Note: Some of the screenshots used at the end of this review may not be suitable for family viewing.
The Senran Kagura franchise started on the Nintendo DS. When first released on that format in the west, the series wasn’t well received by some. Since then, it has often been derived for being all about female body parts and nothing else. This however, is a very narrow minded view that fails to acknowledge not only the deep characterisation of the girls over the series, but also the gameplay itself.
Like the other entries, Senran Kagura Estival Versus is also heavy in plot. No, this is not a reference to breasts. Although, to be sure, Senran Kagura Estival Versus also has its fair share of bouncing boobies. While the inclusion of such is certainly one reason to enjoy the game, the actual on-going storyline is a far more compelling one.
The gist of which is that the girls of the various Shinobi schools have been summoned to a special realm wherein they are to compete in a festival to honour the dead. This setting is an opportunity for sisters Ryouna and Ryoubi to come to terms with the loss of their elder sister, Ryouki.
Ryouki does complicate this somewhat by not allowing her death to be a barrier in joining the festivities. The setting is also a chance for a lot of perverse humour too. For example, with Haruka’s attempts to change the festival into a Surprise Shinobi Slippery Splash-n-Spray Sports contest.
For the most part, stories are delivered in both visual novel style — with simple text over a static background, and via cutscenes featuring the cast of girls in their full animated glory. The only let down here is that no log is made available so it’s not possible to play certain sound bites over. A shame as the dialogue can often be funny.
In terms of gameplay, Senran Kagura Estival Versus is very similar to the Dynasty Warriors games. Like that series, you are primarily tasked with dispatching large numbers of foes, while also being pitted against a smaller number of more deadly opponents. Dynasty Warriors keeps this style of action fresh by also setting mission goals, such as defending a certain part of the level or preventing enemies from reaching a specific area. And often, several such missions are in effect at any one given time.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus, however, has no such mission system in place. The result is that many stages — especially at easier difficulties — are extremely short button mashing affairs. These tend to follow a pattern of one or two enemy mobs thrown at you prior to a mob-infested confrontation with up to three of the other main characters.
On one hand, this allows for short, fast-paced, enjoyable bursts of pure battle gameplay sandwiched in between story scenes and fan service skits. On the other, the lack of downtime during battle plays havoc with my wrists and hands, resulting in physical pain especially when performing an extended chain of Arial Rave attacks. It’s this pain that resulted in my time with Senran Kagura Estival Versus being in the form of many short sessions spread out over several months.
The nearest Senran Kagura Estival Versus appears to come to mission based gameplay within levels is the inclusion of “Platforms”. These constructions, which are shrine like in appearance, are found in some levels and need to be destroyed both from a storyline point of view as well as for unlocking access to additional stages and side stories.
Depending on the stage, the platforms may be hidden. For example, in the stage Slippery Oil you need to wall run over a barrier in order to locate the three Platforms hidden within that level. If you do miss a platform in a level, or are outright defeated, there’s no real progress lost. Stages can be played as many times as you wish, and you’ll still earn experience even if you fail to complete it. Levels must initially be successfully completed with a specific girl but after that you can replay using any available character.
There are currently 32 available playable characters in the English language release of Senran Kagura Estival Versus. Three of these are unlocked by meeting certain in-game criteria. A further four are available via the PSN store as optional paid DLC. Unfortunately due to on-going licensing issues, the three Ikki Tousen cross-over characters are currently absent from the English language release. Should that change they too will likely be supplied as paid DLC.
Each girl has a similar range of weak and strong attack combos, Arial Rave combos, and up to three Secret Ninja Arts. Yet they all manage to have their own unique feel when being controlled. Hibari for example, is very clumsy, and her move set reflects this. Weak attacks result in her flailing her arms around wildly, other attacks end in her falling over, as does running for too long.
Hibari also has a rather amusing Secret Ninja Art. She becomes a giant, stomps around for a few seconds and then stumbles to the ground; hopefully squashing her opponents. The timing for successfully combos also seems different for some characters. Renka, with her taiko drum based move set appears to be faster than her sister Hanabi, who slowly wields a large sledge hammer.
During gameplay, each of the girls has access to three move sets. Flash is the normal move set and the one all characters default to at the start of a stage. Yang is the Shinobi move set, available after using one scroll to activate their Shinobi transformation. The Yin move set is accessed by activating Frantic mode.
In this mode, the girls shed their clothes; opting to fight in only their underwear. Yin offers up some of more powerful moves at the expense of durability. Ninja Art moves are only available when using either the Yang or Yin sets. Using moves from a specific set will level up that set and unlock bonus perks, such as increasing the number of times an Arial Rave can be chained.
There are a few slight annoyances with gameplay. It can be very easy to get trapped in a corner or against scenery. Even with the wall running moves, it can at times be difficult to break free. This can be further compounded by the camera being obstructed by foreground objects.
The side stories, such as the Shinobi Girl’s Heart ones feature ongoing dialogue during fighting. Given how hectic the action can get, this makes reading and following the story more challenging than it should be. This is particularly true should you level up, as the notification will obscure the dialogue window. I’d have liked the option to view a log of this dialogue upon completion of a stage.
Like other titles from Kenichiro Takaki, the Senran Kagura series is known for its fan service. Senran Kagura Estival Versus is no exception in this regard, offering up its share of the titillating variety. True to the well-established “magical girl” norms prevalent throughout Japanese entertainment, Senran Kagura’s extensive cast of girls all have their own transformation sequences which feature brief nudity.
While bare behinds are fair game, frontal nudity is obscured by strategically placed glowing lights; the so-called “nazo no laser” or mysterious laser effect that is commonly found in similarly-themed fan service anime of today.
In addition to the transformations in to their Shinobi forms, there are other occasions during gameplay when the girls may end up baring more skin than they may have intended. Most levels have signboards, identified by their big red exclamation marks, scattered around the map. These tend to indicate the location where special finishers can be performed.
If you manage to defeat one of your primary enemies in its vicinity, that poor enemy will likely wind up in a somewhat embarrassing situation. Such as landing, completely naked, on a taiko drum, or similarly flying into a window with only a conveniently located ray of light preventing everyone from seeing their bare breasts. It is safe to say that if you take issue with the idea of games being used to sexualise characters of either gender, then Senran Kagura Estival Versus is not for you.
If you are comfortable with seeing cute women in somewhat compromising situations or poses of a slightly erotic nature, you will not be disappointed. There are no differences between the Japanese and English language versions of Senran Kagura Estival Versus in terms of the graphical content.
The only slight censoring in the English release is the removal of the girls’ ages from their profiles; a change apparently made to appease certain rating boards. It does seem silly to do this when it is so easy to look up character ages online. However, omitting the character ages was the right move to make if displaying the fact that a character is 15 or 16 years old would be enough to prevent release. The lack of ages certainly doesn’t damage the overall experience, and should not detract from anyone’s enjoyment while playing.
There are a wealth of character customisation options available in Senran Kagura Estival Versus. In addition to paid DLC items, many clothing items, accessories, and even hairstyles, are rewarded on completing stages. These are then purchasable in the in-game store. A variety of lingerie items can also be obtained from the in-game lottery.
Every time you take a chance on the lottery your overall luck will decrease. This can be subsequently raised by donating increasing amounts in-game currency. The actual draw, requires a shake of the PS4 controller. This is then ranked out of 20 possible scores and a prize awarded. While the lottery can be played with in-game currency alone, Lottery Tokens are also sold on the PSN store.
The Dressing Room is where these items are used to alter the appearance of the girls. Costumes can be set for their normal clothing, normal underwear, Shinobi transformation clothing, and Shinobi transformation underwear. Up to ten accessories can be attached to each girl. Further, advanced options mean these items can be scaled and rotated as well as precisely located upon their person.
Customising the girls is admittedly a lot of fun. Which is partly why I found the multi-player mode, Miss Shinobi to be somewhat disappointing. The Miss Shinobi contest also provides an opportunity to show some creativity with dressing up and posing characters, and is good opportunity to receive customisation items by making and uploading your own dioramas. But it does have its problems.
First, being a multi-player mode, an active PS Plus subscription is required. Second, the background scenes found in the main menu of the single player game mode often depict several of the girls either relaxing together or playing. But each of the diorama options I’ve experienced in the Miss Shinobi section have thus far been limited to featuring only one girl at a time. Third, advanced positioning of the girl’s standing position seems to be unavailable.
While Adjust Standing Position (Details) can be used to precisely alter the angle of a girl’s position, the Position options are ghosted out. I have yet to find a way to access them; leaving the basic movement option as the only way to relocate the character.
Precise positioning is somewhat difficult with this as only an arrow surrounded by a circle is shown to represent placement. It is also rather cumbersome to have to drop back out to menu to switch between the basic and detailed adjustment options. These should both be accessible simultaneously while actually placing a girl.
Finally, Miss Shinobi also allows you to view and rate creations from other players. And creations from other players will always be shown when you first select a contest. It should be noted that while the main game ensures that no full frontal nudity is ever shown, many players have creatively used items to render both nipples and pubic hair. Anyone uncomfortable with this may want to avoid looking at other player creations.
There is much to enjoy about Senran Kagura Estival Versus. The silly storylines, truly loveable cast of characters, and the frantic gameplay are all good reasons to play. I would have preferred to see the missions fleshed out further to provide a little more variety (and a bit of down time to ease the wrist pain I suffered), yet even without that my time with the quirky cast of Shinobi girls has been a blast.
Screenshots are direct grabs taken via AVerMedia RECentral. There are no in game settings for quality to change. They have not been altered or modified.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus was obtained as a review copy courtesy of Marvelous Europe and Decibel-PR.