Most Compile Heart games have a similar look to them. Someone might look at Dragon Star Varnir and its battle system, then think, “This looks like aerial Hyperdimension Neptunia.” Except, there’s a character building mechanic that is executed rather brilliantly. Devouring Dragon Cores is an incredible way to build up characters, encourage people to use everyone, and incentivize grinding in such a way that it doesn’t feel like you’re endlessly grinding.
Dragon Star Varnir is a game with skill trees. Except, they don’t function the way you would expect. Instead of each character having one tree assigned to them or perhaps learning skills at set times, the Dragon Cores they have access to determine their capabilities. Every non-human enemy in the game can be devoured. If it isn’t a boss, then the character who ate them obtains that Dragon Core. If it is a boss, then every party member has access to that Dragon Core skill tree in the menu. A Devour Skill is most effective if an enemy’s health is low or they are suffering from some status ailment, but you could perform the attack at any time. Different ones have different ranges, and all of them have the added bonus of restoring the character’s health and SP slightly. Trying never hurts you.
Right away, this makes hunting down enemies and switching between characters critical. Enemies respawn at a fairly quick rate. If you wait around for five minutes, you should see an ordinary baddie make a comeback. This means, if you find a foe with a skill tree you like, you don’t have to wait too long for it to regenerate so a character you think would make good use of it could devour them. Dragon Star Varnir also allows you to have all six party members with you at a time. The three who are in the rear formation can be switched with the active character they are paired with on the active character’s turn, and you don’t sacrifice a turn to do so. There’s no going after an enemy, finding out what its Dragon Core does, having to completely redo your party, and then kill time trying to get the perfect opportunity. Plus, since you see enemies on the map, you can recognize right away if the opponent is the one you need.
The Dragon Core skill trees are also handled in a way that makes them easy to parse and use. While most nodes are locked away until you reach adjacent ones, you can hover over them to get an idea of what they will do. Some give minor stat increases, helping you use that Bonus Factor to gradually shape their build. Others provide physical or magical abilities, different sorts of devour attacks that could increase their range or effects, or passive boosts that offer a certain percentage enhancement to a particular stat. You don’t have to unlock every node. The way most are arranged, there is a web of sorts that lets you weave your way toward the one you want, possibly bypassing the ones that wouldn’t be of any use to that particular person.
As for building up a character, Dragon Star Varnir makes that easy enough too. Each character has an equipping cost for each area of their skillset. Let’s say we have Charlotta and we’re outfitting her right after she joins. Because of the Dragon Cores she has access to, I could have her equip the Dragon Bite, Hard Bite, and Cobra Devour Skills. She has 20 total points there, and the basic Dragon Bite all characters have has a cost of three, while the other two are four each. She has five total slots. Since all three would add up to 11, she can have all three of those skills, giving her three options in the field. Physical, magical, and passive skills are also divided up in the same way, so you always have five empty slots for each character, with each field having their own quota. It allows for quite a bit of freedom to play around.
There are times when Dragon Star Varnir just feels so smart. Players have direct control over everyone’s build. It is easy to get the different Dragon Cores to build people up. You don’t have to waste a lot of time finding the right enemies. Party members can easily shift around to have their turn at the buffet. It’s well executed and might make you want to try more and play around.
Dragon Star Varnir will come to the PlayStation 4 on June 11, 2019 in North America and June 14, 2019 in Europe. It is immediately available in Japan on the PlayStation 4 as Varnir of the Dragon Star. It will come to the PC in 2019.