Inside Pulse 12

Review: Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus (Sony PlayStation Vita)

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Tamsoft
Genre: Beat-’em-up
Release Date: 10/14/2014

When the original Senran Kagura Burst released to the Nintendo 3DS’s eShop as a download only title, I didn’t expect that it would perform as well as it did in North America. As fun as the game was, the subject matter was such that I anticipated some push back in its reception. Clearly I thought wrong, as not only is its Vita followup (Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus) available one year later both in physical and digital formats, but a spinoff game (Senran Kagura: Bon Appétit!) has been announced for localization as well. Well played, XSEED.

If you never picked up Burst, either because you don’t own a 3DS or you just neglected to do so, the premise of the Senran Kagura goes a little something like this: there exist two kinds of ninjas in the world, “good” and “evil.” The former are usually in the employ of the Japanese government and are identified as good ninjas by having a clean record, whereas the latter are usually hired by corporations and generally have more seedy backgrounds compared to most. Various schools around the country train these ninjas in secret, and upon graduation, they will be dispersed as needed by those who hire them. They also seem to be predominantly female, though this has more to do with one of the game’s key mechanics (more on that later).

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus focuses on three different schools this time, rather than the two from the prior game. The five Hanzo girls from before are back, along with Homura and crew from the Hebijo (who have since gone renegade and call themselves the Crimson Squad). Joining them are five new elites from Hebijo sent on a mission to hunt down their predecessors, as well as representatives from the Gessen Academy whose sole belief it is to eradicate all evil ninjas from the world and any co-conspirators they may have, starting with the Hanzo. What ensues is a four way Shinobi Battle Royale to determine who stays and whose school gets burned to the ground.

When you begin the game, you can choose the storyline for either of the three schools (Hanzo, Gessen, and Hebijo) with another than unlocks when those are completed. The same basic events occur in each one, though you have the benefit of seeing varying viewpoints and learning more about the characters belonging to each. While it does make references to Burst, it isn’t necessary to have played that game to follow the story. It does add some context to some of the proceedings, so certainly if you have access to the game, you’ll appreciate this one more by playing it first. As before, the plot is told using a visual novel style setup that will alternate character perspectives from chapter to chapter. The theme stays pretty consistent with Burst and its whole “good and evil aren’t so black and white” subject matter, so don’t expect much deviation on that front. At least it succeeds at making its large cast seem less one dimensional, which is more than can be said of the individual character missions that focus on stringing together fights for the sake of one character trait.

In between missions, you’ll be dumped into a sort of hub area where you can speak to the other characters or access one of the game’s many options. Rooms are placed all over that allow you to access them, though you can just as easily use the touchscreen to move onto the next mission, change characters/schools, or save your game. There’s also a store to purchase artwork and clothing items for the girls, a dressing room to try them on, or a Dojo for multiplayer games.

If you decide to take on a mission, you will then be presented with even more options of what to do. Training Field is pretty self-explanatory, acting as a tutorial of sorts for the game’s mechanics. Shinobi Girls’ Code is another name for the story missions, while Shinobi Girl’s Heart are individualized character missions. With five individual missions per character, four to five story missions per chapter, and five chapters per school, you have about two hundred missions in total to look forward to. Between that and the ability to replay missions with alternate characters, a chance to earn higher letter grades, and adjustable difficulty levels, there’s no shortage of things to do.

When you begin a mission, you’ll find yourself with three dimensional environments to run around in now. The combat has nowhere near the depth as something like Bayonetta though, instead playing more like a Dynasty Warriors sans the checkpoint capturing. Depending on the stage, you’ll usually find yourself moving from one mini-arena to the next, flogging whatever minions stand between you and the mission’s boss. In some cases, there may not be a boss or it may be JUST a boss. Many of the missions take place in the same area and require the same tasks of you, which deflates the appeal of a high mission count a little bit. Still, repetition is a common trait among this genre, so if you like this style of game, don’t let that get you down.

Your fighting repertoire includes a weak attack, a strong attack and the ability to jump. Select combos will launch enemies away from you, though you can give chase with circle and continue pummeling your opponent in the air. It’s also quite handy for escaping an onslaught, a skill you’ll need to utilize when guarding isn’t an option or when you simply can’t see what’s going on. That’s right, the camera is going to be your biggest enemy here, followed closely by non-stop assaults by boss characters that will quickly diminish your health to nothing if you can’t figure out how to escape midst combo (which I figured out later Limit Breaks are effective at the cost of health). Being able to target specific foes via the touchscreen or directional buttons helps somewhat, though even targeted enemies have a hard time being visible on the screen depending on what’s going on.

If you spend any time in the dressing room, you may notice that each character has three different outfits equipped at any given time. The default outfit doesn’t offer any special characteristics other than increased experience and guarding, though when you run low on health you can switch to your shinobi attire, completely recovering your health. Shinobi mode enhances your attack and defense while granting access to secret ninja arts and alternate attack patterns. Taking damage will trigger cutscenes of your kunoichi’s clothes being shredded, exposing the third outfit (lingerie) hidden underneath.

That’s right, the primary gimmick behind the Senran Kagura series is the battle damage incurred while fighting. Only this time, Shinovi Versus takes it a step further and allows you to strip the opposition completely naked if you launch an Ultimate Secret Ninja Art while their lingerie form is exposed. Don’t be TOO alarmed, as the lower half of their body is then blurred out and their upper half is covered using miniature faces of that character, but it’s still rather shocking the first time you witness it.

If you need enhanced attack power, your character can go Frantic at any time by stripping their remaining clothes off at the cost of defense. Making equal use of each form is paramount to maximizing the potential of your characters, as each one levels up with use and unlocks new skills when it reaches a certain threshold. The trouble with Frantic mode in particular is that you can’t backtrack and put your clothes back on if you feel you’re taking too much damage, so a little care is needed when deciding to do it.

Like Burst before it, Shinovi Versus finds it necessary to utilize every feature on the Vita in some capacity, and that is done in the Dressing Room mode. Once you have a character and outfit picked out, you can rotate the Vita every which way in order to get a better… “view.” The girls can be poked and prodded with the touchscreen, blowing on the microphone will lift their skirt up, and making suggestive motions with both the front and back touch pads will forcibly tear their clothes off. Yeah, don’t play this with other people around…

… But if you do, make sure they have the game as well. There are multiplayer modes that can be experienced with both online and ad-hoc play for up to four players. Each person picks their favorite ninja and can do battle under the guidance of three basic rule sets. There’s Deathmatch, which is exactly the same as every other game that has such a mode. Strip Battle involves damaging your opponents enough to shred their clothing. Finally, there’s the cleverly named Understorm, that has you scrambling to grab as many pairs of underwear as you can that are raining from the sky. I don’t think the combat is deep enough to merit much competitive play, but considering there are random NPC’s sharing the field of battle, it would make for a mildly entertaining party game. There are team versions of each of those games as well.

The visuals are a big step up in Shinovi Versus, with the character designs being particularly impressive. They more closely mimic the anime stylings that they are going for, all while animating very fluidly. Of course, special attention was paid to the gravity defying breast physics in particular, if you’re into that sort of thing. The environments are bland by contrast, consisting of a few areas that are repeated ad nauseum, though a few of the classrooms consisting of destructible desks were a neat touch.

Despite finally receiving a physical release, the voice track is still entirely in Japanese. This is probably for the best, as I’d rather not have people around me hear what’s being said aloud in a lot of cases. Still, each actress seems to fit the character properly and the high number of death screams are convincing for what they are. There’s an impressive number of songs that can be purchased from the store, and there are a few standout ones, particularly selections that play while in combat.

There have been a ton of niche Japanese games that have made their way west this year (and a good number of them with… uh… “questionable” content), but Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is definitely in the top tier, especially if you enjoy beat-’em-up style games. There is some level of repetition that sets in after some time, but there are at least a ton of characters to play with, each with unique move sets. The cast is crazier than it has ever been, and it’s interesting to learn the motivations of each as you progress from mission to mission slapping your foes silly. As long as you aren’t offended by hyper-sexualized women duking it out until their clothes tear off, there’s a good amount of entertainment to be had here.

Short Attention Span Summary
Asuka and company return with the release of Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus. Along with a platform change come gameplay mechanics that utilize three dimensional movement, rather than 2D sidescrolling. The cast of playable characters has grown twice as large (and arguably twice as crazy) and with approximately two hundred missions to play and complete, it should keep you plenty busy for awhile. That being said, it does have its fair share of recycled content, and the combat does become repetitive after a time. Also, its all female roster tends to battle until their clothes come to pieces, sometimes leaving them in the nude (though with the naughty bits covered up), so be sure you are comfortable with that before taking the plunge. If none of that stuff bothers you, then Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus makes a fine addition to the beat-’em-up genre and the Vita library.

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  • cgaurd52

    Technically there are 4 playable factions. The last one (Homura Crimson Squad) has to be unlocked by completing the other 3 schools or a cheat.

  • Yep, that’s why this sentence is in there:

    “When you begin the game, you can choose the storyline for either of the
    three schools (Hanzo, Gessen, and Hebijo) with another that unlocks when
    those are completed.”

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