Oh, for the love of boobs already!
A note to Senran Kagura: Some games try to hide their perversions, or at least hide them behind double entendres. A few, like the ones that feature excessively-jiggling ninjas in increasingly skimpy clothing, say things like “And that’s called sexual kicked-her-assment!” after ripping off their similarly-jiggling opponent’s clothing down to the inexplicable adhesive bandages covering their nipple-y bits.
But hey, anything to properly display the pride of shinobi, right? At least that’s what being put forth here in Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, a title mixing two things Japan has become synonymous for: ninjas/shinobi not bothering to showcase their sneaking skills, and underage, overly-sexualized schoolgirls. If you’re a perverted martial artist—which there always are, somewhere, in games like this—then you’re in for the time of your life!
Mixing fetishes with Japanese historical tradition, Senran Kagura allows players to take on the roles of multiple schools of students, each having declared a Shinobi Battle Royale on each other’s schools. Five highly-trained (well, mostly trained, as a few of the kids are as ditzy as blonde jokes imply) shinobi represent each school in the challenge, taking on each other in one-on-one matches to defend the “Shinobi Barriers," which protect one section of the school so students from the opposing can’t get any closer. As any of these games go it’s just enough premise to get this battle underway, but that’s where SK is unique.
Specifically, each of the characters has a backstory to explain why they fight. Some have become shinobi out of family tradition. Others fight to be able to protect their families. Still others fight to prove to the world, family included, that they can protect themselves. And a couple of them fight because boobs. Seriously, one storyline involved becoming a champion of molestation. It wasn’t within the main story—every character gets his or her own batch of missions specific to their personality and dreams/desires—and while I appreciate the creativity put in, I felt like a professional pervert playing it. Even more than the simple “clothes rip apart through damage” part of fighting.
Battles play out Dynasty Warriors-style for the most part, usually (but not always) ending with a one-on-one match with another of the main characters. The attack system is straightforward: a combo-inducing jab attack, a stronger attack, a block button, and a jump button. The combination of how those are used is the crux of the combat, with different combinations unlocked by playing through missions, or even replaying completed missions with other characters, and allowing for other strategies. It’s easy to play this as a button-masher extravaganza, but with each character’s strengths and style, playing well involves identifying a character’s battle patterns and adapting to them for maximum damage on them and minimal damage on yourself.
During each mission, you can select to become the shinobi version of your character, which comes complete with changeable pervy outfit, that allows for additional, charged-up special attacks. These are easy to pull off, and even able to be saved for the ability to almost constantly chain them for maximum effect. You remember Daigo’s Street Fighter 3 legendary comeback at EVO a number of years ago, where he blocked and blocked and then unleashed a torrent of badassery? That’s possible here, and without the need for perfect reflexes!
There’s even a metric crap-ton of clothing to unlock and assign to characters here, from their “traditional” school outfits in varying colors, to even the ability to wear other character’s outfits both in and out of the shinobi transformation. If that’s not enough, there’s a lottery system to unlock the additional 99 pieces of additional lingerie, which ranges from boy shorts and basic panties to string bikinis and what is, for all intents and purposes, just a strip of tape to cover up their naughty bits. A few of the undies sets, being entirely objective, are actually cute undies. And some… they’re just gross.
So then what’s bad about it, you might say? It’s mashable. Just flat-out mashable. Most of the missions can be beaten with little more than mashing the buttons against your butt. Only a few missions actually require any solid strategic input, which means that unless you’re looking forward to some strategic combat, you’re not going to find much. Sure, you can play against your friends, but that only means the opponent isn’t going to stand around quite as often as the AI does in AI battles. Seriously… they kinda just stand there and let you hit them with your sword, or your scythe, or garbage pail, or whatever weapon your character uses.
Consequently, the game is by and large super-duper easy. There are two different difficulty levels for every mission, and that will add higher-quality enemies and make you think a little harder, but even then it’s easy to fall into an attack pattern that works, and it grows tiresome. If you want the highest quality marks for battles then knock yourself out, but it’s not terrifically hard. Compound that with every character, while different, handles similarly in certain ways (they’re almost identical in the air, for example) which is disappointing. The biggest difference between them is range and whether or not they can charge straight forward and clear a path. The rest is tiny-tiny differences in combo-ing versus power. Different enough to pick a favor, but familiar enough to easily master them all.
But honestly, that’s a minor complaint. For a game bent on jiggling lady-flesh and silly personal stories, the actual play is quite fun. Dynasty Warriors can feel pretty dry, and the waves of faceless ninja in SK is reminiscent pf that, but there’s plenty of personality here to the point that I did find myself actually rooting for one of the school's girls, and enjoying watching characters both skillfully annihilate their opposition and flail awkwardly to victory. Hell, one of the kids was just adorable, and I rooted for her so hard… even after I found out one of her special attacks was doubling in size (think more Power-Up Mushroom than bike pump to the bellybutton) and butt-crushing her surroundings.
*sigh* The plights of the well-endowed ninja. It has the potential to be infuriating fan-service objectification, and it turns out cheeky and genuinely fun. It’s a pleasant surprise, and a hard balance to strike. But I can’t help but recommend Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus for some mindless amusement.