Russians say three things can be watched endlessly: water running, a fire burning, and a starry night. Over the years, Japan has contributed their own indispensable addition: watching nubile young women engage in playful pugilism. From the Variable Geo and Arcana Heart franchises to Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, all-female fighting has long been a blossoming sub-genre, but it didn’t reach critical mass until the global release of Senran Kagura. Kenichiro Takaki’s spirited series was built around the contentious academies of female ninja, offering an inspired mix of engaging fighting and eye-catching fan-service. Unsurprisingly, entries Shinovi Versus and sequel Estival Versus were met with rousing success when they were released in the West.
With last year’s release of Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni onto European and U.S. Vitas, it’s evident that there’s an aspiration to replicate those efforts. While the game’s development teams may differ, and Bhikkhuni adopts a more sophisticated approach to brawling, there are some undeniable parallels. Beyond the role of Takaki-san as producer, both franchises seem to pay homage to the buxom female form, with cameras lingering on its jiggly combatants on both battlefield and the dressing room. Like Senran Kagura, Valkyrie Drive is a multimedia enterprise with efforts with both an anime and mobile based card battler threatening to propel sisters Rinka and Ranka Kagurazaka, as well as their comrades into the collective consciousness.
Similar to Senran, narrative enjoyment emerges from an absurdist plotline told with unflinching earnestness. In Valkyrie Drive’s universe, a plague overwhelms schoolgirls. Some show symptoms of becoming Exters- support characters who transform them into weaponry when they are aroused. Others are called Liberators, who have the power to wield the aforementioned weapons during a process referred to as a Drive. Essentially, it’s all an elaborate excuse to take control of brawny, busty schoolgirls and see them power-up with a playful kiss or breast grope.
Occasionally, the payoff takes a while to get there, with conversations that are longer than some of the action sequences. But when the lasciviousness finally does kicks in, expect moments of pure delight to erupt on-screen. Another upside occurs during the game’s second-half. With most of the essential exposition out of the way, Valkyrie Drive begins to expand its aspirations, with plot points that disrupt conventional gaming dichotomies. It’s hardly Shakespeare, but tensions become interesting enough to make you care about the dialog.
In many ways, Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni takes the same approach to combat. At its core, are the action game rudiments where button presses initiate basic attacks. This allows the game’s selection of seven playable characters to dish out basic strikes, chains, and character-specific attacks. But gradually, the game’s collection of 50+ missions goad you into exploiting more of your arsenal. While button mashing can probably get you through the lowest of Bhikkhuni’s trio of difficulties, most players will want to master advanced techniques like launchers. Here, you can propel yourself toward any targeted ground or air-based opponent and once they’re stunned, opt to juggle, slam, disgrace foes in a number of fun ways.
Doing these things gradually fills up your Synchro Gauge, and with a simultaneous press of both bumpers, you activate Drive. Beyond augmenting the power of your basic attacks, you also have access to additional combos, allowing for the easy pummeling of most adversaries. Like many of Valkyrie Drive’s contemporaries, there’s not much diversity in mission structure, beyond tackling hordes of lesser enemies and the sporadic boss battle. To try to offset this, Bhikkhuni hides collectables and extends the possibility of secret missions if players can deliver an extended combo. While the tactic doesn’t fix the problem, it does prod players into learning all the nuances of the combat system.
Beyond the game’s Story mode, Bhikkhuni also extends several other components. Survival Mode removes much of the storytelling, tasking gamers to conquer waves of challengers and the sporadic boss. Meeting certain conditions during the main campaign also unlocks Challenge Mode, which tests mastery of almost every play mechanic, as the game dishes out different trials.
On the Vita, Valkyrie Drive’s online mode allowed up to a quartet of online opponents to square off and test their mettle. But it was woefully vacant at all hours of the day. Several days after Bhikkhuni’s release any interest or matchmaking afflictions seems to have been rectified, with one or more rooms available at all times. For those who prefer more solitary pursuits, there’s also the game’s Dressing Room component, where players can buy clothes and outfit the game’s cast. Unlike most wardrobe specialists, a bit of puckish poking is part of the process as well as a mini-game where you collect hearts while one of the girls lounges around in skimpy undergarments. Both pervy pastimes are elevated by amusing asides made by the on-screen schoolgirl.
Unsurprisingly, Valkyrie Drive’s polygon count is spent on its protagonists, who are richly detailed and unfailingly adorable, revealing little of their Vita-borne roots. While enemies and backdrops don’t receive the same amount of attention, it’s not much of a shortcoming, as any savings allows the title’s framerate to be reliably fluid. Beyond an adrenaline-inducing opening song, the title’s soundtrack is filled with a number of upbeat, if not exceedingly memorable tracks. For the PC conversion, players receive a number of a graphical options, from a multiple of resolutions, to windowed, fullscreen, and borderless fullscreen play. The only transgression is mouse cursor management; if you’re playing in anything less than fullscreen, the icon is locked inside the window. But beyond the occasional object with medium-grade texturing, Bhikkhuni looks good, especially when the anti-aliasing is maxxed.
For fan-service aficionados, Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni can’t be beat. Beyond an affable cast of curvy maidens clad in perpetually skimpy attire, there’s also hours to invested in the pursuit of in-game collectables. Of course, this is all layered on top of a brawler that’s can get a bit repetitive, but is largely enjoyable and unexpectedly elaborate. Certainly, if you were a fan of Senran Kagura’s sexy antics, a journey to Bhikkhuni is recommended.
Valkyrie Drive: Bhikkhuni was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PC, previously on PS Vita
Developer: Meteorise, HONEY∞PARADE GAMES
Release Date: June 20th, 2017
Price: $29.99 via Steam, currently on sale for $26.99