It’s back. And its front. Everywhere.
So, it’s difficult to really establish a base on which to review this game. I was told by faithful industry friends that it would ‘highly engrossing’ and ‘enormously entertaining’. That the story woven through this delightfully colourful tale will enthrall me and tell a narrative so compelling I would find myself questioning if people like Neil Druckmann is simply wasting his time attempting AAA game blockbusters when he could simply just play this and feel like he has accomplished all that he set out to in life. I was told these things in good faith, that Senran Kagura Estival Versus would be an experience that could elevate the genre and games as we know them.
You see, Senran Kagura Estival Versus is a unique attempt at what we could now consider a videogame in 2016. Whilst it is to be commended that Marvelous have again crafted a solid port for us Westerners with no visual issues (the game looks rather delightful, quite honestly) I simply can’t take it seriously. Am I supposed to, though? That’s one of the many (…many) problems with Estival Versus, it knows exactly what it is. It’s not like it’s trying to delicately beat around the bush (cough), it’s utterly devoid of any soul which one could claim righteous in its execution. I persistently found myself facepalming, wondering who on earth this game is trying to appeal to. This game is for an audience that has a sullen interest in the works of Hentai with a very small game hidden underneath its tiny, tiny skirt. It’s forcing this obtuse experience upon me and I have no choice but to just let it keep happening should I want to proceed in this world that I never agreed to visit in the first place.
So what is Senran Kagura Estival Versus? You don’t need me to explain it right? Here’s what the press release says;
SENRAN KAGURA ESTIVAL VERSUS transports the sexy Shinobis to a parallel dimension, where sun-soaked islands are the perfect backdrop for the girls to do battle once more. Featuring the biggest roster of fighters to date, SENRAN KAGURA ESTIVAL VERSUS is overflowing with explosive ninja moves, outrageous clothes-clearing combos and a scintillating storyline. All previous characters return, with new moves and upgraded skills along with a host of new characters further expanding the roster with new challenges and techniques to master.
Huzzah! This is a series of games that have been going possibly longer than you who would be at all interested in it have been on this planet. If you’re a fan of the series then the above paragraph will have already made up your mind. The story – whilst ridiculous and second place to the nudity I’m still trying to find a purpose for – is told well and won’t test your mental capacity to think under any circumstance. That’s not a bad thing, really. Sometimes we need something to simply entertain us. But damn, this is a selective audience kinda game. I’m not bashing those will go out and buy this immediately, more power to you if you’re into the series. Let me explain, if you will, why once this review is up I personally won’t be picking the game up again.
I took on this game and knew what I was getting into, and I could forgive all of it – no, literally, ALL OF IT – if the game itself wasn’t so utterly piss poor in its execution. That’s the worst of it all, it’s not like Estival Versus itself is actually any good. The content surrounding you actually physically moving these characters from one fight to another is the big draw here, not the actual gameplay. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?
Nothing is what. But hey, for the sake of review and word counts, I’ll give it a damn good go.
The good old slash-em-up genre is beaten in the face with a wet fish here, if you can imagine such a scenario. If you could imagine a version of Dynasty Warriors mixed with your secondary school’s fantasy sex education curriculum, you’re pretty much exactly where I am right now. As you fight between each other your characters clothes are removed by blades, knives, pretty much anything you can imagine can forcibly remove clothing without physically hurting the individual. If you end up with a character in their underwear, you know you need to step your game up and start beating off that Square button even harder than you were before.
OK, I’m gonna take a step back here. The combat, despite being unfathomably repetitive by your 345th battle is surprisingly solid. You’ve got plenty of moves to choose from for each of your characters, all with different levels of devastation. The Square button unleashes a standard attack (which can pretty much defeat any for if you’re persistent enough), with the Triangle button unleashing stronger but slower attacks. Racking up hits in unison will fill up your all important Ninja Art Gauge, which will allow you to indulge in the mighty Shinobi Transformation, refilling your health bar, upgrading your attacks and your costume, the latter you’re treated to a nice little cutscene of character getting completely naked and literally dressing themselves by some kind of voodoo magic I’m not quite sure of yet. You can press Circle to get out of it before it ends though, if you’re bored of seeing the same animation over and over again. It shouldn’t take long.
An aspect of the combat which was probably the catalyst in me feeling that this game probably wasn’t up my particular alley was the ‘Frantic’ mode. Holding down R1 and putting two fingers on the Touch Pad will move the camera right up to the busom of your chosen character. You then need to physically move them from side to side which will then forcibly remove their clothing, leaving them in lingerie (sigh..). This sequence makes you a tad more badass but also more vulnerable. You can also make your opponent completely naked (bar some dignity saving arm placement), staring sultrily at the camera. If this is what you’re after in your gaming then go right ahead, but contextually it’s adding quite literally nothing. Is this the aim for each battle? I only saw it once or twice during my first playthrough, though that could be due to my ability rather than anything else.
In terms of your enemies, when you’re not fighting the other females you’re coming up against hordes of copy and paste enemies that will greatly outnumber you but are stupidly easy to defeat. There’s a decent variety of them but none of them really posed a real threat and are all quite similar, bar a few that circled you with quick movements that caught me off guard once or twice, or bigger enemies that use their strength to ground pound you into the floors. The seemingly endless tirade of enemies that all look exactly the goddamn same becomes tiresome, and you just want each fight to be over so you can crack on with the engrossing story…nope, can’t finish that one seriously.
The flow of the combat is smooth with no visual or technical hiccups, it’s just simple and straightforward to defeat them. Bigger enemies take a little longer but that you can really defeat them by constantly just pressing Square makes their skills and size null and void. The biggest problem with this is that in terms of a videogame, that’s all this game has to offer. It’s slash-em-up from one aspect to the next. And whilst there are plenty of games like this, there’s not really anything else to be getting on with bar collecting scrolls to unlock some art, music or video that you will probably never look at unless you’re one of those completionist types. Considering the painstaking presentation and the seemingly endless story that’s told entirely in text, the ‘game’ aspect is almost second – or even third – down the pecking order. Which is a shame, because even if it’s so minimal, repetitive and monotonous, it’s still one of the stronger aspects of Estival Versus as a whole. And I really don’t need cut scenes of all these girls clothes falling off. When I was 13, I probably would have taken more of a vested interest. But as I’m pushing 30, it just feels dirty. And weird. And uncomfortable.
Underneath the minimal layers of clothing is a levelling up system for each character which is rather substantial if you’re willing to stick with it. ‘Flash’, ‘Ying’ and ‘Yang’ are what you need to be filling up, and you do so by taking advantage of your Shinobi Transformations along with standard attacks. Essentially it collates XP depending on your fighting style, and fills up your health bar each time you level up, increased attack/defence stats and the all important Ninja Art scrolls. It’s not particularly explained that well throughout the game (in a similar vein to Shinovi Versus) though make sure to keep an eye on it as it will be important as you move further into the game.
Bottom line; Senran Kagura Estival Versus is not a terrible game by any means, there’s just not much of it. I would have enjoyed it far more if there were RPG elements inter-spliced with the evolving story rather than just pressing X to keep it moving to the next screen. A game with this many characters and so little to do with them makes the whole thing feel unbalanced. If there we side quests or even some kind of purpose to all of this madness, it would feel like a more complete package, so to speak. As such, much like the outfits these girls are wearing, it all feels a tad too thinly veiled.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus is a game designed for the unashamed chronic masturbator you’ve attempted to bury in your past as a means to grow up into a functioning adult. The one who used to rush ‘learning about your body’ before you heard keys going into your front door in fear you may be caught red handed. It’s the game that should keep the sperm count of the world at a steady rate before the inevitable follow-up arrives to delight fans everywhere. Aside from the pretty art style and the solid – if ultimately boring – combat, there’s so little here to enjoy that it’s difficult to recommend.
Unless you’re into this sort of thing. Then fill your socks. Fill em’ up good.
Wait, no…that’s not…
SENRAN KAGURA ESTIVAL VERSUS
Publisher: Marvelous / Decibel PR