For those unfamiliar with the term “fan service,” a quick trip to Urban Dictionary will tell you everything you need to know about Senran Kagura Estival Versus. A hack & slash title with visual novel elements, this is the latest in the Senran Kagura series developed by Tamsoft. In this game, you take control of members of different groups of female shinobi, taking part in a tournament to help lay fallen shinobi to rest. You accomplish this by fighting against rival clans and smashing festival platforms until there is only one left standing. If this doesn’t make sense, let’s be honest with ourselves…we aren’t really picking up this game for the story.
I will be the first person to admit, this isn’t a game that will appeal to everyone. This is a title meant for a truly niche group, and will most definitely offend some people. That being said, I am a fan of most things Japanese, I enjoy anime, and have the sense of humor of a middle school child, so for the purposes of this review I am assuming that the rest of you are also like me.
As previously stated, the story is probably the weakest part of the game. The majority of the cutscenes and visual novel portions are spent in lewd, crass conversations usually involving groping or verbal abuse, rather than providing any real forward motion to the story. The jokes are somewhat hit or miss, but I feel like there were more hits than misses. The bad jokes usually stemmed from the humor being so over the top that it became obvious the developers were going for shock value. There were multiple jaw dropping moments for me, even in just the first few minutes, where I couldn’t believe developers were able to put the content into the game. That being said though, the portions that are good are absolutely fantastic. It has been a very long time since a game has caused me to laugh this hard, even though I know it’s because I haven’t emotionally matured since the start of the millennium.
The presentation of the story was one of the more frustrating things for me. I am a huge fan of visual novel style games, when done properly. I took issue, however, with how sloppily this one seemed to be handled. The game would go from cutscenes with character specific dialogue, to full screens of dialogue that leave you guessing as to who the conversations are actually between. I found myself skipping some of the novel portions just because I was frustrated with trying to keep up with the characters.
For all the frustrations of the story, the gameplay itself actually was pretty good. You take control of whoever the story happens to be focused on at that point in time. Each character has a weapon specific to them that they use in battle, such as swords, fans, and one character sporting what I would have to describe as giant floating robot arms. This causes each character to fight in drastically different ways. While this could be mildly frustrating when trying to get combo timing figured out, I ultimately appreciated the level of variety in the characters fighting styles. With hack and slash games, it’s very easy to fall into a monotonous and repetitive experience, I felt the game had enough variety in the characters to keep that at bay. However, there were a few characters that were incredibly frustrating to use, due to being incredibly slow and unable to build the high combos that other characters could achieve.
Should you find yourself taking a beating, you have a few different options to get yourself out of trouble. First is the Shinobi Transformation, which changes your character into a new outfit, heals you to full health, increases defense, and gives you different combos. It also gives you access to special skills, which allow you to unleash the pain on a wide group of opponents. Conversely, you have “Frantic” mode, which strips you down to your skivvies, giving you a major attack and speed boost at the cost of your defense.
Graphically, the game is very well done. Bright, detailed stages set the tone for the game, and the developers also did a good job working the environments into some of the fights, such as knocking characters into trees or other background objects upon defeat. However, whether it be level design or poor A.I., I found that occasionally enemy characters would be just outside of the stage boundaries, leaving me no way to run up and fight them, instead having to reach them by longer range attacks. The characters themselves are very detailed, and are even customizable through the “dressing room” mode in the menu, allowing you to change clothes, hairstyles, and accessories.
While this game isn’t going to win any awards for it’s story, it definitely has something about it that keeps me coming back to it. There wasn’t any one thing that was done perfectly with it, but I found I still had a very good time with the game. Some small control and design frustrations marred some of the experience for me, but one of the biggest things for me is a game’s ability to make me laugh…and laugh I did. Again, it’s not for everyone, but for those that can appreciate juvenile humor and boob references galore, there’s definitely enough there to warrant a try.