Ah yes, Senran Kagura. Brought to us by Tamsoft and published by XSeed, this game has a bit of a reputation for better or worse. But, before we get into that I must mention that when you start this game up you are treated to a beautifully animated opening theme that wouldn’t look out of place in any high budget anime. The work that went into the overall look and presentation of this game is really quite astounding.
Coming right out and saying it, this is one of the absolute best looking 3DS games out there. The girls all look great and are fantastically animated. The graphics keep up with the fast paced action with plenty of great looking attack animations as well as sharp looking environments that range from high school hallways, japanese shopping districts, mountains, and caves. The 3D itself looks very nice with dialogue popping off of the screen along with some added 3D focus to the assets that the girls have. Did you really expect the 3D in this title not to do that?
The audio presentation is again, very well done. All the dialogue is fully voiced in the original Japanese language and sounds great. Attacks feel like they have the power behind them that they should and you will be able to tell the difference between a weak attack and a strong attack just based on the sound alone.
The music is mainly composed of ethnic sounding Japanese music during combat, but takes on a more lighthearted feel during more casual sequences. It almost reminds me of a visual novel in that regard. The music fits the tone of the game very well and while it mainly remains upbeat, it can get foreboding when the situation calls for it.
Now about that reputation the game has. Most people privy to the gaming world are sure to know about the fan service that this game provides. It features numerous well endowed schoolgirls with all the jiggling breast physics anybody could hope for.
Is that a bad thing? Well it depends how you look at it. The game certainly won’t be winning any awards for class, but for the demographic it appeals too, it’s everything you could want out of a fun brawler.
To get a little more into the fan service aspect, you unlock all kinds of costumes and accessories as you play though the game to dress the girls up just like they are your very own dolls. All those costumes take a beating though as if you take too much damage in battle, your outfit will be ripped to shreds and you shinobi will be down to nothing but torn up clothes and underwear. Yeah, it really doesn’t pull any punches in that regard.
We also get full on transformation sequences and just like you would see in any good magical girl anime, you see the clothes get fully stripped down before the new outfit gets fully worn. The special attack animations are also very well done and they offer you ample opportunity to get all the panty shots you could hope too see.
So yeah, it’s clear what this game was going for on a base level, but is that all there is? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Beneath it all is an incredibly solid game with great mechanics and a phenomenally written, heartfelt story to back it all up.
The characters themselves seemingly fit into the traditional moe archetypes that any anime fan would instantly recognize. To get into those for the less familiar you have the stern class president, the hard working yet underachieving girl, the aggressive sexual deviant, the quiet mysterious overachiever, and the ditzy airhead. However, just like the game itself being much deeper than the fan service coating it puts forth, these characters are much deeper than their basic archetypes would lead you to believe.
One of my favorite examples of this is actually fairly early on in the game where Katsuragi, the aggressive sexual deviant, tells this long tale of how she had a dog that she loved back in the day. She talked about it being so fuzzy that she would just roll it around, but then one day, it disappeared and whenever she hears a noise she quickly turns around hoping it is her dog. It’s stuff like this that really makes you feel for these characters and, being a dog lover myself, this one really hit home.
That brings me to another thing that must be mentioned. Throughout the game you get these long, almost visual novel esque sequences focused on certain characters and when I say they are long, it’s no joke. These offer the greatest insight to the story and usually happen before major events. It’s nice that they made these skip-able for people just looking to beat stuff up, but I personally feel you will be missing out on one of the best aspects of the game if you do so. You also get great character artwork during these segments which adds more incentive not to skip.
Outside of the long main story sequences you get plenty of character dialogue, which as I mentioned earlier, is all fully voiced in the original Japanese language accompanied by fully animated representations of the characters on screen. The characters in this game have a chemistry with each other that isn’t present in all games. It’s a bit of a hard concept to explain, but they did a bang up job on the character interactions and it really feels like all these girls are friends and really have their trust in one another. As mentioned before, I thought the writing for this game was great, especially since I wasn’t expecting much in that regard.
All this care into the story, characters, and presentation would be meaningless if the game itself wasn’t fun to play, and luckily the game does not fail in that regard. It is what you would expect of a side scrolling beat em up. You run side to side and beat things into oblivion over and over again. Due to the nature of the genre, it’s natural that things can get repetitive after a while but the game is broken down into bite sized chunks that are easily digestible, especially since this is handheld gaming. No level should take you more than 10 minutes.
Where the game stands apart however is in the flair. Combos will routinely run into the thousands, yes, you heard that right. The game has a timing aspect to it in that if you hit the appropriate attack button when a green circular light flashes on the screen, you will continue your combo. It’s actually quite easy to do and you will be pulling off 500+ hit combos pretty frequently.
While the easy to pull off combos certainly don’t do anything for the difficulty of the game, they keep the action super fast paced and non-stop. I got into multiple instances where I strong attacked to dizzy the enemy, weak attacked to get a combo started, knocked them up into the air, shot them back down, dashed over to the next group of enemies and repeated the pattern. There are usually a high number of enemies on screen and things can get extremely chaotic, but the genius in it is that the simplified controls make you feel like you always have control of the situation. It’s infinitely more satisfying to pull off a planned out 1,000 hit combo as opposed to just button mashing your way to it.
You have your standard assortment of weak attacks, strong attacks, air attacks, and a dash attack which is critical to keeping your combo count rising. After your shinobi bar raises, you can perform your shinobi transformation, complete with the magical girl transformation animation I mentioned earlier. In this form you have higher attack, defense, and you can execute your special attack. The special attacks are flashy and powerful and they can also delve into the absurd at times. These special attacks are where you will get most of your upskirt shots, or if you are playing with somebody like Hibari, you might even ride a motorized rabbit on a cloud into battle. It’s crazy stuff like this that makes these games fun.
Outside of battle will mostly be spent in the Ninja Room which is the main hub for the game. Here is where you can view the various collectibles you have unlocked as well as play dress up with the girls. I read that in the Vita spinoff of the game you had a fun lottery in which you can unlock various outfits and stuff for the girls but sadly that isn’t present here. Items are unlocked as you play through the story mode.
Something that needs to be mentioned before I wrap anything up here is that this game is actually 2 games in one. I mainly focused on Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows which is the original game, but you can also choose to play through the entire Crimson Girls campaign as well which focuses on the girls from the evil shinobi school. It’s certainly easier to swallow the $29.99 price point for a nintendo eshop title when you consider the fact that you are actually getting 2 games. It also justifies the ludicrously large amount of space this game takes up. That 2gb memory stick your 3DS came with will not be enough to hold this monster.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this game. What I expected was a bare bones brawler with fan service as it’s main selling point. What I got however was a super fast paced, exciting brawler, with characters that I ended up actually feeling for and caring about, a story that had me engrossed, and, yes, the fan service that I expected.
In an age when side scrolling brawlers aren’t nearly as prominent as they used to be, this is one of the best ones out there and while it won’t get the mainstream praise that the works from Vanillaware get due to it’s content. I don’t think I am being unfair to the quality of either when I say this is every bit as good as them.