by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
I’m Too Sexy
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus definitely isn’t the type of game I thought I’d find myself playing. No matter how fun the gameplay might be, in most circumstances “scantily-clad anime-styled ninja students” isn’t a tag I search for on Steam. But, sometimes life is funny like that and you end up in places, this time figuratively, that you never thought you’d be. So here I am, forever a man that has indeed played an erotic video game. To be honest I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing, but I do know that regardless of its presentation, this is a brawler, the gameplay of which does a lot right and provides a quite a good amount of fun.
Let’s get those cabooses out of the way
I debated how much space to spend actually discussing my opinion on the game’s artistic choice of putting a big emphasis on scantily clad women with huge, unwieldy breasts and a knack for showing off their cabooses, so let’s just get it out right away. Look, I get that it’s just the way the series is. I know there are people that are super into the egregious camera pans up their skirts and clothing destruction during fights. And you know what? That’s perfectly cool if that’s what revs your engine. It’s just... doesn’t work for me. It’s not even an issue of being against games trying to be sexy or erotic － like any other form of media, there’s absolutely a place and market for that. I just don’t think it needs to be in this particular game, which is good enough on its own merits not to have to try and appeal to gamers’ inner 13-year-olds. This is a legitimately good hack and slash game with solid mechanics, differentiated main characters and a pretty charming script when it isn’t being derailed by acts of random groping. Maybe it’s trying to be so over the top that it’s funny. Maybe it’s really trying to be steamy. I’m not sure, but I do know that I don’t like being uncomfortable while I’m playing, and nervous that I’m going to have to explain myself to anyone walking by. But, again, I realise that’s a completely subjective thing. There are obviously a lot of people out there that dig it. I do think it negatively impacts the game, but it only negatively affects my score in so far as when it detracted from storytelling and characterization. Take that how you will, but that’s the deal.
Honor, Duty, and Booty
The core story is about as cliche as they come, involving a timeless battle between good and evil shinobi, but there’s a surprising amount of character and charm in each of the three school stories you can play through. Each school has a distinct feel and personality to it, which made connecting with the characters and engaging in the story much easier than I anticipated. Of course, this is sometimes killed when things get real sexual real fast. For example, here’s an excerpt from the intro text of one of the three schools. The narrator had just been talking about how she and three others were going to see their grandfather, and that they brought some sweets that he’d always loved as a gift. It was a brief, well written bit of characterization. Then, their grandfather’s rival shows up, and promptly disappears...
The moment I lose sight of him, unseen hands grab my breasts from behind.
'Oh wow, these are great!'
Before I can even react, Hanzo slips around me again.
I try to attack him with my elbow, but he quickly steps back. 'Do you know you’ve just insulted Gessen’s Elite?'
'Course I do, I just wanted to see what Elite breasts felt like!'
I mean, what? It went went from something nice into something written by a hormonally charged 14-year-old in about 4 seconds. Not only is it pretty creepy that an old man is groping a schoolgirl, but it kills a nice little character moment too, which is the real shame.
Presentation and Combat
On a more positive note, the presentation is worth mentioning. The game has a really, really great Japanese language soundtrack that sounds straight out of a high-quality anime. I had the game sitting at the menu before I started playing while I did a few things at my desk, and for a while I forgot I even had the game on as I just enjoyed some solid jams. Props to the music department for eschewing the generic, repetitive riffs that too many others use in favor of something better. The graphics aren’t amazing, but they are nice and colorful, largely making you feel like you are indeed in an anime show come to life. For those that care, also know that there is not English (or any other language) dub option, so you’ll need to read the subtitles. Some might not like it, but it definitely adds to the undeniably Japanese atmosphere.
Beneath the mountains of dropped clothing and hormones does live a game with fun, engaging combat. Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus doesn’t really do anything different than other games of its kind, but it does the basics really well. Even in smaller, more enclosed fighting spaces the controls felt tight, I never lost track of my character, and the difficulty always seemed fair. You’ll bounce between basic light and heavy attacks, some combos, dashes, chargeable specials and counters, and I was surprised how quickly these made way for more complex fighting options. The girls all have different stats which make a notable impact on how you’ll play them, not to mention different weapons. The game is most definitely meant to be played with a gamepad, evinced by the fact that there isn’t even an option to get instructions or tutorial messages for keyboard and mouse. While I did play mostly with a gamepad, I appreciate it when games let you switch prompts between the two for those people using other control methods. Otherwise it can be a bit confusing to try and figure out some of the controls and gameplay options.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus constantly has two opposing forces that can sometimes coexist, sometimes act to hold each other back. It’s sexual focus on bouncing breasts and butt shots can overtake the experience, while a compelling combat system and narrative take their turn to also make their presence known. In the end the good outweighs the bad. As I got more accustomed to the presentation style I found myself actually caring what happened to the various characters, which caught me off-guard. Between story missions and replayable challenge rooms the game’s longevity certainly has legs, and if those don’t do it for you, it’s got a lot of regular human legs you can spend your time with too.
Awesome soundtrack, tight combat.
Some of the more erotic elements of the game detract from the experience when they clash with characterization or story.