GAME REVIEW | Summery Fun In "Senran Kagura: Estival Versus"
For nearly two months XSEED Games and Tamsoft's Senran Kagura: Estival Versus has been taking up most of my free time, as I fought through waves of ninjas, battled online with friends, made my way through the story mode, and did some fun dress-up concepts with the characters. And I still have yet to beat it. Its massive size and scale showcases why it took far longer for this incarnation of the Senran Kagura series to be fully translated and brought over here.
Whatever time it took to localize Estival Versus, I can confidentially say that it was truly worth it. In fact this long gaming equivalent of one of those fun fan-service-filled beach episodes you see in anime all the time may be one of this year's best PlayStation-exclusives.
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus has you taking control of one of 25 characters (not counting DLC ones) as you embark on an eight-day battle festival against your rivals from Hanzō National Academy, Gessen Girls' Academy, Hebijo Clandestine Girls' Academy, and Homura's Crimson Squad -- as well as some of the folks running said festival. The winner of the challenges will be bestowed the highest secrets of shinobi lore. With their arrival at the event being brought upon due to some mystical teleportation the ladies of the academy smell something fishy going on, and with the appearances of dead friends and family members the suspicion that all is not it seems to be continues to grow.
Estival Versus has a very Dynasty Warriors-like mentality when it comes to its gameplay. Each time you battle you find yourself swamped with ninjas and other fighters. A nice swift kick or a good haymaker can send a bunch of them flying at once, showcasing the power that these girls have when the time calls for it. The more damage you deal, the more incapacitated they become.
They also wind up losing more and more clothing as the fight progresses. This is Senran Kagura, after all, and it wouldn't be fitting if this fan-service wasn't part of its PS4 debut. (A PS Vita version is also available.) While it can be a tad perverted, the tone of the game helps these shredded undressings to be more funny rather than sexy. In fact if you are nearby a specially-marked area you'll discover a silly clip that has your opponent being defeated in a laughable way. (One involving a giant floating banana and another dealing with some taiko drumming got a big chuckle out of me.)
While Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is more heavily emphasizing the comedy of the story, there is a slight sprinkle of emotion thrown in for good measure. You see characters change when they find themselves reuniting with their deceased loved ones, and a level of understanding comes into fruition when these people don't wanna leave the festival. One of the big storylines in the game -- involving Ryōbi & Ryōna's dead sister Ryōki -- does a surprisingly good job with spotlighting the levels of sadness and regret one may have if the chance of meeting a passed on loved one was delivered to you. It doesn't reach tearjerker levels per se, but it's nearly impossible to not get emotionally attached to what is partaken in the game's story.
In regards to the gameplay mechanics, it is fairly easy to jump into Estival Versus without having played anything from past Senran Kagura titles. Punching and kicking your way through, as well as using your weapons, is simple to comprehend. However depending on which character you have you may have to strategize yourself on how you'll defeat your enemies. Some are better with close-ranged attacks like Asuka or Shiki, whereas those with guns like Mirai or Kafuru are more suited with the long-ranged. Or you can play as Hibari and risk tripping over yourself once in awhile.
As you fill your Ninja Art Gauge during battle, you'll be granted with scrolls. One scroll can give you the opportunity to either do a Shinobi Transformation (which will increase your offense and defense whilst refilling your health meter) or dive into Frantic Mode (increases attack power, lowers your defense, strips to your underwear). How many scrolls you have in your possession will play into what sort of Secret Ninja Art you can pull out, with the Ultimate ones requiring nearly all that you possibly can hold at once.
I've gotta say that after all this time playing Estival Versus the gameplay has yet to grow tiresome on me. No matter what battle I jump into, I always find myself pumped to dive in and take on everything Senran Kagura can throw at me. Ninjas, students, mechs (which you can pilot yourself for some extra fighting power), you name it! The fun this game delivers is on a constant basis, with even revisiting older levels to try to earn more zeni and trying out different characters in each being rather satisfying.
As you level up and earn more zeni you can go into the game's shop and purchase new costumes, weapons, and unlock more videos, visuals, and other bonuses you can view in the game's Library. As there are tons of costumes and combinations you can try your hand on, you can expect to spend a lot of time customizing your characters to whatever floats your boat. Special diorama pictures can also be taken after you've posed the characters you want to be featured, where the online community can vote for the best of the week. (I'd go into what happens if you press L3 & R3 in viewer mode, but I'd rather let you be wonderfully surprised.)
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus has a very long campaign to go through, and could take you roughly 20-25 hours to complete it. However you can also play separate story lines via the Shinobi Girl's Heart mode featuring other characters if you're able to destroy enough festival platforms that are laid out in various levels of the campaign. These stories can range from Murakumo trying to get home before anyone sees her without her mask to Mirai trying to find inspiration for her online novel.
The real treat to the game is that it contains one of the best multiplayer modes found on PS4. Point Battle will have players fight each other for a specific amount of time until either the top tier amount one can gather is reached or whomever has the most when the round ends. These levels can be rather chaotic, but in a good way. Watching as you and the rest of the online community battle it out is not only exciting on every level, but it can leave you at the edge of your seat as players crawl closer and closer towards their scores.
Capture the Bra is exactly what you think it is, as the player wielding the bra flag will be more powerful than the others. Defeating the flag holder will give you the flag, and the more people you defeat the more bras you can add to it. The one with the most bras in the end wins, be it via accumulated braziers or time running out. Capture the Bra can be fun if played with the right people, but I'll admit that if you're not that good at it then it can be dragged out just a bit too long.
Lastly there is the most fun mode of the game: Understorm. Here players collect panties that are falling from the sky, with the winner being the one who has the most in the end. One can get easily distracted by either the panties falling or the battles waging on the ground, as you can easily lose your stash if beaten badly. This mode is rather ridiculous, and will subject many gamers to giggling like a gaggle of pre-teens. It's also refreshing to see something new in the multiplayer realm to dive into, instead of the usual Deathmatches we've come to expect from some of the other "hardcore" games. (If Call of Duty can add a panty raid mode in their multiplayer, then maybe I'll consider jumping into that.)
For the most part the online connection works rather well, especially in the four-player setup. However things can get a tiny shaky when attempting the ten-woman battles. It works the majority of the time, but there were a couple occasions where the battle would refuse to load, forcing me to stare at the player queue until the game decided to cancel me out of the room. Despite this tiny flaw the ten-player modes bring forth a lot of crazy combat that creates one kick-ass spectacle.
You get a lot out of the physical release for Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, especially if you grab yourself the Endless Summer Edition. Included with the game are the two-disc game soundtrack, a 108-paged art book, and collectible cards featuring one of the factions chosen at random. For $60 it's actually quite the bargain, considering other special editions with this sort of stuff can sometimes go for $100. Sadly the American release is missing out on the Dakimakura pillow case and the figurines that certain editions of the European and Australian releases got, so completionists may feel a tiny bit irked by this.
As for DLC you can buy in the PlayStation Store there are a bunch more costumes, but it's the extra characters that are certainly worth the cash. Within the Senran Kagura series are Ayame (my personal favorite to play as for online modes), Kagura, and Naraku. The best guest, however, is Ayane from the Dead or Alive series, as she has some of the better moves out of everyone here. It's just a shame that -- due to licensing issues -- the US release will be missing out on the DLC I was personally looking forward to the most: Ikki Tousen's Hakufu, Kan'u, and Ryofu. Things can change, but as of this writing the West will not see the multi-world collision of fists and fury that was destined to be.
- Loads of campaign and side quests
- One of the best multiplayer modes around
- Great and easy-to-learn gameplay mechanics
- Minor online server issues
- No Ikki Tousen DLC
- Hibari needs to stop tripping!!!
Even if Senran Kagura: Estival Versus just had a campaign and side quests, it would still be a great game. However it's the multiplayer aspect that helps to shoot XSEED Games and Tamsoft's latest up near the top of the must-buy list. Whether you enroll in Hanzō, Hebijo, or Gessen (or if you side with Homura's Crimson Squad) there is absolutely no way you won't have fun with this latest chapter of the Senran Kagura series.
Reviewed on the PS4. Also available on the PlayStation Vita.