When you consider that there are hundreds of games released each month, you quickly realize how important it is to have a hook. In fact, if there’s not a unique selling point for your game, then you’re essentially sending it off to die. If a title fails to captivate, then the press won’t cover it, and nobody will buy it. A game can’t simply just be released anymore, there needs to be something more to it.
Not all selling points are created equal, though. While No Man’s Sky promises an endless adventure filled with unique planets to explore, Senran Kagura Estival Versus promises large breasted Shinobi battling it out. Hey, it’s something. Whether or not you enjoy Senran Kagura‘s hook, you have to give some credit to Tamsoft for coming up with something that has been successful enough to gain a following. Gaming is a business, after all.
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, similar to its Vita predecessor Shinovi Versus, is an action brawler that shares several traits with musou games. Notably, you’ll be using one of the game’s 20+ characters to hack and slash your way through large mobs of enemies. Each of the female Shinobi have their own weapons and fighting styles, and while some of the slower characters won’t fit everyone’s play style, there’s more than enough variety here to appease everyone.
Almost every single level of the game’s lengthy story mode will have players battling through a horde of enemies until they meet up against more worthwhile adversaries. Gamers will then have to defeat some of the other playable Shinobi in battle before the stage ends. Battling against the other named characters is actually pretty fun, as they aren’t pushovers like the mindless mobs you’ll find littered throughout levels. Sadly, though, you’ll end up fighting the crowds of baddies way more often.
This causes Senran Kagura Estival Versus to feel like a bit of a slog. Since you have to completely wipe out all the enemies in an area before moving on, you’re forced to slowly battle through the same generic villains over and over. This repetitiveness, coupled with stale level design, does a disservice to the combat which is actually fundamentally solid. While other action games, such as DmC: Devil May Cry, are bolstered by stellar level design, Senran Kagura falls flat due to it.
While the combat does get old, it’s no fault of the mechanics. It’s a pretty simplified system, as you’ve got a weak and a strong attack, but it’s one that feels solid. You also unlock more combos as you level up each character, so there’s a nice incentive for sticking to the same Shinobi over time.
It’s also worth noting that you gain energy over time from successfully damaging enemies. You can then use this energy to either transform into a more powerful character, or to unleash special attacks. These attacks are especially helpful when dealing with crowds of enemies, although you won’t want to use it all up before you stumble onto meaningful foes.
Sadly, the solid mechanics can’t save the game’s poor story mode. The level designs are so dull, devoid of character and passion, that it becomes hard to care about the gameplay. You can only clear so many waves of baddies before it grows tiresome, and sadly it happens pretty quickly in Senran Kagura Estival Versus.
There is some incentive to replay stages, though, as you earn an in-game currency that can be spent on new costumes for the girls. You can even have them model in the game’s gallery mode, where you can put them into poses with names such as “Power Cleavage 5.” There’s also a Lingerie Lottery which serves a pretty self explanatory purpose, where you can use the aforementioned in-game currency or real money. Yes, this game has micro-transactions for digital lingerie.
While the single player portion is disappointing, Estival Versus has quite the offering of multiplayer modes. These range from your standard deathmatch to more novel modes such as capture the bra. Yes, that’s the title of the mode. Playing with other players is far more enjoyable than battling generic groups of computer-controlled ninjas, and there’s even the ability to group into teams. This might not be the next eSports craze, but there’s definitely some fun to be had online with friends.
It is also worth mentioning that Senran Kagura leans very heavily into the sexual side of its selling point. In fact, the story goes in some pretty racy directions and there’s one part where characters get panties forced down their mouths. Um, yeah. This isn’t The Last of Us, though, so you’re not really missing too much if you want to skip through the game’s story segments. It’s mostly just one-liners about breasts, anyhow.
This also bleeds into the gameplay. Whenever the playable character transforms, there’s a Sailor Moon style transformation segment. Except the transformation has been sexualized to the point where Tuxedo Mask would be blushing. Another example is that characters have their clothes destroyed during battle, and the game makes sure to highlight that fact by showing a cutscene every time it occurs (although you can turn this off in the options). Finally, every battle ends with the defeated Shinobi fully nude (although it always gets obscured by the environment), and typically in an embarrassing pose.
If there’s a bright spot, it’s that the highly sexualized gameplay is kind of the point here. It’s not like in Dungeon Travelers 2 where the out of place artwork hurt what was otherwise a stellar game. Instead, if it had done away with this hook, Senran Kagura would just be yet another generic action game that is merely okay. It would be devoid of any character or potential charm.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus is totally serviceable. While the single player campaign is a disappointment due to terrible level design, the combat gets to shine in multiplayer. Senran Kaguar is a series that clearly knows its audience and is delivering to it. So, if you don’t mind the game’s hook, then there’s some fun to be had despite its many shortcomings.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which we were provided with.
It's not great, but Senran Kagura Estival Versus offers up some low brow fun in multiplayer. Poor level design kills the single player experience, though.