Friday, September 23, 2016

Game Review: Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus

Happy Tits Day, I guess. Yesterday, Senran Kagura just celebrated it's 5th Anniversary. That's right, the series created by Kenichiro "Tits are Life, Ass is Hometown" Takaki has been going strong for 5 years now, so what better way to celebrate than to review another game in the series, this time Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus. Originally released for the Vita, the game was later ported to PC via Steam (which is the version I played). Now get ready to lose your clothes.

Six months after the Good Shinobi girls of the Hanzo Academy defeated the Hebijo Academy's Evil Shinobi, a new threat appears. A group of Shinobi from the Gessen Academy, an elite school for Good Shinobi, issues a Shinobi Battle Royal against Hanzo. The winner gets to burn their opponent's school to the ground, and the loser is forbidden from following the Path of the Shinobi. Now Asuka and her friends must fight against both Gessen and a newly reformed Hebijo. But they are not alone as the newly Renegade Shinobi Homura and her friends offer their assistance. Four factions face off against each other in a Shiobi Battle Royal unlike any the world has ever seen.

The story is par for the course with Senran Kagura. Once again it isn't the plot per say that drives the game but rather the characters that inhabit the world, and Shinovi Versus has one of the largest casts. With over 20 unique characters spanning 4 different campaigns and each one getting their own time in the sunlight, it's hard not to get drawn into the story. Unfortunately, it's also that large cast that proves to be the story's biggest downfall as there isn't a whole lot of time dedicated to each. Basically each character gets one major "Visual Novel" sequence to flesh out their conflict and then only minor resolutions with different characters to finish it off. This is especially true for the new comers to the series, Gessen Academy and the new Hebijo girls. Also, like Burst, the four campaigns' stories conflict in the details, with the Hebijo story being the most incongruent of the bunch.

For a three year old Vita game, the graphics hold up surprisingly well. Despite being upscaled from it's portable brethren all the characters look amazing, and rather faithful to their illustrated counterparts with bright colors and subtle cel shading to complete the anime artstyle. Environments on the other hand look rather bland and lifeless (probably because you'll be looking at something ELSE more than the backgrounds). Effects are, for the most part, done well with the sole exception being the shadow effects looking like a bunch of 5 inch wide pixels. Also, during conversation sequences, arms tend to phase through other body parts in the most awkward of ways.

On the Audio side of things, the game has some great breasts- I MEAN BEATS. A lot of high kinetic Rock mixed-in with traditional Japanese woodwinds make for a great mix of style and personality that makes the music of Senran Kagura stick. Voice acting is, as usual, Japanese only but at this point it seems like it's less to do with XSeed saving a buck on localization and more of a part of Senran Kagura's international identity at this point. Seriously, if XSeed where to EVER do an English Dub for a SK game that would just be so awkward after so many years of listening to the Japanese voice actresses.

But now we get to what the game is all about... Boobs.... and it's combat. Senran Kagrua is often compared to the Dynasty Warriors series due to it's combat style, and while it's not a bad comparison it is slightly inaccurate since really Senran Kagura is more of an old-school Beat'em Up than a Warriors game. You play through four different campaigns, each one with 5 or 6 characters to choose from, from there to go to a Stage and fight mobs of enemies or one of the other characters as a Boss. The combat system revolves around two buttons for Light and Heavy attacks and most characters have a simple combo string with their Light attacks that can be branched off into a Heavy attack finisher at certain points. In this sense the combat isn't that deep, but when you take into account that there is 22 characters and each character has three different modes each one with their own attacks, then the simple base starts to make sense.

When a stage starts characters are in their "School Uniform" and have access to only their basic attacks, from there you can either transform into your "Shinobi Outfit" which gives access to the character's powerful Ninja Arts, OR you can go "Frantic" stripping down to the girl's underwear for both Ninja Arts AND a boost to speed and power at the cost of your defense. Each mode has it's own basic attacks and levels up independently of each other based on how much you fight within it. Beyond that there are plenty of combat options for the player to use including blocking (with a parry mechanic for Perfect Blocks), Aerial Raves (A returning feature from Burst where you can chase enemies who have been launched in the air), as well as a Burst (which consumes 10% of your HP, but knocks all enemies away from you), and of course the Fanservice. Deal enough damage, or blast your opponent with a Ninja Art and you will strip them of a layer of their clothing. Finish them with a Ninja Art when they are already down to their underwear and you can strip them nude. Has no effect on the gameplay at all (besides a cut away shot of them, which you can turn off with the latest patch) but it's part of what Senran Kagura is all about.

Outside of combat is the usual SK features. You can dress your girls up in different outfits, buy new clothes and other goodies in the shop, you can even play a Lottery game where you win different revealing panties to wear. You can also play Multiplayer matches with other people... If you can find them. Unfortunately, while the PC version has a lot of great improvements (like full HD and a solid 60 FPS on most computers) there are still a few rough spots with the game. Multiplayer seems like an after thought with one game mode being virtually unplayable due to slow down. Glitches can happen, like one where Homura's diving attack is stuck perceptually above the ground (and if you get hit you are frozen in Stun Lock and not even losing HP). Almost all of the missions in the game are either "Fight the Boss" or "Fight a bunch of mooks and THEN fight the Boss" which seriously lacks a lot of variety. And finally, there is Fan service. This last one definately will turn off a lot of players who can't get past it as it is a very prominent element of the franchise. It's built into it's identity. A Senran Kagura game without Fanservice is like a Mortal Kombat game without ultra violence, or an Atlus game without "That One Boss." If you can't get use to the Fanservice then Senran Kagura is just not for you.

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus may not be the challenging and technical brawler that the likes of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta are, but the game is one thing above all else, a load of fun. Like the other games in the series, if you can look pass the characters unnaturally well endowed forms and the game's propensity to show such figures for all to see, you'll find characters that are fun to watch and a game that's a blast to play. Recommended to all who are willing to give it a shot.

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