Expect to see more Senran Kagura reviews in the future, for now we’ll talk about the remake-port of the first game in the series, arriving in the west on 3DS alongside the extra campaign added in the “Burst” version, and later remade for PS4 and PC. I choose the PS4 version, but it’s also on Steam.
Having played the 3DS version throughly, i wasn’t opposed to a remake like this, unlike many fans that didn’t want to accept the fact the game was crap. It was. It had something to it, but like most of the Oneechanbara games (and overall a lot of Tamsoft’s output), too many flaws and a lot of repetition harmed the experience, and in the case of the first SK game, it didn’t help it tried to pull off a 3D style beat em up while having the set-up of a 2D beat em up. And being really long just to be long, without any variation and the 5/6 stages backdrops re-used again and again.
One thing that didn’t change is the story or it’s presentation, they just upscaled and used better polished assets, models and sprite from the more recent main Senran Kagura games, but even so most of the visual novel segments and illustrations are preserved, alongside the anime opening. Which is fine.
The story itself (in case you didn’t know) is kinda charming, even if it’s the embodiment of the “two wolves” saying, because it’s ecchi anime bullshit, but it’s also about ninjas. But the ninjas are girls who fit stereotypical anime roles and designs. BUT there are more quiet momenst when they dial back most of the garbage and/or horny stuff and manage to depict some slice of life scenes and even some decent emotional moments about the girls’ often tragic backstories.
BUUUUT it’s also a narration that goes from “ninja still exist in the modern world, and their work is a matter of life and death” to a fanservice scene from a school harem ecchi anime, with the perv gal evaluating the others’ bahonkas by groping like hell, or them advising each other to store their ninja scroll in the cleavage so to not forget or lose it.
It’s basically if Godfrey Ho was possessed by the ghost of Russ Meyer (or Kenichiro Taniguchi, who is still alive, btw) and Master Muten, and by pure chance they scribbled something decent, even if hidden-surrounded in oodles of anime boobs, to the point that you might not even notice it, as most of the story is mostly is garbage. Even so there’s something likeable about it and the characters, oddly enough you’ll end feeling some sympathy for most of these weirdos, even if they seem (and mostly are) spun from familiar archetipal anime b-side characterization, there’s enough work done there to make them memorable in some way, or just likeable.
Yeah, it ultimately boils down to a battle between a “good shinobi” school and a “evil shinobi” school, and the teenage girls learning that things aren’t that clear cut in reality, but it never really dig too much into that, otherwise it would offset the ideas of even the evil shinobi gals being actually not that bad at all, and the anime tripe overall, as ultimately is about friendship power. Even if some more dark events still happen, given the ninja stuff, ninja code and them being assassins and all, even if one of them goes around with phallic plasma cannon somehow hidden in their gothic lolita skirt (plus cat ears & cat tail AND chuuni eyepatch combo), one has ribbons and has a gym outfit as her battle dress, or – at the other end of the spectrum – one look like a dominatrix but also sports a lab coat because she’s also a ninja scientist of sorts. Kinda.
I like Hikage, for example. Do with that info what you want.
Still, this (and pretty much any other SK) suffers from an overabundance of cutscenes and narration of some kind, as in you spent more time doing that than playing the actual game, and it’s by design, to pad things out. Since i already saw the cutscenes and remember the story quite well, i skipped them (mostly) this time.
On the gameplay side, they redid all the levels but using Shinovi Versus (and by extension Estival Versus) as model for the gameplay, so now it’s exactly what it wanted to be all along, and it’s definitely a lot more enjoyable than it was on 3DS.
They also made some improvements, like telegraphing when an enemy starts an attack and its range, so you can parry more easily, and it’s not a handout, it’s useful because the camera can fuck up and combat is fast and flashy, so with this small touches it is less of a mess to see in action and play.
Also, now you can’t endlessly exploit the aerial rave/chase attack like you could in the original. Not THAT much, i mean, it’s still a recommended tactic for bosses and overall, as is using the wall run to keep attacking enemies launched in the air or when near a barrier or to escape to higher places, when the stage allows it. Not huge, but a fairly ok use of the ninja combat stuff, but no “substition log” to escape enemies, you can parry and do evasive dashes while doing so, especially useful with archer type enemies. But since SV it has been nerfed so you can actually have a combat system and fights. Oddly enough, it feels like a lesser balanced version of the aerial combat introduced in Pirate Warriors 4, and you’ll get some very faint whiffs of musou in it, at least in intent.
Still, when bosses get tougher you’ll be kinda encouraged to spam the aerial rave and keep it going as hard as possible. And sadly, the game does do the usual cheap tricks to try spice up another rematch with a boss character, like giving them another life bar, but also they don’t up their IA, so oddly you will never see boss characters use a limit break to get out of an aerial rave loop you’re trapping them into. And sometimes you can get really get stuck and stunlock them despite it all, even in heated battles that’s otherwise quite challening,. Kinda sad.
The worst is definitely the final boss of The Hanzo campaign, not because is that hard, it’s not that easy either, it’s because it has too much defense, so it’s a slog to chip away at one of life bars at a time, and even if it’s patterns aren’t that hard, it can easily kills you with few attack landing, especially in the later phases of the fight. This is regardless if you underleveled or overleveled Asuka, it can still kill you a bit too easy with few hits, and it’s punishing, the “don’t make a mistake or will have to redo the battle from scratch. AGAIN” kind of punishing. I feel it’s made so just to pad out the campaign and not let finish the final boss as you should be able to.
It’s still not a technical beat em up, by any meaning of the word, the mission are short by design (taking 5 minutes at max of actual fight/gameplay) but it’s fun, and thanks to rebalancing, it’s more challenging, as enemies are more proactive, bosses especially put up good fights, even in early chapters, and it’s mostly good challenge. Even if there are still some minor difficulty spikes, as a boss you fought before (as in a rival ninja girl) is now noticeably harder and tougher than last time, a bit too much, especially if you just do story missions. Not a real problem, just a bit annoying.
The game also keeps the old Yin and Yang profinciency systems, but it actually explains them, gives you a reminder if you want to start a level in Frantic mode, which means you rip your clothes and obtain endless attack chains and speed, but also get a really low defense in exchange. And if anime taught me anything, it’s to fear naked (or quasi-naked) people with weapons on them, they don’t give a fuck.
Basic character progression is simple, as in you unlock more combo strings (executed in a similar fashion to Dynasty Warriors’ Charge System actually) and improve attack, defense and hp when you level up.
You can easily see what ability/move you get by improving each of the Yin and Yang proficiency, and with a better combat system, it’s actually fun to try and challenge yourself by battling in your underpants. Shame they didn’t give each character specific Yin and Yang abilities, but the abilities themselves are actually useful, their movesets do differ in each of the modes, and each characters feels different enough to control.
They also kept all the old enemies, so it’s definitely faithful, and even with using updated iterations of the area/stages, they don’t stuck out, it’s hard to tell, like the beach level layout is taken from Estival Versus, but it doesn’t matter, still a fairly non-descript beach, and it’s better than original level on 3DS anyway.
Still, it doesn’t change the main nature of the game, as in, it’s fun but you can see it’s basically weaponizing the plot in order to make you fight a boss again as the same character (using Hibari to fight Haruka, for example), and to make you revisit the same 6/7 levels for different story reasons. Maybe this time is at night or in a part of the level previously inaccessible, so it’s kinda new (like the boss fight against Mirai on the rooftops that aren’t normally available in the other stages taking place in the civilian commercial district). It’s not an unusual thing for budget games like this.
While i have no qualms to the them keeping the extra campaign telling the story from the Hebijo side, it would have been best if they merged and remixed the two campaigns together and made a shorter, better game. I understand keeping them as they were was the safest and quickest choice, as some old fans would have complained if they didn’t, and it makes for a “fuller” package, overall.
The Hebijo campaigns technically tells their side of the story, not only also revealing some important plot points (like Dogen’s plan), but basically kinda retconning the results of some battle to make it all happen. They did improve the final boss, the final area is different, as in you don’t fight Orochi… AGAIN, it’s a boss rush with evil version of some characters, the last one being a vastly more powerful version with a modified movesets that almost makes it a boss of it own.
Better than fighting big monsters like Orochi, SK isn’t fun to play when your pitted against this type of bosses, more fun against humans sized opponents.
Looking at you, Senran Kagura 2.
With both campaigns combined, the game is a 10/11 hours affair, circa, and alongside the glot of visual novel segments and cutscenes, it’s here to seem the game longer than it is, to make it more like a “full lenght game”, not that anybody expect these budget anime niche titles to last 20 hours, not when they’re old school beat em ups.
And i mean it, SK is PS2 style hack n slash, so there isn’t much else to the fighting. You fight bosses or common enemies in small area or “barriered spaces” that vanish once you kill all enemies on the screen. There is a compass-kunai thingie to indicate where to go that pops up in some levels, but it’s kinda vestigial, it’s more to indicate that you actually can go back and search for some small collectibles in crates or equivalent destroyable objects (alongside hidden special enemies that offer more challenge and a reward), more than actually showing you where to go, since most of the levels are either completely linear or use barriers to limit where you can go in that specific level/stage.
There’s no really any long structured level where you progress in as you do the missions, it’s an ensemble of small missions where you fight enemies for 10 minutes max, often ending with a boss or them just being boss battle. That’s it. Nothing wrong, but it’s an old fashioned, samey samey experience (even with later stages introducing new types of enemies, it not enough to gloss over the recycling of the 5/6 locales over and over), not really to be played in long sessions, partly due to his being originally a portable release…. which is an excuse and it really isn’t at the same time.
The free missions are there to add some content, but don’t expect any real kind of variety, aside from some of them having time limits. They do serve the purpose of being useful for grinding, even if there are Secret Medicines (which i’m pretty sure didn’t exist in the original 3DS version) you can collect and use to level up a character. You can even buy them from the shop, which gives money some actual value in-game, more than just unlocking music, artworks and voice lines.
As before, you have Ninja Rooms for each of the campaign/factions (Hanzo and Hebijo), acting as hub for accessing the story missions (and the free missions that you unlock), checking stats, the gallery of music, hidden enemy files collected in the missions, saving/loading, and a shop where to buy stuff for the gallery, or bras and stuff like that for the Dress Up mode. Because of course a game like this has the “looking at the girl changing in her room at your command” mode. With a Diorama Mode inside to pose them against backdrops, and i don’t get this diorama obsession you can find in niche titles. And that crappy PS3/PS4 Godzilla game.
The shop has an in-game section, where you used the money collected from missions (zenny, in this case) to buy stuff just for the sake of making the in-game money serve some purpose, when it’s all stuff you unlock anyway by playing, and it’s all fluff, like movies, cutscenes, artwork, nothing of substance or that affects gameplay, with the exception of the aforementioned Secret Medicines.
Or you can go the PSN DLC sections, with the usual, insane, absurd plethora of overpriced singular cosmetic items, alongside some playable characters from previous games that are DLC because they didn’t exist at this point in time for the SK storyline. Technically. At least Yumi and Miyabi’s come each with a prequel campaign of 10 missions, less for the SK2 characters.
Still, nothing that outrageous. Crappy, but not that slimy and shitty.
I often lambast Koei for this bullshit, but companies like Marvelous, or Pqube, who sold a “boob slider” DLC and a “quasi-nude” DLC for Gal Gun Double Peace, the latter being more expensive than the base game itself, to boot (though this didn’t make the cut for the western releases, i must point out)…..yeah, they don’t fuck around either with insane amounts of DLC bullshit for a budget game that they sell at full price (kinda).
Overall, it’s a remake that actually serves the purpose of making the gameplay actually decent, and it’s worth picking up for niche genre fans, if they actually care about gameplay instead lamenting hours on end how this got kinda censored.
Here i would say that i look forward to see them remaking SK 2, since that one as well could benefit from a gameplay that didn’t suck shit from a straw, but i wouldn’t hold my breath for it, as the new – and frankly absurd – Sony diktats on censorship pretty much “killed” any future for the series on their platforms (so much that the Uppers western release on PS4 was quietly cancelled, arriving only on Steam), and even if SK moved on Switch, it did so with a couple of spin-offs, with that rumored mainline title Senran Kagura 7even becoming even more vaporwave.
Heck, aside from SK characters being DLCs for Kandagawa Jet Girls, the most recent thing happening with the series is an action rpg title that crosses over Senran Kagura and Hyperdimension Neptunia, expected to release on PS4 (which is surprising) this august in Japan, before it got delayed to this september.
Also unexpected is that yes, it’s coming westward as Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars this year (at the moment of writing it just has a “coming 2021” release date), even in physical form, apparently, which is nice, but it doesn’t change the feel of it being a last ditch attempt to squeeze some blood from two niche series that nowadays have even less relevance or interest, even more when you consider they included a genderbended version of Gou from the Shinobido series. We’ll see, i guess.