At first glance, it’s easy to write off the Senran Kagura series as nothing more than a bunch of crude jokes and in-you-face fan service. And while those elements are certainly front and center, the teams at Marvelous Inc. and Tamsoft have always wrapped the eye candy around gameplay that stands on its own two feet. Thankfully, that remains true with the latest entry in the series, Estival Versus.
Before we get rolling, I should probably take a moment to address the almost completely naked elephant in the room. Yes, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is packed with jiggle physics that defy the laws of nature, a camera that manages to find every panty shot available, characters who can’t seem to stay in their clothing and a fair amount of plot points and dialogue that are cringe-worthy at best. If you think you might find that offensive, then you should probably do yourself a big favor and just look the other way.
Estival Versus sets the game on a beach paradise where the characters now run around in swimsuits (and that’s using the term quite loosely in some cases) instead of school uniforms. As far as a cheeky attitude is concerned, this setting allows Estival Versus to provide the most blush-worthy moments to date.
But as I’ve said before, there is a time and a place for such things and, seeing as how Senran Kagura never pretends to be anything other than what it is, it’s hard to fault the game for waving its humorously perverted flag proudly. I will say, though, that there were a few characters, plot points and bits of dialogue that were more problematic for me than in previous series entries. I can shrug away and even enjoy good-natured sophomoric humor, but Estival Versus sports a handful of moments that felt especially unnecessary or in poor taste. Also, having the characters’ eyes occasionally glisten with tears upon being stripped of their clothing and defeated in combat moves squarely in the direction of “creepy as hell.” Just saying.
Move past all of that, though, and the questions remains: Is the game itself any good? The simple answer to that is “absolutely.” While the fan service is more over-the-top than ever before, most other areas of the game are similarly enhanced.
In this latest outing, the ladies of several warrior schools find themselves pulled into a parallel dimension where they must duke it out in order to open the gateway to a higher shinobi rank. Since this mysterious realm resembles an island paradise, the 30-odd characters find plenty of distractions along the way, following the usual set of goofy storylines that always seem to result in fisticuffs. While they’re supposed to be vying for supremacy, they’re equally likely to ignore the competition in order to have a “boob grabbing” competition instead. Again, there’s nothing subtle about the plot here.
However, since this realm has also allowed some lost shinobi to return from the spirit realm, the story does take a dramatic turn from time to time, giving a surprising look at the ideas of friendship and loss amidst all of the innuendo. Alongside the main campaign are a set of side stories for the heroines that give an even deeper look at their motivations which, again, can frequently be a jarring departure from the crude humor. So while the majority of the narrative feels like it was written by a sexually frustrated 14-year-old, there are still some sincere moments and enough attention to the individual characters to give them personality.
As far as presentation is concerned, the series has never looked so good, probably because it’s now running on the PlayStation 4. The environments are lovely, the effects are flashy and the action seldom experiences a hiccup despite there being dozens of characters on screen at the same time. Add in a solid soundtrack and you’ve got yourself a solid package.
What’s really important in these types of games, though, is the combat. If you’ve played a Senran Kagura game before, or perhaps other musou games like Dynasty Warriors, then you know exactly what you are getting into. Each character has a weak and strong attack that can be upgraded and chained together, as well as jumps, dashes and blocks to help them make their way around the battlefield. You can enter Shinobi Form to earn more powerful attacks and a few new abilities, or even strip away most of your armor (Clothing, in this case) in order to forfeit defense for an even higher boost in power. If you time your combos well, you can chase enemies through the air and keep dishing out a beating and, if there’s an ally nearby, you can pull them in for a team-up attack.
The only major wrinkles Estival Versus adds to this tried and true mix are bombs and a rebalance of several of the characters. Bombs are handy pickups that you can chuck at your opponents to set them on fire, freeze them in place, etc. As for the rebalance, some characters have new combos and fighting styles while heavier weapons make characters move a bit slower. That’s actually a good thing, since weapons behave more like they would in reality and the altered fighting speeds add more diversity between the characters.
And just like the plot, many of these special moves have been giving a surprising amount of attention to detail. Watching a character pull of a particularly clever set of attacks shows that the developers have a real love for what they’re doing, once again proving that Senran Kagura isn’t all about the T&A.
Outside of the single player content, there’s also the ability to jump into a trio of online multiplayer modes. I only had the opportunity to play a couple of rounds with other people and my experience wasn’t super. Players kept disappearing and reappearing from the screen, making it difficult to do anything more than mash buttons and hope I was winning the fight. You can actually throw in some AI characters and tweak the settings to your heart’s content, so at least this mode gives additional longevity to the single player options even if the online is questionable.
And, just like with all other Senran Kagura games, there’s a ridiculous amount of customization available. You can dress all of the characters up in an insane number of outfits and accessories, then interact with them or pose them for photos. That’s not really my cup of tea, so I stuck primarily to the fighting. If you’re into it, though, there’s a treasure chest of options available.
So while Estival Versus doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, it’s still a solid brawler. It can get repetitive after a while, sure, but that’s kind of par for the course for a musou game. On the flip side, if you can’t get enough of the fast and frantic action, there are loads of missions and a large roster of diverse characters to dig into.
My major gripes are that a lot of the environments, while looking better than ever, are rehashes from previous games. Also, I wouldn’t mind seeing the combat introduce something that’s truly unique, rather than feeling like a small step forward from the previous outings. And then there are those moments that go from crass to downright offensive, which I could certainly do without.
If you can make it over those hurdles, though, and you’re a fan of the series, then Senran Kagura: Estival Versus won’t disappoint.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Players: 1-2 (10 online)
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Developer: Marvelous, Tamsoft