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Senran Kagura Estival Versus

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action
Publisher: PQube
Release Date: March 15, 2016 (US), March 18, 2016 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PS4 Review - 'Senran Kagura Estival Versus'

by Brian Dumlao on May 4, 2016 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Senran Kagura Estival Versus transports the sexy Shinobis to a parallel dimension, where sun-soaked islands are the perfect backdrop for the girls to do battle once more.

Buy Senran Kagura Estival Versus

The Senran Kagura series of games is solid. The abundance of titillation notwithstanding, the games have demonstrated a solid grasp of the mechanics, whether it's fighting off countless hordes of enemies or hitting the right cooking tempo. One of the common threads between the games is that they're only available on portable consoles. That changes with Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, the title that marks the series' home console debut on the PS4.

The story starts with sisters Ryobi and Ryona traveling to the forest to place flowers on the gravestone of their older sister, Ryoki. They witness a ceremony taking place that sends the souls of the fallen shinobi to their final resting place. Upon seeing the soul of their sister, the duo rush to meet her before she departs, and the interruption causes her to be resurrected. Meanwhile, the three major ninja academies and the Crimson Squad are sent to the island with the trio of sisters to perform the Shinobi Bon Dance, a competition that guides departed souls to the afterlife. The winning group moves into the higher ranks of the ninja.

Overall, there are two things that make the tale unexpectedly better. The first is continuity, which is both a blessing and curse. All of the games released thus far have been treated as separate entities, and even though Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson was a direct sequel to the first title, it took the time to explain everything after the initial fight. Here, you're expected to know about the characters and events that took place in previous games, such as the fact that the members of the Crimson Squad are no longer affiliated with a school and take part-time jobs to make ends meet. You'll still get an explanation of each character's traits, but that occurs much later in the title and is optional rather than mandatory. The downside is that you needed to have played all of the titles to get this (minus Bon Appetit), and that means owning both the 3DS and Vita. You can still figure out what's going on, but those who have played the previous games will certainly get more out of the tale.

The second has to do with character development. You got some of that in Deep Crimson, but it comes out more in Estival Versus due to the plot of seeing the souls of the previously departed. It can be sad to see some of the interactions that deal with losing loved ones and having regrets. Then again, this is probably one of the more relatable aspects of the story that helps to shape the characters. It doesn't take away from the usual moments of hilarity, but it's a surprising and welcome element to a series that's almost always about fluff.

One thing to note is that the level of fan service is still pretty high, though not at the levels seen in Bon Appetit. Some of the expected elements are still here, such as breasts with wild jiggle physics and panty shots at every opportunity. Characters are pretty quirky, like Katsuragi, who's enraptured with touching boobs; Ryona, who loves insults and physical abuse; and Yagyu, who lusts after her teammate Hibari. Transformations into their shinobi forms have them pulling scrolls from unmentionable places, clothes tear wildly from damage, and some final blows place the girls in states of complete undress with sparkles and environmental objects hiding just enough. Oddly, the PS4 version is only a little tamer than the Vita incarnation, since some of the touch-screen moves are replicated on the touchpad instead.

The combat system sticks with what was introduced in Shinovi Versus on the Vita. The core gameplay is equivalent to a Dynasty Warriors game in that you'll face off solo against hordes of enemies at one time. Just like the Koei Tecmo series, most of the enemies crowd around you, but only a few of them will make any effort to attack, making them fodder for your special attack meter. Unlike that series, you have a few combos and moves that can be unleashed, such as the ability to do air combos and run up walls as a launching point for attacks. Get hit enough times, though, and you'll get a cut scene of your character's clothing being torn to shreds.

At any time, you can activate shinobi transformation, which gives you a titillating costume change animation, a fresh set of duds, and a new health bar. The special move meter can be expended since you'll gain access to a few additional devastating moves. If you're feeling daring, you can strip down to your underwear, which increases the difficulty by lowering your defensive stats, so you receive more damage. In return, you gain an attack increase and the chance to string together near-infinite combos since you no longer have any combo-ending moves.

Despite the fact that you're fighting in what are essentially arenas, the combat works because it's deeper than expected. It almost feels like a fast action game, like Devil May Cry, since you have blocking and parrying mixed in with the larger roster of attack maneuvers. Leveling up is simple since there aren't too many stats to track, so the point increases are automatic. It helps that the amount of enemies you face and successful attacks determine the XP you get, so you'll level up rather quickly. The only thing you'll dislike is the camera, which has a tendency to react badly if you're up against a wall; it isn't pulled back enough to grant you a better view of the field, and it hides a few enemies in the process.

Estival Versus has two different modes. There's been quite a bit of focus on the multiplayer modes, and the PS4 version allows up to 10 people to participate in these online-only matches. There are seven multiplayer modes, all of which are familiar but have a slight twist. Deathmatch and Point Battle are roughly the same thing, though the former has you depleting lives from the other side while the latter has you accruing them through kills. Capture the Bra is essentially Capture the Flag, but the flag is a stick with various bras attached to it. Understorm plays like Coin battle from the Super Smash Bros. series, except you're fighting for underwear that has fallen from the sky. Walker Battle is Deathmatch, but you pilot a mech that falls from the sky periodically, and Queen of the Hill has you trying to destroy the platforms in the area. Meanwhile, Shinobi Survival is the only co-op mode, as you and others have to fight waves of enemies for as long as possible.

Despite the available number of online game types, it was quite difficult to get an online game going during the review period. Part of this can be attributed to the niche audience for the game outside of Japan, so the pool of people who would be looking to play this is already small enough. It also doesn't help that the title was released much earlier to the Japanese market, leaving behind a small contingent of players with a year of experience as your opposition. While this kind of thing would normally doom the mode to obscurity, you can opt to have bots fill in the empty slots. Don't depend on them for any meaningful competition, however, as they're rather incompetent.

The Kagura Millennium Festival is as the campaign mode, and it has plenty to keep people busy. The main story is titled Shinobi Girls' Code, which takes place over eight days and involves just about every one of the girls from every academy and Crimson Squad. There are a few stages where you have to beat all of the minions within the time limit, but most of the stages have you fighting a group or two before facing the other girls, who act as stage bosses. Some stages feature destructible platforms, which are emphasized throughout the story but are otherwise optional. Destroying them in conjunction with story progress opens up Shinobi Girl's Hearts, which gives each of the girls five missions of their own, all of which have you battling against the other girls in their own self-contained stories. Finally, there are Hidden Missions with plots that are so separate from the other tales that one of them tells you to watch the OVA to get an idea of what they're referencing.

These three sections of the campaign are quite lengthy due to the plethora of levels and the chance to replay beaten stages with a different shinobi. It's perfect if you want to level them up to make their stages easier, but you get the feeling that this was developed for the Vita first because of the small level sizes and how quickly you reach the boss after entering a stage. Part of the game's length comes from the abundance of visual novel scenes that bookend each stage, something that can be an annoyance to those just coming into the series with this entry.

The rest of the modes are exactly what you'd expect based on previous entries. There's a library where you can view character stats and purchased items like illustrations, songs and videos. The shop lets you buy costume pieces and accessories, and it also has a lottery where you can spend your coins or lottery tickets in hopes of getting over 100 complete outfits. The dressing room is here where you can put those costumes on just about every character and adjust the positioning of most of the accessories. You can save favorite outfits for quick access later, which is helpful considering the large amount of items you can switch around. There's also a diorama mode where you can take up to five of the girls and put them in various outfits and poses before snapping a picture. Finally, while the game isn't Cross-Buy, it does feature Cross-Save with the Vita, which comes in very handy since both platforms have their own Trophies.

The move from the portable to the latest console has done wonders for the game's graphics. This is very evident in the visual novel cut scenes, which use fully detailed 3-D models, lots of animations per scene, and loads of different camera angles and zoom levels for each line of dialogue. Only the background stills suffer since they get blurry when the camera zooms in to catch a facial expression. The environments may not have too many moving parts during gameplay, but they are nicely detailed and brightly colored to go with the anime aesthetic. Characters are just as good as they are in the visual novel scenes, with their animations being very fluid and their moves accented nicely with some particle effects. One of the more impressive things is the fact that the game can display tons of characters on-screen without affecting the solid 60fps. Granted, it achieves this by having a very small character variety pool to pick from, but it remains impressive when the portable platforms are the only other point of reference for the series thus far.

The sound remains unchanged except for the use of surround for a more enriching environment. The voices are only done in Japanese, and their performances are just as solid as before. Considering how large the cast is now, that isn't an easy task. The soundtrack is well composed, but you should also know that it is all over the place as far as tone goes. Much like the story, it shifts wildly from somber to bouncy to action-packed to comedic at the drop of a hat, and while the transitions are handled well, it can be perceived as pretty manic if you're hearing it for the first time.

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is both extremely cheesy and loads of fun. Beneath the layers of fan service is a solid take on the Dynasty Warriors gameplay formula, with some parts being streamlined and others explored further to add some depth. It has some good modes, all of which have loads of content to rifle through for double-digit hours. With a solid presentation in tow, Estival Versus is a great game for fans and newcomers who aren't squeamish about over-the-top fan service.

Score: 8.0/10

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