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Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Tamsoft
Release Date: June 1, 2016

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.


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PC Review - 'Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 22, 2016 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is a battle action game where players take control of the girls from four different factions and battle it out to become the last shinobi squad standing.

It was only a few years ago that Japanese games were considered a rarity on the PC. Things have changed, with the bigger Japanese companies paying attention to the platform and the smaller-tier ones releasing their titles there as well, albeit much later than their console versions. Interestingly, the smaller companies aren't just taking from their home console library but from their portable one as well, with a number of notable 3DS and Vita releases coming out recently on Steam. One such release is Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, a fun and simple brawler that is more known for the gratuitous amount of fan service it delivers.

Taking place six months after the events of the 3DS release Senran Kagura Burst, itself a compilation of two previously released games in Japan, we once again catch up with the shinobi of the Hanzo Academy. As the final exam for two of the girls approaches, the school is challenged by a rival shinobi school to a Shinobi Battle Royale. While that may sound like an event meant for competition, it is actually meant to thin out the number of schools, since the losing one has their campus burned and the students barred from becoming shinobi. With everything at stake, the girls try to win the competition while trying to discover why they were challenged in the first place by a school that is supposed to be an ally.

Considering how this is a direct sequel, it is a shame that the 3DS title wasn't ported to the PC first. Granted, you can easily get up to speed with the events that played out before, but the characters suffer a bit from players not being exposed to the original title. It's an eclectic cast, so the story's tone can change depending on who you're playing with, keeping things interesting all the way through.

If you're familiar with Tamsoft's work on Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed, you'll know what to expect from Shinovi Versus. You have basic light and strong attacks, with a block button thrown in as well as a jump. You can string together combos by using any combination of light and strong attacks. You also have a button to transform into shinobi mode, which gets you stronger attacks and a full health refill as well as access to a special move that causes a bunch of damage. However, taking damage yourself causes your clothes to tear and lower your defenses, whether you're in regular or shinobi mode.

The system feels good the moment you get your hands on it. The fighting is fast, and it doesn't take long before you start mowing down hordes with a bevy of quick attacks and air combos. The special moves feel powerful, and even though a few are borderline silly, you'll be pleased with the damage they cause. You'll also like the fact that the game employs a risk-reward system since you can start a match in stripped mode, where stronger attacks make up for your lack of defense. It may not sport any hidden depth, but the easy-to-pick-up system feels empowering, which is necessary to make this kind of brawler work.

While the fighting system is perfect for dealing with large crowds, it flounders when you're forced to fight one-on-one battles against named characters. The game has a lock-on feature, but it only locks the camera to your opponent while your moves could be directed elsewhere. This is expected if you're in the middle of a combo and the enemy escapes, but it is another thing to see it happen before you strike. The lock-on also has a habit of disengaging on its own, and since you can't switch targets on the fly, it's detrimental if you're trying to target a boss and you catch a minion instead. The other element to the fighting system that isn't fleshed out is your defense. You can block, but if you get caught in a combo by the enemy, you might stay stunned for long enough that they can get in another combo or super move — something you can't easily do yourself.

It must be said that with the exception of Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit, this is the most the game has pushed boundaries in the name of fan service. The game still censors complete nudity with chibi pixel heads covering the nipples and a streak of bright light covering the crotch area, but a few of the new characters have pasties visible once a bit of their outfits are shredded. There are even a few whose breasts seem wholly inadequate for their ninja gear.

Aside from this, the rest of the fan service elements remain unchanged. You can ogle each character via the dressing room in a variety of camera angles. You unlock outfits by either leveling them up or buying them via the store that is packed with more items due to the inclusion of the previously released DLC. The dressing room also allows you to poke characters and tug at their breasts, though the effect isn't as tactile given the lack of a touchscreen. Also, the clothes rips and shinobi transformations focus heavily on breast and butt jiggle, though you can turn that off to speed up combat since those scenes play out the same every time.

The game features two different single-player modes that sort of build on top of one another. The main story mode allows you to play as any of the three available factions at any time, though you are forced to control a specific character once the story calls for it. Progressing further into the story opens up a fourth faction, giving the player a ton of material to work with before they reach the conclusion. The title features a now-standard leveling system for each character, but that doesn't seem to factor into the difficulty scale. Thus, you'll find yourself failing the early stages quite often just to grind away and get that character into a better position before moving on to the next stage.

The other single-player mode is the story-side missions, which act as individual stories tailor-made for each of the girls outside of the main plot. Each of the stories runs for quite a few levels, and they run the gamut in tone. Some are completely serious and dramatic, while others are silly. No matter the tone, all of the characters are more fleshed out thanks to these side stories, and it's a good way to make people care about them without having the main tale drag on. With the leveling carried over between the side stories and the main tale, those who don't care for story can use these as a way to power up so the main campaign is a little easier.

No matter which mode you pick, you'll see that your journey is going to be heavily padded with cut scenes. All are done in various visual novel styles, with some being walls of text against an illustration while others have full 3-D characters moving around but staying in limited poses. Though most of the dialogue leads from one lewd situation to another, this is also where the game's humor is on display.

Just like the Vita iteration, the PC release features three online multiplayer modes, either played individually or with team variants. Deathmatch has you competing to kill standard enemies to reach a set point total, but you can target the named characters if you wish. Strip Battle is similar except you gain points for tearing off the clothing of anyone standing in your way. Finally, Understorm has you trying to collect as much underwear as possible either by catching them as they rain from the sky or winning them off your enemies. All three modes perform decently online, but much like the Vita version, finding others to play against is difficult since you won't find any players at all or only players who password-protect their lobbies. Luckily, the game supports AI players, so you can still play the modes even if you're not facing off against actual people.

Graphically, Shinovi Versus shows off its Vita roots in subtle ways, namely the presence of a lower polygon count when you look closely at the character models and see angles where there should be curves. Otherwise, the rest of the game looks fine thanks to an anime color scheme and simple backgrounds that work well on a bigger screen. Animations are smooth, and the title handles a number of effects well, even with so much happening on-screen. The boost to a solid 60fps really makes this game stand out enough that you feel Tamsoft knows how to do PC ports, even if many of the options that players expect aren't there. The camera issue that was bothersome on the Vita is still here, though, and the game doesn't hide the mouse cursor once a controller is being used. With the inability to hide it by moving it into a corner, it can be a bothersome sight.

Like many of the other entries in the series, the music is all over the place in terms of theme. It's dramatic one minute, silly the next, and action-packed afterward. It follows the bouncy nature of the plot well, and none of the tunes are bad enough to make you want to turn things down. The effects are pretty solid, but most people will pay more attention to the voices. Like the rest of the entries in this series, this is fully in Japanese, and there's plenty of speech to go around. The performances are good enough that you won't tire of hearing the same battle cries all the time.

If you can deal with gratuitous and risqué fan service, then you'll find that Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is a good brawler. Even with the lock-on and other camera issues, the combat mechanics are solid offensively but can be bothersome on the defensive side. The story is deeper than expected thanks to the side missions and the ability to play as any student from any faction, so there's plenty of gameplay time to go around. While not exactly a shining example of how to do a 3-D brawler, it is still enjoyable for both anime fans and brawler fans who aren't too demanding.

Score: 7.0/10

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