The Senran Kagura series is known for a few different things. On its exterior, the well-endowed girls definitely play into the fan service camp, but when you take a look inside the games themselves, there's quite a bit of depth and narrative present that you wouldn't expect at first glance from what would initially seem as a beat-em-up with fan service thrown in.
The series initially made its mark in North America with Senran Kagura: Burst on the Nintendo 3DS. While it had its flaws, as it launched not that long after the system's release in Japan, the compelling narrative and decent beat-em-up aspects paved the way to sales for future games in the series to be localized.
The newest title in the franchise, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, is essentially a sequel to the last "main" PlayStation entry in the franchise, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus. It takes place not that long after the events following that title, where the girls from each of the four shinobi schools are brought to a tropical island and forced to participate in the Kagura Millennium Festival. Besides being a convenient way to bring all of the girls together to fight one another, the festival allows the dead to return to the land of the living. So they're essentially faced with the choice of staying on the island with those who they miss, or returning to the real world to continue on with their training.
While this plotline generally is the central point of the game, the fan service aspects the series is known for narrative-wise, specifically in the "Versus" line of titles, is still present in Estival Versus as one would expect. There's quite a number of gags, comedy, over-the-top lewd humor and commentary that earns the game's ESRB M (Mature) rating, although I found it to be done in as tasteful as a manner as one could expect considering what the series is known for. It's still something you probably wouldn't want to have younger kids around for, but mature adults will find humor in the jokes if you fit the game's target market.
The one thing that should be mentioned, though, is that similar in a sense to Shinovi Versus, the game somewhat basically expects you know who each of the characters are and their motives, especially the ones introduced in that title.
The combat is pretty similar to what was present in Shinovi Versus and Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson. Attacks are centered around a two-button setup that allows for experimenting with various combos along with dashing and parrying if you get into the more advanced mechanics. And of course, the infamous "transformation" sequences, otherwise known as the method in which the well-endowed shinobi strip down to change into either their shinobi outfits or down to their undergarments in exchange for enhanced power and speed but with lowered defense.
The partner pair-up mechanic found in both of those games also returns in matches where you're paired up with a partner character, which allows you to pull off some unique co-op attacks including some cool flashy aerial rave-style attacks. Although the AI, like it was in Versus, still leaves a bit to be desired, as you'll often need to hand-hold them on higher difficulties.
The one mechanic that I have a feeling players, newcomers especially, will have an issue with initially is the breakaway mechanic. The idea is that you press down on the PS4/Vita's directional pad to push back surrounding enemies in exchange for some of your remaining health. But the catch is that the rival shinobi have access to said ability also (thankfully the weak filler enemies don't, though).
So let's say you get in a good combo against the opponent --- you'll most likely get your combo broken. You can break back at them again, but that means you lose more of your health. So you're forced to utilize the game's parry system properly to succeed, which some players might have trouble with initially. I don't have an issue with the mechanic at a basic level, but it feels like the enemy AI uses this at-will instead of sparingly like how you're forced to due to the health drop incursion.
However, even with these issues, the sheer amount of character differences in the 27-character roster (excluding the additional paid DLC characters) makes experimenting and learning the game mechanics rewarding enough for those who stick with it. Similar to Deep Crimson, some of the characters in this entry got slightly reworked to make them more approachable to play as. And the newcomers have some unique weapon styles, such as Renka's use of taiko drumsticks. Of course, like the other games you'll almost assuredly get a C or D rating your first time through a mission or when using a new character, but as you progress and your character levels up you'll rise through the ratings and start getting better.
And, of course, the dressing room mode present in the previous games returns in this entry as well, with more costumes unlocked as you progress through the game and complete various missions.
At Gaming Union we had access to the PS4 version for review, and graphical it's essentially a much more cleaner, HD-ish version of the graphical style present in Shinovi Versus. That game looked quite nice on the Vita, and Estival Versus enhances that and has a much better frame rate, although I did notice some drops now and then when a lot of enemies crowded the screen. The stage direction also got somewhat repetitive, with either the same beaches being reused or HD versions of locales from the previous games being re-used here again.
The Senran Kagura franchise has always featured its fan service aspects to some degree or another, but a game has to have something besides sex appeal to keep players interested. The narrative elements and the core gameplay has been something the series has always had and has built on since the initial release, which Estival Versus carries forward even if it's still pretty similar to what was found in Shinovi Versus.
|The solid gameplay elements in Shinovi Versus are back again in this entry.|
|The increased specs of the PS4 help to make the graphics and frame rate better than in previous entries.|
|The narrative plays a nice balance between being deep while still having that playful aspect the series has been known for.|
|Newcomers especially will find the AI's use of the breakaway mechanic annoying.|
|Those with a keen eye will notice stage backdrop re-use, either from previous stages or prior games in the series.|
|While not a bad thing in some regards, it's very similar to Shinovi Versus in many respects.|