Senran Kagura is a series that takes pride in its ‘guilty pleasure game’ status. The titles are unashamedly lewd, with busty character designs and crude humour often overshadowing the beat ‘em up gameplay. I was therefore uncertain of what I was getting myself into when approaching the first addition to arrive on PC, Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, but felt it was best to begin with an open mind.
It was no real surprise when the game introduced itself to me in the form of a music video, with close-ups on female ninjas and their bouncy physics, panty shots and the destruction of clothing. As it happens, the scene encapsulates Shinovi Versus rather well; an over the top fighting game with a huge helping of fan service.
Once the initial cutscene was over, I was invited to take my pick of three different schools: Hanzō National Academy, Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy and Gessen Girls’ Academy. No matter which side you pick, it’s essentially the same story, but from a different point of view. It turns out that all events in the game take place after those of previous title Senran Kagura Burst. Not to worry if you’re not overly familiar though, as the game gives any necessary details as you go. As long as you understand that the world is protected by good and evil shinobi, who constantly fight over who has the moral high-ground, you’ll quickly grasp everything else.
The title actually surprised me with an overarching theme of learning to judge people for who they are, and not simply for their labels. Don’t forget that this is a game pushing its unapologetic theme to the point where the average player will feel quite uncomfortable. Despite this, serious moments are often mixed into the fray, to such an extent that I genuinely cared about the fate of certain characters. Murasaki’s story particularly got to me, as her fragile and introverted nature became desperate cries for help within some of her fighting attacks.
In-between the cutscenes, the game provides 24 story missions, and an additional 5 character based stages for each girl in your chosen school. The levels play out in a similar vein to Dynasty Warriors, where you’re given a 3D location to run around and need to take out swarms of enemies before tackling the final boss. Unlike the Warriors games, however, the level design in Shinovi Versus is pretty poor. Most areas consist of a rectangular space, with the occasional level trying to elongate playtime by including platforms or linear pathways. There is variation between the pretty background locations and enemy sprites, but it’s not really enough to keep missions from becoming repetitive.
Luckily, the actual combat is fun and designed in such a way that newcomers can quickly get the hang of combos, while those wanting more depth will appreciate the three alternative fighting styles. I always began in Flash, with its wide range of combo patterns, then chose to switch style depending on how the fight was playing out. Yang provided a great way of besting difficult enemies through its boosted attack and defence, as well as the additional special shinobi attacks. Meanwhile, Yin quickly destroyed hordes of enemies with its dramatic attack gain and increased combos. The styles really helped to give flavour to matches, negating some of the repetition issues.
Naturally, the girls themselves also change up Shinovi Versus‘ gameplay through their personal stats and weapons. I quickly found favourites in Shiki’s twin-sided scythe, Yagyuu’s trick bladed umbrella, and Yokazura’s powerful gauntlets. Despite liking some girls much more than others, I soon became confident, due to the story forcing me to play as them all. Ultimately, the strategies needed for each fighter are very similar, so it wasn’t long before I’d mastered everyone.
Not long into my first battle, I was introduced to the stripping mechanic. When you or your foe sustain damage, their clothes slowly rip until they’re down to their underwear. I personally don’t mind this rather iconic addition to the franchise, but would have appreciated a way to turn it off as it actually got in the way of gameplay. A cutscene occurs every time the girls get stripped and, other than the obvious fan service, it only serves to interrupt your combo meter and distract you from pummelling whichever enemy is in-front of you.
Sweetening the blow of the intrusive stripping mechanic is the ability to play dress-up with all the girls. As you complete missions, new costumes and accessories are unlocked that can be bought from the store and used to customize the different forms (Flash, Yang and Yin). I’m going to admit that I had a lot of fun doing this and spent way more time than was necessary playing with the girls outfits, matching colours and styles to their personalities. There were a couple that had me shaking my head in bemusement, (I’ll leave the costume ‘Fruits & Chocolate’ up to your imagination) but I can’t say that I was overly surprised by any of them.
The only thing seriously hampering the fun in Shinovi Versus was the length of time it took to perform certain actions. For example, being hit by a powerful move could leave you paralyzed by a status effect that lasted long enough for the enemy to constantly do damage, and was occasionally impossible to recuperate from. In addition, loading times being longer than necessary would not only affect the wait before and after battles, but also the combo meter. It was incredibly satisfying to see the meter hit over 1000, but equally annoying when it reset because of enemies not spawning quickly enough, or from the boss entrances demanding a cut-scene, effectively pausing the gameplay every time.
It was particularly unfortunate that trouble with lag severely dampened my multiplayer experience, which was akin to my characters wading through tar. There are three available multiplayer modes for up to 4 players; these consist of Deathmatch (gaining points for each action performed), Strip Battle (win points by stripping opponents), and Understorm (where you collect panties, of course). Hopefully the lag was just a disappointing internet connection, as the other characters on screen always seemed to be moving fine, and it appeared to be fun for everyone else.
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is exactly what I’ve come to expect from the series. Fans will appreciate the characters, their rather crude priorities, and flamboyant fighting style, so it’s a shame that the game isn’t really doing anything special. Anytime my focus drifted from the girls, I was made aware of the cringe worthy dialogue and repetitive missions. It’s worth checking out for a bit of fun, especially if the pretty ladies are your thing, but may not hold your attention for very long.
This review is based off a PC copy of the game, which we were provided with.
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus lives up to expectations of the franchise through its fun gameplay and lewd humour. A little too much focus has gone into the characters, leaving levels to play out rather similarly, but at least it’s consistently fun to kick some ninja lady booty.