Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus Vita Review
Back when Anime was becoming a growing cultural phenomenon in the West, one of the most common observations from people were in regards to the enormous “saucer eyes” look that many characters and series displayed, a stark contrast to most Western animation and art (but also ironic in a sense, as several pioneers of Anime and Manga took inspiration from classic Disney cartoons for the exaggerated-yet-expressive look).
These days, many Animes focus on a much more prominent body part to exaggerate, specifically exclusive to the female form. For years now, Japanese producers have cut off all ties of modesty and moderation to pander largely to the male Otaku demographic by endowing their female characters with breast sizes far beyond anything resembling proportional realism. This concept has been used in different areas of context, from comedy to pornography, but one of the most prevalent (and profitable) categories is the “Battle Vixen” genre, a fetish that focuses on femme fatales who are as badass as they are curvaceous. For videogames, one of the earliest forerunners is Tecmo’s Dead or Alive series, the infamous fighting game franchise that made 3D jiggle physics and barely-strung-together costumes a long-running staple of male-gaze games.
Naturally, this has been a long-standing point of controversy, with some people arguing that underneath all the silicone is a strong portrayal of fictional females that can cater to horny males while also being appreciated by female fans. It’s somewhat refreshing, then, that the creators behind Senran Kagura have taken a more honest approach by openly admitting how much they want to pander with their “Flying Out Enormous Breast Drama Hyper Battle”. Before getting into any discussions on the legitimacy of its gameplay or storyline, there should be no doubts that this is one book that you can easily judge by its cover: Senran Kagura is an action game with gigantic-breasted characters who jiggle wildly, lose their clothes even more frequently, and can be dressed-up and ogled in every conceivable manner through in-game camera viewers and collectible accessories. If the subject matter isn’t your cup of tea, you can stop reading right here.
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is the third game in the series (and the first to make its move from the Nintendo 3DS to the Playstation Vita), which continues the story of various all-girl ninja schools. The primary school is Hanzo Academy and its group of budding (and buxom) ninja trainees, who lead a cheerful life of everyday school events while also training for deadly missions that could cost them their lives. In Shinovi Versus, players will have the opportunity to play through additional storylines from rival schools, including the Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy and the newly-introduced Gessen Girls’ Academy, who are all competing as part of the Shinovi Battle Royale.
Despite the differing allegiances and philosophies of each academy, there is no clear-cut “good vs evil” struggle going on, or at least one that overlaps the day-to-day activities of the girls. Rather, the real focus of Senran Kagura is, unsurprisingly, the various character quirks that work to fetishize each ultra-endowed female to sell millions of outside merchandise. You’ve got the straight-laced girl who believes in the power of friendship, the immature sweets-hungry airhead girl, the perverted breast-groping girl, the prim-and-proper sword-wielding girl, the sexually masochistic girl, the shy girl who covers her face with a mask, the underage girl who can transform into a much bustier adult form….there is literally no Moe fetish that hasn’t been realized in this series, nor are there any restrictions to how much you can dress (or undress) these walking fanservice tropes. Also, the vast majority of characters are implied to be lesbians, because of course they would.
Believe it or not, there is an actual game in here, but if you’re expecting a revelation that reveals an unadvertised level of brilliance buried beneath the boobies, think again. That is not to say the action in Senran Kagura is lacking; on the contrary, the 3D character-based stages are fast and flashy, maintaining a steady framerate as well as some honestly impressive animations where each character can bust out (in more ways than one) a repertoire of combos and special attacks to take out hundreds of foes in each stage as well as the boss, who is typically one of the playable characters from a rival school.
During combat, players have access to standard two button attacks in addition to blocking and dodging; perform the right kind of attack and you can even launch enemies into the air, which can be followed up with more combos as well as an air-dash that chases opponents mid-flight; finish off the combo and you’ll be able to incorporate major damage that whittles down the enemy’s life (in addition to their clothing, but at this point you shouldn’t be surprised). Both the player and enemy also have a scroll that they can use in emergencies that restores their life (and also their clothes), which is a lifesaver when used correctly. Each character also has a super move that can be performed after the appropriate bar fills up that deals maximum damage and, if used as a finisher, may also completely remove all fabric from an opponent (but with character-faced censor icons covering the naughtiest bits).
The gameplay is serviceable in spite of the fanservice, but it’s also repetitive. Despite dozens of playable characters and unlockable missions (both story-based as well as bonus character-specific bonus episodes), the gameplay never deviates from its beat-’em-up=strip-’em-down mechanic. If you’re going into the game purely for the titillation, you’ll get your fill of kawaii and oppai and then some (if you know what those terms mean, you’ve probably already bought this), though there are some technical limitations that get in the way; loading times can be lengthy, especially when switching characters and stages, and every initial boot-up to the main title can take minutes to cycle through every logo. As for accessories, the in-game shop features all the cheerleader outfits, cat ears and flowery-patterned lingerie to dress up and demean the cast of kunoichis. However, the one oversight is that you are unable to view the accessories or outfits before purchasing them, nor can you view how they would look on a character before equipping it on them. This may sound like a minor quibble, but given the hundreds of different outfits and accessories, it can lead to a lot of tedium that gets in the way of the T and A.
In the end, Senran Kagura is a pretty face with a passable personality, but not quite the perfect balance to lure in people who aren’t completely enthused with the former. If the game spent a little less time pandering to its demographic while adding some variety to the gameplay, it could have gathered a few extra gamers looking for a guilty pleasure. Nevertheless, the amount of content that fans look forward to is certainly bursting at the seams, so anyone happy to pig out on all of the high calorie fat should not hesitate to dig in.