There are things that human eyes should never have to see. The horrors of war. Mental or physical torture. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. Depending on your perspective, Senran Kagura Estival Versus could be one of those things, but me? I found it to be a (mostly) comedic look in to the animated lives of busty shinobi ladies in a Dynasty Warriors-like game. It should be noted in this initial paragraph that this game is basically soft-core pornography. There’s actually a really good game in there, but there’s a fair amount to turn you away if you’re concerned with nudity and putting young, animated ladies in compromising positions. If, however, you’re keeping an open mind right now, you may find something you like here. Read on for our full Senran Kagura Estival Versus review, and be ready for puns. I’ll be busting them out almost immediately.
Warning: this review will most likely be NSFW (Not Safe For Work), featuring mature content.
Look and Feel
I mean, I really could just leave it there, but I guess that wouldn’t be fair of me. Also, considering I actually like the game, I should probably elaborate: if you can make it past the opening of this game, you might survive its entirety. This fantastic article from Mike Fahey of Kotaku makes that very clear. The game depicts young anime girls, in what could be referred to as a moe style, in scantily clad outfits and super jiggly boob physics, fighting each other to the point of stripping their opponent to varying degrees. The art is well done, though the lip-syncing during cut-scenes is totally off, but I guess they weren’t expecting anybody to pay attention to their mouths.
It’s unapologetic in its art, so whatever you might think, at least it’s not attempting to hide its enthusiasm. Personally, I find it hard to tell at times whether or not it’s just incredibly self-aware or that it goes too far. Entirely subjective, and mostly the former in my opinion, but occasionally the latter, which we’ll get in to later.
Either way, the characters are varied and colourful, featuring complete clothing that often has an interesting design for each girl’s Shinobi Transformation. The weapons are creative too, from the standard sword (or multiple swords) to one girl using a bucket and another with a pet mechanoid that pounds her enemies. The actual designs are so impressive that it’s a shame the nudity tends to distract from that, but in an odd conflict, if you were getting slashed by a sword, your clothes would indeed rip. Do you see the problem here!?
Seriously though, nude is nude and drawings are drawings. I’m not going to tell you how to feel about it, but I found it comical outside of a few problematic stage finishers, like trapping a nude crying girl in a cage. I’m not going to say that it bothered me, never mind that it offended me, because it didn’t, but it’s not something I could easily recommend to somebody as a result and think nothing of it. To do so would be chosen ignorance of another’s possible perspective, and failing as a reviewer.
If you’re fine with the points I’ve made so far, the opening music video is impossibly catchy. It features a tune with a lot of bounce. A bouncy tune, if you will. Yes. I did just say that.
That aside, or even included, the soundtrack is reflective of the overall tone of the game: it’s a beach festival essentially, and it’s all about having fun amidst some more serious undertones. The controls are practically identical to the kind you’ll find in Musou games, with light and strong attacks as well as special moves and ultimate techniques. It’s fairly well done, but there are some design flaws, like the boundaries set up in certain areas can cause issues when enemy A.I is pretty stupid. I spent about half an hour in one level searching for a standard enemy that had followed me out to a collectible and gotten itself lost somewhere on the battlefield. Because you can’t lock on at long-distance, it can be a chore in very select scenarios. Still, other than the aforementioned, the game handles really well.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus tells a surprisingly good, although disjointed, story. In fact, there are many stories to be told in this game, with its three modes featuring a main plot of the Kagura Millennium Festival, the Shinobi Girl’s Heart scenarios and the Special Missions.
The over-arching plot is that Ryobi and Ryona witness the resurrection of their elder “sister” Ryoki, and are transported to a beautiful beach along with their fellow female shinobi and their respective rival classes for unknown reasons. Over the course of eight days, these young ladies will learn what it means to be reunited with their loved ones and how important it is to let go of the past that cannot be changed.
It’s a satisfying journey, injected with a fair amount of levity from certain characters. Katsuragi is a massive pervert, for instance, constantly trying to grope the breasts of her friends. She is met with occasional success, and the way she refers so passionately to boobs is both hilarious and inspiring. She speaks of true love.
Some characters rubbed me the wrong way, like Ryona, constantly demanding that she be demeaned because she finds it sexually arousing. It has since been brought to my attention her name itself means a person that enjoys exactly that, but it doesn’t make the scenes themselves any more comfortable. Still, I appreciate that they knew what they were doing there.
In strict regards to story, the best delivery is given when it’s just words on the page. There are parts that appear like a page in a book, giving a bit of back-story to our shinobi homies and it really fleshes them out. Uh huh. Did it again. Honestly though, these moments give a little more weight to the struggle some of these characters are enduring, and I felt at my most engaged when hearing more about them in this manner.
The majority of the game, and its major drawback in terms of story telling, is done with the character models on-screen having a semi-static back and forth. They use most of the same physical expressions and the backdrop is static. These moments can be dull unless you have a real obsession with those bouncing boobs. If you do, kudos, but for me, I became bored with these moments and would have appreciated more animated scenes, like the one in the beginning, over the static pieces scattered throughout the main plot.
My other, main criticism is that I feel like I’m missing something. I’m supposed to be concerned over Ryona, Ryobi and Ryoki’s dynamic, but I have no connection to Ryoki, so why would I care about how she died or when she died? Did this happen in a previous game? I can’t find any reliable commentary on it, and the game doesn’t do a good job of filling you in. There’s more to this game than boobs and I intend to know more, because these characters can be very engaging if you let them be.
It should be noted it features Japanese voice acting with English subtitles. There is no English language option, and I doubt there ever will be, but that’s fine. The Japan is strong in this one, so it suits it all the more.
The Shinobi Girl’s Heart side-stories seem to lean a little more heavily on the fan service side, so make of that what you will, but the game has enough story content to keep you satisfied for a long time. I’d even go as far as to say it’s a little dragged out.
In conclusion, the plot’s a good mix of comedy and drama, but it always felt as if I were missing something about the background of these characters.
The gameplay in Senran Kagura Estival Versus is a simple power trip. If you’ve played Dynasty Warriors, you’ll know what to expect, except I actually feel like Senran Kagura does a few things better than the Musou franchise. For one, the shinobi abilities are more creative than anything I’ve found in a Warriors game, and the enemies are a slight step above the fodder troops you’ll have taken on in Dynasty, though it seems they can’t quite get as many in there without sacrificing visual fidelity.
For those of you that aren’t familiar, the game puts you in the place of a shinobi girl (pre-selected at first and then you can choose from the roster if the battle in question has been completed once) in the solo mode. You fight waves of enemies, other shinobi and sometimes both in the same stage. The aim is to hack and slash your way through them using light, heavy and special attacks. Each character can be leveled up as you play, and experience is earned even if you fail a stage. This upgrades some very basic statistics and unlocks an extra part of your move list to use at set levels. Each of the girls play very similarly, though there are some that have excellent moves (like Rin, who doesn’t feature in the main game) and others that I couldn’t stand using (like Yozakura and her slow, slow fists!). It’s most certainly not a balanced roster, but I imagine people will have their favourites, as I do.
If you get tired of the immense amount of battle to be done in the solo story modes, there’s a Shinobi Dojo, which is the online portion, featuring various modes such as – wait for it…. – Capture the Bra Mode. Of course, there are more traditional methods like Shinobi Death Battles and Survival Modes that see you taking on waves of fodder enemies to protect your festival stand.
Speaking of Festival Stands, you’ll find many of them hidden within campaign levels, and breaking them all unlocks more Shinobi Girl’s Heart scenarios and various background for the Dressing Room Mode. What? Did I not mention the perviest part of the pervy game? Well….
If you’re not here for the enjoyable but limited gameplay, you’re obviously here for the boobs. Don’t be ashamed. It’s cool. No judgements here. I like boobs, drawings just don’t do it for me. However, if they do it for you, you can dress up your favourite characters in various outfits, putting them against various backgrounds and giving them some…. interesting poses and facial expressions depending on what you’ve unlocked. Again, unashamedly, these poses are called “Power Cleavage” and “Power Butt” along with many others. The game doesn’t mince words, and I kind of respect that. How do I know this? I went in there for the trophy, ok!? Leave me alone!
Honestly though, the Dressing Room is what it is. The game’s problems have nothing to do with its jiggly ladies, but rather its maneuverability in combat. Though it does have flashier, more effective move-sets with more creative characters than a Warriors game, it suffers in the transitions between. For example, it’s difficult to cancel an initiated attack with a dodge roll or jump. These are basic implementations of these hack and slash games to allow for quick escapes and follow-up combination moves. It’s frustrating when it feels like you’re stuck in the mud sometimes after the last move of a huge combo, only to be shot in the back by a turtle Shinobi fodder douche.
Outside of that, the game’s combat is stellar, but the level progression is disappointing. Once you’ve reached level 50, that’s it. You can’t get new weapons or anything of the sort, which would have greatly extended the lifespan of this game. It’s a shame, because despite the short stages, this game’s a great deal of fun to play. As much as I want to continue on with the various side-missions I’ve yet to finish, I’ve become attached to Rin’s move-set, but there’s no progression left for her and I don’t enjoy using anybody else now. If I were at least obtaining some upgrades along the way, I could justify diving back in to the warm bosom of Senran Kagura, but now? It’s unlikely. Still, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it.
A point of pride for the game seems to be the magical-girl style transformation they call “Shinobi Transformation”. When you’ve charged up one of your energy gauges, you can use a scroll to transform permanently in to your special shinobi design, recovering your health and giving you access to your special abilities and ultimate technique, providing you’ve charged enough scrolls (one for first special, two for second special and five for ultimate). Scrolls are generated pretty quickly by attacking opponents. The transformation itself will ring a familiar bell if any of you have watched something like Sailor Moon. The character sheds their clothing and pulls a scroll out of…. well, many places. It varies from character to character. Mostly from between the boobs. They they become engulfed in energy and emerge in their special outfit with the aforementioned moves. These transformations showcase the unique clothing and character designs I’d mentioned earlier. Some of the forms are better than others, and Ryobi somehow magically goes from flat-chested to, well, not so much. Arguably the truest transformation of them all.
A major point of the game is shredding clothing as a result of successful combination moves. By chasing your enemy in to the air following the end of your combo, you can follow up on it again and again (if in Shinobi Transformation Mode) a few times. These consecutive follow ups eventually result in the entirety of your opponents clothing falling apart. Just stating facts here ladies and gents. There are no men in this game, so if any of you are looking for a wang to fall out, you’re out of luck. Trust me, I’ve defeated all of these women. Not even a bulge. I must admit, I’m relieved.
In a way, this game’s a pervy version of Mortal Kombat. You might not like the content, but it’s definitely got its charm. This game has various Stage Finishers, wherein if you defeat your opponent near a sign-post with an exclamation mark on it, they’ll be naked, flying off in to misfortune. Some of these are hilarious, like a chocolate banana stand raining down on them, only to find one lodged between the bust. Some of them made me a little uncomfortable, like dropping a wooden cage on top of a naked, crying girl. I can understand the former’s humour, but the second? I really don’t get it. Fortunately, there’s more of the humour than there is the concerning part, so make of it what you will.
As our Senran Kagura Estival Versus Review comes to a close, I find myself conflicted. It’s a good game, and it knows its audience. It embraces what it is, but it is, without a doubt, an acquired taste. There’s no mass appeal here. It takes a niche gameplay style and adds an even more niche visual style. This game clearly survives on the support of its fans, and if they can add a better progression system in to the next game, I guess I’m one of them now. They also need to improve those move cancels to make the combat more fluid and get rid of those awkward boundaries in stages that force stupid A.I to get lost in the maze of life. Or death. Whatever. It’s a maze, and I’m reviewing a game that flashes boobs at any given opportunity. Did you expect me to be serious? It’s not the greatest game on Earth, but as for fan service, it’s the best of the breast.
Yes, that was deliberate.
Game: Senran Kagura Estival Versus
Review Format: Playstation 4