Senran Kagura Estival Versus (閃乱カグラ), the hack-and-slash title developed by Tamsoft and published by Marvelous Inc, pushes the boundaries of censorship, and shows that you don’t need a story, or interesting characters, to lead the genre in the right direction. Takaki Kenichiro, Director of Senran, expresses just how much he’s not afraid of sexual content, embracing it with open arms, to portray beautiful female characters.
The story features your favorite girls transported to a different world resembling a summer island, where they encounter dead loved ones, and are forced to compete in a tournament if they wish to go home - but, this means letting go of their loved ones forever. With the humorous argument between twin sisters Ryobi and Ryona, the opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the game. Humor is one of the strongest qualities of Senran Kagura; the Senran cast were frequently in ridiculous, hysterical states, often causing fits of laughter. In the “Surprise Shinobi Slippery Splash-n-Spray Sports” event, the losers had to eat panties. Although the story itself is not very important, the humor will carry you through this title, promising one hell of a time.
Attractive, half-naked girls add to flashy, over-the-top combos.
As you do damage to your enemies (all females), their clothes will fall off to indicate they’ve taken a lot of damage. Against bosses, this will show a short cutscene of the clothes being ripped off. In battle, you’re able to transform into your shinobi form, which shows a scene similar to the popular anime series Sailor Moon. Once transformed, you can perform three different ultimate attacks, each stronger than the last, but requiring more scrolls, gained by attacking enemies. These attacks wipe out tons of enemies, giving you room to unleash still more combos. Frantic mode, another type of transformation, strips you down to your lingerie, lowering your defense, but greatly increasing your attack. This mode is a great way to do a lot of damage, but requires you to be more cautious of your surroundings. Guarding is a perfect way to prevent damage; parrying, another defensive option, also allows you to avoid taking damage. However, parrying is a little harder than a regular guard, requiring you to guard right before you are hit, causing them be stunned for a short period. Twenty-five girls, each with her own play style and abilities, really showcases the diversity in cast, and thus gameplay. Some girls are slower, some are weaker, but, no matter who you pick, you should have no problem falling in love, and finding your favorite girl.
You will eventually be able to pick up grenades, known as bombshells, that can be thrown and cause different status ailments and damage. I ignored them and instead went all-out with combos. It was nice to know I had the option, though I didn’t find it necessary. The auto-targeting system, known as Lock-On, targets an enemy, and the camera follows your target. Defeating a target causes you to lock-on a random enemy, which could make the camera clunky and out of control because you can’t choose who you target. This can make it difficult to focus on a single enemy, making you confused as to what you’re hitting. It’s a lot easier to control the camera yourself, and avoid this problem, instead only dealing with minor camera issues, such as getting to close to a wall or object. In these cases, the camera is forced to zoom in on you, blinding you to your surroundings.
The gameplay mechanics enables you to pull off crazy attacks like juggling the enemy in the air with ease, or racking up a high combo. It won’t take much skill to be good at the game, which is a letdown; upping the difficulty makes it a little more challenging, but not enough - even at its hardest, Senran Kagura didn’t require much skill. The main difference in the three difficulties (easy, medium, or hard) is the experience and zeni (Senran Kagura’s currency) you receive upon completing a mission. You will also receive a grade based on how well you did, ranging from D to A levels. I recommend playing on medium, so you earn more experience, making it a lot easier to level up. Leveling-up strengthens your characters, increasing health, attack, and defense. The mission structure throws waves of enemies at you, and in some cases you must fight a boss (who is actually one of the girls you can play as). You basically rinse and repeat this cycle, with an occasional time limit to complete your task. During these missions, you can find and break Festival Platforms to unlock side missions known as “shinobi girl hearts.” These hearts unlock side stories for each girl. There is also a special missions mode where you fight multiple girls at once - this is the more challenging, fulfilling aspect of the game.
Both shinobi girl hearts and special missions are not mandatory, but you won’t regret kicking these girls' butts for extra rewards.
The Dressing room will allow you to change clothes and add different types of accessories, such as glasses, bracelets, and panties to your character. Progressing through the game will unlock more outfits or accessories to use, and you will also be able to purchase outfits and accessories from the store using zeni, or the lottery option to randomly receive an item you don’t have - the more zeni you put in, the better chance of getting a good item. I found myself spending a lot of time in the dressing room, dressing these girls up - or undressing them - to make them look exactly how I wanted (which more often than not meant undressing them…) - either way, it’s a unique feature of the game.
Playing the PC version sets the frame limit to 60fps, vastly improving the combat experience and immersion. All in all, Senran Kagura shines on the PC, showing off the girls with a beautiful anime art style, which I'm a huge fan of. Similar to the gameplay, the music really surprised me with catchy, easy tunes: it complimented the fast, frenetic gameplay with an upbeat sound unique to each stage - leaving me bobbing my head and ripping clothes off girls.
Senran Kagura Estival Versus shows that developers can make a title without restrictions on censorship, and pull off one of the more enjoyable games I played in a long time, without making me use my brain too much. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and that’s not a bad thing: the humor and gameplay are solid and entertaining, carrying the title on their own merits. If you’re looking for beautiful shinobi girls and fast paced combat, look no further. Don’t forget: the jiggle is real!