After its failed return on 3DS, the busty Senran Kagura series is back to Playstation, where its customers are. And for first time, it’s not a portable-only game anymore because it also comes to your living room with a PS4 version.
While Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus was a lot more than a mere spin-off, this Senran Kagura Estival Versus has indeed no pretension to tell a story whatsoever. The 20 characters of the previous PSVita game are warped on a paradisaical island where the four schools will compete in what is called Kagura Sennensai, a very ancient ceremony aimed at appeasing the soul of departed ninjas. At stake, no less than the title of Kagura, the ultimate goal of any Kunoichi. That said, this particular setting is rarely used and developed even less in the various chapters, which are nothing but an excuse for sexy battles between girls. The only genuine narrative involves Ryôbi and Ryôna : the sisters from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus will meet their older sister Ryôki again, since she’s been resurrected for the time of the festival.
Which leaves nothing but the traditional humor of the series, but all along the 8 chapters it is seriously getting old and redundant. Besides, the narrative style finds its limits as the storyline is clearly lacking. To many sequences are still told on a black screen, so the visual novel style really fails in that new episode. One example : one of those text sequences depict the battle between Yumi and Kurokage (who also has been resurrected). Wouldn’t it have been better to set an actual battle and let the player experience it firsthand ? Another big hole, the sub-story of the Mikagura three sisters, told with small episodes here and there, does not come to a conclusion (update : there’s a hint in the last DLC). It’s pretty clear that Marvelous has decided to empty this game of any credible narrative to give Playstation players the short end of the stick in that aspect and ensure the primacy of the main series, which could very well head for NX next. This is UNACCEPTABLE! WE are by far the main clients of the Senran Kagura IP, we should be entitled to EVERYTHING.
In terms of gameplay however, the series is taking a good turn. Very much like in Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus, each mission will have you face countless enemies, in addition to one or several rivals. That’s the very important point of this game : it will be you against 1,2 or even 3 rival characters at the same time! The gameplay is consequently astonishingly fast and the battles very intense, not to mention that the enemy IA is monstrously aggressive. They will hunt you down and won’t hesitate to use their ninpôs repeatedly. You therefore have to be nimble and aim for aerials combos, the key to victory. The drawback is that it tends to be really crowded and frustrating at times, because your character is way too often downed, stunned or frozen. To avoid being stuck, the controls include several counters, one of which is done by leaning on walls. We do still lament the poor camera angles when next to a wall.
The series finally balances its challenge this time with 3 difficulty levels instead of 2. So there’s one for any type of player : those who want to bite the dust every time, those who want to go progressively by re-achieving previous missions to get some experience, and those who want to go through it quickly. Wise use of ninpôs will again be the key to win. Those powerful special attacks triggered with L1+square or triangle have been made further spectacular and over-the-top, even though some keep been ridiculously kawaii. This latest installment adds a 3rd which is in fact the characters transforms : this metamorphosis which consumes a great deal of skill points is of incomparable power and can wipe out a boss in a flash. Mayabi for example takes an angel-like form and Homura draws her famous 7th katana. In short, the gameplay of Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the opposite of its narration, brilliant and punchy.
After a somewhat lengthy Senran Kagura Estival Versus, Marvelous again delivers here a large content that should ensure at least 30 or 40 hours of play. Adding to the 8 chapters of the story, it includes an in-game challenge in which you must search and destroy altars hidden in the stages. Challenge that itself unlocks mini-stories for each one of the 25 girls of the game. Furthermore, numerous updates added some chapters for free. The online multiplayer from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus is back and has been enriched. There are now plenty more combat modes (score attack, deathmatch, survival, capture the flag) and 10 players can join the fray on PS4 (4 on Vita). Regardless of the system, the matchmaking is effective, the servers strong and the frame-rate solid.
The five new characters are quite unbalanced, especially in their fighting style. Of the Mikagura sisters, Kafuru seemed the most interesting and the funniest one by far : she fights with waters pistols and is assisted by a dolphin of virile voicing (!) Renka felt a little average with her drums. Hanabi, despite her shiny fireworks, is a lot too slow to keep up with the pace of the game. Clearly they find their inspiration in the Okinawa regional culture, southern island famous for its summertime.
Ryoki is definitely the new star of this episode, and logically the best designed one. Her fighting style has been framed in accordance with a personality : in trance, she will throw away her shotgun and shield to battle only armed with her coffin!
And if you happen to have some savings, each of the renowned guests of the long DLC season, including Ayane from Dead or Alive, Ikki Tôsen‘s trio (note : those three are not confirmed for the West) or Naraku & Kagura (those two coming from Senran Kagura Deep Crimson where they were NOT playable), have been designed and animated so perfectly that they end up more exciting to use than most of the base cast.
In pure aesthetics, Marvelous’s game is still a niche game so it won’t revolutionize PS4 development. Stages are narrow and unrefined, the basic enemies are roughly animated. I won’t surprise you by telling that every technical effort has been made on the heroines and their physique with deliciously precise outlining. To this let’s add the best interface ever : those are dynamic title screens (a dozen of them) switching depending on the characters you’ve chosen. 1080p and 60fps on PS4, this is quite a sight to behold.
On PSVita, the game naturally loses in terms of frame-rate and sharpness, but it’s still a very solid portable version. Unlike many developers who neglect Vita versions to focus on PS4 lead-development, Marvelous gave maximum care to this one : the cel-shading from Senran Kagura Shinobi Versus has disappeared to make room for sharper 3D models which don’t fade in comparison with their PS4 counterparts. The frame-rate dropped quite a bit especially at launch, but that’s the price to pay to keep it with yourself. On the misuc side, the game didn’t really live up to the previous ones. I’ll pick only Homura’s theme and iza, atuski omoi o mune ni! which was a great final composition.
Of course, impossible to close a Senran Kagura review without going through its licentious business. Clothes destruction will happen less often to keep a smoother action, but they are a lot more suggestive than before. Plainly obvious, poses and facial expressions ovebid the past episodes so much that the latter seem shy today.
And because no one stops progress, Kenichirô Takaki’s new title introduces what’s called in the original version puru puru finish. Those “fatalities” in some way suppose you give the final blow to your opponent next to a special element of the stage, and this will trigger a special kinky scene in which nudity is prerequisite. You got it, Senran Kagura Estival Versus makes no compromise and should be played by fully aware adults. Funny then that it would “only” be PEGI16 here whereas it is for 17 year-olds and more in its country of origin.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus is as enticing and exciting as badly told. Relevant gameplay changes have been made, the character’s rendering is exceptional and the fan-service sets new records. However, its unwillingness to offer a decent narrative prevents it from becoming the final realization of Kenichirô Takaki’s vision.