Senran Kagura Estival Versus Review (PS4)
The Senran Kagura series has, in the past, taken as much of a beating from critics for its technical performance as it has for its questionable attitude in regards to the endless panty shots and breasts that tend to sway like pendulums with the slightest movement. Undoubtedly one of these things has not been improved on. While the other is actually a pleasant surprise! Care, to hazard a guess at which?
This immediate sequel to Shinovi Versus is set in an alternate reality on a tropical island that the girls of four different Shinobi schools are drawn into and forced to take part in the “Kagura Millennium Festival” that pits the factions against each other with the promise of the winning team “…opening the road to Kagura…”. This island also seems to be a purgatory of sorts for deceased shinobi who died with strong emotional ties to them. Many of the heroines in the game come face to face with loved ones they have lost. Although the game does attempt emotional scenes along the way to highlight the internal struggle that these characters are going through, the sudden tonal shifts are bizarre and at odds with the rest of the games tone.
The actual overarching storyline is pretty bare and nothing more than a thin veil to give a tad more of an excuse as to why these girls are fighting and tearing each-others clothes off in the first place. If you have not played the previous entry in the series (or at least done a little read up), the contextual relationships in the game will be a mystery to you. There is very little exposition to explain the current state of affairs between various characters in the game, with many references to events in the previous games. This is a sequel that expects you to understand the characters and their motivations going in. As a result, it might be harder for newcomers to the series to engage with. The characters themselves are quite enjoyable ranging from stoic ninja types, to full on sadists and crass perverts.
The variety of the gameplay does not change too much across the story mode. Over the 8 days of the festival, you will generally sit through a visual novel cut scene and then launch into a fight against hordes of AI shinobi and boss characters comprised of the other ladies. You do occasionally fight alongside an AI partner who you can revive if knocked out, but cannot do the same for you. Truth be told they serve as more of a distraction tactic for the AI to beat up on as you focus on other characters.
There is also little exploration to be done, save for a little off course exploring to destroy platforms belonging to the other factions. There are various side stories called Shinobi Heart Missions, which add a little more of a personal and often silly side story for each of the side characters.
Thankfully, the core gameplay is fun and fast. Anyone who has played a Dynasty Warriors game should feel right at home here. Each of the 25+ characters in the game play similarly thanks to the 2 button attack system. But they have their own nuances; heavier characters feel like their weapons have heft whilst speedy characters feel like they can nimbly dodge around the screen.
Alternating between normal and strong attacks, gives each of the girls’ access to basic combo strings that can knock enemies into the air to continue the carnage. There are also differing fighting states that can be used that give different buffs and abilities to the characters while playing. Frantic mode allows the girls to tear their clothes off and get an extreme gain in speed and strength, and access to special attacks at the cost of their defence, turning you into a glass cannon that can deal out damage quickly. Shinobi transformations on the other hand, restore your health, give slightly better combos than your normal state and access to the same combos. Each style is useful in different situations and only one of the styles can be used per match. Learning when to play each style and use it to your advantage can turn a tough battle in your favour. Also by utilising these modes and levelling them up for each character, passive buffs are also gained.
In keeping with the theme of the game, Frantic mode is activated this mode by hitting the touchpad with two fingers. The screen zooms into your character’s chest and you move your fingers apart to tear her clothes off. While Shinobi Transformations, are achieved with L1. Treating you to a seedy Sailor Moon transformation sequence. Scrolls pop up between breasts, buttocks in a variety of ways depending on the characters you play as in a suggestive manner changing their costume.
There is also a counter that can be used by pressing down on the d-pad, which will use a bit of health but break the combo that is being performed on you. It can get pretty frustrating when used against you repeatedly by most of the AI controlled boss characters. That with their ability to start combos while being comboed led to some frustrating fights on hard mode.
During fights the girls’ clothing will take damage as they do. As their health drops past a certain point after taking a combo, their clothes will rip which gives you a cut scene of her moaning suggestively as clothes tear and in most cases their assets literally flop out of their outfits, underwear intact. These cut scenes are an only a few seconds long but they tend to happen while you are trying to chain your combos. It caused me to miss combos occasionally, (due to timing not ogling, I promise) and miss my chance to chain the combo again. I know this feature is a big draw for core fans of the series, but personally, their novelty wore off quickly. It can be turned off in the options, but it will not stop the near naked KO sequences at the end of the match.
As a major feature in the game is destroying the outfits of the ninja’s in-game, there is an extensive dressing room where you can dress up to 5 ladies of your choosing at once. Poses and accessories are unlocked across the game’s various modes, which can be used in whatever way you see fit. As you could imagine some of the poses are suggestive to say the least, and you have control right down to their facial expressions. It can be as cute or as creepy as you personally want to make it!
There is also an online mode, which can support up to 10 people, unfortunately I never managed to connect online. Performance wise, the transition from the Vita to PS4 has brought an immediately noticeable amount of polish that previous entries in the series have lacked. The game runs very well and looks great. The framerate is a solid 60FPS, with very occasional dips when the action hots up and there are many characters on screen at once. Also the loading times in-game are a few seconds at most. Which is great as you are never left twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next battle to load.
Senran Kagura has always been a series that has been unabashedly proud of its ecchi roots. The overenthusiastic obsession with the female form coupled with technical problems that have marred previous releases has always made it a difficult series to recommend to mainstream games fans. However, with the series’ first attempt at “busting” onto a home console, the performance and gameplay improvements make this a much more enjoyable game than its predecessor.
7 flimsy pieces of clothing out of 10