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Mainstream video games have never been a stranger to the concept of fan service. It’s certainly no secret that sex sells, and titillating characters have been part and parcel to the formula since gaming’s earliest years. Now, imagine if that concept extended beyond the occasional buxom tagalong or seductive villainess; if every imaginable inch of a video game was dripping with lascivious sexuality. A game where the eroticism was the cake, rather than the frosting. Among the ranks of the mainstream’s most lurid franchises, between Bayonetta and Dead or Alive, stands the exuberantly bombastic ninja high school series Senran Kagura; the story of rivalry and revenge between secret ninja academies of shockingly well endowed students duking it out for ultimate shinobi supremacy.

Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, developed by Tamsoft and published by Marvelous AQL, is the first game in the hack-and-slash franchise to be developed for the PlayStation Vita and the third outing for the series (which initially began on the Nintendo 3DS). With the Vita’s expanded control scheme, compared to the relatively limited 3DS system, Shinovi Versus breaks from the previous games’ fixed camera angles and allows for full three-dimensional camera movement and improved graphical fidelity, resulting in a game that pushes the technical bar for the series higher than previous entries.

Story


While the ways of the feudal shadow warriors of old may have disappeared from the public eye, their practices remain very much alive. In modern Japan, specialized high schools develop the newest generations of shinobi in utmost secrecy, grooming young girls into soldiers who sell their services to the highest government officials, or the highest bidder. These schools are divided between the “good” schools like Hanzo International Academy, and the “evil” schools like Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy, that respectively serve federal or private interests. Hebijo and Hanzo have been locked in vicious conflict since their inception, with their students honing their skills through the tradition of the Shinobi Battle Royale; a deadly contest where each school pits their strongest fighters against their rivals, with the losing team’s school being razed to the ground.

Some time has passed since Asuka, star of Hanzo Academy, defeated Hebijio’s strongest fighter Homura, resulting in the (accidental) destruction of Hebijo. Homura and her team, disgraced by their defeat, are cast out of the school and sent into exile. Working as renegade ninja, they establish the Crimson Squad and operate out of the wilderness. Meanwhile, from the ruins of Hebijo, a new leader rises from the ashes to take charge of its reunification and to seek revenge for its humiliating defeat. Elsewhere, the new school of Gessen builds its forces with ambitions of eradicating everything they consider to be “evil” in the world, in order to create their ideal utopia.

Goofy moments abound as you play through each character specific campaign.


Ideals, passions, and steel collide in a bloody foursome, as each school vies to reach the top in a battle that explores the stories and motives behind an eccentrically colorful cast of fighters (of whom only about two or three seem remotely ninja-like). The back-stories behind the characters intertwine in interesting ways, making their interactions with each other intriguingly complex. First impressions may lead one to believe that Senran is, thematically, all smut and no substance. While there is certainly no shortage of T-and-A, Senran does not sacrifice depth for sexuality; beneath the layers of lingerie lies a surprisingly compelling narrative that explores themes of honor, family, revenge, and love. The story is generally very lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, but the few moments of seriousness do not feel out of place, nor is their impact made any less emotional when surrounded by the relative goofiness of the plot.

Gameplay

Senran Kagura is nothing if not self-aware. {.align-center}

Shinovi’s gameplay is streamlined and wholly simplistic, with nearly every single level following roughly the same format. Think Dynasty Warriors, but on a smaller scale. Instead of smashing through hundreds or even thousands of enemy troops at a time, you are instead combating a couple dozen at most. Instead of roaming across an expansive enemy-infested battlefield you are instead shepherded down linear corridors where enemies spawn in fixed locations. At the end of each level (or sometimes at the very beginning), you fight another named character in one-on-several combat, pitting your character’s elevated ninja skills against theirs. Clothing is whittled away in the heat of battle, reducing each character’s attire to their knickers as they receive damage (and even further, if you finish them off with a special attack, destroying the rest of their clothing).

Attacks are made in the form of preset combos that are simple to execute. Every combo begins with several presses of the square button, followed by a press of the triangle button to apply a launcher that sends your enemies flying. This allows you to follow up with an aerial rave; an automatic aerial combo that sees you taking the battle into the skies. For defense, there is a handy dodge move and blocking stance which effectively mitigate harm. While you may feel the urge to smash buttons with abandon, skillfully balancing attack with defense makes for gratifying combat, and will also net you the highest letter grade at the end of the mission, ranking you based on how quickly you were able to finish the stage and how much damage you received in doing so. (If you really want to cheese the game, just tear off your pants and enter “Frantic Mode” to decimate the boss with a single super attack.)

Battles will often take to the skies, with steel clashing in mid-air like it’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


Every character starts off at level one and maxes out their level at 50, with each level-up providing a boost to base stats of attack, defense, and hit points. Beyond a character’s base level, you will also level up their three different movesets; Yin, Yang, and Flash. Leveling up a moveset will increase the repertoire of moves at their disposal, making them progressively more flexible. Yin is the aforementioned frenzy mode which exponentially increases your character’s power at a sharp cost to defense. Yang is your character’s “magical-girl” transformation, providing a bonus to defense and unlocking the use of super attacks. Characters begin each stage in Flash mode, which is their most basic move set, and can opt for either Yin or Yang later on in the level.

When Shinovi is playing at its best, it’s a graceful experience. Dancing through small crowds of enemies and knocking them left and right with quick, snappy moves is thoroughly enjoyable. While the camera does try to give you a decent view of the fast and chaotic action, there are several instances where you will find yourself fighting in enclosed spaces where the camera simply refuses to spread out—often giving you a face full of unintelligible particle effects. Enemies can be dangerous enough in their own right, but the uncooperative camera may be the player’s greatest nemesis of them all. The targeting feature is meant to keep your enemy on screen at all times, but the flimsiness of the system means that locks are easily broken (even  your enemies aren’t jumping about and skirting all over the place), and re-establishing locks can be cumbersome and unreliable.

With 22 characters to play as, and three move sets to level up between them, there is an enormous amount of replayability for the hardcore completionist. On top of maxing out each character’s abilities, the money you earn by completing levels can be used in the Lingerie Lottery: a game of chance where you pledge money and roll to win a new set of equippable underwear; the more money you pledge, the higher your chances of winning a new piece of lacy skivvies. Unfortunately, the simplistic nature of the gameplay makes for lengthy play sessions that very quickly become tedious and repetitive; Shinovi is best taken in short sporadic bursts, as extended play will burn the player out before long.

Sound

Yeah. Ryona knows what’s up. {.align-center}

Befitting the over-the-top ninja action, Shinovi Versus has an exceptionally catchy OST, with tracks featuring techno, rock, funk, and heavy metal, with a light infusion of traditional Japanese acoustics. Every character has their own unique track that plays when you encounter them, accentuating their personalities and fighting styles with tunes appropriate to their distinct personalities. Groovy rock-and-roll makes the frantic gameplay all the more exhilarating, contrasting nicely with the low-key melodies that play when you return to your home base.

Voice acting, even for those uninitiated in the Japanese language, sounds fitting. Homura grunts and seethes like a wild animal when she fights, and Yumi’s frosty nature is reflected in the lightness of her speech. Of particular delight are the more bipolar characters: Murasaki generally speaks in quiet whispers, gradually shifting towards screaming rage when she’s angered. Murakumo is an imposing stoic figure who speaks with a low foreboding tone; at least until her iconic mask falls off, after which she becomes a simpering puppy. Hikage’s emotionless monotone betrays the psychotic sadist lurking within her mind, and Ryona flips her dynamic of being a submissive masochist and a serious professional at the drop of a hat, depending on the circumstances. The voice work is just another aspect of the cast that makes them so memorable and fun, with characters playing off each others traits with amusing chemistry.

Visuals

Mirai is about to unload. {.align-center}

Exquisite character models paired with skillful animation make for visuals that are absolutely delightful to see. Beyond the meticulous care put into Shinovi’s hypnotically detailed breast physics, considerable attention is also given towards bringing each character to energetic life; whether it’s Miyabi reaching for the sky towards some unseen goal just beyond her reach, or Minori cheerfully offering the player a lollipop after guiding her to victory, the animation injects copious amounts of personality and charm to the cast. The unique movesets also lend themselves to Shinovi’s effective characterization, ranging from the playful to the professional; the funny to the ferocious. While the anime aesthetic does make for faces that become a little too homogeneous, the stylish and flashy outfits they wear do well towards establishing their unique identities.

As the story progresses, new outfits become unlockable for every ninja to try on. There is a heavy emphasis on customization, allowing you to create the goofiest and sluttiest arrangements of dress, underwear, and accessories that you can imagine. Characters can even share their default outfits and hairstyles, which can cause a bit of confusion when seeing them standing next to each other in cut-scenes. The myriad options to choose from allows players to make their ultimate fetish-fuel waifu, but, unfortunately, the array of clothing options never really moves beyond the realm of smutty Halloween costumes—if you were planning on making your characters look cool and ninja-like, you may be rather disappointed.

Clothing is essential; a ninja has to look the part.


Unfortunately, the Vita’s hardware can’t quite keep up with the frenetic action when it’s at its most chaotic; chugging considerably when the player needs a smooth framerate the most. In the worst cases, levels that are covered in vegetation take a lurching performance hit from the very start, and further compounded by the action to follow results in areas where the gameplay grinds to an unplayable crawl. Thankfully, as annoying as these moments are, players won’t have to suffer through too many rough patches; most of the game runs at a manageable (if not particularly impressive) pace.

Conclusion

Overall, Shinovi Versus is a good portable game to bust out on the bus or in a doctor’s waiting room (provided you’re bold enough to actually play it in public). While the action is not without some hiccups, it is engaging enough for infrequent bursts of violent fun, with surprisingly high-quality production values that set it apart from other titles on the Vita. If you need a little more breasts in your portable library, and a fun little action game to boot, then Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is an easy sell.

However, there is one seriously detrimental flaw that I can only hope will be fixed in the future entries of the series:

None of the girls have ANY ass.


Pros

  • Dozens of characters to train and a luck-based lingerie lottery minigame means that Shinovi Versus will keep you busy for a while.
  • Outstanding visuals are pleasing to the eye in more ways than one.
  • Kick-ass soundtrack is a delight to kick back and listen to.

Cons

  • Vita can't quite keep up with the pace, with performance issues when fights become too hectic.
  • Extremely simplistic gameplay means that tedium sets in quickly for extended sessions.
  • No ass. All the panties and swimsuits in the world to choose from, and no ass to fit into them.
  • Gameplay
  • Story
  • Sound
  • Value
  • Replay Value

LewdFactor

In story, in dialogue, in battle and everywhere in-between, sexuality permeates every corner of Senran Kagura with chronic smut that stops just short of full-on pornography. This is a sexy title that unabashedly bares it all from the word go.

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LewdGamer writer and general naughty ne'er-do-well.

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