2017 has been off to a pretty turbulent start for yours truly. Between catching the flu and some pretty devastating person business, I was at least hoping I could find solace in the medium I am most passionate about; but even there I found no respite with my first review of the new year being an annoying, tedious mess. My hopes were on the rise when I was given the opportunity to review another Senran Kagura given the amount of fun I had with the last entry into the ridiculous franchise. But alas, even that couldn’t bring me joy as Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus has all the bones for a good game but none of the meat, placing it in that category of frustratingly average games.
My first issue is with the story. Much like Bon Appetit, Shinovi Versus’ story is only really garnish to the rest of the game. Three ninja schools: the Hanzō National Academy, their rivals Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy, and the Gessen Girls’ Academy square off in a competition called the Shinobi Battle Royal. The attacking school must invade their opponents school and if they succeed they earn the right to burn it to the ground. The girls must then beat the clothes off of their opponents and protect their school. This is about as much context as you need for a game that’s 90% fan-service, however it’s not so much the story that bothers me, rather the way it’s told. It’s terribly disjointed in its presentation as players go from the hub menu to the chapter select, to the mission select to get a bit of an intro “cutscene” of dialogue between two characters, to the game proper, back to another “cutscene” and then it’s wash, rinse and repeat. There’s no sense of flowing progression or cohesion, feeling more like a collection of events as opposed to a proper story.
My second issue lies with the gameplay. Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus takes on the form of a hack-and-slash game similar to that of Dynasty Warriors and for the most part it’s actually pretty good. It’s fast-paced, there’s, theoretically, a bit of strategy involved as you balance ground and aerial attacks and the Shinobi Transformation that turns your character into a stronger and, more often than not, sexier ninja which restores your health (and clothes) and can save you in a pinch. However, it lacks some of the deeper elements of a Warriors game that could have made it a lot better.
The depth of combo techniques is pretty shallow; while players can use both light attacks and heavy attacks, there’s only a handful of light/heavy combinations for each character and players may get bored of seeing the same three combo animations play over and over. Which is a shame since each character has their own unique weapon and style, yet the combat makes them all feel so interchangeable. AI is equally hollow as main enemies just wail away incessantly and lesser enemies just standing around gormlessly. The fact that almost every mission takes place in small arenas makes the game feel incredibly restrictive against its broader narrative structure and the whole thing gets a bit boring after a while.
And while it’s not a bad-looking game and has a pretty good soundtrack, the whole thing lacks overall polish. The way cannon fodder enemies all look identical comes off tacky—and it’s not like a Warriors game where they’re soldiers so it stands to reason they’d all be in the same armor, these are schoolgirls with identical clothes and haircuts. Or the way every character repeats the same “I’ll show you a dance cloaked in shadow” line when they enter a fight, instead of personalized dialogue lines, or how special attacks have their attack animations take place in a cutscene and their effects happen after-the-fact in battle just makes the whole thing feel cheap.
And that’s what bothers me the most with Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus; you can see the kernels of a really good game in here and it just never gets there. While it’s sure to please fans of the franchise, or gamers looking for a bit of fan-service with a proper game attached, it’s just a shame it couldn’t rise above that, despite all the pieces being there.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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