl loses all of her clothes, becomes more powerful, and gains a new (usually more revealing) outfit? That’s a Drive. More or less. Minus the new outfit.
Drives are similar to Shinobi Transformations, but they aren’t exactly the same. Rather than consisting of a single, all-powerful transformation, Drives come in four different levels. As you fight, you’ll fill up the Drive Stock gauge. The more full gauges you have, the higher the Drive level you can achieve. Higher Drive levels mean more power for your Liberator (and less clothing for your Extar). You can also use Drive Stock gauges to execute special attacks. Depending on the level you’re playing, filling a lot of Drive Stock gauges can be a little tricky – it’s important to spend your gauges wisely!
Cutting down swarms of enemies is great and all, but what if you’re tired of fighting but still want to keep playing Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni–? Well, fortunately for you, you’re in luck! What else is there to do, exactly? A few things, actually – and you can bet that they’re absolutely brimming with fanservice.
Taking yet another page out of Senran Kagura‘s book, Bhikkhuni has a dressing room available. Naturally, you can use the dressing room to dress your characters. Hopefully you’re a fan of accessories and underwear, because this game has plenty of both. Those interested in actual outfits however, are out of luck. Aside from the characters’ original outfits, and special color variants of said outfits, the game has no out additional clothing options… unless you’re willing to shell out a bit more cash for DLC.
There’s also the Heart Catch minigame. Seems pretty innocent, right? Well it isn’t. Really though, is that shouldn’t be surprising. Heart Catch is a quick-time mini game that will have you poking hearts onscreen with your cursor while your chosen Valkyrie lies in the background in her underwear, commenting on how good the massage you’re giving her feels. It’s, uh… exactly how it sounds. Amusingly enough, this was the one area where the Steam version fell flat. Heart Catch was originally a touchscreen game on the Vita. While the game still works on PC, it’s a bit more difficult to win.
Brand-New Platform, Same Old Fun
This is a game that caters to a specific kind of audience. That’s an indisputable fact. It’s perverse, headstrong, and in no way at all apologetic about what it is – but that’s it’s strongest point. And for those people who like their beat ’em ups with a huge, heaping side of anime fanservice, this game is for you. If you’re not comfortable with a game like this, then that’s okay. Plenty of people aren’t. But for the rest of you out there, I’d check out Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- out. After all, what’s life without a little bit of shameless, fanservice-y gaming every now and then?
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Vita ; Publisher: Marvelous ; Developer: Meteorise , HONEY∞PARADE GAMES ; Players: 1, 2 – 4 (Online) ; Released: June 20, 2017 (PC), October 11, 2016 (Vita) ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher