Review: Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus (PSV)

senran-kagura-shinovi-versus-review-banner

Title: Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (1.9 GB)
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: XSEED
Developer: Marvelous!
Original MSRP: $39.99 ($49.99 Limited Edition)
ESRB Rating: M
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

In the world of Senran Kagura, all aspiring shinobi attend prestigious academies. Some academies train good shinobi, like Hanzo Academy or Gessen Academy. Some train bad shinobi, like Hebijo Academy. In the past, academies would often challenge others to Shinobi Battle Royale, wagering the fate of their academy on the outcome. According to shinobi law, the academy that lost would be burned to the ground and all students there banned from ever ascending the ranks of becoming true shinobi. These challenges had largely fallen out of practice in modern times though.

Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is a spin-off game, taking place a few months after the 3DS game Senran Kagura Burst. Although it is a spin-off, playing Burst first (or watching the Senran Kagura anime, which follows the same story as Burst) is recommended as it gives some context for the relationships between some of the characters. The story of Shinovi Versus is pretty easy to follow even without it though. Shinovi Versus follows the battles of three all-girl shinobi academies: Hanzo, Gessen and Hebijo, as well as the school-unaffiliated Crimson Squad.

The story in Shinovi Versus is enjoyable, if a bit cliché in the “power of friendship!” kind of way. Each of the groups has their own take on the story though, giving some nice insight into each of their motivations, but the real gems are the characters. Most are well written and interesting, each with their own flaws and fears. Even if the specifics of the shinobi world aren’t easily relatable, the characters and their personal demons are; wanting to live up to their family’s legacy or seeking acceptance from peers, for example. It might be obvious where the story is going most of the time (especially for those who played Burst, as Shinovi Versus follows a similar story mold), but the characters help carry it.

2014-10-12-1358292014-10-06-205211

Gameplay
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is best described as a 3D brawler. Most missions in the game involve fighting through a few waves of fodder enemies before confronting a boss character (one of the other shinobi). Fodder enemies come in a few different varieties and can occasionally provide some challenge on harder difficulties but the boss battles are the real draw.

Being shinobi, both the player character and the bosses have a variety of tactics to employ. The Square button is a weak attack that combos into itself or into Triangle. Triangle by itself is a Breach Art, a powerful single attack that differs depending on the character and Breach Arts can be charged to gain effects. For instance, Asuka can charger hers to burrow underground and attack her opponent from behind. Circle and Cross control movement options, dashing and jumping respectively.

Perform a long combo with Square, or by pressing Triangle during a combo, and the enemy will be launched into the air. Pressing Circle when this happens is an Arial Rave, letting the player follow the enemy into the air to continue the combo. Enemy shinobi can do this too, so the game includes some ways that the player (or enemy) can escape an Arial Rave.

2014-10-26-0105372014-10-13-154947

Shinobi also have the ability to transform and become more powerful. The default stance is called Flash stance but by pressing L with at least one Ninja Art Scroll (gained through combat), they’ll perform a Shinobi Transformation. This mode gains increased attack and defense and different combos. Transforming also refills health, making it strategic to wait to activate it. While transformed, they can perform Secret Ninja Arts by holding L and pressing Square or Triangle (or Circle, after a certain point in the story).

On the other hand, holding R and then flicking two fingers apart on the touchscreen (or pressing Triangle) transforms into Frantic mode. The character will lose all of their clothes and gain a significant boost in attack power and speed but lose a lot of defense. Frantic mode doesn’t refill health and is the all-in way to power up, focusing only on offense. Secret Ninja Arts can also be performed in Frantic mode.

Frantic mode isn’t the only way to lose clothing though. If either character takes enough damage, some of their clothes will be destroyed and they’ll take slightly more damage from attacks. Regardless to say, those with an aversion to a game where girls have their clothes destroyed should probably avoid this game. Even players without might think twice before playing this game in public as it is possible to completely strip, or be stripped by, the opponent (though naturally this is censored, as the game is still rated M).

2014-10-28-1946152014-10-28-194836

Combat is overall fairly fast paced and there’s a joy in being able to dart around like a ninja. Sadly, the missions can start to slog on, as the majority of them consist of the same ‘beat up some fodder enemies, run to the next area, repeat until boss shows up.’ Even worse, all fodder enemies must be dispatched in each area, leading to an occasional hiccup in the pace of a level as the player has to seek out the enemy that strayed from the pack. A few missions break this up with a 1v2 situation, but seeing how the game supports the player and three AI-characters in the multiplayer mode, it would have been nice to see more 1v3, 2v2, or 3v1 kinds of situations in the single player.

Content wise, Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus’ single player runs about twenty to thirty hours. Each school has twenty-four to twenty-five missions plus each of the twenty girls has a side story that lasts for five back-to-back missions. The side stories are silly and non-canon to the main story, but still fun to play. They’re also pretty good for leveling up characters, so only do those first if you feel like blowing through the main story missions. There’s plenty to unlock in the game as well: costumes, accessories, lingerie, and music, but most of it is easily unlocked over the course of the initial story so it doesn’t add much replayability.

Visuals:
Shinovi Versus’ cast comes across well in this spin-off. Characters are rendered in an anime-like cel-shaded style that does a great job of capturing Nan Yaegashi’s character designs. When standing still, it’s possible to see some of the limitations of the platform, but in motion the characters look great. In particular, animations are smooth and fun to watch, especially the cut-away animations for Secret Ninja Arts.

Character customization in the game is definitely one of the highlights of the visuals. While the ability to change costumes isn’t anything new and the selection of costumes is pretty typical, the game offers very interesting options for accessories. Accessories include a normal array of animal tails, headbands, masks, etc., but the interesting part is how the game lets the player change where the accessory is placed on the character. For example, take a flower headdress, rotate it around a bit, resize it, and plop it on the character’s chest for a flower tie pin. With a bit of time and patience, it’s possible to make some wildly creative accessories, as some of my online opponents have shown.

2014-10-10-1506112014-10-10-144920

Environments in the game haven’t received as much love as the characters. They’re not bad, but there’s a relatively small selection of areas and they can feel even smaller thanks to invisible walls everywhere. Shadows take a visual hit as well, appearing as a pixelated mess that only vaguely resembles the object that’s casting them. Still, these downsides come with the upside that the game’s framerate is mostly solid. An improvement over the occasional choppiness in Burst.

Audio:
Purists rejoice, Shinovi Versus has the original Japanese voices. That’s the only option though, so those hoping for a dub, sorry. The voices are good, though a few battles have mid-mission dialog which means trying to read subtitles while playing. Fortunately, the Vita’s smaller screen and a large font make this easier than in some other games but it’s still a minor annoyance.

Music in the game is somewhat underwhelming. Not bad, just uninteresting and forgettable for the most part. There are a few standouts, like the music that plays during a transformation, but not enough to offset the less interesting songs. Some of the soundtrack draws inspiration from famous classical pieces so I think some of my disinterest comes from fatigue at having heard these songs a lot.

2014-10-06-2043282014-10-13-170234

Online/Multiplayer:
Shinovi Versus comes with three multiplayer modes that are great for extending the life of the title. All three modes are up to four players, can include AI opponents to fill spots, and are available in both ad-hoc and online. The first multiplayer mode is a normal deathmatch mode where points are scored by defeating the fodder enemies or player enemies. Another is focused on trying to disrobe your opponents, while the final mode involves scrambling to collect underwear either by grabbing what is falling from the sky or by attacking foes to make them drop what they have collected, which is about as ridiculously silly as it sounds. These modes can all be played as four-player free-for-all or as a 2v2 team mode.

Multiplayer in Shinovi Versus is surprisingly good. The fast paced combat carries over nicely to the format and the different modes provide some variety. I was also surprised by how little lag I experienced. One of the friends I was playing with is living overseas and the match was still solid with four people playing. Another nice touch is that any player who disconnects is replaced by a computer opponent, which helps keep the match going for the others should anyone have an issue.

Conclusion:
Judging it from the all-girl cast and the destructible clothing, one might assume that Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is trying to make its sales solely on the promise of scantily clad girls. However, just like how people should be judged on more than appearance, Senran Kagura should be judged on the whole of the game. In this case the rest of the game delivers good ninja fighting, a decent single player experience, and some fun multiplayer. Make no mistake, the fan service is still a large part of the game but unless a little subject matter isn’t your thing, Shinovi Versus is worth a look.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

Flag_of_the_United_States.svg
Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg
Flag_of_Canada.svg

 

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook