Sometimes you’ll play a game that’s so out there, so bizarre and so unlike anything else that you’ve played that it’s practically indescribable. Senran Kagura Bon Apetit! is not one of those games; it’s, actually rather describable – but still no less bonkers for it.
So what is Senran Kagura Bon Apetit!? Well, apart from being one of those Japanese games with an absurdly long title, it’s also one of those Japanese games with an absurdist sense of humour; one of those Japanese spin-off games with characters from one genre transplanted into a totally different one; and one of those Japanese games that is, when all is said and done, incredibly bloody pervy. But saying that this is just ‘one of those Japanese games’ sells Senran Kagura Bon Apetit! massively short.
I said, just two paragraphs ago, that Senran Kagura Bon Apetit! is ‘rather describable’ so I suppose I’ll have to back that up. Bon Apetit! is a spin-off of the popular Senran Kagura fighting games in which all of your favourite, often incredibly well endowed, characters decide to enter the Super Dish Gourmet Cook-Off in order to win a wish-granting scroll from Sensei Hanzo – who, incidentally, screams so powerfully when he eats something delicious that any girls in the vicinity will find their clothes being vaporised; not that many of them seem to mind.
While this sounds like it might be a cooking game, Bon Apetit! is actually a rhythm game, so you’ll be hitting left, right, up, down, A, B, X and Y in time to a fairly eclectic soundtrack in order to beat your opponent and deliver the Super Dish to Hanzo – resulting in a truly off-the-wall celebration of whichever dish you’re supposed to have prepared.
There are several ways to power up your cooking and, as in all rhythm games, your streak of hits winds up a power gauge, letting you unleash a massive multiplier. Watch out though; one wrong note will end your streak and your multiplier will be gone. Get good enough scores in the first and second rounds and you’ll also unlock a heart boost – another multiplier that, this time, comes accompanied by an… erm… ‘alternative’ (read as: even more voyeuristic) viewpoint.
Each stage of the cook-off is split into three rounds, each with their own dish. At the end of each round, Hanzo will scream his delight at one of the dishes, resulting in the aforementioned vaporisation of the loser’s garments – working, inexorably, closer to digital nudity (well, almost). Only the last round, where you cook the Super Dish, really matters in terms of beating your opponent, but, if you want to get the ‘special surprise’ of seeing your enemy fully naked (save some carefully positioned whipped cream), served up to you on a platter, you’ll need to win all three rounds.
I’m doing my best to be un-British and fully embrace the whole ‘joy of breasts, bottoms and bounciness’ thing that Senran Kagura, as a franchise, seems fixated on. While it could be conceived as being a bit weird and pervy, it is actually very amusing (alright, amusing in a low brow sort of way but amusing, nonetheless). It’s also portrayed in a very light-hearted and jokey sort of way and, rather than these women being pure objects of desire, they’re actually pretty strong-willed, independent and, in some cases, more than a little proud of the gifts that their designers gave them.
There are three main ways to play the game: Story, Arcade and Free modes. Free mode lets you choose a character and an opponent to face in a single cook-off battle – this is great if you just want to practice (which is something you’re definitely going to want to do for certain songs), and Arcade sees you pitted against six random opponents of roughly similar difficulty (easy, medium or hard). It’s Story mode, though, where there is most fun to be had. Not because there are any differences in the gameplay, but because the stories are absolutely hilarious.
Each of the game’s characters (22 in the Full Course version) have their own plot, typically explained with a text-based introduction and then a few cutscenes throughout the five-part story; and they’re all absolutely nuts. I’ll give you a few examples to whet your appetite: Asuka wants to teach everyone that bigger (and longer) is definitely better, particularly when it comes to futomaki! Homura is tired of living off scraps (having no money can do that to you) and enters the competition not for the scroll, but for the leftover meat. Yomi has fallen out of love with her favourite food (beansprouts) so what better way to rekindle her passion than by entering a cooking competition and using them almost exclusively? Finally, Murakumo is trying to write a new sci-fi book but has run out of ideas to make it pop – so she enters the cooking competition to get some inspiration for a sci-fi cooking comic!
The gameplay between all of this craziness is, actually, fairly solid. It runs very consistently on my medium-high-end PC and I never had any delays between keypresses and actions happening in-game – something integral to all good rhythm games. The differences between difficulty settings are fairly obvious and nothing entirely new; easy and medium difficulties make use of only six of the eight available buttons with medium simply adding more hits and making greater use of combinations. Hard uses all eight buttons and throws many more hits and combinations at you – at time of writing, I’ve still not won a single cook-off in hard mode.
While it’s fairly easy to distinguish between the three difficulty modes themselves, the game doesn’t do a great job of balancing the songs that you’re presented with, resulting in difficulty curves that often form a shape like Senran Kagura’s favoured body part (don’t make me draw it for you). Whereas most games steadily introduce songs with more difficulty (whilst remaining true to the selected overall difficulty setting) to help the player progress, Senran Kagura Bon Apetit! does away with that in favour of just giving you whatever songs it fancies. Each character has their own song and, whenever you face them, that’s the song that you’ll be trying to beat. Story mode features three set foes and two random ones so there’s no guarantee that you’re going to have a steadily climbing difficulty throughout any character’s story. Arcade mode, too, is totally random and, as a result, you could end up with one of the most difficult songs in your first encounter. That being said, starting in easy mode and playing through a couple of rounds of Free mode will help you get into the swing of it so, in the long run, it’s not such a big deal.
What is a big deal is that, as fun as it is, Senran Kagura Bon Apetit! isn’t really that replayable. The stories are fairly short and, in the Full Course version of the game, they’re all unlocked from the start, meaning that you can just bounce around between characters at will, rather than working towards any sort of end goal. For those looking for collectibles, though, Senran Kagura Bon Apetit! has you covered with a vast array of clothing choices, including (what else?) plenty of lingerie, most of which is unlocked as you play, and all of which you can use to dress up any of the characters.
While Bon Apetit! feels more like a fan-service spin off than a real game at times, especially given the incredibly short story modes and extensive cast of characters with no discernable difference in play-styles, it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s light-hearted and witty with a silly side that helps to de-sexualise the more lewd content – presenting it in a humorous context which stops it from edging into the weirdly pervy territory of other ‘sex’ games.
TLDR: Senran Kagura Bon Apetit! is a rhythm-cooking game (think Guitar Hero meets Cooking Mama) featuring 22 ladies who aren’t shy about knocking the clothes off each other and a crazy man who likes to ride on massive pieces of tempura. And it’s pretty bloody funny to boot.