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  1. Developer: Tamsoft Corporation Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: PS4 Release Date: September 22, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature At this point I have just as much disappointment as I do a bizarre sense of respect for the Senran Kagura series currently. Its first debut, Senran Kagura Burst, felt surprisingly earnest with its storytelling/cast of characters in spite of, well, busty ninjas, exploding clothing, and repetitive gameplay. But five years is apparently all it takes for the series to lose any and all trace of its former dignity at the cost of improved gameplay. One quick glance at the newest spin-off (or even the title) in the series -- Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash -- should silence delusional individuals, like myself, who expect the series to focus on anything more than flagrant fanservice. So, the morality of ladies in bikinis fighting each other with super soakers aside, is it actually any good despite all likely expectations? Let just get this out of the way, Senran Kagura: Peach Splash (which I will abbreviate as "PBS" just like the game does from here on) is actually... not a bad game. At least not mechanically. You just have to sacrifice your pride to play it, if one has not done so already. At its heart PBS is a third person shooter. You mow down the likes of girls flailing pool noodles, fellow ninjas of the different academies (also carrying water guns), and occasionally big boss robots with what should be a woefully-equipped water-fueled arsenal. It won't amaze anyone savvy about third person shooters, as you are more or less encouraged to play it with auto-aim consistently, but it has more enjoyable mechanics than you would expect. The several weapons you can choose each have different alternate fire. All characters also have the ability to jump/float high into the air, or glide across the ground (like in Vanquish), with their water-themed gear as well. Players can also apply buffs to themselves via various unlockable cards which can be used via the D-Pad mid-combat. Such bonuses also include temporary minions to add support fire or the ability to debuff enemies like (even) worse water conservation or reloading. They do appear in a random order mid-combat, however, so hopefully the player has ones they actually like (so basically not the default setup. Where the difference between a common damage increase card goes from 20% to 60% based on rarity). Players will be regularly getting new card packs, or the money to buy more (to actually get good ones), through both single player and online mutliplayer modes. I guess you could buy numerous skimpy outfits with the in-game currency too, but who really cares about that? It is just kind of a shame that Peach Beach Splash is structured in a way that feels at odds with what should be fun and fluid combat system. The most glaring of which is a flaw which existed in prior games that is only amplified in PBS, which is the grindy nature before both characters and weapons become combat-ready. For example, you need to feed duplicate cards to power up weapons, increase a character's health, or slightly less importantly for the mid-combat passive abilities. Weapons go from constantly needing to reload and also barely doing any damage to becoming infinitely more effective after several level-ups. Players will rarely find themselves jumping early on (due to poor efficiency) to constantly doing it later on, making the early game obnoxious and clunky to play. The player is also likely to be close to maxing out one weapon after going through the underwhelming story mode. I know I should not have had expectations for it before diving in, but never has Senran Kagura cared so little for its single-player than the main campaign in PBS. Cutscenes are little more than recycled jokes, and all kinds of perverted innuendo thanks to a certain announcer, though they are thankfully brief and rarely last more than a couple minutes. What is more disappointing is just how little variety there is to it too. Being little more than, extinguishing annoyingly-placed fire spots, and the occasional throwaway boss fight. Speaking of which, the final fight in particular is probably the most unapologetic riff on Splatoon's final fight ever (ironically made worse in its sequel by reappearing yet again) and may have bizarrely offended me more than than anything else in the title. No wait, I take that previous comment back. As completely optional as it may be, there are incredibly creepy literal groping or spraying discolored fluid mini games to what is basically the in-game dressing room and that is alone pretty much the most tasteless thing in the series' entire history. Like, it even makes the pervy mechanic in which the player literally sprays off an opponents clothing as a finishing move somehow feel more tasteful. Also, as disgusting as it may be for it to be in the game, I can not pretend the signs were not all there upon just booting up the game. Still, one can not pretend that PBS is an expressive game in motion either. Despite being a spin-off it is easily the best-looking game in the series with its colorful visuals and stable. Though, to contrast, the soundtrack does not stand out nearlyas much as its predecessors' catchy scores, such as Senran Kagura Burst, Shinovi Versus, or Estival Versus all proudly had. Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash is just as exuberant as it is somewhat disappointing that the series has become exactly what it looks: a generally shallow fanservice-y game. Mechanically, it has the heart of surprising solid third-person gameplay with very fast paced and mobile combat. But it is just as shame that its leveling progression is so restrictive (to the point where players have to reload constantly or barely do any damage) and the only real way to mitigate it is through the entirety of the boring single-player content. Oh, and the perverted mini games that veer far too close creepy than funny as well. Still, players should know exactly what they are getting into with this latest Senran Kagura spin-off. While it is comes across more earnest than it should be in some regards, despite its clear pandering setup, it's a shame that it feels like it's on the cusp of being noteworthy based on its gameplay, but it simply is not. Pros + Fast-paced and nonsensical third-person shooter gameplay + Vibrant presentation Cons - The perverted dial is cranked up all the way all the time - Can feel quite restrictive/grindy with how leveling up weapons is handled (and to be viable online. Co-op or otherwise) - Completely boring single player modes with very little variety Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average One should know exactly what they are getting into with Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash based on a quick glance. While there are certain facets that stand out more than they should, like surprisingly solid gameplay mechanics, it has more than enough annoyances with its progression and single player content to not catch leering eyes on it for very long Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment Platform: PS4 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. Pros: + 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 Cons: - 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) Decent 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.
  3. Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: Idea Factory International Platform: PlayStation Vita Release Date: May 19, 2015 ESRB: T Remember when Jay-Z and Linkin Park had that awesome mash-up CD? If you somehow haven“t (what“s wrong with you?) there are plenty of times when you might have discovered two things that you never knew you needed together, and — once combined — just make perfect sense. Stuff like french fries and chocolate shakes, eggs and ketchup, or Baloo and an airplane. Much in the same way, Compile Heart collides with Tamsoft at break neck speed for a Senran Kagura-style game set in the Hyperdimension Neptunia universe. The result is something both beautiful and frightening. This time Neptune and the girls team up with journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu (both based on prominent Japanese gaming publications) to get to the bottom of a series of odd quests being filed with the Basilicom. If it sounds pretty inconsequential... it is, which is funny because the game actually breaks the fourth wall and tells you as much very early on. Despite this, the game still features walls and walls of text at times, giving you that trademark Neptunia humor that isn“t bad, but feels sometimes like you“re getting nowhere fast. Without the plot to drive the puns, much of it ends up feeling forced, something rarely encountered in other Neptunia games. For those of you who have never played a Senran Kagura game, the premise is simple. You choose a girl and battle your way through hordes of enemies. The victory conditions may vary from time to time but ultimately mashing that attack button with the occasional well timed special attack or activating Hard Drive Divinity mode is the key to victory. You“ll want to keep on your toes too…because taking too much damage can ultimately lead to some wardrobe malfunction. Basically, be prepared to experience the bare necessities (or not, since you can actually disable clothing damage if that sort of thing is not your cup of tea) if you don“t watch yourself! And of course there“s plenty from the Neptunia side too, as this time you get to pair two characters of your choice and switch between them during battle. This opens up the use of Neptunia“s Lily system as well as giving the player the ability to occasionally shake things up during a mission. Even EXE Drives can be used, bringing plenty of core elements from Neptunia“s core franchise here to play. So when it comes to Action Unleashed, the premise is simple but the problem is the game doesn't really communicate exactly what you need to do to advance the chapters, so you“re left feeling pretty lost among a sea of monsters that just won“t quit. In a way this game falls into the same trappings as "Musou games," a very mindless mashing of a couple buttons to kill literally hundreds of enemies before the boss appears, wherein you will mash a couple buttons until he“s dispatched and you can finally go home, only to do it again in a new area. Many times I found myself hoping for something, anything, to get me to want to kill a few hundred more dogoo in the next quest. Even the promise of randomly dropped items, gear, collectibles, anything could make the next go a little brighter, but none of that exists. And unlike the core Neptunia series (especially the Re;Birth games), leveling up characters doesn“t periodically add new moves and mechanics to play around with (they“re usually only added between chapters). Even more baffling is the fact that unlike other Tamsoft games, combos don“t get any more intricate by leveling up either. But that isn“t to say this game is all bad. In fact, there are a few things I feel like Action Unleashed does well. First of all, it looks fantastic. Character models have been improved from the core Neptunia games, and it“s pretty easy to tell. Dungeons themselves also feel like they benefit from more attention, and the ability to look around more than ever before is probably the reason for their collective facelifts. You can even see the action from any vantage point by pausing the game and using the viewer. While it“s pretty inconsequential in the long run it“s a pretty neat feature to have. And not just for the pantsu. Another credit to Action Unleashed is the fact that characters vary from one and other. Each character has their own speed and method of attacking, making switching girls at least a little interesting. Lily ranks also help a lot, which means combining certain girls often makes them work even better together as time goes on (not to mention getting you closer to the game“s hardest trophy, reaching max lily rank between every girl). But the best this game has to offer comes after the credits roll. First off you“ll get access to Gamindustri Gauntlet, which is a bracketed tournament that will see each CPU fight each other, and not the same horde of dogoo that you“ve been decimating since the first mission. This is more akin to Tamsoft“s Senran Kagura series wherein the goal of most missions is to fight another ninja, and nameless lackeys serve as fodder up until that point. I kinda wish this would have been implemented in some fashion prior to beating the main story, but at least you“ll get to experience it at some point. And make no mistake, the easy setting may be a pillow fight (like some cheesy sorority cliche), but the higher difficulties will make use of all your skill. After you beat your first tournament you“ll unlock Neptral tower, a slaughter fest where you can try to reach ever higher and higher floors in Gamindustri“s worst kept dungeon (seriously, who let“s this many monsters roam around?). Both this and the Gamindustri Gauntlet mode really help the game in an area where for so long it kinda flounders… monotony. Both of these modes could have been parsed out earlier to really help but rest assured, they are there. It“s unfair to say the game doesn“t really start until after you beat it since there“s plenty to experience before the credits roll, but it can get repetitive. Even so, the game does still have plenty of shine to it — polished graphics, a collection of neat in-game options, and a whole new take on the Neptunia franchise“s characters. But when you have finally cleared it, the game gets some much needed change of pace, and is much easier to enjoy. Ultimately though, Action Unleashed feels exactly what it sounds like — Neptunia stretched over Senran Kagura“s skin. That isn“t necessarily a bad thing though, since it can serve as a flawed but enjoyable palate cleanser for Neptunia fans coming hot off Re;Birth1 and Re;Birth2, before playing the recently released Re;Birth3. But for people curious about the franchise? Well, this probably isn“t the best jumping on point. Pros: + Humorous plot Neptunia is known for + Great graphics make familiar areas seen new again + Additional game modes after the main story mode Cons: - Undefined chapter requirements can be frustrating - Repetitive gameplay until you beat the main story mode - Story is surprisingly anticlimactic/inconsequential Overall Score: 6.5 (Out of 10) Decent Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed scratches a very specific itch, but may cause irritation for players not already invested in the world of Gamindustri Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher
  4. Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: XSEED Games Platforms: PS Vita Release Date: October 14, 2014 ESRB: M for Mature Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus knows exactly what it wants to be. Whether or not you are willing to accept its identity is another story, but frankly, it really doesn“t care if you do. In the producer“s own terminology, it has its sight set firmly on “Life” and “Hometown”, and you will know that immediately upon starting the game. I was aware of this, but I was still very surprised at how much more risque Shinovi Versus is in comparison to even Senran Kagura Burst. Reviewing Senran Kagura Burst may have caught me off-guard last year, but it was for entirely different reasons. Not because of “Life” and “Hometown”, which were certainly emphasized, but because it surpassed my expectations as a game and, dare I say it, through its storytelling. Neither aspect were terribly noteworthy on their own, but the overall experience ended up being better than the sum of its parts. Trying to balance expectations once again, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus attempts to prove that extremely unapologetic "fanservice" and decent storytelling/gameplay can be two sides of the same coin. Much like the original 3DS title, Shinovi Versus plays up the Good Shinobi vs Evil Shinobi theme. Hanzo academy and Gessen academy help depict Good Shinobi, while the Hebijo Academy, and the newly formed Renegades (or rather, former Hebijo students from the Senran Kagura Burst), as Evil Shinobi. Despite their similarities as well as differences, they all have their own perception to the currently prescribed Good & Evil Shinobi beliefs and, unsurprisingly, are brought to conflict for one reason or another. The story does a reasonable job at catching people up who have not played the first game. That isn't terribly important for the mostly predictable main narrative arcs of the four groups, but considering how much more character-focused the storytelling is it's good to know newcomers will be on mostly fair ground. However, the storytelling itself is very hit and miss depending on the group you play. Narratively, I think it is pretty apparent that more substance is put behind the Evil Shinobi characters, in particular Hebijo, while Good Shinobi feel like they are generally driven by much more shallow ideals. The story modes are not as in-depth individually as the Senran Kagura Burst, but accumulatively the story modes end up being quite a bit denser simply due twice as many characters to play as. This is kind of the recurring theme for Shinovi Versus as there is simply more of everything in comparison to the first release: more story, more characters, more gameplay/missions, more unlockables, lot more cosmetic options, and... a lot more perversion. It may be difficult to believe this, but Shinovi Versus is way more perverted than even Senran Kagura Burst. I think a lot of this is attributed to the change from a Teen rating to a Mature rating between both games. Everything from disintegrating clothing in combat, exaggerated physics, to even innuendo in dialogue has really been upped with the release of Shinovi Versus. To give more specific examples, if you use a special move as a final blow in combat, you can destroy a characters bra or panties (granted, censored in a goofy way) and it will carry over into the next story scene, and I'm not even going to talk about how much lingerie the in-game shop has for its multitude of character outfits. It really creates a weird dissonance considering how serious the characters may be in certain story scenes, only to be wearing virtually nothing because of the perverted gameplay mechanics. But, is the gameplay good? Well, this release leaves the 2D beat 'em up plane in favor of a substantial transition to 3D environments as a brawler in Shinovi Versus. I am a bit mixed about the change in gameplay styles, honestly, simply because I have higher expectations in what I'd expect from action games that take place in a 3D space. I think I can subjectively say that Shinovi Versus is a better game than its predecessor. There are twice as many characters and they all feel quite different with their extremely flashy attack combos. Also, in general it simply looks and runs much better than the 3DS title. In a lot of ways, it actually feels like the more natural progression for the series mechanically and it really feels like it is doubling down on its own identity in regards to presentation, for better or worse, even if I really don't inherently care for the direction. That said, I“m going to be upfront—Musou-styled games are not really a sub-genre I care for at all. I re-solidified my opinion of this after playing Warriors Orochi 3: Ultimate recently. While Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is technically closer to a brawler more than something of a musou ilk, simply because of its smaller scale and focus on mobility, it does feel like it hits a similar simplistic action gameplay appeal. I may think it is better than what passes for musou nowadays, but I have higher expectations for 3D action releases and in this regard Shinovi Versus has several problems. My biggest complaints with this entry are actually with its camera and gameplay progression in particular. The first grievance is with its camera. There are two key reasons why it has issues, that being a wonky lock-on system and a camera that feels too zoomed. Unfortunately, you can't adjust either of these and you have to accept that it'll be obscured for one reason or another. Thankfully it isn't particularly difficult game at all, as I had only seen the game-over screen once when trying out a character for the first time, but I could imagine it being a big problem for those trying to achieve higher ranks or difficulties. Actually, speaking of that, I also don“t think the skill/combo progression is handled very well in Shinovi Versus either. Some characters feel absolutely useless when you first get them, and most characters don“t show their natural playstyle until hitting at least level 10. In all honesty, it sort of becomes busy work to essentially level grind for certain characters to even be fun to play as. It may not take long to level characters up, especially through the optional "girl's heart" side missions, but it still feels no less tedious especially for an already repetitive level design structure. If there is one thing I can say about Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, though, it is that it has a lot of personality. I don“t even mean that facetiously either; well, not entirely. It's visually vibrant and, perversion aside, has a pretty distinct look that looks solid in motion from gameplay, clean menus/interface, and story scenes on the Vita screen. It does have problems with fairly long load times, despite being Dark Souls-ish in terms of giving random tidbits. Also, like the original, the soundtrack is also surprisingly good. The character themes play with a lot of musical styles from rock-orchestra, Spanish guitar, and even creative arrangements of classical pieces. Overall, Senran Kagura: Shivovi Versus is almost unquestionably better than its predecessor. It looks better, plays better, has a lot more content, and goes the extra mile with more of its love or hate it distinct visual sensibilities. The biggest problem is that its transition to a 3D perspective is not completely seamless due to a limiting gameplay progression, awkward camera, and a lot of other quirks bogging it down. While it may have gotten further away from what I found to be a pleasant surprise with Senran Kagura Burst, as a straightforward beat 'em up it is still likely to surpass expectations for those who can cope with its overwhelming amount of perversion with its aesthetic. Pros: + Lots of varied characters with very flashy attacks and combos + Huge amount of story content and missions + Character theme songs are surprisingly good + Many cosmetic options Cons: - Lock-on is unreliable and camera is too slow/zoomed in. - Fairly repetitive level design - Long load times - Leveling-up progression severely limits character abilities early in - Much more perverted than even Senran Kagura Burst Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Despite a not wholly successful shift in gameplay styles from its predecessor, the series remains as a brawler that has more overall substance than you'd expect. Of course, you have to be willing to overlook (or look at?) its extremely unapologetic and perverted presentation in order to do so. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  5. barrel

    Review: Senran Kagura Burst

    Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: 3DS (eshop only) Release Date: November 14, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen A download code was provided by the publisher for this review As much as I love Japanese video games, every now and then there are certain game properties from there that make me furrow my brow in bitter disappointment due to their ”target demographic.' On consoles specifically, this includes shallow, sexualized, and arguably sexist titles like Gal*Gun, Onechambara, and Dream Club. Of course, there are also games that embrace very questionable ”fanservice“ like Dragon“s Crown, Ar Tonelico 2, and Skullgirls (not Japanese, but still), that pave very solid, arguably great, titles with plenty of gameplay substance. Recently, XSEED did the completely unexpected by finally localizing Senran Kagura Burst - a 3DS title that makes it quite apparent that it follows its own sort of gravitational field in regards to presentation, like other questionably sexualized franchises. What was originally two separate releases in Japan, Senran Kagura Burst is the definite 3DS release containing two different story campaigns: Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows and Senran Kagura: Crimson Girls. Skirting Shadows focuses on a cast of "Good Shinobi" from the Hanzo Academy, while Crimson Girls focuses on "Evil Shinobi" from the Hebijo Academy, both having very different narrative scenarios and playable characters. Does Senran Kagura Burst help buck the trend of shallow fanservice games, or is it yet another unfortunate and tasteless example of a game stripping all of its potential pride? At its heart, Senran Kagura Burst is a very fast-paced and mobile beat 'em up. The cast of characters are generally eccentric, full of visual personality, and the moves they use are also over-the-top. Outside of more traditional beat 'em up titles, though, it is far more aerial-based, especially for combo attacks. And in spirit of more anime-like fighting games, you have a combat skillset with light/heavy attacks, air-dashes, defensive bursts, and more. While I would love to avoid the topic, you can't honestly get away with talking about Senran Kagura Burst without mentioning exploding garments and tattered midriffs, which occur to characters when they take a certain amount of damage. In addition, when the characters change outfits mid-battle or use certain special moves, they flamboyantly emphasize the characters', erm, exuberant physical proportions, which are more than a bit distracting (but you can skip the lengthy animations of them). Even if these features are purely cosmetic and not integral to the core game, it's quite apparent that the game wears its fanservice boastfully, and is likely to either please simple minds or put off, or outright offend, others. Where Senran Kagura is most likely to shock people (beyond its hardly subtle 'fanservice') is actually within the dense amount of visual novel-styled story sequences. Narrative backdrop initially starts off with a simple explanation on the difference between the Hanzo academy "Good Shinobi" and Hebijo academy "Evil Shinobi" and focuses on whichever narrative side the player chooses to play through. While the storytelling does more than occasionally feel like typical long-winded, slice-of-life anime fluff, especially on the Hanzo side, it gets a surprising amount of substance when it fleshes out the various individual characters and their backstories, especially of the darker Hebijo characters' side which tends to play on expectations the most. Despite the exposition-heavy visual novel portion of the title, the fast-paced gameplay generally lends itself pretty well to portable bursts (pun not intended). Each mission usually lasts no more than ten minutes, assuming you have the confidence to play it outside of the house. Unfortunately, the fun and fast-paced combat does lead to repetition pretty quick like many beat-'em-up games due to the limited combo moveset. The playable characters themselves are varied, but the overall mechanics and enemy encounters lead to most battles feeling very familiar, especially if you play both story routes. The game does try to spice up regular missions with a leveling progression, mission grades, frantic mode (a pseudo-hard difficultly), many cosmetic unlockables, and plenty to work toward, but overall the gameplay leans more on mindless fun and overlooking the repetition. Though it is basically a two-year-old 3DS game in Japan, Senran Kagura Burst isn't a bad looking game on technical level. The 3D character models in particular have a lot of visual personality that definitely stand out in their glorified, albeit excessive, animations. Also, in the visual novels scenes I do like how they utilize the 3D in-game visuals to propel them, instead of the still-frames that are so common in VN's and RPG's, showing the character's extra personality quirks, like Hikage's snake-like tongue movements or the bashful side of characters like Yagyu. In the midst of gameplay and combat, however, it seems to buckle down a very noticeable amount in regards to framerate. It doesn't become as much of a presentational mess (like Code of Princess on 3DS) and ruin the overall experience, but the framerate is rather choppy in contrast to its speedy nature and it is extra apparent in the very few smaller scale fights that run very smooth. For a game that seems to really like surpassing expectations, even the audio caught me off-guard. The battle music is fairly varied, going from a remix of Schickhardt's Sonata with a Japanese flair, to some intense upbeat rock themes that usually fit the cast of characters. Also, for the extra nerdy (like myself), there is a lot of fitting and popular Japanese voice actors for the various characters, despite the hammy and bubbly script they have to work with at times. Senran Kagura Burst is the very definition of a game that is better than it has any right being. Very unlike most ”fanservice-y“ games, it feels rather earnest with trying to be a fun game while also providing a surprisingly in-depth character focused narrative, but it is also keenly aware of what kind of (perverted) market it is after at the end of the day. It is unfortunate that the gameplay isn“t nearly deep or varied enough to satisfy more technical action game fans, like myself, and the story isn“t strong enough to recommend solely as a visual novel. Still, it“s a game that is better than the sum of its parts, regardless of its very apparent rough edges. If you are willing to spend some time and give Senran Kagura Burst eye contact, you may be in for a pretty pleasant surprise, but only if you pay attention to the right places. Pros: + Surprisingly in-depth, character focused, visual novel narrative + Fun, fast-paced, and mobile beat 'em up gameplay + Polished 3D character models with plenty of personality in cutscenes. + Solid battle music + Plenty of unlockables, missions, and playable characters Cons: - Pretty unapologetic about ”fanservice“ especially during gameplay - Hanzo story route is rather slow and predictable - Gameplay is generally pretty repetitive - Presentation has noticeable framerate drops during most battles Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10) Good The fanservice alone will more than likely push away or outright offend some people, but if you can play along with it in a tongue-in-cheek mindset, much like the game does, Senran Kagura Burst offers more gameplay, and dare I say it, narrative substance than you“d expect.
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    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

    © XSEED press site

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    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

    © XSEED press site

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    hebijo mirai battle 002

    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

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    hebijo homura battle 001

    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

    © XSEED press site

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    hebijo hikage battle 001

    From the album: Senran Kagura Burst

    © XSEED press site