Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus Review

By Shawn Collier on October 31, 2014

Last year Western publisher XSEED Games finally released a localized version of Senran Kagura, which up until that time had been a strictly Japan-only series. Some thought it might have not come over at all due to its premise, but with a surprisingly deep narrative alongside its "hometown" and "life", the series did well enough for XSEED Games to localize the follow-up game for the PlayStation Vita: Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus. Taking a different spin on the series with Dynasty Warriors-like gameplay elements combined with its over-the-top sexualization, does it all add up to a worthwhile title for those who enjoyed the first even with its flaws? The answer to that is yes. =

Taking place after the events of the first game, the story this time around revolves around an old shinobi battle ritual aptly called the "Shinobi Battle Royale" involving three different schools. The students who lose in the battle are barred from practicing their ninja arts ever again and dealing with the shame such a thing would bring on their families.

To be honest, though, the ritual itself is really meant more as a way to bring together fights and the schools as the same visual novel-inspired story scenes from Burst return here again. There's a decent amount of character building in the story scenes, but where the game really shines is in the character-specific personal story arcs for each of the characters, similar to what was found in Senran Kagura Burst. Besides being a good way to build up their experience, this mode tends to bring down the action a bit so the character's personalities shine through better than they could in the naturally more fast-paced narrative found in the story mode.

One story arc I found particularly amusing was Katsuragi's, which for those who never played Burst was well-known for trying to squeeze the "sizeable" assets of her fellow teammates whenever she could. Being bored with her teammates, she ends up searching for the perfect pair to do so to which obviously leads to some amusing events. Of course, though, there's some more seriously-toned story arcs with other characters if you don't care for some lewdness.

The gameplay mechanics are built on what existed in Burst, although there's some minor issues with how some of the new features were added. Instead of the side-scrolling like camera view of the original, Shinovi Versus features a fully-3D third-person beat-em'-up arena to fight in similar to that of Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors franchise. Generally you're up against another shinobi with a group of fodder enemies tagging alongside them. The same light/heavy attack combo system returns again alongside the Flash/Yin/Yang system from Burst.

Flash is the default state when entering a battle, where you have a balanced amount of power to attack with. By tapping the L button, one enters Yang mode which includes a borderline erotic magical girl-inspired (which can be skipped if one wishes). The advantage of this mode is that you fully regain your health and increase your attack damage, output and defenses. This mode also gives you access to your special shinobi ninja art which have their own flash animation. The system lends itself well to experimentation, as there's benefits for both waiting till you are low on heath to activate the mode or triggering it early to end the battle quicker.

The last mode, Yin, has the character strip down to their underwear which leaves them more open to attacks but gains a sizeable boost in attack and speed alongside the shinobi ninja arts mentioned earlier. This tends to be a mode made more for veterans of the battle system as it lets you end battles much quicker if you know what you're doing. The game also rewards players for experimenting with these systems as each gains EXP when used, which opens up more combos and other bonuses the more they're used.

Instead of a traditional health bar, like Burst the game has the girls' clothing "magically" fall apart once they've taken enough damage, complete with a zoomed-in animation sequence similar to the Yang transformation.

While all these systems work well, the brawling mechanics do have some issues of their own to contend with. You can have the camera focus on a particular opponent, but the game tends to get confused if multiple opponents can be targeted and even when there's one if you end up in a bad corner of the map, the camera can get a bit unfocused, requiring manual control to fix things using the right analog stick. I also ran into quite a few bosses which fired off a 30+ attack hit combo when this happened, and due to the stun effect many of their attacks have, I essentially was a sitting duck unless I got lucky evading out of the combo early enough. There is a perfect guard mechanic that is supposed to help, but many of the bosses can and will use a guard-breaking attack which negates its usefulness. At least one good thing about Shinovi Versus is that it fixes the slowdown issues that were a major issue in last year's release of Burst.

Another returning element from Burst is the dojo hub world where you can talk to your fellow classmates and customize your characters. One nice change is that it seems to be easier this time around to acquire new character customization options when compared to Burst's unlocking progression, so players will be able to access this feature a bit earlier in the game. There's also music and artwork which can be bought if you so wish.

It should also be mentioned that there's a lottery-inspired system, humorously titled the "lingerie lottery", in which you can spend tokens (or cold-hard PSN cash if you so wish) to have a chance at obtaining said garments as equipable clothing options.

A new feature to Shinovi Versus is the multiplayer mode, in which you can play with up to four other players in ad-hoc and internet battles. The standard deathmatch and team deathmatch options exist, alongside a "strip battle" option which rewards those who destroy the most of their opponent's clothing and a mode where you collect panties that fall from the sky while stopping your opponents from doing the same.

Final Thoughts

Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is without a doubt a lewd game, but the fact that it knows that and willingly plays with the player's naturally titillating expectations of the game makes it worth playing if you can give it a try. While the gameplay isn't perfect and has room for improvement, it is a noticeable upgrade over Burst's mechanics. If you can look past the superficialness at first glance, there's a rough but enjoyable game hidden underneath.

Fixes some of the flaws present in last year's Senran Kagura Burst.
The different attack states allow for some experimentation in how you approach battles.
The story sequences are surprisingly deep considering the outward appearance of the game.
The camera can become unwieldy at times.
Boss characters can lock you into unavoidable multi-hit combo strings.
If you didn't like the sexual overtones of the first game, it's more of the same here again.
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