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Senran Kagura Estival Versus

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Marvelous (EU), Tamsoft (US)
Release Date: March 17, 2017

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: Estival Versus'

by Brian Dumlao on June 1, 2017 @ 1:30 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

Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus introduced the series to the Vita by throwing gamers deep into the lore, and Bon Appetit gathered all of the shinobi in an Iron Chef-style cooking competition. The PC ports from both portable titles were good but showed the limitations of the Vita. Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is different in that both PS4 and Vita versions exist. What remains to be seen is which one the developers used as the basis for the PC version.

The story is a little different from what you may have expected from the series. It starts with the sisters Ryobi and Ryona traveling to the forest to place flowers on the gravestone of their fallen older sister, Ryoki. They witness a strange ceremony taking place, where it looks like the souls of fallen shinobi are being sent to their final resting place. Upon seeing the soul of their sister, the duo rushes 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 also sent to the island to perform the Shinobi Bon Dance, a competition that is meant to guide the departed souls to the afterlife. The winning group moves closer to the higher ranks of the ninja.

Overall, there are two things that the game does to make the tale unexpectedly better. The first is continuity, which is both a blessing and curse, depending on your outlook. All of the games released thus far have treated themselves 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. 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. You'll still get an explanation of each character's traits, but that occurs much later in the title and is optional. The one bad thing from this is that you need to have played all of the titles minus Bon Appetit, a feat that's more difficult if you don't have a 3DS. Otherwise, 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 thing has to do with character development. You got a little of that in Deep Crimson, but it's more prevalent here since the plot includes 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, and it shapes the characters even more than before. It doesn't take away from the game's moments of hilarity, but it a surprising and welcome element to a series that is almost always about fluff.

The level of fan service is still pretty high, though not at the levels of Bon Appetit. Some of the expected elements are present, such as breasts with jiggle physics and panty shots at every opportunity. Characters have quirks like Katsuragi still enraptured with touching boobs, Ryona loves insults and physical abuse, and Yagyu lusts after her teammate Hibari. Transformations into their shinobi forms have them pulling out scrolls from unmentionable places, clothes tear wildly from damage, and battles place the girls in a state of undress. The PS4 version was only a little tamer than the Vita incarnation, since some of the touch-screen moves are replicated on the touchpad.

The combat system sticks with what was introduced in Shinovi Versus, which is equivalent to a Dynasty Warriors game in that you'll fight solo against massive hordes of enemies. Just like the Koei Tecmo series, most of the enemies crowd around you, but only a few make an effort to attack, so they're basically fodder to build up your special attack meter. Unlike that series, however, you can unleash quite a few combos and some new moves, like the ability to do air combos and juggles, wake up attacks once you get knocked down, and running up walls to use as a launching point for attacks. Get hit enough times, though, and you'll get a cut scene of your character's clothing getting torn to shreds — a staple of the series thus far.

At any time, you can activate the shinobi transformation, which gives you a titillating costume change animation, a fresh set of duds, and a new health bar. The special move meter you've built up can now be expended, as you have access to a few devastating special moves in addition to your normal move set. If you're feeling daring, you can strip down to your underwear, a move that 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 combo strings since you no longer have any combo-ending moves.

Despite the fact that you're fighting in what are essentially arenas instead of sprawling levels, the combat works mostly because it's deeper than expected. It almost feels like a faster action game like Devil May Cry, since you have blocking and parrying mixed in with the larger roster of attack maneuvers at your disposal, such as the ability to throw different bomb types or use super combo moves in stages where an AI partner is available. Leveling up is simple, since there aren't too many stats to track and the point increases are automatic. Landed attacks determine the XP you get, so you'll level up quickly; you'll appreciate this if you get stuck on a stage, since you can grind it out for better results later. Unfortunately, the camera has a tendency to react badly if you're up against a wall. It isn't pulled back wide enough for you to get a better view of the field, and it hides a few enemies from your view in the process.

Estival Versus has seven modes that are good for up to 10 players, and they're all familiar but with a 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, only 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 pure co-op mode that has you and another player fighting waves of enemies for as long as possible.

Despite the number of online game types available, it was quite difficult to get an online game going . Part of this can be attributed to the niche audience for the game outside of Japan, so the pool of players is pretty small, despite the number of glowing reviews on Steam. While this kind of thing would normally doom the mode to obscurity, you have the option to have bots fill in the empty slots. Don't depend on them for any meaningful competition, though, as they're rather incompetent.

The Kagura Millennium Festival is the campaign mode, and it has plenty to keep people busy. The main story is Shinobi Girls' Code, which takes place over eight days and involves almost every girl 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 battling a group or two of girls before facing the stage bosses. Some stages feature destructible platforms, which are emphasized throughout the story. Then Shinobi Girl's Hearts is unlocked, which gives each girl five missions of her own, in which you battle the other girls in their own self-contained stories. Finally, there's Hidden Missions, which has stories that are so far removed from the plot that you actually have to watch the OVA to get an idea of what they're referencing.

These three campaign sections are quite lengthy due to the plethora of levels and the chance to replay stages with a different shinobi; it's perfect if you want to level them up to make their stages easier. However, you get the feeling that this was developed for the Vita first given the small level sizes and the speed at which you reach a boss after entering a stage. Part of the game length comes from the abundance of visual novel scenes that bookend each stage; it can be an annoyance to those who are starting 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 previously purchased items like illustrations, songs and videos. You can buy costume pieces and accessories, and the shop also has a lottery where you can spend your coins or lottery tickets in hopes of getting over a hundred complete outfits. The dressing room is also where you can put on the costumes and adjust the positioning of most accessories. You can even save favorite outfits for quick access later. There's also a diorama mode, so you can take up to five girls and put them in various outfits and poses before snapping a picture.

There are some quirks on the PC platform. While the keyboard/mouse combination works and you can rebind keys, they don't do a good job of getting that displayed in-game outside of the options screen. The main menu lacks anti-aliasing, so things look jagged, but this issue never shows up in the main game. The game also doesn't include all of the previously released DLC in the price, which is a shame considering the year-long wait for this title to go from consoles to PC. On the bright side, the title features native resolutions all the way up to 4K.

Aside from the anti-aliasing issue in the main menu, the rest of the game is a big step up from the Vita. This is very evident in the visual novel cut scenes, which use fully detailed 3-D models, lots of animations, and loads of camera angles and zoom levels. Only the background stills suffer, since they get blurry when the camera zooms in to catch a facial expression. The environments during gameplay may not have too many moving parts, but they are still nicely detailed and brightly colored. Characters are just as good here as they are in the visual novel scenes; the animations are very fluid, and their moves are 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, but it remains impressive when 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, that isn't an easy task. The soundtrack is well composed, but you should also know that the tone is all over the place. Much like the story, it shifts wildly from somber to bouncy to action-packed to comedic at the drop of a hat. While the transitions are handled well, it can be perceived as manic if you're hearing it for the first time.

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is 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. With a solid presentation in tow, this 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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