Unsatisfied with tarnishing what little reputation/respect I have and labelling myself as an Ecchi Weeaboo/J-Phile with my review of Dead or Alive: Xtreme 3, I’ve decided to return to the fray with a similarly scandalously-clad title, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus.
Originally a PS Vita sequel to a 3DS game, Shinovi Versus has now been re-released on the PC. It’s essentially the same game, with all of the DLC included, and remastered graphics.
I was aware of the franchise, and owned an art-book for the original, unbeknownst to me that it was actually a game series until much later (I just wanted pretty pictures). Since I don’t really dabble with handheld gaming that much in terms of keeping up to date with every new release beyond the obvious AAA games, I never naturally came across Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus on PS Vita. For those in the same boat as me and discovering Senran Kagura for the first time, strap yourselves in and brace yourselves: busty ninja babes, attending rivalling Academies that defeat one another by stripping each other of their clothes. If your perversion level is over 9,000 (or you just like Dynasty Warrior style games), then read on.
We’ve previously reviewed Senran Kagura: Estival Versus on the PS4, giving it a mediocre rating of 5. Shinovi Versus is the latest released, but since it’s a port of the PS Vita game, it has less features and polish than Estival Versus title, so don’t expect opinions to change too much in this review since it’s pretty the same affair in every aspect of its gameplay. There’s not much plot in the game; it takes the usual styling of other ecchi/harem based storylines, which is that the experience leans more heavily towards characters’ interactions and personalities rather than events or story development. Basically, what I mean is a bunch of busty ninja high-school girls all provoke each other, act cute, and grope each other. Don’t expect the story to win any awards, but it’s definitely going for the humorous, tongue-in-cheek approach – even if sometimes it ends up falling short and just being awkward.
I’ll save you the trouble of reading on and warn you in advance: if you’re not a fan of the repetitive button-mashing gameplay of Dynasty Warriors, and you think that ecchi/moe/slice-of-life style Anime and Manga are the reasons the industries are seen as titillating wonderlands for hormonal teenagers, then you aren’t going to get along with Senran Kagura in any context. If you’re still with me, clearly we’re both fans of the same kind of things, but I should still issue you with a second warning: even by the standards of someone who enjoys this kind of thing, the game still lacks real depth, and never really becomes anything of value beyond a mindless button-masher with some cracks in the paintwork.
There are three academies, who are all rivals in the Shinobi Battle Royale. Each is attempting to invade the others: the academy that wins gets the opportunity to burn the other academy to the ground (pretty heavy stuff for a game with cute ninja girls!). You play as one of the three academies and take the girls on various missions, earning cash to purchase more costumes and collectibles. As they level up, they gain more branching combos and improved stats. There isn’t any kind of in-battle items to use, or equipment that changes gameplay in any significant way, so these are all vanity items to change the fashion style of your chosen ninja lady.
The purpose of their fights is to beat up the other ninja girl until she’s stripped of her clothing, and shamed into a loss. As you or the other girl reach certain percentages of your health, you begin to have your clothing torn off in key stages, beginning with a few tears here and there, and evolving into the items revealing the lingerie underneath, before being stripped of that as well and becoming defeated. Before you lose all of your health in your school-style clothing however, you can activate Shinobi Mode at any point before being stripped, and return to full health, donning your new Shinobi attire. In this costume, you can activate one of two arts, represented by holding a button when using your light or heavy attack button. If an art succesfully connects with someone, you automatically remove a stage of their clothing instantly. In Shinobi mode, your attacks are also more powerful, and you use a different move set. You can activate this mode without being at low health, but because of its fully restorative state in regards to your health meter, it’s advised you almost wipe out first before using it to ensure you fight for as long as you can sustain yourself in battle. If you become desperate, there is a frantic mode that strips you down to your lingerie/underwear, and enables massively improved attacks, but you are also weaker in this state.
Missions follow a repetitive format, where you either face off against someone in a direct one-on-one battle straight away, or you defeat dozens of on-screen enemies first before facing off the end of level character. Imagine small, narrow, on-rails sections of Dynasty Warriors, cordoning off areas behind barriers so you have to defeat enemies to advance, and you have the general format of Senran Kagura repeating itself indefinitely for the rest of the game. Beyond that, the combos are simply a case of mashing the light attack button and signalling the end of the combo by initiating a heavy attack. You can also dash, double jump, and guard (parrying if you time it perfectly, which is hard to do!). The only variance to your attacks is whether you choose to hold the button down to increase damage and make slower attacks, but that is generally a bad idea since the combat is fast paced and you’re mostly interrupted in your combo before you can charge those attacks up (at least against the bosses; regular mobs stand idly around waiting to be killed as expected).
Regular enemies tend to do the usual Dynasty Warrior set of choices as well, move around cautiously, circling the player, and every once in a while, one of the enemies will attack at random when they feel like it. The only difference here being they jump around over your head randomly too, making them harder to hit. The girls you face off against use cheap tactics such as wide-spread, spammed attacks that don’t let you recover from an aerial hit without diving towards you to send you flying once more before you’ve even hit the ground. It’s frustrating, and always ends up in you just recovering, activating a double jump, and hitting your heavy attack button which sends you hurtling towards the ground, and knocking the enemy away. Eventually, every fight becomes a routine checklist of “Did I hit the enemy? Great!”, if not, then “Recovery flip, double jump, heavy attack ground pound, rush up to the enemy before they get up, spam attack combo”; repeat. Around that, you’re either dashing to close the gap, or you’re dodging one of their special art abilities.
The problem with the combo system is that you can’t aim your attacks. There’s a lock-on system to focus on your target, but there’s no soft-lock on your attacks to make them hone in on where you’re pointing your analogue stick. In most games of this nature (…Dynasty Warriors!), when you attack, you can still influence the direction of the attack by moving in the direction you want to attack. Most games even let you do a kind of steering motion with your character mid-attack, so you can revolve them around their position to re-adjust and aim your combo as you’re attacking. In Senran Kagura, once you’ve started attacking, you’re locked into that direction until you stop and re-adjust your character. The girls revolve a little bit towards your movement vector, but it’s so slow that if you’re in need of rotating your attacks to keep in line with an enemy, chances are they’ve already dashed out of the way or started attacking back by the time you slowly steer towards them. It’s unfortunate, because this small gameplay mechanic would solve a major issue with combat, and might place more power and control in the player’s hands.
Outside of combat you have your Dojo serving as the hub for your adventures. Here you can engage in conversation with other characters, practice with some training, switch characters, visit the shop for more costumes, videos, music, and accessories, then lastly you can review your records for your adventure thus far. The most gameplay-intense feature outside of the missions is the Lingerie Lottery, that involves you placing money down to receive a random piece of lingerie from a scalar rating list.
To me, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is more of a light-novel attempt, with brief and shallow combat sequences placed inbetween to alleviate boredom and add some interaction. To call it a pure fighting game would be dismissing it as a poorly developed Dynasty Warriors-lite title with some sexy thrown in for good measure. Each girl has their own style and combos, so there’s a little bit of variety to be found in levelling up each individual girl, playing as a different academy, and checking out everyone’s storyline missions. The length of the game is quite long if you expect to see everything. When you view it as a half-fighter, half-novel type game, it becomes a little more distinguishable as the type of game that’s made for people who enjoy characters of this nature, the light-hearted and casual approach to narrative, and with a bit of gameplay thrown in to mess around with in an almost sandbox-style approach. Think of it as coming here to see the girls, but being able to dress them up, and mash a few buttons to keep things from being completely passive and being a complete spectator.
It’s in this regard, my opinion of Shinovi Versus doesn’t deviate too much from what we’d said in our review of Estival Versus. I have nothing to say that is much different, as the two games are largely the same in terms of mechanics. On the other hand, the game isn’t so passive and shallow in gameplay content that it reaches the same low depths as Xtreme 3; at least there’s more gameplay to be found in the fighting system here than the casual simplifications of the volleyball system in Xtreme 3. It’s one of the better handheld to PC ports I’ve seen in recent years, with the likes of Final Fantasy: Type 0 not being leagues ahead of the quality of texture and graphics improvement that Shinovi Versus presents. A few textures misalign or don’t tile properly, or are a bit too blurry for my tastes, but overall the port is well done, and there’s no bugs or glitches that arise from porting the title over either.
So who should buy this game? Who’s the audience? If you enjoy watching a particular style of Anime, or enjoy reading certain kinds of Manga (the type of which I’ll allow you to discern for yourselves!), then this is the kind of thing you (and I) are into. You come for its humour, characters, open-sexuality, and graphical art style. A little bit of shallow gameplay is not going to deter you from playing, as its depth/quality isn’t that important to you. You’re a fan of this kind of thing, and you’ll enjoy your brief guilty pleasure, but won’t find anything worth keeping it installed for the months ahead. Mash some buttons, dress up the girls in pretty and alluring outfits, and maybe try and go for 100% completion, as the game begs and screams to be finished by a completionist with its various miscellaneous collectibles.
You might remember a character or two, you’ll have your favourites, and might find your new Waifu in the cast, but generally speaking, most people (even fans of Dynasty Warrior style button-masher fighters) would be best avoiding the title altogether, unless it’s on sale for a pretty low price. That said, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying this Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus as a little bit of a guilty pleasure, devouring it of its value, and moving onto your next fix; just don’t expect anything more than that. Keep in mind it’s a port of a game that was designed for handhelds, and you won’t be disappointed.