When do fan-service and the concept of “sex sells” go too far? Many would say it varies from person to person, but I myself would say that it goes too far when a video game experience becomes more about the visuals and fan-service than actual gameplay. Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus seems like the average fan-service-palooza and isn’t exactly the greatest, but passes for a decent action experience. Despite seeming like a study on “jiggle physics” at first glance, Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus has gameplay that fans of the series will enjoy, as well as gameplay that fans of difficult action brawlers may find appealing.
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus returns players to the conflict between Hanzo National Academy and their rivals Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy, two rival shinobi schools who have been fighting for supremacy since Senran Kagura Burst, the previous game in the franchise. Now, in addition to those foes, Hanzo National Academy must contend with Hebijo’s Homura Crimson Squad, a mercenary strike force, as well as the new Gessen Girls’ Academy, new rivals for the girls at Hanzo National Academy.
You are able to play as any of the girls from each of the four factions, seeing the story from each faction’s perspective, and experiencing the unique weapons and skills provided to each of the 20 playable characters. Each character has their own fighting style which is presented in a 3D action brawler type of gameplay, with combos to learn and special Ninja Arts to master.
One thing that you should know is that there are no English voice-overs. Instead, there are Japanese voice-overs with English subtitles. This is probably satisfying for those anime lovers who prefer subtitles over dubbed anime, but I myself found it a little bit frustrating as it created a disconnect for me that made it difficult to get attached to the characters I played aside from enjoying their play-style. This also becomes difficult when you are in battle and characters are talking, as I found it hard to read the text on the screen while keeping up with the action going on around me.
Levels, or Missions, consist of various things that are detailed at the beginning of the mission. Some missions are strictly battles on a 3D plane between your character and ninja enemies, whereas others can be collecting certain things or completing a mission within a certain time limit. Before each mission, the goal is outlined, with the goal and difficulty of the mission written down as well as the overall purpose of the mission. Damage is calculated by removing the clothes of your character, revealing more and more skin until your chosen Shinobi is vulnerable as her health dwindles. There are no male playable characters, but the characters represent a variety of anime tropes from the Tsundere ninja to the more excitable and hyper anime girl trope.
Each character has a unique skill-set, as well as combos and attacks that evolve as you level up, giving you an incentive to complete every mission you come across with each character so that you can level them and find a character that fits your play-style. Like most action games, you receive a grade for your performance on each level depending on how you fought and how quickly you completed the objectives assigned to complete the mission
There are two types of missions: Story Missions, and Sub Missions. Story Missions progress the main storyline, whereas Sub Missions are like side-quests and give more detail on the characters you are playing as well as extra story-based content that isn’t vital to the over-arching storyline.
Not all characters are created equal, as the characters have clear and definite skill sets that are vastly different from each other. Some characters are more useful at range, while others are more useful charging in and pummeling enemies. All characters have secret ninja arts, which are powerful attacks that deal immense damage, and shinobi techniques that allow them to change their outfit (healing themselves fully.) The problem with this is that bosses (even on low difficulties) abuse these mechanics, waiting till you almost have them defeated, then healing themselves fully and slamming you with powerful attacks until you are dead.
On the flipside, the standard enemies you encounter are almost too easy to figure out, which causes an imbalanced sort of difficulty even though the difficulty can be raised at any time. The combat is also surprisingly one-dimensional even with these options, especially considering the in-game tutorial doesn’t tell you about how to pull off the secret Ninja Arts until a few missions in, despite bosses pummeling you with them from the first Sub Mission onward.
By completing Missions, you can level up your characters to strengthen them for future missions, or replay former missions to level up and save up more Zeni (in-game currency). This makes backtracking important, and provides an interesting form of progression that requires you to level up all of your possible combatants and learn their skills in case they are necessary for a mission.
In between levels, you explore the Ninja room, which serves a variety of purposes from allowing you to talk to your classmates (whose dialogue changes each chapter), access the dressing room to change equipment and costumes, access multiplayer through the Dojo (which offers a host of modes from standard death-match to strip battle, where you must unclothe your opponents to win), or even accessing missions and the in-game store.
The in-game store allows you to buy items with the Zeni you accumulate through missions as well as giving you the opportunity to play the Lingerie lottery. The Lingerie Lottery is a game that allows you to gain new costumes and lingerie for your characters by using Zeni. You can purchase new hairstyles, costumes, lingerie, and even characters through the use of Zeni in the store, giving you plenty of incentive to play through every mission to accumulate as much Zeni as possible.
Honestly, some of the dialogue is so obvious in its innuendo that it is both hilarious and sad at the same time. Sometimes the game tries too hard to be funny and sexy, though I do wonder why we haven’t seen games where male characters have their clothes ripped off when they get hit. (I’ll have some of that action. Am I right, ladies and homosexual gents?)
The story of Senran Kagura Shinovi is ridiculous — sometimes in a good way, but most often in a way that is cringe-worthy. Between missions expressly crafted for fan-service and obnoxious interactions between the characters (most of which consisting of awkward flirting or overly shameless advances that have no resolution), fans of a good narrative won’t find much enjoyment here. If you like previous games in the series, then you may very well enjoy Senran Kagura Shinovi’s story, but otherwise it may leave you confused and lost.
Missions tend to become repetitive after a while, not really giving the player much variety beyond killing waves of enemies or fighting off a boss or two in order to succeed. If you like that sort of thing and you know what you are getting into, then it isn’t a problem, but for those wanting a deeper experience, Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is sorely lacking.
Despite all of this, Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus looks good, the graphics are crisp and clear, the game plays beautifully with no visual glitches or issues, and will definitely look great on even 4 year old PCs (like mine).
Overall Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is decent, but with imbalanced difficulty, a lack of English voiceovers, repetitive gameplay, and an overall ridiculous storyline, I wouldn’t consider it a great game. If you like the franchise then I’d say give it a go, but new players might not want to shell out the $29.99 price point for a game that really isn’t all that great.
A PC Code for Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus was provided by XSEED Games for the purpose of this Review