Senran Kagura is about as niche as a series can get. A Dynasty Warriors-esque action game featuring extremely sexualized superpower ninjas, it is a series that has managed to garner its fair share of fans regardless of its blatant eroticism due to its endearing sense of fun and addictive gameplay. The latest entry of the series, Estival Versus, continues this trend with more content than ever and a great translation. Even though it does become repetitive eventually, and the multiplayer component is lacking, it is a solid, lighthearted hack n’ slash romp that will keep players busy for a good while.
The first thing that should probably be mentioned is the ridiculous amount of eroticism in the game. This game is extremely sexual, featuring women in various stages of nakedness, and sometimes in pin-up style revealing poses. Honestly, it’s one of the most lewd games on the market, but it does redeem itself on account of its atmosphere and strong writing. The game never takes itself too seriously, and goes so overboard in its lunacy that its hard to fault it for its own sex appeal; it’s not harmful, it just wants to be a ridiculous good time. That having been said, it will no doubt be a turn off to some people, and should definitely not be played by kids.
The main story of the game centers around four rival schools of shinobi who have been mysteriously transported to an island where they can see their loved ones again, and are also forced to do battle in the “Millennium Festival” at the behest of a weird old lady. It’s a thin premise, but the clever writing manages to make it go pretty far, evolving into a series of scenes that deftly balance between witty comedy and bizarrely touching drama. There is, of course, a copious amount of unnecessary sexual innuendo in between, but all of these elements somehow manage to mesh together to create a unique, off-the-wall experience that will instantly endear itself to fans of anime and its style of storytelling.
Gameplay in Estival Versus is fairly standard for the genre, revolving around chaining together light and heavy attacks as well as air dashes to take on large groups of enemies and rack up combos well into the hundreds
of hits. It’s all very quick and satisfying, and with a roster of over 20 unique characters, it becomes a treat to explore all possible combat options as the game progresses. What makes the general gameplay loop so addicting however is the inclusion of a light RPG system, allowing characters to level-up individually, unlocking new moves along the way. It’s a cherry on top of a fluid combat system that often kept me involved in my play sessions for longer than I had planned. However, the game is quite long, and by the end of the roughly 30-hour main story, the combat does begin to wear a bit, regardless of the variety of the roster.
Estival Versus is also graphically excellent, with the games smooth framerate and animations bolstered by a crisp art style. Cutscenes are well animated, and characters constantly move through levels satisfyingly, pulling off super heroic feats with a vivid visual panache that stays strong throughout. Everything is filled with color, and whether on the PS4 or its native PS Vita, the game pops off the screen. The main downside to the visuals is that they are quite obviously meant for a handheld. While it is one of the Vita’s best looking games in action, on the PS4 it can look a bit barren, and at times blurry when some textures get too close to the camera. Regardless, it runs smooth, and manages to look crisp no matter what platform it’s on.
While Estival Versus comes with a multiplayer mode that can handle up to 10 players on PS4 (4 on Vita), it really is quite lacking in modes; and given the general design of the game and a slew of connectivity issues, just isn’t very fun to play. Including standard modes resembling traditional Deathmatch and CTF (Capture the Flag), matches quickly devolve into a confusing mess of special moves and effects, with players ending up stuck in corners with no way out. The servers are also rarely populated enough for a full lobby, and even if you manage to get in a game, connections are often mediocre at best. It’s a bummer because the idea holds some promise, but as releases like Ninja Gaiden 3 and God of War: Ascension have shown in the past, the third-person action game just isn’t made for multiplayer.
The Senran Kagura series will always have its fans and its detractors, and Estival Versus will do nothing to change minds on either side. But for people willing to put up with its overbearing amount of fan service, there is a deep, varied experience with hours of content and more than a few genuine laughs. It does get a bit repetitive in the later hours, but Estival Versus will still be a treat for fans of the series, and may just convert a few more to the fandom.