Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus
Alright, let’s start with the most obvious thing this series is known for: Fanservice.
Titties on a ninja, etc.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what else actually is there to Senran Kagura? “Nothing”, I thought to myself. Recently the game had been released on Steam and was on sale however, so I toyed with the idea of buying it and sending it to Andrew to review. Outside of this series containing a lot of tits and asses and that it had Dynasty Warriors-esque gameplay, I basically knew nothing about it. Ultimately, I decided to give Andrew a break and play it myself instead. I like Dynasty Warriors, so a game that plays somewhat like it ought to be at least tolerable. Thinking it was probably going to suck a bit, I figured it would at the very least make for an entertaining article and stave off Andrew’s inevitable suicide due to too many shitty anime games for another day. Well, turns out I was completely wrong.
This game is actually good.
Yes, I know how weird that sounds, especially considering how much we (justifiably) rag on fanservice on The Other Side. Unlike most other games or anime, here the fanservice actually adds something to the overall package because without it, Senran Kagura would be nowhere near as bizarre and interesting. For starters though, let us talk about the gameplay. Like I mentioned earlier, the game plays similar to the Dynasty Warriors series. You have combos, special attacks for each character, a guard, guard-breaking attacks and tons of various mooks you mow down with your super ninja powers of doom. The characters themselves usually serve as the bosses at the end of the stages. There is also a large focus on aerial combat, complete with the ability to chase after your opponent after your attack knocks them away and a burst ability reminiscent of fighting games that gets enemies off of you in exchange for 10% of your maximum health. Both characters and special mooks can inflict status-conditions, which range from freezing, paralysis, poison and fire.
Part of the strategy in each fight is your ninja transformation which you can only use once in each level. Once you activate it, your character goes through a naked transformation sequence and puts on their (completely impractical as far as stealth goes, although for story reasons it doesn’t need to be stealthy) ninja outfit which heals them back to 100% health and changes all of their attacks to at least some degree. Alternatively, you can elect to have your character strip to their underwear, which also radically changes their attacks and makes them ridiculously fast and strong. In exchange for this super-mode, your defenses are incredibly weak. I should also mention that whenever you successfully hit your opponents with a special attack or a combo, their clothes get shredded more and more. Just putting that out there.
There are also multiplayer games (online is possible, but I didn’t get to try that due to lack of players at the time so I had to resort to CPU opponents) where the goal usually consists of having more points than your opponents at the end of a certain timespan. One game involves straight-up battles between characters, another requires you to kill more mooks than everyone else (of course, you can still attack other players to mess up their score) and the weirdest one has you trying to collect the most underwear that spontaneously rains from the sky. No, really.
The absolute highlight of Shinovi Versus – and the entire series in general, really – is the story. Half of it is pretty much the stuff you see in all the gifs that the neo-puritans at certain websites that shall remain nameless love to (pretend to) be outraged about. The other half is deadly serious drama involving such uplifting things as murder, demons, betrayal, dead loved ones and your mother being torn to pieces by a horrific abomination that should not be.
The borderline schizophrenic shifts in the story’s tone make a lot more sense once you find out how this series is actually written. The producer, Kenichiro Takaki, just wants to make a game with ninjas and big boobs and makes no bones about it either. It doesn’t help that the artist for the series, Yaegashi Nan, draws Hentai (which is a big shock to you, I am sure). But the author, one Yukinori Kitajima, is more interested in depicting a dark, dramatic story about the struggles of female ninjas. He was also a scenario writer for Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies and 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, which explains a lot about the tone of this series outside of the fanservice.
In fact, even the title of the series itself alludes to one of it’s darker concepts. Without giving everything away, a Kagura is essentially a very powerful ninja whose task it is to exterminate demonic beings called Yomi. Shinovi Versus is, hilariously enough, supposed to be a light-hearted entry in the series (despite containing a ton of dark themes as mentioned earlier) and thus doesn’t feature them directly as antagonists or depict them, but they are still quite important to the overall story and get described in several instances. Skirting Shadows and Deep Crimson on the 3DS revolve around an incredibly powerful Yomi called Orochi and thus show off quite a few of these demons in grotesque detail.
The story in Shinovi Versus is split into three distinct routes (plus a secret fourth one you unlock by beating the other three) that center around each of the three ninja schools in the series and the girls attending them. Some of them certainly have more personality/depth than others (the main character is by far the worst one when it comes to being horribly bland), but if nothing else their individual quirks make them distinct. Not that that’s always a good thing, as the character of Minori shows…
In between the fanservice, the stories are mostly preoccupied with themes like the nature of justice, the point of having power and it’s limits, overcoming personal pain and tragedy in order to move on from the past and of course killing demons. None of this is a joke, mind you.
Another thing worth mentioning is the music. Rather than bombarding you with shitty J-pop 24-7, each school is given a sort of overarching musical theme. A bunch of it is focused on rock and metal. The character themes of the Gessen girls meanwhile are remixes of pieces from Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Mind you, Pop is still not entirely absent, but either way I enjoyed the music this game had to offer. If nothing else, a lot of the tracks are memorable.
So in conclusion, is this game worth it? Undoubtedly yes. It is available on Steam for around thirty dollars, which is fair enough. Alternatively, you can just wait for the inevitable Steam sale. If you are looking for a Dynasty Warriors-esque action game with a more than decent story and good music and aren’t put off by excessive fanservice, you should give this game a shot.
PS: Miyabi is best Senran
- Combat is fast, fluid and fun.
- Story is well-written and interesting, tonal shifts notwithstanding.
- Good music.
- A lot of T&A, if that is your thing.
- Missions can get a bit repetitive after a while.
- The Bear enemies are incredibly obnoxious.
- Online play seems a bit sparsely populated.