Review: Senran Kagura Estival Versus – Endless Summer Edition (PS4/PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Senran Kagura Estival Versus – Endless Summer Edition
Format: Blu-ray Disc / Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (PS4 14.98 GB) (PSV 3.1 GB)
Release Date: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment Inc.
Developer: Tamsoft
Original MSRP: $49.99 (PS4), $39.99 (PSV)
ESRB Rating: M
Senran Kagura Estival Versus is also available on PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 4 download and PlayStation Vita physical versions were used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

The Senran Kagura series has been around the block a couple times already, but for those unfamiliar, the series focuses on several all-female schools of shinobi. These schools frequently clash with one another in ninja battles.

The series is also pretty well known for the fact that these battles have a tendency to tear the clothes off of one or both combatants. As such, clothing damage is a major gameplay mechanic.

The story this time around is that the four major schools (well, three and the Crimson Squad) suddenly find themselves on a tropical island. Not only is the island lost in time, but once-dead shinobi are appearing on the island as well. The girls are informed that they must participate in the Kagara Millennium Festival by destroying each other’s festival platforms until one school/faction remains.

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It is often assumed, given the titillating nature of the Senran series, that the story in these games is of no consequence. However, anyone who read my interview with the series creator Kenichiro Takaki knows that Takaki considers it rather important to write relatable characters because “without that everything is just a façade.”

Even I praised the characters in my review of one of the previous games, and while that carries over to Estival Versus I don’t feel like this game is quite as strong in that department as Shinovi Versus was.

At least not for all of the characters. A select few get a really compelling stories in Estival Versus, building on their backstories from the previous games. However, the main campaign melds all four groups and all twenty characters, plus a few new ones, and a lot of the cast gets relegated to filler stories or “we’ve seen this before in the other games” stuff.

… a little more oomph than simply running into groups of enemies and mashing attack …
Gameplay:
Estival Versus is a 3D brawler not entirely dissimilar to Dynasty Warriors and its ilk. The player fights through a mob of grunts who rarely matter much, racking up tons of kills before facing down a stronger enemy, in this case another shinobi. This game doesn’t have quite the scale of the Warriors game, but as a trade-off the enemies, both grunts and enemy shinobi, do offer more challenge than in those games.

Each shinobi has a similar control layout. Square is a standard attack which can be used to combo. Triangle can be used as a combo ender or on its own to activate a powerful charge attack. Cross is used to jump and double jump, while Circle is used to dash and, new to the series, wall run. There’s also blocking and parrying, both activated with the R1 button, or R trigger on the Vita.

The meat and potatoes of the combat revolves around the Arial Rave mechanic. After the end of most combos, there will be a green flash and the enemy will be knocked into the air. Pressing Circle will launch the player into the air in pursuit to continue the combo on the enemy. This gives the combat a little more oomph than simply running into groups of enemies and mashing attack until they’re dead.

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The ability to transform is another key mechanic in Estival Versus. Shinobi have two forms they can transform into. The Yin mode costs one scroll but it refills health and gives a small boost to attack and defense. The other mode, Yang, doesn’t cost any scrolls but it refills health and gives a large attack boost at the cost of decreased defense.

Both transformations are also signified by a costume change: Yin to the shinobi’s special costume or Yang having them destroy all their clothes but their underwear as a show of their resolve to go all-in on offense without defense.

While transformed, the shinobi also have access to powerful special attacks called Secret Ninja Arts. Each character has three Arts, which cost one, two, or five scrolls, that are unique to that character. Mastering when to use these Arts is a big part of surviving Estival Versus, especially on the Hard difficulty.

… the naughty bits are covered by a bright light …
I mentioned clothing being destroyed before, but transforming into Yang mode isn’t the only way for that to happen. As mentioned in the introduction, one of the defining traits of the Senran series is the clothing damage system.

As in previous games, beating up enemies causes their clothes to fly off. It is even possible to completely de-clothe the opponent, though the naughty bits are covered by a bright light to keep the game rated M.

A new mechanic that was not in Shinovi Versus, in the vein of the clothing damage, is the creative finish. It’s not particularly well named though, as all it involves is defeating an opponent near a special landmark.

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This will replace the normal animation of the enemy being defeated with one that takes that landmark into account. For instance, after being defeated it might show them being knocked into a sign – after all of their clothes fly off, of course.

Needless to say, this probably isn’t the kind of game for anyone who might feel uncomfortable with the character’s clothing being destroyed. That said, there is an option to turn off clothing damage in the game.

All this does however is turn off clothing damage during battle. An occasional story scene might still feature a character in tattered clothes and Yang mode and creative finishers still have character’s clothes flying off.

… fifteen to twenty hours and the gameplay is split up with story …
At a base level, I do enjoy the combat of Estival Versus. There are some odd quirks in the gameplay that take getting used to though. For example enemy shinobi don’t flinch from being attacked and may continue to attack even when being barraged by the player’s attacks.

However, the overall feeling of running around as a ninja comes across well, and once familiar with some of the quirks of the game, I was able to figure out how best to utilize or avoid them as appropriate.

The mission structure can make the game a bit tedious, however. The main story isn’t too bad. It’s maybe fifteen to twenty hours and the gameplay is split up with story to keep things moving without being tiresome. There are also some 1v3 and 2v2 (with an ally) battles this time around to help break up the monotony of the levels.

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In addition to the main story, each of the twenty-seven characters in the game has a side story of five missions and going through those was where I started to lose steam. Side stories only have the “story” part before the first battle and after the last, so the rest is just wall to wall fighting. These stories are non-canon though, and not really necessary for the main game so it’s possible to just ignore them.

For those who do want to get the most for their purchase, Estival Versus does have a lot of unlockables to get. These include costumes, accessories, art, and music and are purchased in the in-game shop using money earned from battles. Even the creative finishers can be purchased to be viewed at the player’s leisure.

… the benefit of better looking character models …
Visuals:
Shinovi Versus was already a pretty decent looking game on the Vita and Estival Versus definitely makes some improvements on that. They’re slight, but it seems like some of the character models got touched up and the lighting has some minor improvements.

The areas to fight in are larger as well and there are more of them than in Shinovi. Shadows are still pretty bad though and some of the textures in the game are noticeably lower quality as well.

The Vita version does takes some small performance hits. For the most part the game plays fine on the handheld but I did feel like the enemy density was lower than on the PS4. Enemies also seem to pop in and out based on distance and number of enemies on screen on the Vita version. Neither of these problems are game breaking though and the game ran fine for me outside of those small issues.

Most of these problems are non-existent on the PS4. Characters look all around better, most of the textures seem less compressed and the shadows aren’t as glaringly jaggy. The PS4 version also seems to run at a higher framerate and gets the benefit of better looking character models.

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As before, the animations are fun to watch. The transformation scenes in particular are pretty cool, invoking a lot of the feeling of the magical girl genre of anime – think Sailor Moon, albeit one that is a little more… uh… lecherous.

That said, the animations can grow tiring, due to length, after a while. Once they grow tiresome, some of these cutaway animations can be skipped. Strangely though, not all. Intro scenes and transformation scenes can be skipped, however the cut away when an enemy is defeated cannot.

There’s a cutaway for clothing damage as well, which can’t be skipped mid-battle, only by turning off clothing damage altogether in the menu.

… allowing accessories to be placed anywhere on the character …
One disappointment: the camera in the game can get very wonky. It loves to get stuck on walls and end up super zoomed in, to the point where the player can’t see anything. This is especially true when using lock-on.

The thing I’ve mentioned for both previous Senran games on Vita, which I still absolutely love, is the detail available in the game’s dressing room.

Many games feature additional costumes and the like but Estival Versus gives the player some really cool extra tools by allowing accessories to be placed anywhere on the character. There are angel wings, for example, which default to being placed on the character’s back but could be scaled, rotated, and moved to give a character winged feet like the God, Hermes.

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Vita version

Audio:
Estival Versus remains dub only, like all of the previous games in the series. This does, once again, mean trying to read on-screen subtitles while characters are bantering mid-battle. But it also means that some of these voice actresses have been playing their character for a while and have got a pretty good handle on that character.

I don’t care too much for the music. It’s an improvement over the music I didn’t care for in Shinovi Versus but it’s still not one of my top soundtracks. There are some good pieces here and there, but by and large the soundtrack seems a little lackluster in a way I can’t completely put my finger on. Oddly, I think the music in the menus might be among my favorites.

… if someone drops mid-match, the AI will step in …
Online/Multiplayer:
Both the PS4 and Vita versions have online multiplayer modes. Sadly though, the Vita version only supports four players online while PS4 supports up to ten. Outside of that though, they’re pretty similar.

There are a ton of settings for players to use when playing online along with a bunch of modes to play. Modes include Point Battle (kill stuff), Understorm (collect stuff), Capture the Bra (defeat the player carrying an item), Queen of the Hills (capture point variant), Shinobi Survival (last person standing), Walker Battle (point battle with giant robots), and Shinobi Deathmatch (more kill stuff). From there, the room creator has knobs to control either team or no teams, win limits, time limits, if there are grunts, and if there are bonus rounds.

The online mode also allows for AI-controlled characters. So if there aren’t enough people to fill in the ranks, an AI can take over a spot. Also, if someone drops mid-match, the AI will step in and take over their character.

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The one minor annoyance I ran into was the inability to set a number of invite-only slots. Rooms can be password protected to keep them completely closed. But I was playing with two other players and we wanted to play together but have an open room for the remaining 7 slots. Fortunately, the room didn’t fill up fast enough to keep the three of us from simply all joining up in one room.

For performance, I found the online to be alright but not stellar. Playing on PS4 with five or six other players, things seemed fine for the most part. However, every once in awhile I would find my attacks seemingly not hitting, probably due to lag. Obviously this lag is highly dependent on the players playing though so I may have just had someone with a bad connection in the game.

… some fun gameplay and a mildly interesting story …
Conclusion:
It almost goes without saying, those who might take offense to the clothing damage probably need not apply. Sure, a toggle option can turn off a bit of that, but some still exists both in gameplay and story scenes. Note, I’ve purposely avoided using some of the more risqué screenshots I have in the body of this review to keep it more SFW. Here are separate links to two screenshots of how far the game takes the nudity, both from the Vita version: [Screenshot 1] [Screenshot 2]

Outside of the fanservice, Senran Kagura Estival Versus does offer some fun gameplay and a mildly interesting story. There’s a good amount of single player content, although it can become a grind if attempted all at once. There are a lot of unlockables and a few multiplayer options to pad the game out. Overall, this is probably the breast, I mean best, Senran Kagura game to date for gameplay.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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