The PS Vita has become a system starved of quality exclusives. While they do occasionally pop into existence (I’ve heralded both Danganronpa games as good examples), they’re few and far between, with most of the handheld’s best offerings being Cross-Buy games also available on the PS3 and PS4. As a result, when we get a title that is genuinely built with only Sony’s current handheld in mind, I’m interested to see how it turns out.
This was the case with Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit!, a rhythm game based on the fanservice-heavy Senran Kagura action franchise. I had next to no idea of what to expect, but the result is far from ideal. It’s a technically functional and playable rhythm game with a bizarre cooking-centric twist in its presentation, but it’s neither a super fun or original entry in the genre nor a pleasant experience, thanks to numerous awkward window dressing elements surrounding everything.
There is a campaign of sorts that the game technically revolves around. It centers around a bunch of Japanese warrior girls taking part in a cooking tournament overseen by the eccentric Master Hanzo, with the prize being a ninja scroll capable of granting one wish. From the start, you can select one of the girls and get a unique but basic series of dialog exchanges and text boxes for each, with conversations played out via animated character models and Japanese dialog.
This would be a more enticing idea if the plots had anything memorable or endearing to them, but they don’t. This started to dawn on me when I went through the brief campaign the first time with the primary antagonist, Asuka, who desires nothing more than for everyone to appreciate “big and thick” food as much as she does. The obvious joke surrounding this isn’t funny to begin with, but every conversation Asuka has only beats it into the ground more and more.
The actual gameplay can mostly be summarized as Rythym Games 101. Button prompts for the D-pad and face buttons scroll horizontally towards a static icon, and when they overlap, you make the specified input to get points and build up a note streak. The only real twist here is that you have two lanes for notes instead of one, which means that you’re occasionally prompted to do two different inputs simultaneously. There’s also a meter you can build up via a successful note streak that, when activated with the L or R button, increases your multiplier. Certain buttons also must be held down for a specific amount of time, or be mashed a specific number of times within a few seconds.
This approach to gameplay is functional, but not very engaging. Dance Dance Revolution has been doing the same basics for ages, and they’ve been improved upon by titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. What really puts a damper on the audio side of things, though, is the tracklist. There’s very little in the way of memorable tracks that you’ll want to revisit, and though I appreciate the unique vibe the Asian-sounding instruments provide, I wish the actual songs were of higher quality. Also odd is the omission of any sort of multiplayer, especially since all the stages revolve around one-on-one cooking battles.
What makes things worse is the way the characters and more fanservice-oriented elements are presented. I knew going in that this was going to be an exploitative, cheesecake-styled collection of shots ogling the various girls, but the way it’s pulled off is so off-putting. Each song has specific points where you take a short break from playing to be graded by Hanzo, and whichever fighter gets the worst score has some of their clothes torn off. Play well enough, and by the end, your opponent is nude (though censor bars and symbols are put into use).
Additionally, if you win the first two break sections, a heart icon will appear at some point in your note highway, and can be activated with any input. The reward? Not a multiplier or anything useful, but a lingering shot of your opponent’s underwear-clad ass. Also, beating a level flawlessly displays your opponent in a completely bizarre food-themed layout, like lying in a pile of ice cream with chocolate sauce drizzled all over them. All this while they’re teary-eyed and protesting you looking at them this way for maximum awkwardness.
If it isn’t already clear, I didn’t appreciate any of this. The main thing I knew about the Senran Kagura series going into this game was that it’s rather infamous for fanservice-based humor, and while I’m give or take with that kind of thing depending on how tongue-in-cheek it’s pulled off, the way this game did it felt nasty, exploitative, and pointless. To give an example of the game’s sole achievement in terms of over-the-top humor, performing well causes Hanzo to have a completely ridiculous reaction of joy upon tasting your recipe, with silly visuals and voice acting that I thought actually worked. Unfortunately, there’s none of that to be found in the rest of the game.
Other than the above, there’s little to talk about. Playing through each girl’s campaign unlocks alternate outfits, hairstyles and accessories that you can customize your character with in between battles, but unless you’re a completionist, there’s little incentive to try and collect them all. The game also feels rather devious in its DLC plans, as half the character roster is locked from the get-go with notifications saying that you’ll have to purchase each one in the future.
There’s a relatively competent rhythm game at the core of Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit!, but it’s a rather routine one that isn’t helped by its lacklustre track list, or its cringeworthy fan service. The result is a game that I feel most gamers would get little enjoyment of, be they anime fans or rhythm game fans.
For now, just keep waiting for the next quality Vita exclusive, because this sure isn’t it.
This review is based on the PS Vita exclusive, which was provided to us.
Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit! is only average in its actual gameplay, but its sleazy window dressing often results in a downright unpleasant experience.