Fairy Fencer F provided encouragement that Compile Heart had begun to make its games more approachable. Unfortunately, first with Omega Quintet and now Dark Rose Valkyrie, it is apparent that the developer has returned to bad habits. Even with a couple of experienced staff members from the Tales series, Dark Rose Valkyrie is nothing more than an impenetrable mess of systems shoved on top of time-wasting progression, with very little to redeem it.
Dark Rose Valkyrie starts off with an interesting premise. The game is set in an alternate history where a meteorite has brought a strange virus than turns those infected into dangerous beasts. Players take control of a rookie captain ordered to lead a special force to eradicate the infected and stop the virus' spread. At some point in the game, it turns out that one of the members becomes infected by said virus and turns traitor with the identity of the traitor being selected randomly. However, the symptoms of viral infection align with the split-personalities caused by extended usage of the weapons that fight against it.
Unfortunately, the actual narrative isn't anything special. The incredibly dubious strategy of placing the nation's hopes in a rookie squad led by someone with even less experience is quickly hand-waved, and then things get stuck on a wild goose chase. There is likely some deeper motivation for the antagonists to be revealed down the line, but the process of getting there is incredibly tedious. In between these main story missions of heading to where a villain has appeared and then meeting the random boss monster they throw out before going elsewhere, players must fulfill a number of generic hunting or collection missions, which serve no narrative purpose other than eating time and making progression through the game a dull grind. The characters have a certain amount of charm, and get a bit more interesting once their split-personalities start to emerge, but it's a bit disappointing that they still fall into fairly tired initial archetypes.
Then we come to the combat. At its most basic, the game offers an ATB-style system where combatants move up a bar on the left. Once they reach a certain point they get to choose what to do, after which there is a charge time depending on what action is chosen. This sounds simple enough at face value, but what players are presented with is a mess of complexity. Listing the full amount of systems is going to take too long, but it includes customised combo-style basic attacks, elemental attributes and attack types (two different things), backup members that can join in attacks or help defend based on certain conditions, formations, guard meters, two different power-up modes, delay mechanics, etc. This doesn't even get into character growth, where players must assign points to attributes after every level up, and the equipment systems involving significant amounts of crafting and maintenance. A first-strike system on the field is awfully implemented, giving players a tiny range and the enemies far too much speed and awareness.
Another issue with having so many systems in play is the balancing. Dark Rose Valkyrie's balance is all over the place. Most regular enemies will go down almost immediately, but then bosses will suddenly come along that go in completely the opposite direction. While the game's complexity will be welcomed by some, the way everything is haphazardly strung together and awfully explained is downright annoying. Simply put, the game is not remotely fun to play.
One of the new features brought into Dark Rose Valkyrie is interrogations. Positioned a little like certain courtroom games, players are expected to look for contradictions in testimonies in order to suss out the randomly-selected traitor. However, in a familiar tune, the way it is handled is incredibly obtuse, and again any hope of easing players into things with a straightforward tutorial is swiftly dashed. Players are hampered by significant limitations — such as how many statements they can take — that make it an exercise in frustration, even if it adds something interesting to proceedings.
The only appealing part of Dark Rose Valkyrie is the character art, which is not surprising considering long-time Tales character designer Kosuke Fujishima is behind it. Even with Compile Heart's odd breath-simulating animations, the art looks very nice. Unfortunately, everything that's rendered in 3D doesn't stack up to it. The location designs are dull and the 3D models certainly don't strike as the quality one would expect in this latest console generation, especially the weird running animations. It's poor technically and in design. On the audio front, things are generally ok, except for the bizarrely frequent panting noise made by the current party leader when running around.
Dark Rose Valkyrie is a game that saddens me. After Fairy Fencer F, I was very happy to have faith that Compile Heart was ready to learn lessons and improve, keeping some faith even after Omega Quintet put its own damper on that. With the best parts of the game coming from outside collaborators, Dark Rose Valkyrie is a damning indictment that the company has learned nothing.