It’s been five years since Senran Kagura’s inception by big boob producer Kenichiro Takaki. After three mainline games and several spinoffs, the series has finally made the jump to consoles with the latest iteration. Despite it being the second in the musou “Versus” line of games, Estival Versus will likely serve as the jumping point for many newcomers to the series, with all of the previous games being made exclusively for handhelds. Will it be enough to win over new fans to the series, or will Estival Versus only satisfy the most loyal of followers?
The game takes place shortly after the events of Shinovi Versus, with the Hebijo students Ryona and Ryobi finding their long deceased older sister taking part in a ritual of sorts. After attempting to reunite with her, they get transported to a mysterious tropical island. Not too long after, the remaining cast get transported to the island as well.
Out of all the games in the main series, Estival Versus has the weakest plot. The biggest problem it suffers from is a lack of focus, with the main story only really advancing toward the very end of the game. Because of this, a lot of the main campaign might feel like filler, with the game jumping from one cast of characters to another without any real connection. Another narrative problem is that some characters don’t get as much screen time as others.
In Shinovi Versus, each school had their own campaign, meaning each cast got an equal amount of screen time, with none of them having to fight over it. In this game, however, they opted to go the route that Deep Crimson went and have one giant narrative with a whopping 25 characters. It worked much better in Deep Crimson simply because the cast of characters was much smaller. Estival Versus has twice as many characters, so trying to give every character their time to shine proves to be quite difficult.
Despite those flaws, the characters are still the same ones that fans grew to like in the previous games, and Estival Versus just adds more interactions between them. The banter between them is incredibly enjoyable, and it always put a smile on my face whenever they got into various shenanigans. It was also refreshing to see a good chunk of the game focus on the two newer squads, Gessen and the new Hebijo girls. Seeing as how they only had one other game under their belt, the character development both teams get really does help flesh them out.
Estival Versus is by far the best-looking and best-running out of all the Senran Kagura games, which doesn’t come as a big surprise, since it runs on superior hardware. However, it isn’t perfect. While the game does run at 60 FPS most of the time, the framerate will drop severely whenever there is an exceptionally high number of enemies on screen.
Fortunately, this doesn’t last very long once you clear out a few enemies. Speaking of enemies, their AI is quite poor when it comes to pathfinding. While they’ll offer a decent enough challenge in combat, having them follow you anywhere proves more of a chore than anything, as enemies will often get stuck on walls or other obstructions.
At its core, Estival Versus plays much like its predecessor, with some minor tweaks and some odd design choices. Characters in the game follow a basic archetype. You have your well-rounded characters, your speedy ones, your heavy hitters, and your projectile based ones. That being said, the cast is diverse enough where they all play very differently from one another.
Each character has their own pros and cons, and with the huge roster to go with, you won’t have trouble finding someone you’ll like. That being said, the characters are not well balanced, with some of them being way more powerful than others. Speed-based characters are by far the best in the game, with projectile characters being the weakest ones overall.
Combat remains largely untouched from the last game, with your usual light and heavy attacks followed up by aerial raves to keep the enemy juggled in the air for the longest time possible. Shinobi transformations also haven’t been changed, with each character getting 2 special attacks and an ultimate attack at a specific level. The only real thing that’s been changed in regards to the special attacks is their presentation, in that the animations are done in real-time instead of in a cinematic, which makes combat flow much better.
The most noticeable combat change is how the strip mechanic works. Instead of the regional stripping mechanic in Shinovi Versus, it’s been streamlined so that all clothing gets torn equally regardless of the attack used. This makes it so you’ll be able to completely strip your opponent without the need of using an ultimate attack. The presentation for the mechanic has also changed, where instead of showing a cinematic like in Shinovi Versus, the stripping is done as the opponent is launched.
They also added special finishers, which are essentially stage-exclusive strip downs. Most stages will have a sign post with an exclamation point, and if you defeat your opponent near one of them, all their clothes will tear off and a special cinematic will play. These can range from getting caught in a volleyball net to getting stuck in a cherry blossom tree. There’s a surprising amount of them to be found throughout the game, and if you aren’t actively looking to activate them, you’ll more than likely miss a few of them.
Some minor additions they added to the game in order to change things up a little are bombshells and dual aerial raves. Bombshells are the only item that can be used throughout the game and come in a bunch of varieties, being simple as poison, ice and electric bombs, to some outlandish ones like a bombshell that summons a pilotable mech.
Dual aerial raves essentially allow you (provided you’re teamed up with another character) to do a follow-up to an aerial rave where you proceed to do a team combo, allowing for more damage. This mechanic sadly doesn’t see much use, as more often than not you won’t have an NPC ally during missions.
Character side missions make a return from Shinovi Versus, however this time they have to be unlocked. Throughout each mission you’ll notice two kinds of barriers, red ones and purple ones. The red ones show up during enemy encounters and will go away once you defeat them all. The purple barriers are always present during a mission and essentially act as an invisible wall, preventing you from going to certain areas.
Some of the festival platforms are located in areas behind these purple walls. As it turns out you have to find the specific area in which the purple barrier isn’t in place, go through it, destroy the platform, and exit the same way you came. This is poorly designed for a couple of reasons. For starters, it makes having to 100% each mission much longer than it needs to be, especially with more obtuse level design which makes finding the accessible areas more difficult.
Lastly, the AI is not smart enough to follow you, so you’ll find them constantly trying to run at you in order to fight. It’s made worse when some of them do reach where you are and you miss them, you’ll have to backtrack to places you might have been in order to finally dispatch them. If the purple barriers weren’t in place, it would make finding the platforms less of a hassle.
Character customization makes a return, only this time with the added benefits of having swimsuits. Right off the bat you have access to all of the main uniforms, casual attire, transformed forms and bathing suits, with each one getting five variants. On top of that, you’ll unlock more costumes, hairstyles, and accessories as you play the game, meaning you’ll have tons of fun customizing your characters before you delve into the DLC.
One minor complaint I have with the customization is, oddly enough, with the option of underwear. In order to get more underwear, you have to play a lottery of sorts with the option of using either the in game currency or by purchasing a special token for one dollar. While you can unlock all the underwear by simply using the in game currency (I did so in Shinovi Versus), the payoff is quite weak as all of them are simply different variants of the existing casts lingerie and not new designs like in Shinovi Versus.
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is a solid entry in the series, but not without its flaws. Long-time fans will most certainly enjoy this title, as it keeps what made the previous games so enjoyable for them, while keeping the incredibly charming and likable characters intact.
As for other players, if you take issue with characters with big bosoms, this game revels in bouncy breasts. If you can get behind the game’s presentation and are looking for a solid musou with a likable cast, this game might be able to scratch that itch.
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a retail copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 7.5
- Large and diverse cast of playable characters
- Fast paced and satisfying gameplay
- Interactions between characters are charming and likable
- Weird design choices (festival platforms being behind barriers)
- Some technical problems (poor AI, frame drops)
- Overall, the story lacks focus