What can we tell you about Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus? Not much actually... Well, we could say a lot but we'd probably lose our 'family friendly' status. Be warned dear reader, this game is definitely not for kids.
Play quizzes, win prizes! Test your knowledge with our quizzes, and you could win £/$/€ 20 of PSN/XBL/eShop/Steam credit!
Disclaimer: This review features questionable language and scantily clad anime ninja schoolgirls. Consider it NSFW (not safe for work).
What is Fan Service? Well, if you look up the term on Wikipedia, you'll find that 'Fan Service' originates from anime and manga, and refers to when a creator intentionally includes specific content (most often, something sexy) in their work to please the target audience. If you consider that Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus producer Kenichiro Takaki has been quoted as saying such things as "oppai wa inochi, shiri wa furusato" or roughly in English, "Boobs are life, ass is hometown", then it's no surprise that you'll find fan service aplenty in this game.
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is a 3rd person action brawler in which the player takes control of one of many overly busty teenage anime ninja schoolgirls (try saying that three times fast). Your task? Fight through dozens of enemies using (mostly) shinobi weapons, magic and powerful transformations. It's an experience not unlike the well-loved Musou or Dynasty Warriors games, but on a much smaller scale.
Okay, so before we get into the meat of this review we have to address the looming issue surrounding the way the game presents itself. One of the major things you will probably have already noticed about this game is the special care and attention that has been put into its assets. But we're not talking about textures or sky boxes, oh no, the assets here are predominantly ones of the female variety. In fact we're not even going to begin to pretend that this game hasn't been made with a specific audience in mind.
From the very first moment you turn on the game, you're welcomed with an anime style opening that focuses not only on the games heroines, but also their skimpy costumes, up skirt shots of panties, and the unnatural bounciness of their 'jiggly bits'.
If you've played other Japanese games, then this shouldn't come as a surprise (animé can be a little risqué at times) the difference here is just how blatant it is. Jiggle animations seem to be thrown in your face at almost every opportunity, and any clothing your character does wear can be torn to shreds in battle or completely destroyed as part of a special power-up transformation.
The game's story follows your traditional shinobi clan vs shinobi clan storyline (which usually involve battles of honour, extreme killing expertise and fights to the death), except here there are a lot more anime school girls thrown into the mix.
Initially there are 3 shinobi academies to choose from (Hanzo, Gessen and Hebijo), each with 5 playable characters. Most seem to follow the typical animé girl stereotypes (bubbly pink haired girl, dark brooding fierce girl, vampire witch girl, etc.), but there are a few that are genuinely surprising. Take Murakumo for instance, a girl who dresses up as a Sengoku period warlord and just happens to wear a Hanya mask that completely changes her personality.
You'll get to know you're new found ninja classmates through way of a visual novel. This is a very common story telling device in many Japanese (especially animé style) games, and basically turns the game into an interactive book for these sequences, as two 3D modelled animé characters standing at either side of the screen, conversing about academy rivalries, sexual harassment and ninja training. Lots of ninja training. As there are no English voiceovers, you can expect to read through plenty of dialogue, and while it can be very amusing, it does get a little boring at times. Thankfully, these sections can also be skipped altogether to let you get straight to the butt kicking action.
'Shinobi Girl's Code' and 'Shinobi Girl's Heart' are your two varieties of mission. 'Code missions' are your typical story missions, letting you fight through various challenges with each character leading up to a final boss. Each academy has their own story focus, with events that intertwine with the other story paths all creating a much bigger picture. As lewd and bizarre as the story can get (more on that below) it's surprising to find that there are some real poignant moments where the characters shed light on some very personal issues.
'Heart missions' are basically side missions which focus on the personality of each character, as well as their relationships with others. Most feature a ridiculous story, such as finding special bunny candies for a friend, or searching for the ultimate sushi recipe. For instance, Katsuragi's personal quest kick-starts when her friends no longer react negatively when she cops a feel, so she decides that it's much more exciting to fondle her enemies (and we really wish we were making this up).
Missions can last anywhere between 2 to 5 minutes plus (depending on your skill level), and most play out in much the same way; you'll fight your way through standard cannon fodder enemies until you reach the stages boss enemy, which is usually always one of the other playable characters. These quick fire missions lend themselves well to portable play, and it's actually more fun to keep jumping back in for a quick brawl while on the go rather than sitting and playing for extended periods of time.
Visually the game is gorgeous, sporting that familiar colourful cel-shaded style you've probably seen in other anime games (Persona, Naruto, Dragonball Z). Both characters and arena environments are well designed with a lot of variation. Whether it's a high-school rooftop, rice paddy field or snowy garden you'll almost always find yourself somewhere interesting. Characters can also be fully customised with various items of clothing, accessories and special shinobi outfits. There's even a lingerie lottery (and that's it actual name, not even kidding), where you can use your hard earned zeni or special lottery coins (micro transaction alert!) to win new underwear for your fighters. More titillating costumes can be bought in the 'store' as well as all the voiceovers, music and cut-scenes you've unlocked.
Generally, the combat is a lot of fun. It feels fantastically empowering to land a huge combo on your enemies, and each character has their own unique fighting style. Some are best suited to long range combat, while others are up close brawlers. Kat in particular has a short and near useless dash, but all her moves can be charged up for an armour breaking heavy blow. With 20 characters to be levelled up individually you'll have plenty of time to experiment and find the nuances of each character.
It all does take some getting used to however, and the challenge can be pretty tough with a level 1 character - button mashing will get you through your first couple encounters, but later battles require actual technique to win. You'll have to use a combination of blocking, special moves and combos that will launch your opponent into the air leaving them defenceless. Stick with it and eventually you'll practically become a near God, capable of pulling off infinite Aerial Raves (air juggle) on your opponents, pummelling them into submission.
Transformations play a big part in the game's combat system. Untransformed you're essentially a weakling with no access to special moves and only your combo skills to rely on. While this can still win you fights, it's much more fun to transform yourself into one of two powered up forms - your 'Shinobi form' or 'Frantic form'.
Shinobi transformations reveal your special (and usually skimpy) shinobi costume, fully recover your HP and give you more powerful moves. Frantic transformations are a bit more wild, as you gain no HP and lose defence, but do gain extremely powerful, much shorter combos. So powerful in fact, that the transformation blast rips the clothes right off your body leaving you to fight in your underwear.
This choice affects fights in a variety of ways; do you use your frantic mode straight away and decimate your opponent, or wait a while and recover with your shinobi form? It's an interesting mechanic, adding a much needed element of strategy to what could have been an otherwise simple hack and slash affair.
It's not all great however, as while there is some basic enemy variation, the game struggles to keep things fresh, suffering from repetitive combat and missions that play out in much the same way - shield stun your opponent, unleash combos until they transform then beat them up. How you go about this last part is up to you, but it usually involves your special moves.
Thankfully, it all looks fantastic. Combat animations are fluid and screen filling special moves are graphically very impressive with no noticeable slowdown, even with multiple enemies on screen. Sound design is crisp and punchy adding that much needed oomph to the games combat, while the purists out there will also be pleased to hear that voice acting is Japanese only with no option for English voices.
One of the high points of the game is its soundtrack. From before you even press start a sweet guitar riff has already kicked in, pumping you up for the next several hours of butt kicking mayhem. It also features a fusion of typical anime game music and traditional Japanese folk music, so expect a lot of tsuzumi drums, pan flutes, and soothing piano melodies that really set the mood.
The surprising thing about Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is that if you can look past titillation, you'll find a decent 3rd person brawler with a host of unlockable extras to keep you playing for weeks. However if you're looking for a decent story or hate any kind of repetition then it's best to look elsewhere.
Format Reviewed: PS Vita