Life and Hometown’s Summer Vacation
If you tuned in to last week’s episode of the Hey Poor Podcast, it was revealed that I am, in fact, a humongous Weeaboo. Being afflicted with this dire condition, I have an otherworldly appreciation for things from J-land, one might say almost to the point of obsession. Being a Weeaboo is a serious, life-threatening condition that effects millions of people in America alone, with no cure available. Knowing the scale and weight of this epidemic, Kenichiro Takaki took up the monumental task of creating a cure-all for the Weeaboo condition. Hope was in sight for me, at long last. Instead, he only made it worse, and yet I strangely feel zero regrets.
“Tits are Life, Ass is Hometown” has become my mantra. Thank you, Takaki-Senpai.
For those unfamiliar with the Senran Kagura series, you assume the role of one of several well-endowed high school girls who are secretly being trained to be Shinobi (or Ninja, to put things more colloquially). The girls fight against rival school factions, and lots of Sailor Moon-esque transformations, jiggly physics and ripped clothing ensues. If you think this sounds like a 14-year old’s first venture into fanfiction writing, I wouldn’t blame you. However, much like these heroine’s daily lives coupled with their secret lives as Shinobi, these games have far more depth and intrigue than their superficial fan-service laden visuals let on.
Taking place after the events of Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus for the Playstation Vita, Estival Versus begins with sisters Ryona and Ryobi from the Hebijo Academy paying respects to their deceased sister at her grave in a forest. During their solemn moment, they hear voices nearby and upon investigation, see a group of shrine maidens performing a ritual to send spirits to the afterlife. They notice one of the spirits is their deceased sister, and demand the maidens explain what is going on. After a brief confrontation, they are engulfed in a bright light and transported to a strange summer island paradise. Similar things happen to all the girls from the other schools, and before long everyone finds themselves on the same strange inter-dimensional island. After a remarkably hilarious opening cinematic/music video, the game finally begins.
Without going in to too much detail so as to avoid spoilers, it is revealed early-on in the game that Asuka’s deceased grandmother has summoned all the girls to this paradise, and they must take part in the Kagura Millenium Festival. During this festival, Shinobi who have passed on with unfinished business or lingering regrets are able to move on into the afterlife. Each of the girls from the four different schools will compete against one another in a contest of strength and wits over the next eight days. The winner will not only learn some of the extremely well-kept secrets of Shinobi lore, but will also win the opportunity to finally lay their loved ones to rest personally.
Much like Shinovi Versus, Estival Versus is presented as a Musou-style game (Dynasty Warriors and Hyrule Warriors, for example) at its core. Players will find themselves taking down hordes of grunts along fairly linear levels, usually finishing with a boss fight against one or more of the other main characters at the end. The areas feel much larger this time around compared to Shinovi Versus, leading to a less of a repetitious feeling during combat. This is a good thing because enemy variety is still somewhat lacking, which has always been somewhat of a downside throughout each of the series’ games. Including DLC characters, the roster is over 30 strong now, so there is plenty of variety to choose from as well.
Some welcoming gameplay changes from Shinovi Versus include usable “bomb” items that have special effects added onto them, and the ability to run Ninja-style along walls in the environments. This opens up additional escape routes in tight situations, as well as additional combat options to get the drop on opponents. Also added in some missions is an AI helper. It helps to liven things up a little, but their AI usually isn’t too bright. The visuals themselves feel much upgraded from previous games, and this is most evident through increased details on the character models, 1080p resolution, and an almost constant 60 fps framerate on PS4 (the Vita version is locked to 30 fps), all thanks to being on a home console this time around. It’s a perfect fit for a series whose main draw is the characters themselves.
Story segments are presented in between levels in a visual novel style as in past games. Characters converse with one another, sometimes with unlockable art in between segments, further developing the story as events transpire throughout the game. The writing is still strong as it has always been, which happens to be the other main draw these games have. You’d expect a game that features primarily large-breasted female characters to be vapid, shallow, and boring eye candy, and once again I wouldn’t blame you. However, each of these girls have their own character strengths and flaws that are surprisingly realistic and relatable. This game starts with the assumption that you’re already familiar with these character’s backstories, but even if you’re not, the concept of meeting a lost loved one and thinking about what you would do if you had eight more days with them should be wholly relatable, albeit bittersweet. “Shinobi Girl’s Heart” side story segments add to the story even further, but compared to previous games, these have to be unlocked through playing the main story since they now contain spoilers related to the core game.
In addition to the single player main story, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus also has three different online modes at its disposal. Players can choose from a standard point battle, where taking out enemies awards points and the player with the most points wins. Next is a “Panty Grab” game where players grab panties raining down throughout the stage. Players can attack opponents, knocking their panties out from them and stealing them for themselves. Finally, there’s a “Capture the Bra” mode similar to the Panty Grab, except instead of grabbing raining panties Players need to grab a “Bra Flag” and hold it for as long as possible. Players that hold onto the Bra Flag gain points as they beat enemies, and also become more powerful. The online modes don’t add too much to the core game, but they can certainly be a fun distraction when you want a break from the main story. They also have the added benefit of allowing 10 players at a time on the PS4, so matches can get pretty hectic (4 players online is the max possible on the Vita version, unfortunately).
Once again making its return is the notorious “Dressing Room”. As in previous games, Players can customize their favorite Shinobi in a heap of unlockable clothing pieces that can be purchased at the in-game shop (take note some pieces are DLC), access a “diorama” mode where you can put up to five girls (in the PS4 version, anyways) in interesting poses, as well as give them the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with them. Perhaps my favorite addition to the Dressing Room is the “Kiss the Girl” mode. Where previous games only let you do lewd actions to the girls in the Dressing Room aside from swapping clothing, Estival Versus allows you to give them affection as well. Fill up the heart meter in the upper right corner enough, and you can switch to a different screen and give them a quick smooch. It’s perhaps the most ridiculous mechanic I have ever seen in a game and I love it. Little touches like this along with the boatloads of core game content are what make me keep coming back to each new Senran Kagura entry.
So you’ve taken the dive, let go of all your cares in the world and want to embrace your inner Weeaboo by delving into the world of Senran Kagura. Which version of the game is best for you? As noted earlier, there are hardware limitations on the Vita that hold the game back in some regards. Resolution and framerate are limited, as are enemies, and online players on screen at once. On the other hand, the touch sensitive functions are much easier to utilize on the Vita as opposed to using the Dualshock 4’s touchpad. To be fair, both games have their merits, but I would edge out that the PS4 is the superior version as it really comes across that this title was developed with the console’s tech in mind. That being said, it is always nice having some Senrans on the go! If you’re a Vita player, I’d also recommend checking out Shinovi Versus so you can get a little more backstory on the characters and what makes each of them so endearing.
So, is Senran Kagura a game for everyone? Absolutely not. It’s perfectly understandable how people can write the game off as weeby, fanservice trash based on a cursory glance or some posted screenshots. I love to look at things past the cover though, and this game does a great job of rewarding players with a fun experience that can be as goofy and ridiculous as it can be poignant by investing some time with the characters. I think Mr. Takaki said it best himself during an interview with Silicon Era: “Senran Kagura is a title that deals with sexuality, but once you pick it up and play through it, I think your perspective will change. I know that it’s easy to get lost in the boobs, but I would really love for people to give it a try and see it for what it is, beyond that.”
This man is a prophet and a poet.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to mulling over which Senran Kagura Oppai Mousepad I should buy.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Vita; Publisher: XSEED Games; Developer: Tamsoft ; Players: 1-10 (PS4) 1-4 (Vita) ; Released: March 15, 2016; Genre: Action; MSRP: $59.99 (PS4) $49.99 (Vita)
Note: This review is based on a PSN review copy provided by the game’s publisher, XSEED Games and a Vita retail copy purchased by the reviewer.