Shinovi Versus is set roughly 6 months after the events of Burst (and, by extension, the anime) and brings two new groups of girls into the fun. When you begin the game, you’ll get to choose from three schools. Hanzo National Academy is where the “main” characters reside—the girls that were playable from the first game. Gessen Girls’ Private School is a group of good shinobi led by Yumi, a mistress of ice. And Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy, back with an entirely new team, is the group of girls that has taken the place of Homura after they were kicked out. Once you’ve completed the story lines for each of those schools, you get access to Homura’s Crimson Squad, which is comprised of Homura’s team that was previously Hebijo’s shinobi.
Now, it’s tough to talk about the story in this game because, while each school gets their own story missions, they are all intertwined. Suffice to say that each group gets dragged into at least one competition, called a Shinobi Battle Royale, with another school. During this competition—which is actually a fight to the death—one school’s team invades another. The attackers must fight their way through each of their opponents’ shinobi barriers and defeat all their enemies. If they complete this objective, they have the right to burn that school to the ground.
Amidst all of this, twists and turns in the narrative alter the nuance of characters’, even enemies’, relationships. A common theme throughout is the blurred line of good and evil. It’s woven into the story in a great way, showing that “evil” is less a distinguishing characteristic, and more a moniker used by the “good” opposition. Gessen Girls’ story, specifically, is a huge example of this. Throughout each school’s story, new friendships and rivalries are born—and old ones are expanded and played up in a fun way for those returning to the series after Burst. New players need not worry—knowing the story from Burst is a nice bonus, but it’s in no way necessary for you to enjoy Shinovi Versus.
In addition to each school’s story, every individual girl has her own side story. These are not crucial to the overall story, some people will find them fun and entertaining to play through, while others will enjoy the character-building they provide. You’re also rewarded with an alternate-colored version of the ninja outfit of whoever’s side story you complete, so there’s a real incentive to complete these. In a number of cases, the recolored outfit is even better than the first.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, Senran Kagura as a whole gets an inordinate amount of flak for it’s art. There is a ton of suggestive and sexualized art throughout the game—including during battle—and it’s easy to see where people would pick a fight with it. However, the game’s art and character designs are simply amazing. Many of the ninja outfits are incredibly detailed, and the weapons are all considered and well-designed. Looking through the ‘Shinobi Syllabus’ artbook makes this all painfully clear. And really, no matter what your taste in characters is, you’ll find at least one shinobi here that you really love. (Mine is Hikage.)
In addition to that, the many CGs scattered throughout the game, suggestive or not, are of incredibly high quality. The game never passes up a good moment for a CG background. Each CG you see becomes available for purchase in the shop to fill out the gallery. There are some great shots, ranging from downright sexy, to fun, silly, adorable, serious, and even some that are simply important story moments. Their quality is consistently strong, and they never fail to please.
I popped the OST that came with the game into my computer to listen to while I write this. During the gameplay, there are usually too many sound effects happening in the game and around me—my home is a loud, rowdy place—for me to really appreciate the soundtrack. Many of the songs provide an awesome backdrop for fighting, while others are very character-centric during their fights (Minori, looking at your theme). Either way, the songs are awesome. Some have really impressive guitar lines and crazy riffs, and others are tailored perfectly to a specific character. It’s really nice to get an audio CD with the game that carries the majority (if not all) of the soundtrack instead of four songs.
And now it’s come to the real review. The gameplay.
The battle system is very simple on the surface, but allows for a fair amount of depth that one wouldn’t really expect. In it’s most basic form, the battle system is similar to Dynasty Warrior‘s combat. Attacks are mapped to square and triangle, with square being light attacks, and triangle being heavy attacks. Generally, you mash square, and end a combo with triangle. Many missions will have you shredding through tons of grunt enemies that are rather easy to dispatch, with the occasional, slightly-more-difficult grunt. These enemies are not much fun to fight but luckily they’re really just appetizers to the real fights, where the fun really starts.
The game is really about fighting enemy shinobi. Fighting other characters of the main cast can get intense and difficult, but you can be sure it’s going to be fun. These fights, which are essentially boss fights, are where the deeper game mechanics come out to play. In addition to the square and triangle attacks (and of course X to jump), circle allows you to dash. This dash has several functions, from chaining ground combos together, to avoiding big hits, to using a chase down mechanic called Aerial Rave, which I’ll explain now.
During a basic combo, the last hit usually knocks enemies away, sending them flying. This can be useful while fighting an enemy swarm, but the Aerial Rave allows you to follow this blow back. Hitting circle to dash after the enemy, you can follow your combo up with another, aerial combo that is more devastating than most normal attacks, and that also helps you build your ninja gauge up faster (we’ll get to that, shortly). Aerial Raves are really your bread and butter with most characters during a shinobi battle.
In addition to Aerial Raves, characters also have another attack option in the Breach Art. This is triggered by holding down triangle, and varies greatly from character to character. Some will teleport to attack the opponent. Others will make a simple melee attacks. Other still will throw poison knives. The Breach Art is suited to the particular character’s play style.
Guarding and Parries also make an appearance here. You can hold R to guard, but a well-timed guard will Parry the attack, leaving your enemy off-balance and open to your attacks. While difficult to master, Parrying is a very effective tactic against enemies that pin you down and constantly attack you.
Every girl has three ‘modes’; Flash, Yang, and Yin. The Flash mode is the basic outfit, with standard stats. Every fight starts here. During a fight, you accrue scrolls in your ninja gauge that are used for special attacks and transformation. Flash mode combat is pretty standard, and you will not have access to specials. The most common transformation is the Yang mode, triggered by hitting L, with one scroll in your ninja gauge.
This transformation fully heals you, and will be used by enemies when their health goes down about two thirds in Flash. Yang mode boosts your attack and defense, as well as offering the ability to use Ninpo, or Secret Ninja Arts. Each character has two by default, and unlocks a third ‘Ultimate’ one during her school’s story mode. The third mode, Yin, is a frantic mode that gives a huge boost to attack and speed, while greatly lowering your defense; you also have access to your Secret Ninja Arts in this mode
Now, clothing and its destruction needs to be addressed. Clothing generally has three steps—full, broken, and lingerie. Tops and bottoms operate separately. When the battle begins in Flash, clothing will be fresh. During a fight, strong attacks that blow opponents away before an Aerial Rave can destroy clothing. If it triggers, this will destroy both the top and bottom in one step, stripping an enemy down to her underwear. Ninpo, on the other hand, target a specific piece. L+square Ninpo will destroy one level of bottoms, while L+triangle Ninpo destroys one level of tops. Ninpo can also destroy underwear, if they are used to strike the final blow. The Ultimate Ninpo, if used to deliver a final blow, fully strips your opponent.
Transforming to Yang will fully restore your ripped clothing, while switching to that girl’s selected Ninja Outfit. Conversely, transforming into Yin is actually a voluntary strip, which leaves your character in her lingerie, no matter how pristine her clothes were beforehand. There are a whole bunch of other nuances to this combat system, but I’ve covered all of the basics.
The last major facet of the game is customization—and there’s plenty of it. As you play through the game, you acquire money that you can spend in the in-game store. Available for purchase are standard outfits, ninja outfits, viewed CGs, and music. There are tons of extra costumes for you to grab that will allow you to customize the girls’ looks, ranging from shrine maiden outfits, to bunny girls and maid costumes. Basic school girl uniforms and the like are also available to change the girls’ Flash mode appearance, though they tend to be more tame.
In addition to all of that, there is a lottery system in the shop that allows you to try to collect the 99 different types of underwear in the game. These can also be customized on a girl-to-girl basis, letting you pick what you think she looks best in, or simply whatever clothing you like the most regardless. What you do is up to you. There are also a bunch of accessories that you can purchase to customize looks further, like cat or dog ears, backpacks, headphones, and the like. These can be altered and resized and moved around the girl’s model, too, so you can get creative.
Let’s not forget about the online mode. While not the selling point of the game at all, the online mode gives the fun a little more longevity, even though it isn’t particularly well-populated. When I hopped online to play for a while, there was always at least one match going, so it’s not completely dead. The matches are definitely a lot of fun, especially if you play with competent opponents. It’s also here that the character differences really shine, with people adopting very, very different play styles depending on who they play.
Overall, Senran Kagura is a very solid game. The gameplay can get repetitive, but it tends to remain fun, even through that. And, while the game gets tons of hate, the gameplay and design are solid enough to warrant a strong score. There’s nothing to see here that is ground-breaking or completely game-changing, but there is a crazy fun game to be had.
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus was reviewed using a retail copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.