Review: Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! (PSV)

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Title: Senran Kagura Bon Appétit!
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.5 GB)
Release Date: November 11, 2014
Publisher: XSeed Games
Developer: Meteorise
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: M
Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Gameplay
Coming off of Senran Kagura Burst, a 2D brawler, and the spinoff Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, a 3D brawler, I’m sure everyone was expecting the next game in the Senran Kagura series to be a “bodacious hyper cooking battle.” Well that’s exactly what Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! is, a spinoff of the Senran Kagura series that pits the girls against one another in a cooking tournament. The winner of the tournament gets a Ninja Scroll capable of granting any wish… or so the fliers for the tournament say.

Although the setup and most of the theme of the game is cooking, the gameplay is set up like a typical music game. On the bottom of the screen are two lines that lead into two targets. Notes are symbols representing the Vita’s face buttons (cross, square, circle and triangle) and d-pad buttons (up, down, left, right) that scroll along the lines and the player must tap the correct button at the right time, usually in time with the music. The meter for passing or failing the song in Bon Appétit is set up to represent the battle with the opposing ninja: hitting notes swings the meter in your favor while missing them swings it in the opponent’s favor.

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Each song in the game is split up into three courses and the player’s dish is judged for each course. If the player has more meter than the opponent, they win that course, or section of the song. However, the third course is the only section that matters for the overall pass/fail metric, oddly enough. That means it’s possible to pass the song only having played the final 1/3rd of the song. Of course, score takes into account the whole song so there is incentive to playing it in its entirety.

There’s also a score bonus for activating Ninja Arts during the song. On the left of the screen, there are some symbols that light up as the player successfully hits notes. Once full, pressing L or R activates Ninja Arts. While active, the player can continue to fill those symbols to level up the Ninja Arts and gain a score bonus for each note hit based on the level of the Ninja Art. However, missing even a single note will deactivate the Ninja Art.

There are other incentives to doing well in a song. Get a good ranking in the song and the food judge, Hanzo, will begin to hallucinate these crazy overreactions to how the food tastes, such as getting rolled up into a large sushi roll and blasted off to the moon or imagining a giant tornado of bean sprouts. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Senran Kagura game if clothes didn’t come flying off somewhere. Hanzo’s reactions to each course blow the clothes off of the loser of that course. If the player wins all three courses, they’ll completely de-clothe their opponent and be treated to a scene of the opponent covered in chocolate and whipped cream. The fan-service here is even stronger than it was in Shinovi Versus, for better or worse.

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As far as systems go, Bon Appétit is okay. The base gameplay is fine but only the third course determining pass or fail on the overall song did bother me a few times. I could be completely fine for the first two courses but then flub just enough notes in the third course to fail that course and thus the overall song. Hanzo’s reactions are definitely a high point the first few times you get them and are fortunately skippable once they start getting stale. What’s not skippable are the parts when one girl or the other is getting their clothes blown off or when the camera lingers on certain body parts during a song so playing this game in public may be in poor taste.

Lack of content is probably one of the biggest problems in the game. The base game comes with the girls from Hanzo Academy and Homura’s Crimson Squad – ten girls total. Your opponent for a match determines the song so, for example, any time you are facing Asuna the song will be Futomaki Ninja. Meaning there are only ten songs in the game. Well, eleven because Daidouji’s song comes up in Story mode but she can’t be chosen in any mode without purchasing DLC. Speaking of it, DLC will add Gessen Academy and Hebijo Academy’s girls and another set of DLC adds Daidouji and Rin as playable characters for a total of twenty-two characters and twenty-two songs. Daidouji and Rin are also Cross-Buy with Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus.

Each character has their own story mode which is five rounds with some story scenes sandwiched between. The stories are okay, mostly providing silly side stories for the characters, but they’re also not much and assume that the player is already familiar with the cast. Plus being non-canon with the main series makes the stories feel pretty throwaway. There’s also an arcade mode, which is just six random back-to-back rounds with a high score that can be uploaded to an online leaderboard. Free Mode rounds out the modes as the single-round pick-your-opponent/song mode. There may be a lack of songs, but there are at least a fair amount of unlockable costumes and accessories.

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Visuals:
Bon Appétit borrows most of its visuals from Shinovi Versus, especially in terms of the character models and costume customization. The character models still look as good here as they did there and the oddly in-depth accessory customization I enjoyed in Shinovi Versus is still around. Hanzo’s over-the-top animations are fun to watch but outside of that there isn’t much flair to the animation during the gameplay. Granted, animations that are too crazy could distract from the rhythm gameplay but it’d still be nice to see more than just the canned animations of cutting up veggies or grilling meat.

Audio:
Audio is the meat of any rhythm game, so it’s rather unfortunate that Bon Appétit really doesn’t deliver. The songs in the game aren’t bad, but they’re also not very memorable. The relatively small selection of only eleven songs in the base game probably doesn’t help this matter either. All of the story cutscenes are fully voiced with the same voice actresses from Shinovi Versus which means that the game is Japanese only again.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Arcade Mode high score leaderboards are the only online functionality in Bon Appétit.

Conclusion:
Some solid, if not particularly groundbreaking, rhythm game mechanics serve as a nice foundation in Bon Appétit. However the small selection of songs and some silliness in the pass/fail mechanic make it hard to recommend the game to gamers who aren’t fans of the Senran Kagura franchise. While the cheaper price makes the lack of songs easier to swallow, it still seems like the story mode is the main draw of the game. The story mode at least gives a few hours of gameplay for those Senran fans, while non-fans might just find themselves scratching their heads. Players looking at the game purely for the rhythm gameplay might be better off with some of the Vita’s other, more robust options.

Score:
7.0

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

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