Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars Review (PS4): The Way of the Ninja is a Hard One
Idea Factory strikes the Neptuniaverse again, this time with a fated crossover between Neptunia and Senran Kagura. Neptunia itself is no stranger to the folks behind the Kaguraverse, having had Marvelous as a Maker character for the series, and also had Tamsoft’s help with the creation of Hyperdimension Neptunia U. A whole, ambitious, full-bodied crossover though? It can seem daunting, despite how ripe the crossover’s been in the eyes of fans. So does this ambitious ninja tale strike true, or does the series need a bit more training for this mission? Let’s find out!
Heartland Under Blade
We’ll start with the plot and characters. The main characters this time around are the four main goddesses, Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert all hailing from Heartland, with Asuka, Homura, Yumi, and Miyabi hailing from Marveland. Adding to this are two brand new playable characters exclusive to this game, the feline ninja Yuuki and amnesiac ninja Goh the Crow. During a routine battle for dominance, Heartland and Marveland forces clash in an attempt to take the other down, hosted at Heartland’s base of operations. During the fight, a giant battleship takes the stage and demands the entire land submit to the demands of the Steeme Legion or be destroyed by their leaders Yoh Gamer and Tetsuko. The plot goes on to cover the usual nuance of gathering forces, protecting the people of the other nations, and taking on the mysterious new threat, all with the style and humor that befits Neptunia. While the meta jokes and gaming references are on point, it doesn’t lean itself to side events and side quests quite like previous titles, focusing on the straight and narrow of the main plot. The main plot is only about fifteen to twenty hours long, and with no real side content besides a couple side missions you can do for experience and money, the game lends itself to a short side, even for a spinoff. That said though, it’s very in tune with the heart of a true Neptunia game, the dialogue and plot both weaving well together to remind me once more why I still love this series. If you’re looking for a quick injection of your favorite Neptunia drug, while brief, this set piece delivers tried and true. That said, keep in mind that this panders a lot more to longtime fans of both Neptunia and Senran Kagura. This unfortunately makes it less accessable to newcomers, as its plot, characters, and even setting in general will feel really out there and hard to keep up with.
Admittedly, there’s more pandering to the Neptunia fans than the Senran Kagura ones. That said, none of the crossover characters felt out of character, which was a relief for me as I worried a bit that the crossover characters might not sync up well with the meta jokes Neptunia slung without hesitation. The new characters felt like good fits too for the cast, synchronizing well with the party’s antics. Neptunia fans know why they’re here, but the attempts to try juggling some new faces felt fresh this time around. Adding to this, the Neptunia gang got to enjoy some period-piece threads, and I can say with absolute delight that they absolutely nailed the designs. It is undeniably gorgeous, weaving in the details and flourishes our favorite Neptunians are shaped from with a traditional oriental style that I just can’t stop gawking at. Every character felt unique, from Purple Heart’s D-Pad buttons being converted into flowers to Blanc and Noire now sporting kimono-esque outfits sporting their signature colors, there’s little not to love about these new costumes. The only one fault I could find is an admittedly minor one in that I really wish all the gold on Green Heart’s outfit was replace with green, since she lacks that color on her wardrobe surprisingly. Still, an A+ effort in turning Neptunia threads into feudal era eye-candy.
Play For Death
Next up is the combat, and this here is a mixed bag. The combat’s got a lot of tricks of the trade, as any self-respecting ninja should have, but while it has the tools to succeed, its primary combat has some very troubling quirks. Boiled down simply, you have an attack button, block and dodge button, and a jump button. You can also hold down the Skill button and press a key to use skills, which cost stamina to use. Normally this would be cut and dry, but for some unholy reason, there’s not much of an ability to cancel out an animation, and some of those moves have some lengthy spindown animations. This is jarring for action combat that emhpasizes speed and reaction. When you start a combo, the game is very insistant that you follow through, and if you need to do a quick block or hop out of the way, you’re more often than not screwed. What makes this even more frustrating is that this behavior isn’t consistant, some moves will have a period of time at the end that you can cancel the animation while others wont. For example, Miyabi’s Rosso Dyed Whirlpool has a really long tail end to the animation that will keep you from moving, and Vert’s combos and even skills have a lot of sections where you will not be able to dodge or block. On the other hand, Homura is constantly kept moving even during mid-combo, and, from what I could tell, you could dodge or block during almost any point in the combo. Some characters are more egregious with this than others, and I’d like to believe this is just a quirk of the engine, but it sometimes makes it feel like you can’t even use certain characters because their slow animation spindowns leave you a sitting duck for way too long.
Adding to this, the enemies don’t follow this same issue and scheme, leaving the player at a loss on dealing with faster, harder hitting enemies. An easier way of handling this would be to make all moves cancellable, but make all moves take up some degree of stamina. It would still encourage watching your character’s stamina and resources, while giving them the feeling of risk/reward. I wanted to enjoy this combat system far more than I did, since weaving together combos, skills, shuriken, and dodging, the combat lets you really start feeling like a real ninja. Once I found a nice balance of characters I could use more effectively, I can honestly say the combat isn’t bad at all, and really rewards the diligent ninja that utilizes all of their tricks of the trade.
Some little extra tidbits is the Spirit Gems and the equipment. Interestingly enough, there’s no way to straight up upgrade your main equipment. The only thing you can upgrade is shuriken and kunai, which later versions of these can get some neat extra effects like poison or piercing. You can also get little charms that act like perks to equip into two slots per character. The Spirit Gem system is a rather unique and powerful system that lets you slot in these gems that give you little bonuses. Thing is, if you line up three or more in a row, the effects multiply. This can really start beefing up your stats to cover weak spots if you approach this system with a little focus. Again, this game is very good at giving you the tools to succeed and grants a rather lenient level of customization for your playstyle.
I suppose this would be as good a time as any to address the elephant in the room, and that’s the censoring. While I personally don’t have much interest in the egregious fanservice Neptunia provides, I do accept it as strong component for the series, and definitely agree that the amount of censorship is just a shot to the foot. It’s rarely justifiable and deflates the community that know what they came for and being told they aren’t gonna get it. You don’t open up a ramen shop only to tell the people showing up you only have broth so they aren’t gonna get their nood(le)s – and then expect those people to actually come back. I’m not gonna play the blame game for this little hiccup and say it’s the publisher or developer or whomever actually spawned this problem, but it’s something that definitely needs some addressing so the series can breathe a little more and gain back some momentum with the fanbase.
Heading to the graphics, which also wound up being a bit of a drop in quality. While I firmly believe that graphics take a back seat to the game itself, there comes a point that it’s good to really look over how far you can push your graphical fidelity. This is a prime example of having a good reason to consider upgrades because when you have ground textures with pixelated graphics, I grow concerned that this will remain a flaw for later games. While I don’t hold spinoffs to the same degree that I do for, say, a mainline Neptunia game, this needs to be held up to a higher standard. When the character models come out looking glistening and polished, you know you can at least spare a bit more time sweeping up your environment to match. It doesn’t need to be photorealistic, but it definitely needs to do a bit better than this. It’s even more peculiar to me because I know Tamsoft can make a damn fine background with the engines they use for Senran Kagura. Whether by time or budget constraints, what’s shown here is a shadow of what I know is possible with Tamsoft’s handiwork.
Lastly, we have music and voice acting. I’ll address the music first, and to say that this stuff is authentic isn’t even starting to do it justice. It’s managed to become an earworm and a setpiece flourish in and of itself, making use of every Japanese instrument you can think of and then some. It’s actually shocking and impressive that one of the spinoff games of all things managed to nail the music so soundly, but I’m certainly not complaining.
Moving on from there though, we have the voice acting, which might bother a few people to know it’s all Japanese, no English VA here at all. I will actually admit that this doesn’t bother me. I can see people thinking it lazy to not do an English VA, and I can also understand that they did it on the clause that Senran Kagura games do not use English VAs (though the anime does have them, to mixed results). Even if they could get English VAs, for the time and budget of this game, I wouldn’t see it worthwhile. I enjoy the English VAs for Neptunia just as much as the Japanese VAs, and have no qualms with this decision as the Japanese VAs did a fantastic job as always voicing the entire cast. However, one thing that should be noted and addressed in the future is that their mouth movements are one single repeating motion. That’s right, no lip synching at all, which makes it look goofy as all hell just seeing their mouths flapping in the same repetitive fashion. I’m glad I was too busy reading the subtitles to notice, but I’ll be even more glad if they never do this again. It got a laugh out of me the first three or so times, then it just got sad that this actually became an issue.
Neppers Strikes Back
So would I recommend this feudal era field trip? Neptunia hits a real middle-of-the-road balance with this one. On one side, the combat falls short of frantic ninja battles and the graphics desperately need a touch-up. On the other side though, the character designs are some of the best I’ve seen for a spin-off, it’s a treat to see the Senran Kagura gang interact with our favorite CPUs, and the story brings along the same meta humor and gaming references that Neptunia rarely fails to deliver. While the uninitiated might not find it fleshed out enough, for those who are fans of both series in this crossover, Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is a beautiful bacchanalia of busty, battling babes!
Final Verdict 3.5/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed); Publisher: Idea Factory; Developer: Tamsoft, Compile Hearts; Number of players: 1 (campaign); Released: October 26, 2021; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: The developer provided a review copy.