By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), One Weaboo to Rule Them All
I was not prepared for this. As the busy bossman that I am, it’s rare I can take on reviews. When I do, I try to aim for titles that are shallow and surface deep for quick access and understanding. That’s exactly what I saw when I took one look at Senran Kagura Estival Versus. Tons of multi-colored hair waifus battling with rip off Naruto ninja arts in a passable 3D arena. Yet 20 hours later I find myself hopelessly addicted to Senran Kagura Estival Versus. There was so much more to this 3D story driven brawler than I ever imagined. Character development. Serious plot concepts. Insanely fluid and responsive controls. Smooth visuals. An impressively customizable roster. Online play. Immaculate localization. Senran Kagura Estival Versus is a revolution in what an anime waifu title can be. One that I imagine will hold the bar high above their rivals’ heads for some time to come. One that I hope becomes a regular franchise packing this level of unprecedented quality in its genre.
What is Senran Kagura? What is the Millennium Festival? The Story and Lore
The unexpectedly deep story of Senran Kagura follows the unusual tale of a ninja festival in the spirit realm to bring peace to the fallen shinobi of the past that have yet to find the peace they need to separate from their earthly connections, within a world where ninjas are the ultimate line of defense against the Yomi monsters that would crush humanity back to the stone ages. Various ninja high schools filled with various rivalries baked into the Senran lore are sucked into this Millennium Festival with the vague orders that they are to compete in this frozen time realm to eliminate each other’s “platforms” through martial combat to bring peace to the spirits, and unlock the right to rise to the Path of Kagura (basically a shot at being an NFL level of professional ninja).
It’s an interesting but basic plot, which puts the girls on a tropical island for lots of shenanigans with bikinis and extreme perving between the not so subtle lesbian elements going on within the various school teams. Then the narration punches you in the gut with the heart wrenching stories of families separated too soon, sorrow and despair over relationships spoiled while living, and the regret of knowing that this reunion with dead family members will be as short lived as the competition itself, making many characters in the narrative openly rebel against participating! Despite the occasional awful jokes that just don’t translate well into English, the dialogue and musical accompaniment will draw you in and make you truly care about these girls on a deeper-than-waifu level. Plus with the ridiculously large roster, you’re bound to be smacked in the face with a story that hits close to home.
There’s even social commentary on classism represented by the fact that only fallen ninjas get to revive for this festival, while many of the school ninja characters have lost love ones who are simply gone. Seeing others reunited with their family while they realize their own family are demoted to second class citizens with no way of reuniting with their dead revs up some passionate flames in the girls, and some vengeful and downright spiteful sparks start to fly! Somehow Senran manages all these serious undertones while flashing tits and ass in your face every two minutes. It’s really a conundrum to behold!
As I’ve alluded to, this isn’t your typical waifu builder excuse for a game. Characters are lovingly animated, with countless prone poses and facial expressions to represent real emotion without any reliance on the cheesy Japanese emoticons you’re used to seeing. This helps keep the story feeling real, and battles realer. Everything from the 3D arenas to enemy grunts are beautifully rendered, with each grunt even having broken clothes versions as a signifier of their HP to keep from cluttering the UI with nasty immersion breaking health bars. Sailor Moon Style ninja transformations and ninja arts are all striking, mixing fluid animations with sugar addled color schemes to keep your hype levels maxed out while playing. Honestly my only real complaint, and it’s minor, is the occasional bland background screen used for cutscenes that were clearly too detailed or required rendering a one-time use character to portray.
Combat is sooo satisfying and merges with an RPG automated experience system that will have you hooked on powering up every character to unleash their true potential. Even if you’re new to 3D brawlers, you would have no issue jumping straight into game and mashing your way through the early levels, having fun all the way. Attacks consist of weak (X) and strong (Y) attacks pressed in various orders, or sometimes held down, depending on your character’s skill set. With B you can run or do short dashes to gain an invincibility frame for dodging, and this can be done in just about any direction. Right trigger offers a block in all directions, but is easily destroyed if you block too much damage in too short of a period. On counterpoint, if you time your block to align with the exact instant you take damage, you can guard break your opponent and gain a free scroll used to power your ninja arts.
Wall running, air dashing, double jumping, and a ground-to-air combo link known as aerial raving all round out the experience to give more advanced players the tools they will need to survive the intensely ramping difficulty curve offered in late game. With just the right amount of auto-aiming for aerial rave combos and wall dash attacks to keep the frustration levels down, Senran manages to create a ninja experience that feels just as fluid as the best of the Naruto Ninja Storm titles, albeit built around the concept of fighting dozens of enemies at a time rather than 1v1 in mind. In some rare instances or, more commonly in online play, you can even join with your ally to perform double aerial raves, one of the most visually satisfying and damaging attacks in the game.
In the Name of Evil, I will Banish You! The Transformation System
The transformation system is an amazing addition to Senran Kagura that makes an otherwise reflex and combo based game into a tactical survival title as well. Once you gain a single ninja scroll (but not advisably) you can perform either of your two transformations. The transformation offers you a full heal, but the core of your fighting style and tactics will change drastically depending on which you choose in each match.
Frantic Yin – The far less spectacular but no less important of the two transformations, your Yin transformation simply rips your clothes off to reveal your perhaps too lovingly designed bra and panties. Yin is a dangerous transformation to take as you sacrifice your defensive prowess and much of your flinch resistance in exchange for raw disgusting power. So long as you remain on the offensive, Yin will turn the most crushingly strong enemies into crying kittens. But one wrong move and it’s all over for you!
Cool Yang – A mission going too long for you? Low on health and need a second wind? Want to unlock ninja abilities without risking being killed in a single combo? Cool Yang is your Sailor Moon inspired solution! Yang opens ninja ability use without screwing with your stats too hard, making it the default late game answer for most missions.
Flash vs Yin vs Yang in the Grander Exp Scheme
As you level each character, you will notice varying differences between each girl. Some excel in health, some in offense, some in defense. Some girls are so tanky that, when constantly switching between characters to go through the story, you will find that their Yin stance is still tanky enough to feel safe. Others already have such unnecessarily strong offensive stats that the Yin stance feels like far too much risk for the reward. Also every few levels you will unlock extensions of your basic combos, opening up new attacks for dealing with different situations. It’s worth noting that your basic form (flash), Yin, and Yang form have different combo sets that totally change your fighting style, so be sure to check your skill list after each transformation to make sure you are doing it right!
An interesting element to the experience system is that use of each form builds mastery of that form. This makes it a solid idea to split your use of yin and yang evenly as much as you can, as you can only become one or the other in any given mission, but want to grow both as you gain in experience or else in later harder missions your neglected form may not be a viable option when you truly need it! In the same theme, rushing your transformation early will leave your standard flash form neglected, and the first group you face in a mission might be downright nasty. If you can’t survive long enough to gain a ninja scroll, your empowered transformations will do you no good after all.
This ISN’T Even My Final Form! Character Customization is in your Hands
Something that might not be for everyone but certainly was for me was the shop and dressing room options. While Senran Kagura has the stat growth and skill unlock you might expect in a classic MMORPG setting, your characters will remain looking the same from beginning to end. However, completing the story and destroying each level’s hidden platforms to unlock personal story side-missions for each character can unlock cool loot in the shop for you to purchase with your earned currency. Only. No worries, you bought and paid for this so microtransactions aren’t waiting to bite you in the ass for wanting that extra tight thong.
Utilizing the rather advanced dressing room feature, you can then change out just about everything the girls wear from clothes, to undergarments, to hair, and accessories. Many outfits and accessories even have two to five alternate color combinations to get really creative with their looks. Even more exciting, you can customize their pre-transformation and yang transformed outfits right down to wearing a different set of panties for each, should you choose.
My awakened hero roster pictured via the dressing room diorama pose system.
This level of customization, and the tendency of unlocking matching accessories for characters through doing their personal story, was the perfect creative license for me to have fun imagining each girl’s Super Saiyan style “Final Forms” unlocked as they gained their 5 scroll ninja techniques from leveling up on their often very challenging personal story missions.
Also if… you really were tricked and stumbled into this game looking for a simple waifu builder… you can use the dressing room to set up sexy harem scenes with your favorite girls. You were clearly a target audience in mind, as you will understand when completing a mission unlocks “Power Cleavage 1, 2, and 3.” Because a true connoisseur of waifus knows that not every power cleavage pose works for every waifu. *puts on best poker face to write these words* Of course all this customization isn’t just for spinning the girls around for screenshotting. Your changes will reflect how the girls look in cutscenes, allowing you to impact the crafting of the lore your own way!
I have a very hard time coming up with legitimate things to hate about this game. For what little honor I have as gaming press, I will try… If you hate anime visuals, no level of polish will likely change your mind about this game. A few times the localization team goes above and beyond the call to try to translate Japanese cultural references into something relatable to an English audience, and their extra effort only makes it extra cringeworthy, as you will learn when the emo Murasaki sings her way through multiple boss battles in her personal story. Voices are in Japanese, and often times the length it takes characters to say something versus the translation are drastically different. The changing invisible walls between encounters in the same level can be frustrating, and it’s pretty dumb and sometimes OP that you can run on the invisible walls as a source for utilizing wall jump attacks.
Enemy AI seems to be a shared resource, resulting in comedic old school martial art style combat sequences where a group of 50 enemies will only send a single attack at you at a time. This results in some shocking clashes when you realize that the final 4 standing enemies of a group of 50 are suddenly smarter and more of a threat than the original full group. On that note, the lock-on system is almost worthless except for the rare scenarios where you’re in actual 1v1 battles, and more often than not you’ll just be annoyed that you accidentally activated it. Some characters also have rather long animation frames that delay the ability to block or dodge, and while this makes each character a bit more unique, it feels like a serious hindrance to the enjoyment or some of the slower characters.
Some characters’ ninja attacks’ power doesn’t seem to match the number of scrolls required to use them. It’s rare, but a couple 5 scroll abilities will have you scratching your head as to why you would ever use them over the cheaper spammable scroll abilities. Ugh… grasping at straws here.
I suppose the lack of being able to build your own girl from scratch is a flaw. Given the level of customization and huge range of abilities, you would almost think this would be a feature. But it’s only that the game shines so brightly in so many areas that I would even bring this up as a flaw!
Oh one last thing… they let you ride mechs and randomly summon an army of hot random ninja women to fight for you. Therefore all these critiques are null and void!
Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the definite 3D brawler experience, packaged in a waifu visual novel simulation setting with dark enough themes mixed in to keep you on an emotional rollercoaster ride from start to finish. The sheer number of missions combined with huge roster of characters keeps the simple but effective combat system engaging for many MANY hours. The customization is beyond compare. The Mortal Kombat spoofing kill sequences on occasion have me laughing out loud while being just hard enough on later stages to be satisfying when they actually occur (or when they occur to you!). There’s enough dialogue and story here to make a 10 hour visual novel from itself, and it’s all extremely well written and voiced by a truly talented and emotion filled Japanese cast.
What more can I say? I love everything about Senran Kagura Estival Versus. I see myself playing this game hardcore for at least the next three months, if not longer. The fun factor is just through the roof. The ecchi is on point. The headlights style censoring keeps the game PG-13 friendly so my wife doesn’t glare at me too hard when I’m frantically button mashing. Mastering a character and unleashing a 2,000 hit combo is beyond satisfying due to the nature of how much skill is required to dodge attacks coming in at you from any direction. Senran is just a complete package, and I would recommend anyone that loves brawlers to buy this game today. It’s absolutely worth full price.