Since its debut in 2011 Senran Kagura has managed to gather a loyal following of fans. The franchise has expanded into 4 games over the 3DS and PS Vita systems, gained a number of manga adaptions plus an anime series and OVA . For those not familiar with the series, they’re beat em’ up titles in which you fight with, and against, overly sexualised female ninja. The fan service is strong in these games, filled with jiggling breasts and bare butt smacking, they’re games you definitely won’t want to play around your family. Purposely over the top, the franchise still has its charms, as they’re designed to be played with a light hearted attitude. The latest title, Estival Versus marks Senran Kaguras, debut onto the home console, taking the gameplay of the Vitas Shinobi Versus, and expanding on it to great effect.
In the latest instalment the girls of the shinobi schools, Hanzo, Hebijo and Gessen, as well as Homura’s Crimson Squad, find themselves whisked away to a tropical island paradise. Here they are forced to participate in something called the Kagura Millennium Festival, which entails destroying platforms of their rivals home bases, over the course of 8 days. Doing so will determine who will gain the highest shinobi title ‘Kagura’ before they are returned back to their normal lives. That’s the idea anyway, but the girls aren’t all that eager to leave, wanting to relax in their swimsuits on the beach, or play around in some ridiculous little games. Anyone up for a Grope n’ Grapple or Undie Eating contest? Bizarre as those sound, that’s the normal goofy humour that Senran Kagura works with. You can find some genuinely comical scenes and laugh out loud moments for sure, but there are also plenty of uncomfortable and cringe worthy moments mixed in too. There is a fair amount of storytelling though, it’s just very slow at getting to it, which suits the franchises style. On top of the Millennium Festival there is also the fact that the lingering spirits of deceased shinobi roam the island. This includes some familiar faces for a number of the girls, which raises the question of whether they really want to leave.
The other two story scenarios are Shinobi Heart Girl, and Special Challenges. The first of these are obtained by destroying festival towers in the main game. They are separate short challenges with their own narratives for each individual character. The stories are very chuck away, but have their charms which make them a nice diversion from the main game. In one challenge you could be helping Shiki boost the views on her blog, in another playing out a musical with Murasaki, or indulging Katsuragi’s antics as she discovers there is more to the female form than boobs. Special challenges are harder fights than you’d regularly find in the other scenarios, which at the moment involve taking on more girls simultaneously, who take a lot more damage.
The last Senran Kagura game I personally played was on the 3DS which played out as a sidescrolling beat em’ up, so I was very much impressed with how the series has progressed with full 3D environments to explore. The game actually has a Warriorsesque style approach, which is something they started in the Vita title Shinobi Versus, and with the power of the PS4 behind this latest title it looks to have expanded on just about every element. The beach, mountains, shrine, and city streets are just a couple environments where you can duke it out, with each made up of several sections. The gameplay has changed very little since its debut. You take one of the adolescent ninja to take into battle, which require you to wail on wave after wave of grunt shinobi before tackling a boss character. That is very much it, there are one or two levels where you solely fight grunt soldiers within a ten minute timeline, but little else, which makes for a very repetitive experience.
Combat is setup around a two button system of light and heavy attacks that can be mashed together to form some fluid flashy combos. The cast is made up of 27 characters and impressively all feature their own very unique movesets which really stand out from each other. To extend your repertoire you can also break into aerial raves, guard, and parry, enemy attacks. Of course Shinobi and Frantic transformations are still present, complete with their flashy stripping and redressing animations. Senran Kaguras combat has never been that in depth and comes across very repetitive, with each bout turning into a grind as you just exchange blows with your enemies. That said there is something very enjoyable about it, and it’s fun to experiment with the different characters and setups.
The fun new addition that just helps to bulk up the combat is Bombshells. Throwing these pickups at enemies can deal some elemental damage, or cause some handy status ailments like poison and paralysis. The other new addition is the Creative Finishers. Deal enough damage to a boss and you can watch the clothing elaborately explode off of the character. It’s a feature that has been present in all previous titles, but the new addition is that if you defeat the character in specific locations on a battlefield, you get you more elaborate and comical knockout animations. It’s just a small aesthetic addition to provide some extra fan service, (as if there wasn’t enough already) but trying to track down all of these hidden finishes does add some extra intrigue. Although, as has been the case with the other titles the strip and transformation animations cut in all too abruptly, breaking up the otherwise fast free flowing action.
Outside the combat you can head over to the shop and dressing room. Anything you unlock in the game, whether that be from progressing through the story or destroying festival towers, tends to end up in the in game shop for purchase. The dressing room is pretty selfexplanatory, letting you fully customise the varying casts appearances, everything from their hairstyle and how they coordinate their accessories right down to what colour their undergarments should be. Over the course of the game if you happen to find your perfect waifu, or your ideal harem for a slice of comedy, you can frame them up in a diorama. Within them you have a selection of environments to drop them in as well as control over their expressions, poses and even the destruction state of their clothing. You could suit them up and get them to strike a power pose, orlet them relax in their swimsuits along the bright sunny beaches. It’s a neat addition which could work very well with Playstation’s Share feature.
Graphically the game performs very well. It’s not the best looking anime title on the PS4, but the visuals suit the style of game perfectly. Colourful and lively, the environments feel very vibrant, it’s just unfortunate that there are only a few locations to explore. Character models look fantastic, and the animations that support them really help to build up the personalities of the varied cast. As for their ‘assets’ really that’s all down to your take on this games fan service, but the one thing I will say on it is this game does have some imaginative ways of working them into just about everything.
Over the top humour and busty hijinks are in abundance in, Senran Kagura Estival Versus. Creative Finishers and bombshells add something new to the gameplay, but it all still feels very basic with it becoming increasingly repetitive given enough time. Yet it still makes for good, mindless, button mashing fun. Long term fans are sure to get something out of this fun new addition to the fan service heavy franchise.
This review is based off a review code of Senran Kagura Estival Versus provided by Decibel PR.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.