Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment
Release Date: March 15, 2016
ESRB: M for Mature
I go back and forth in regards to what I actually like about the Senran Kagura series. My original justification for getting into Senran Kagura Burst and Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus was actually their surprisingly decent character-driven storytelling (and their sweet music) in spite of their somewhat messy gameplay and excessive fanservice moments. But, it has become abundantly clear to me that storytelling is no longer a priority as revealed by the series moving forward.
To illuminate this theory much more was Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson on 3DS, a game in which I had a lot of problems with both its gameplay and its near-nonexistent storytelling compared to previous titles. The newest game, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, continues the trend of exuberant fanservice and also drifts away from any attempts at meaningful storytelling. Still, to my surprise, it makes me enjoy it primarily because of the gameplay, almost in sharp contrast to its predecessors.
I'll not beat around the bush. The setup in Estival Versus is basically like an anime beach episode of Senran Kagura... for an entire game. For the most part, it teleports the cast of characters (up until Shinovi Versus) to a bizarre island to participate in the Kagura Millennium Festival. Though there is a competition to destroy pillars that belong to other teams (while protecting their own to officially become a Kagura, which is like a badass when it comes to slaying yoma, or monsters), the characters find little drive to do much than mess around and soak in the sights while there.
With the exception of the last two or so chapters of the story mode, you would be hard-pressed to find anything more serious than a multitude of perverted gags... like panty-eating, seriously. Which honestly makes most of the story mode not only fairly boring, but also pretty disappointing for series fans since it degrades characters that actually have solid backstories into perverted caricatures of themselves in Estival Versus and little else. I'm sure I'm not going to sell most people on the storytelling in Senran Kagura, even if I promise it was much better in earlier games.
Of its predecessors, it is very clear that Estival Versus's gameplay is basically an improved version of the former Vita exclusive Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus. There are more characters, more stages (though, a few are seemingly recycled), some added mechanics, and a few other additions. As such, the gameplay has a very musou type of feel to combat as you mindlessly juggle enemies from the ground to the air with many flashy attacks. And honestly, it's pretty fun for the most part... if one can accept the copious amount of "fanservice" the title has in addition to the repetitive level design.
Disintegrating clothing and lewdly depicted magical girl-ish transformations are very much a staple of the series at this point -- and you'll be seeing at lot of both in Estival Versus. Intentionally or not. Estival Versus goes even further with its perversion like the multitude unlockable lingerie clothing options, many fanservicey optional "girl's heart" missions (in addition to the main story), to the new "creative finishes" if you defeat a character close to a certain part of the environment to, uh, somehow make losing all of one's clothing mid-battle even more embarrassing. If there was any moment that one pondered if Senran Kagura didn't embrace its' hyperbolic fanservice, Estival Versus leaves zero room for interpretation
For those who can overlook it, Estival Versus can be enjoyable in a mindless button-mashy way. The cast of playable characters is decently large (though, not close to the extent of something like Samurai Warriors 4: Empires) and with the transition to PS4 they look the best that they have ever been. Even if it was designed originally for Vita it holds up very well on PS4. It is weird how much quicker load times, a rock solid framerate in combat, and cleaned up character models go a long way in improving the whole experience.
Still, because Estival Versus is a pretty direct successor to Shinovi Versus, it does also share some of its problems as well. For example, the camera still feels a bit too zoomed for an action game. While it is less of a problem compared to the previous handheld installments, if only because of much more screen real estate, the camera can lead to several clunky battle moments.
The combat mechanics are also not particularly deep. Estival Versus may do a solid job at making the varied cast feel fresh with their very distinct character designs that usually have at least one unique gameplay gimmick, their actual moveset is rarely deeper than a few bread and butter combos (especially at lower levels.). It also does not help out that universal mechanics like parrying, usable items, and the newly added wall-running mechanic are not too practical in most fights, even less so in multiplayer.
Speaking of that, multiplayer also returns. Most modes are inconsequential beyond their initial novelty, beyond being horribly unbalanced because of discrepancy caused by level-ups, but it is neat how modes like survival can allow you to work towards new outfits and level-ups too with fellow players. What is much more consistent is the soundtrack, as many character theme songs are back to being a real treat to listen to like they were in earlier games. Just like the eclectic cast of character designs the music plays with a ton of different musical styles.
For the most part, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus attempts to embellish itself in shameless "fanservice", seemingly to the nth degree. Though it tries to be cheeky about it, it unfortunately goes as far as to bog down pretty much any and all attempts at storytelling for a series that at one point did earnestly attempt to prove otherwise . Where Estival Versus does succeed is providing a fun, mindless action romp that is stylish all the while. And, if that's all that you want, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus has more than got you covered... well, when it tries to do so.
+ Tons of playable characters, most of which are fun to play
+ Runs very smooth both in and out of combat with the stable framerate to quick load times (a sharp contrast from almost every previous handheld game)
+ Character models look great and show off some very cool looking attacks
+ Many character theme songs are a treat to listen to
- Copious amounts of "fanservice" would be an understatement.
- Storytelling is easily the weakest in main series and is obsessed with boring perverted gags throughout most of it
- Combat is not particularly deep and does recycle some stages from Shinovi Versus
- Repetitive mission design and occasional camera issues
Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10)
Though it may have basically tossed any attempts at being cerebral for the Senran Kagura series, from storytelling to characters, but for those who just want dumb fun and happen to not mind copious amounts of unapologetic "fanservice" with a killer soundtrack in the background then Estival Versus does certainly succeed on that front.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.