Game Review: Senran Kagura – Estival Versus

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is a cheeky and over the top fighting game draped in the guilty pleasures of fan service while also being a fun brawler that surprisingly deals with some deep and mature topics like death and grief.

Senran Kagura was created by designer Kenichiro Takaki, whom at the time thought that the capabilities of Nintendo’s 3DS was perfect to render cleavage in 3D. Pleased with the results, a franchise was born. After a few titles on the 3DS, Vita and a mobile card game, the series now injects the fan service love to PlayStation 4 users, with mixed results.

Most of the Japanese games featured on the PlayStation 4 have either been ported over from the Vita, their almost dying handheld, or from the PlayStation 3, which seems like such a long time ago. Most studios have not fully embraced the new systems in terms of providing something with visuals capable of what the system can truly do. Senran Kagura: EV is a gorgeous game to be sure, but you can tell almost immediately that this is a Vita port, plain and simple.

Visually the game is good at what it wants to do, and that is to render nearly naked anime girls that have flashy special attacks and destructible clothing, which it does extremely well. The girls are textured wonderfully, colorful and vibrant and the cel-shaded look is incredibly well done. Special attacks and presentation are the best the series has had so far, it’s just a shame that everything else is just so sub-par. Environments are tiny, and have so many maze type walls blocking off areas making traversing them more of a chore than anything else. It’s here in the level design that shows how much the Vita counterpart is hurting its full console cousin. It is also odd to see some of the same environments from the past games here on display as the game doesn’t even take place in the same area.

The game is completely voiced in Japanese with no English cast to be found. The game and its menus are fully in English and unlike the Japan only DOA Extreme 3, can be found on PSN or on store shelves in North America. The voice cast is excellent in their roles and despite being entirely in Japanese, a language I know none of; they do really great with the material given. The game has a staggering amount of music, but in the conversations between matches it tends to repeat the same track.

Combat can be fun depending on the girl and her play style. The fast and nimble girls are easily the best to use in any situation as they are fast, fluid and easy to control. The more tank style females have slow attacks that don’t quite mesh with this hack and slash gameplay. As you fight the almost endless baddies, which the screen can fill up with dozens upon dozens of them, you’ll earn scrolls. These scrolls are mostly used to unleash your special attacks but first will trigger your Shinobi transformation. These transformations are similar to the same way Sailor Moon would ready up for battle, with the girl appearing mostly naked with glowing lights surrounding them as they have their clothes form around them. This is that same type of thing, but with the fan service dial turned all the way up to 11. While the game doesn’t directly depict the girls naked, you do get extremely close and well, there are lots of shots of their backside.

Fighting is composed of three basic attacks. You have your straight forward slashing, your special attacks, and a jump attack. There is a bit more to the combat, like combos and such, but most of that goes away as once you learn how to jump attack, then you’ll keep doing that for the entire game. I’ve had almost no health going into some of the end fights and with the jump attack, and only the jump attack, beaten them down to victory. It’s such a cheap attack that has no way to block against. Some slower characters have an animation lock that prevents you from jumping until your combat animation is complete; it’s frustrating and made me hate playing as certain characters. The camera can be awful at times causing the girls to get in some rapid combos on you when you cannot even see your character. You have a break move that allows you to stop incoming attacks, but that works about as well as the jump button. Another design choice I question is the ability of the girls you fight to trigger their Shinobi transformation in the middle of one of your combos, or special attacks. I’ve had countless times where I was about to defeat them and then they transform and gain their entire health back.

As you progress through the tiny environments, you’ll destroy platforms. There are 80 to collect and these unlock bonus missions for each of the girls, as well as a few that are exclusive to this mode. These missions are fun, and your enjoyment out of them will wager on what you think of the girl and her fighting style. I didn’t care for the slow attacking characters, so I found these missions to be more of a chore to complete than anything fun. Despite these modes, and the story mode, the game feels like it repeats the same hour over and over again. While the girls mostly play different from one another, the gameplay itself is identical across every level. It can feel like quite the grind sometimes, which isn’t a good thing.

There are over two dozen fighters here that are swapped to when the plot revolves around them, so you’ll become familiar with each and every girl in the cast, they are:

Gessen Girls’ Academy:
– Yumi, Murakumo, Yozakura, Shiki, Minori.
Hanzō National Academy:
– Asuka, Ikaruga, Katsuragi, Yagyū, Hibari.
Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy:
– Miyabi, Murasaki, Imu, Ryōbi, Ryōna.
Homura’s Crimson Squad:
– Homura: Yomi, Hikage, Mirai, Haruka

Rounding out the cast is Grandmother Sayuri, the mysterious Jasmine, Ryōki, Renka, who has a wonderfully designed outfit, Hanabi, and Kafuru who all make up the remainder of the main characters. Some of my personal favorites from the cast are Shiki, Miyabi, Katsuragi, Renka and Hikage.

The story mode is mostly hit and misses. While the story deals with some powerful concepts and dives into some very mature topics like death and grief, it also has some powerful messages about believing in yourself and never giving up. It’s just a shame that it can be undermined by the excessive language spewed forth by some of the girls, and some jokes that just fail to land. The basic plot is Asuka’s Grandmother, Sayuri, has summoned the various factions of female Shinobi to do battle in a contest on a mysterious island. The Gessen, Hebijo, Hanzo and Crimson squad are all summoned alongside Sayuri’s Overseers of the Festival. The story goes into a few fun areas but eventually turns serious as a few of the girls start to discover that a few loved ones that have passed on start showing up on the island. Once the secrets about the contest start revealing themselves, the story starts to get very interesting and moves away from the more gratuitous situations. There are segments of the story that are entire sections of text, which are occasionally voiced. These visual novel sections really drag down the fun vibe that the on-screen character moments give us. In fact, some of the text stories have really awesome moments that would have benefited from being told in a more visual form. The artwork on display here, when not a generic background, is really well done and features some great shots of the female cast. I wish Street Fighter V would have had this level of artwork polish in its cutscenes.

You earn outfits and hair styles as you play and can customize your characters to the point of swapping their identities entirely. You can literally make one of the girls into any of the cast, or just have them wear bikinis and bunny ears, it’s up to you. These outfits and hair styles are earned after each battle and you can earn more lingerie in the lottery box in the shop. There are also various items available as DLC but the pricing for the sets is a ridiculous $19.99, which is a third of the games’ retail price.

There is an online component to the game and I tried for hours to finish at least one match. The game either crashed or the match would lose connection, it was a mess. What I did play of its 10 player online bouts was frantic and fun, I just wish the network stability was more consistent.

Overall, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is a fan service dream featuring a varied cast of buxom fighters that essentially fit every mold of anime girl stereotypes. Despite the excessive fan service this series is known for, the games have always been fun to play and have some pretty hilarious moments. This game knows what it is, and that is sometimes rare in this industry. If you have enjoyed the anime, manga and other games in this series, or just fan service titles all together, then this is a must buy as it embodies the series faithfully. Time to hit the beach.

The physical edition on PS4 features a stellar art book, trading cards and a 2 disc soundtrack. You can also purchase this title for a much lower price on the PSN store as well. Various DLC packs are in the works for releasing new outfits and new characters, including Ayame from the Dead or Alive series.

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