Dragon Star Varnir is a JRPG developed by the partnership of Compile Heart and Idea Factory. In the game, Visual Novel sections alternate with dungeons exploration, moral choices, and turn-based battles. The battles are especially unique since everyone can fly, dividing the battlefield into 3 different levels. While this adds tactical decisions during normal fights, it is even more important during boss fights, because some dragons are so big that the different body parts occupy all the levels. However, there is an even more interesting and unique mechanic, very well integrated into the lore and the world-building of the game that I will describe in the following article.
The world of Dragon Star Varnir is a grim and dangerous place. Dragons roam around, challenging the bravest knights and warriors to control their population, and then there are witches, women with powerful abilities forced on feeding on dragons. In this world where everyone is at war with everyone, there are even darker secrets involved in the dichotomy between witches and dragons. In fact, witches constantly fight the biological impulse of giving birth to a dragon. Sadly, the harsh truth is that every dragon was before a witch that was unable to control this horrible event. Dragons are some kind of embryo or parasite living inside witches’ bodies, a mysterious process that will need a lot of effort for the player to be discovered, so I will minimise spoilers. A witch can control the development of the dragon by eating dragon meat or drinking their blood, a procedure that every witch finds extremely repulsive and disgusting. But when your life is at stake, and the alternative is having your body ripped by a dragon, there is not much to question about. Witches hunt dragons in order to feed on them, delaying their transformation that will generate a new dragon. Somehow, this is an extreme form of cannibalism.
If a witch refuse to feed on dragons for a long time, she will start to starve, quickly triggering the maturation of the dragon inside her. And the ending is not only sad, but extremely painful and violent. After the pain will get uncontrollable, the dragon will emerge from the witch’s body, ripping it apart in an explosion of blood. The newborn dragon will get immediately aggressive and feral, losing any humanity that the witch could have, usually attacking the other witches that before were friends.
The interesting novelty is that this constant struggle between feeding on dragons or giving birth to one is also integrated into the gameplay. This feature will not directly affect party members, since they are adult and veteran witches, which will consume dragon meat on their own. But for the young and inexperienced “Little Sisters,” this is a very delicate issue. These young witches are still fighting against the repulsive need of eating dragon meat, a disgusting practice that will keep them alive. These little sisters are waiting at home while the adult witches hunt food, but every meal is a battle for them. In the beginning, this struggle will be only part of dramatic cutscenes, but then, it will become part of the gameplay.
The Little Sisters need a constant flow of dragon meat or blood in order to retain their humanity and survive. Each sister will have an icon associated with her level of happiness, and the player should take care of it. Because if the face becomes angry, there is a clear chance that the poor little sister will run away to give birth to a dragon. Maintaining stable the mental sanity of the sisters by giving them dragon meat is essential to achieve the best endings. However, the process is very challenging and complicated, and very few details are actually explained inside the game. Because if dragon meat can be obtained by killing any enemy around the world, the timing can become quite a challenge due to a hidden internal clock. Wander, explore, or fight too much in a dungeon, and the next time you will go back home one of the sisters could be on the verge of going insane, because their happiness will constantly decrease with time.
The game should be a good balance of collecting meat and advancing the story, while remembering to leave the dungeon if too much time passed, so the dragon meat can be delivered to the sisters. And there is also another problem related to another metric, because if you “overfeed” the sisters, they will also go insane. After all, who wants to be force-feeded dragon meat if not strictly necessary to survive? Fail to correctly care for the little sisters, and they will run away to give birth to a dragon. Each sister will run to a different area and will transform into a specific dragon, which will roam in that region as a hidden boss fight. So, by failing the quest of the Little Sisters, the best endings will be locked away, but it will be possible to face secret bosses.
The constant dread of playing the game while being worried about the sisters, plus the balance between farming meat and experience knowing that each minute spent in a dungeon could send the sisters mad, transform a common JRPG game into a complex fight for survival. This is a truly interesting and unique mechanic that not only moves Dragon Star Varnir toward more survival-horror atmospheres, but is also well-integrated inside the dark and grim world that was created for the game.