Games of the Year

Dragon Star Varnir

Dragon Star Varnir Screenshot 1
Dragon Star Varnir Screenshot 2
Dragon Star Varnir Screenshot 3
Dragon Star Varnir Screenshot 4
Dragon Star Varnir Screenshot 5
3 Tiers to Fear – In this unique take on the classic turn-based battle system, players take flight and charge at dragons in three vertically-oriented tiers. Position your party members careful and claim victory! Giant dragons can swipe through all three tiers, so be careful! Awaken Your Inner Dragon – When attacking an enemy during battle, players fill up their Dragon Gauge. Once maxed, they can transform and harness the power of dragons, drastically increasing their armor and unlocking abilities! Devour Hour – Once an enemy dragon is weakened, players can utilize the Devour skill to obtain a skill tree unique to that dragon. Players can explore different dragon skill trees and combinations! Madness or Riches? – Three witches depend on you to bring them dragon’s blood as food. Starve them, and they go mad. Overfeed them, and they become a dragon! Will you keep them alive or sacrifice them to obtain rare items? Be wary, each choice you make can change your ending.
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Game Discussion

Review by Anonymous

Great game. I think only the Little Sister Madness meter drags it down for people. However, I uncovered the mechanic for the madness meter.

Review from Steam

The Dragon Inside My Womb
Dragon Star Varnir is definitely one of Compile Heart's better games, featuring a strong art direction, unique setting, great soundtrack and a decent combat system. It's still a pretty low budget game like most of the studio's works, but a very solid package overall. The game was developed under the Galapagos RPG brand, the brand that Compile Heart uses for their more serious games, such as for example Death end re;Quest and Fairy Fencer F. And indeed Dragon Star Varnir is quite similar to those. It's a JRPG/VN hybrid running on the same engine as DERQ and has a lot of the same trappings. And there's also a male protagonist and multiple story paths just like in FFF.
The story revolves around witches and dragons. In this world there are dedicated knight squads hunting down and killing cute witches because... witches are the ones giving birth to dragons, and dragons of all shapes and sizes are already a huge problem in this world. You play as one of such knights. One day you get separated from the rest of your squad, suffer massive injuries, almost die, and long story short you awaken as a man-witch yourself. Now you have to live together with the witches, and try to make sense of their existence as well as your own fate.
There's a dragon fetus inside every witch's womb (and yes, this does somehow include the male protagonist), this is what gives them their magical powers, but also greatly limits their lifespan as the fetus will eventually grow and burst through their stomach killing them in a very violent fashion (not unlike in the Alien movies). Well, either that or they go insane. They have to hunt down dragons and eat their meat to keep their sanity in check, but eating the said meat will also make the fetus grow faster, so it's a zero sum game.
Now, all of this is actually relevant gameplay mechanics wise because there's a soft time limit. Starting from chapter 4 you have to babysit 3 very cute little witches, watch their hunger bar and give them dragon meat as needed. This little sister system is a common point of contention and had ruined the game for some people. Spend too much time outside and they go insane and turn into dragons, feed them too much and they turn into dragons anyway. Mind you, you don't lose the game, you just get a less favorable ending.
But fear not, the time limit is actually not a bad thing at all. First of all, it's incredibly lenient, it's not real time, the hunger bar is simply tied to the distance walked while in dungeons, you can loot and fight as much as you want, just don't run in circles or backtrack too much. Second, the difficulty curve is actually designed with the time limit in mind, so the game can be beaten without any grinding at all, which is a very welcome change of pace in a Compile Heart game. That's not to say the combat is easy, on the contrary it can be quite difficult at times, but making full use of the mechanics will help you win almost any battle. Better put, the combat is more tactical/strategic than "just grind more".
The combat is a standard turn-based system with a party of 3 active and 3 support characters (but support actions are pretty rare and not on the level of Atelier games), you can swap each pair at any time. The main gimmick is the elevation system. Every battle takes place on 3 levels of elevation and everyone is airborne, your party will be riding broomsticks, while the enemies are usually dragons or (rarely) humans with jetpacks. There's no free movement like in other Compile Heart games, you can only move between 3 set positions, which kind of makes the whole gimmick pointless outside of the "wow, that's cool" factor. You can spread out your party so that each witch is on a different level and won't fall victim to the same area-of-effect attack but that's about it.
There are numerous physical and magical attacks you can acquire as well as passive skills, all of which can be equipped like you would equip gear and there's a cost limit (very similar to Evenicle) which allows for some build diversity. But provided you're not playing on easy and/or using overpowered DLC gear (all DLC is just cheats, skip it if you want to actually play the game) you'll want to make a dedicated tank/healer character (stack all defensive passives on her and give her all utility spells such as buffs, debuffs, heals and revives). Having a nigh unkillable tank who can heal/revive each turn while everyone else is spamming the element the boss is weak to will let you kill bosses 20+ levels above you.
Another unique feature is the devour mechanic. It's a lot like Pokémon. There are dozens of cool and diverse dragon enemies in the game and each of them can be devoured, and this is how you get new skills and stat boosts. Bring the enemy's HP down and then use the devour command to finish them off. If successful, the party member will acquire the dragon's core and the abilities within. Yes, you have to do it with every party member. Eventually you get better devour skills (with up to 70% chance of devour at full enemy health), and simply spamming devour can completely trivialize the game's difficulty outside of boss fights (bosses cannot be devoured).
The dungeons are a bit better designed than Compile Heart's usual, although the biome diversity is a bit lacking, it's mostly gloomy forests, deserts/canyons, caves and dilapidated temples. They fit the dark fantasy aesthetic very well, but a little bit more variety wouldn't have hurt. Still, none of the dungeon layouts are outright recycled, everything is unique and you don't ever backtrack to previous dungeons. There's also no annoying key hunts like in say Death end re;Quest.
Content length wise, there are three endings each with a different final chapter depending on your choices and the fate of little sisters. You can also romance any of the party members and they all have a unique epilogue ending. Going straight for the true ending will take you about 20 hours of playtime, I suppose. But completing all events and quests, as well as seeing the other endings and doing the post-game dungeon can bump your playtime up to 50 hours or so.
The PC port is very good, and definitely the best way to experience the game as the PS4 version is censored (in the West) and the Switch version is a big downgrade. The game is running on the same engine as DERQ, aka the Orochi 4 / Mizuchi engine that Compile Heart has been using in their more recent games, but the performance is completely fine here (playing at [email protected] on a 1070 Ti). I haven't encountered any weird issues, bugs or crashes. It supports 1080p and 4K with all non-4K resolutions being up/downscaled from 1080p (yeah, it's a shame if you're a 1440p user).

Review from Steam

TLDR; this game had a huge amount of potential and could have been very good but several design decisions (and probably not enough time to meet deadlines) make this a game that requires some effort to enjoy. If you can look at the diamond and not the flaws it is an interesting experience.
TLDR; this game had a huge amount of potential and could have been very good but several design decisions (and probably not enough time to meet deadlines) make this a game that requires some effort to enjoy. If you can look at the diamond and not the flaws it is an interesting experience.
The fact that I completed all the achievements for this game is a good indication that I did enjoy the game, but it is still a deeply flawed game so I would recommend waiting for the game to be on sale before purchasing, as you may not be able to overlook the flaws like I did. The art and music were good, level design okay. I liked most of the characters, which is probably the key factor that kept me playing. The fact that most of the flaws could have been strengths is another thing that kept me playing as I could see the diamond that this game could have been. With that said lets look at the issues I had with the game.
The biggest, and the reason I waited for the game to be on sale before I bought it, is the little sister mechanic that pretty much every negative review mentions. This is the typical designer totally ignoring that their player’s time is valuable. Nobody wants to invest twenty hours into a game and have to repeat that time because they ran out of time to complete the quest. Rule of thumb for designers, per second of play time that a time-limit takes, ram your head into a wall as hard as you can to give yourself an idea of the annoyance and pain that you are about to impose on your players.
Making the time-limit worse, is the fact that many of the dungeons are large and if you are following the story instead of exiting the dungeon prematurely in order to feed the little sisters, they will go insane. And even worse, when you do return to the den, often the story will not pause at the den but take you to the start of the next dungeon. If you are going to have an ending destroying game mechanic in the game, you should at least take that into account with the quest/story design to make it easier and more story consistent to perform the task.
The idea behind this time limit does make sense. The little sisters add pressure to complete the quest instead of focusing on grinding which adds urgency and helps you better relate to the situation the witches are in. Having this as a story element that really didn’t impact the game would not have worked as well but would not have turned away countless number of gamers. Forcing players to rush through the game was ultimately a bad decision and a better way of caring for the sisters should have been worked out. My solution would have been to not have the time limit but instead require the player to break their party up and have the ability to switch between the questing team and the caretaker team with the caretakers having to hunt to feed the little sisters. The urgency could have been faked by having it as story elements between chapters (yes, players will know they can grind as much as they want, but at least the urgency is in the fiction).
The combat system in the game is interesting as you have multiple levels and can set traps for your opponents that trigger if they move into them. This is, unfortunately, not utilized to the extent that it could have been. Making it worse, is the devour mechanic that if use breaks combat. For the most part, combat ends up being spread out to different levels then spam magic attacks. As you can learn any skill from dragon cores, it is easy to give each character 2 different elements for attacking then arrange the characters so that at any time you can swap out a character and have two characters have an attack that the opponent is weak against. Some monsters can heal themselves, which is always annoying but wouldn’t be bad except some of the healers heal huge amounts of damage (with some even being able to fully heal themselves requiring you to use the devour flaw to kill them.
Experience does not match the difficulty of the opponents and even worse, damaging an opponent does not earn experience if they run away before you kill them. This leads to situations where you spend several turns and lots of magic whittling down an opponent only for them to flee so you end up with no experience, but lots of lost SP and HP. It is never good when you spend several turns, nearly dying several times, to get 5000XP then fight another dragon and after a single turn end up with 25000XP. Experience should reflect the difficulty of defeating a monster relative to other monsters in the game.
The flaw with the combat system is the devour system. Here, when a character successfully devours a dragon, they gain a dragon core with skills. Each character has to do this to gain the core but it is unclear who already has a given core. Worse, the devour skill is effectively a instant-kill attack when it is successful so one strategy, which has to be used to get the level 99 achievement, is to learn the more powerful devour attacks and spam devour to quickly kill much more difficult dragons. There is a madness system to prevent this but it really doesn’t work well. A better approach may have been to simply base the devour success based more on damage to the monster or better yet have a core be a drop that happens after x number of that dragon is defeated.
The story starts poor, gets really good, then falls off a cliff once you find out what the curse is. Accepting that this is a fantasy universe fixes this problem but even then it is a huge plot-hole. I preferred the normal ending, which is the hardest ending to get as it requires not feeding (or overfeeding) one of the little sisters resulting in something bad happening to them. The good ending – which has several sub-ending based on which older sister you court – has a deus ex machina feel to it as a character goes from evil to good within a span of a minute. Another issue with the story is various bad guys are introduced but they are dealt with outside of your control so you don’t get the satisfaction of defeating them.
The different character endings are dependent on a mini dating sim that you go through where you give characters gifts to increase their affection. This is an unfortunate way of doing things, but as each character has a story that is unlocked through this system it is a necessity as this adds a lot to understanding the different characters. Lapnette’s ending was my favorite. It should be pointed out that if you save just before you fight the final boss, you can return to the den and max out one of the older sisters then do the final boss fight allowing you to quickly see all five of the character endings but does require repeating the final boss fight several times (which isn’t bad if you switch to easy after you have beat the final boss on hard on an earlier play).

Review from Steam

Good characters, awesome art, nice music. The only caveat really is - as it was mentioned countless times - the little sisters system. I suggest looking up the madness choice for each chapter and let them die the first time around since you won't have any time pressure in NG+ unless you don't wanna carry over the little sister items that stop the madness/dragon gauge to get the normal ending first and lastly the true ending. You can look all that up in the internet.

Review from Steam

Great game! Enjoyed the simple mechanics and story lines. Easy to become OP with the right build - finished at lvl 999 with 100% dragon rage (more powerful red glow version), tanky enough to ignore hits even on highest difficulty (inferno), damage stacked enough to one-shot everything, and could just enjoy collecting all the different dragon cores for each character with very high devour rates. Ended up 100%'ing the game completing all achievements, all quests, and collecting all the dragon cores. Easy to skip all cutscenes and animations which makes the replays in NG+ etc much more streamlined when exploring the various endings. Also wrote a brief steam guide to completing all the achievements to hopefully help other players enjoy it as I have. Didn't see why people complained about the little sister mechanic (I never got dragon gauge past 10% let alone 100% when they convert despite all the grinding). Also, for people that complain about having to do 20hr game over again for different playthroughs - it takes less than an hour to do NG+ playthrough when skipping cutscenes...
Highly recommend if you enjoying breezing through turn-based enemy fights with an overpowered team that rapidly grows stronger, exploring dynamic interpersonal narratives, and collecting monster cores.

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