PC Impressions - Senran Kagura: Estival Versusby Dustin Bailey,
Senran Kagura is a series of action games where amply-endowed ninja girls beat each other up until their clothes fall off. Chances are good that you've already made up your mind on the series after that one sentence—it's precisely as crass as it purports to be, and not something you can hang a “you can enjoy it despite the fanservice” caveat on. No, the jiggling cast of lovely young ninja ladies is pretty core to the game's identity, and if you're of a mind to make comparisons you'd classify this alongside Dead or Alive's more Xtreme offshoots rather than its core fighting games.
We're talking boob jokes, low panning camera angles up against short skirts, touch-obsessed ladies and pain enthusiasts, a diorama mode with poses like “power butt,” magical transformations complete with phallic ninja scrolls, and even a groping minigame. That's on top of the core action, which again is all about beating up ninja girls until their clothes fall off.
There's no judgement levied against you here, dear reader, but this paragraph is a turning point. Either you're really very much into the smutty action game that Senran Kagura is, or you should block all memory of anything that's been discussed here and head elsewhere.
Still here? Okay. The Xtreme comparison is particularly apt because this game, Estival Versus, is the equivalent of the beach episode, transporting a big selection of the series' cast—and even resurrecting some dead characters—for some beachside frolics. At least, that's how some of the girls want to treat their temporary island home. The actual purpose of the gathering is to pit the four rival schools against each other, with the winning team uncovering some of the deepest bits of ninja lore.
If you're not intimately familiar with the series cast, the opening of the game is absolutely bewildering, with 25 characters introduced in the span of about 60 minutes. For something that can be succinctly described as the “ninja boobie game,” there's a surprising amount of life and personality to the characters, and the dialog has enough wit, charm, and unabashed horniness to make even the longer VN sequences pretty breezy.
You can take most any of those characters into the actual action, which is a simple-but-satisfying Musou-like. You've got a basic light combo that can be ended with a heavy attack that typically sends enemies flying, and you can then chase them down with a dash that will close the distance and let you do a follow-up combo. It's a pretty basic core system, and most of the variety comes from switching characters between missions and playing out their specific combo and attack timing. You can, of course, tell how much damage an enemy has taken by how much of their clothing remains, because again—that's the kind of game Senran Kagura is.
But not all the combat is against groups of enemies, and sometimes you'll be doing battle against boss characters similar in power to you. In fact, the bosses are typically pulled from the same core cast of playable characters. These battles are where you'll need to pay more attention to blocking and parrying attacks, and making the most of your own combos. Attacking builds up a Ninja Art guage, which allows you to transform magical girl-style and start doling out high-damage, wide-area special attacks. Alternately, you can choose to rip your own clothes off and do battle in lingerie, lowering your defense and raising your attack.
The action is competent, but it's also the reason why the game can't really earn a “despite the fanservice” piece of approval. It's simple and repetitive, and there's just not enough substance to really encourage you to dig in and figure out if there's nuance there. That's even disregarding some occasionally serious camera issues and the awkward dance of “Well, I put the boss in the corner. Now what?”
So instead of depth, you've got breadth. There are tons of missions to take on, a frankly ridiculous cast of characters to play as, and a tremendous selection of unlockables. Money earned in missions goes to a shop where you buy new outfits, hair styles, and accessories, and you can dress up any of the characters in pretty much any way you want. There are photos to buy, a soundtrack to unlock, and you can even alter the voice of the menu narration. It's an impressively well-put-together package for what could have been a low-budget game sold purely on salacious box art.
The PC version just released, and it's a pretty terrific port. There's support for resolutions up to 4K, and though the relatively simple graphics don't necessarily benefit from huge resolutions, the improved anti-aliasing makes the animation lines around the character models look far smoother than the original version allowed. Everything's crisp, clean, and looks gorgeous. Framerate is capped at either 30 or 60, and my system had no trouble keeping up at the higher framerate even at the game's more ridiculous resolutions.
One caveat for the PC version comes for the controls. This is a gamepad game. Though, in theory, you can play it with mouse and keyboard, that is a horrible experience that will leave your fingers twisted around each other, confused as to their purpose and unable to push the action forward. The menus are a nightmare to navigate with a mouse, and there's no apparent way to switch away from the default Xbox control prompts. Play it with a gamepad.
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus would be a wholly unremarkable game without its focus on buxom shinobi. That's not to say it's bad—its lack of remarkability saves it from both greatness and awfulness. What is remarkable is the utter devotion to sexual frivolity, the tremendous cast, and the general earnestness of the game's tone. And the new PC version seems like a pretty ideal way to see it.
You know, if you're into that kind of thing.
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