Whilst we’ve seen a few video games based on the Senran Kagura franchise over the last few years, they’ve always been exclusive to handheld consoles. There’s actually something quite comforting about that – I mean, who wants to have someone walk in on them playing a game where your objective is literally to beat the clothes off your opponent? It’s always been convenient to swiftly hide your handheld from anyone’s view and pretend that you’re actually working through more levels of Cooking Mama or beating your personal best lap times in Mario Kart.
Those days are gone though – Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the first entry in the series to make the leap to consoles, with the shinobi stripping gameplay you know and love now taking place on your 42” TV screen for everyone to see in all its glory. Those who find solace in the discretion of a handheld can still grab the game on the Playstation Vita, but why go for the inferior version? The leap to consoles sees improvements to the game, though it still suffers from some of the flaws that have been present in previous entries in the series.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus opens by talking about the life, death and struggles of a shinobi. It’s all very confusing and a little convoluted, but it all builds up to the introduction of the ‘Millenium Festival’ – a festival that is meant to ease the wandering souls of fallen shinobi.
Ryōbi and Ryōna, members of the Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy, venture through a forest to lay flowers at the grave of their deceased sister Ryōki. Once there they witness a ritual taking place across the distance. They then notice that the spirit of Ryōki is present at this ritual and chase her down, only to get transported to a tropical parallel dimension where the ‘Millenium Festival’ is taking place. They do get reunited with Ryōki, but with her taking a halo-laden spirit form.
Eventually girls from all the main schools are pulled into this tropical paradise parallel dimension. Once reunited they all get offered a challenge – compete in competition with each other and the victorious school earns the right to lay the spirits of their wandering loved ones to rest.
To get the most out of Senran Kagura Estival Versus’ narrative it’s imperative that you’ve played the previous entry in the series, Shinovi Versus. There’s no real introduction to any of the characters or the back story of the game here – the game literally throws you straight in with very little explanation of the lore.
That being said, as long as you’re not too worried about the narrative or the history behind the tale you’ll enjoy seeing how everything unfolds. The Senran Kagura series is known to be a little crazy and some of the situations and conversations that unfold are a bizarre treat to witness. There’s a good mixture of charm, humour, insanity and perversion that actually blends together to offer an entertaining narrative – even if you’re not sure about what is actually going on. Each character interaction is entertaining, which is great seeing as they make up the bulk of the game. I found I spent more time reading than I did actually fighting enemies – it didn’t bother me in the slightest, but it’s worth noting than Senran Kagura Estival Versus is a text heavy game.
Of course, the Senran Kagura series isn’t just known for its insane story but primarily for its sexy shinobi stripping gameplay. Clothing could almost be considered as an alternative for a health bar in Senran Kagura Estival Versus. If you’re fully dressed then you’re fine, if you’re down to your underwear then you’re in big trouble. It’s a salacious feature and some may look down on it, but at the end of the day you know what you’re getting with a Senran Kagura game. You can’t judge the game, but only yourself if you went out and bought it – the game doesn’t try to hide what you’re letting yourself in for!
Senran Kagura Estival Versus plays a little like a Dynasty Warriors title, piling the screen up with countless foes that fall with ease as you hack, slash and shoot your way to victory. You can perform standard quick attacks with the square button but also have access to a more powerful attack that can knock the enemy back with the triangle button. Holding down the triangle button will perform a ‘breach art’, a special move that is unique to each character in the game. You have access to a few special moves too such as the ‘aerial rave’ that’ll launch you at an airborne enemy following a combo, and also the ‘limit break’ that unleashes a powerful area attack that’ll knock all enemies in the vicinity backwards.
You also get the ability to block, parry and wall run/attack, though I didn’t find myself using these abilities all that often. You get too inundated with enemies to take advantage of defensive manoeuvres with the best form of defence simply being offense, whilst I didn’t even attempt to use the wall run outside of the mission that explained the technique.
Your best attacks are reserved for your ‘shinobi transformation’. Throughout battles you’ll collect ninja scrolls that you can use to transform into a new, more powerful form. It’ll restore your health, increase your strength and also give you a new costume that typically looks a lot cooler. You’ll get access to a three new attacks that require the use of ninja scrolls to perform too – the higher the ninja scroll cost, the more powerful the attack. They were actually my favourite moves to use in battle and with each character in the game having their own unique set of ‘shinobi transformation’ moves on offer there’s a pretty good variety of them to witness. Some gamers will appreciate the transformation animation too…
If you prefer to battle with less clothing then you could always enter ‘frantic mode’ – a simple press of the shoulder button and touch pad sees your character strip their own clothes off, but gives an incredible boost in attack power at the expense of your defence. If you want to battle in your underwear that’s up to you, at least it comes with a few boosts.
Certain missions in the game give you an AI partner to help you out, though these missions are few and far between. Given that the feature is there I’m surprised that you can’t partner up in more missions, especially since having a partner gives you access to a few special ‘fusion’ moves.
There’s a surprising amount of depth on offer with the combat in Senran Kagura Estival Versus, though I did find for the most part it was easier to resort to button mashing. The gameplay does get a start to feel old fast too, with missions feeling a little too repetitive after taking down the same horde of foes for the hundredth time. Whilst missions do have varying goals, it all typically boils down to bashing buttons and beating enemies up. Enemies typically feel the same too – whilst they do get bigger and stronger, they never really feel anymore difficult to take down.
You’ll have boss encounters against the other girls which do offer a bit more variety given their more impressive repertoire of moves, but even they can be easily beaten by just spamming them with attacks. Missions don’t require too much of a thought process to complete and given how repetitive they become the game can start to drag a little the further you progress.
At least each girl you control feels unique with their own set of special moves and character specific weapons. It makes some amends for the repetitive gameplay when each character plays so differently, and the game makes sure to let you use them all as you progress through the story. Some are quick, some are slow, some require you to be up close whilst some can easily attack from range – there’s a good sense of diversity and you’ll certainly have favourites by the time you get to the end of the game.
You’ll level up your character after each battle with attributes such as ‘HP’, ‘Attack’ and ‘Defence’ seeing an improvement with each increase in level. There were also other attributes called ‘Flash’, ‘Ying’ and Yang’ that would boost, though the game didn’t really offer much of an explanation to what each attribute represented. I’m guessing that it’s something to do with your fighting style, but I didn’t fully understand each one was.
The character design in the game is superb. The shift from handheld to console really shows with characters packing more detail than ever before. I’ve been a fan of games that integrate an anime style ever since the early days of cel-shaded graphics, but Senran Kagura Estival Versus has been one of the most impressive visually. Unfortunately environments don’t pack the same visual punch as the character models. Whilst they’re full of colour, especially in the tropical settings, they feel a little barren and lack any sort of personality. The fact that so many missions take place across the same levels doesn’t help either, with you quickly growing tired of being in the same locations over and over.
Outside of the main story Senran Kagura Estival Versus offers the ‘Shinobi Dojo’ that lets you play online and the ‘Dressing Room’ to play dress-up with your favourite characters. Online play allows up to ten players (four players on the Playstation Vita) to take part in game modes that include ‘Point Battles’ and ‘Panty Collection Battles’ – would you expect anything different?
You’ll unlock plenty of new costumes to take into the ‘Dressing Room’, though I’ll admit I didn’t spend much time there. It’s really not my thing to play dress up with anime girls – each to their own though! You’ll also unlock music and art as you play through each mission, offering a constant stream of collectibles to give you something to work for.
There have been countless Senran Kagura games and you always know what you’re getting – an insane story, a unique cast of characters, repetitive combat and a premise that tries to titillate by offering a teenage boy’s paradise with semi-nude women aplenty. Whilst Senran Kagura Estival Versus doesn’t change the formula up too much, the transition to console offers some improvements with much better visuals and a ton of extra enemies on the screen at once.
Unfortunately the game’s flaws are still present. Missions offer little variety and feel uninspired, combat can get repetitive and you’re facing the same foes over and over. It’s by no means a bad game though and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had – I’d even go as far as saying it’s the best Senran Kagura yet. It just hasn’t improved enough to warrant itself as a ‘must own’ game. If you’re already a fan of the series though then you’ll have a blast with Senran Kagura Estival Versus. Just don’t expect to be blown away if it’s your first experience with the series – unless all you want is boobs. If you’re in it purely for the boobs then you’re going to be happy.
– Great visuals and character design
– An entertaining story and character interactions
– A strong cast of playable characters that each feel unique to control
– Interesting online game modes for up to ten players
– Missions offer little variety and feel uninspired
– Combat can feel repetitive
Developer: Tamsoft (www.tamsoft.co.jp)
Publisher: Marvelous Europe (www.marvelousgames.com)
Release Date: 18/03/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation Vita