Senran Kagura Estival Versus Import Review

The logo of Senran Kagura Estival Versus

I wouldn’t normally import a game almost certain to get localized, but I went and made an exception here as I had to have the chibi figures the game comes with. So I thought I’d make a review, note I’m reviewing this as someone who can’t read, write or understand a lick of Japanese.

If you’re unfamiliar with Senran Kagura, there may be evil sinful M rated boobies in the following digital pages, so kindly flee in horror if that is a problem.

All of this review is written from the perspective of the PS4 version of Senran Kagura Estival Versus and assumes you’ve played Shinovi Versus (it’s basically required playing first). I can’t say much about the vita version–it’s still in it’s wrapping and will probably remain that way. I have heard the Vita version has assorted minor problems, framerate dips, 30 FPS to start with, some bugs not present in the PS4 version (at least, I never saw them), and I assume the load times are far higher–they range from instant to ~5 seconds to load a cutscene/level on PS4.

Update

The game has received a lot of patches adding a lot of extra missions, 10 DLC characters (3 are free) and a new cooperative multiplayer mode of some sort. The game has even more content than when I wrote this post, but nothing below is particularly invalided by the updates. I’ll make a separate post when I review the US version, which should ship with all the new content I believe.

Also, the game’s now availible for preorder in the US (affiliate link). Note that there’s only one physical version, and the digital copies will be $10 cheaper and come without the physical art book/OST of course.

GameplaySenran Kagura ESTIVAL VERSUS_20150401211429

The best thing I can say about this game is it fixed almost every problem I had with Shinovi Versus. Instead of being organized in “schools”, the story is a single continuous entity and you instantly swap between characters as needed (you can replay levels as anyone you want after winning once). The change in flow is extremely welcome and lets you play any level with any character. I can’t understand the actual story, but Shinovi suffered greatly due to basically repeating 75% of the story between each of the 4 schools and that mess just really had to go.

Along with the stupid school story crap is the excessive focus on “rivalry”. Shinovi had an obsession with pitting each girl with one single other girl from each other school, resulting in an incredibly repetitive series of fights. A few of the most prominent rivalries are still present (Yagyu vs Haruka), but for the most part everyone is mixed up pretty well.  Also, the insufferable focus on Asuka vs Homura is gone. There’s understandably focus on the new 5 characters, but the game otherwise splits the characters pretty evenly, expect to play everyone 2-4 times in the main story.Senran Kagura ESTIVAL VERSUS_20150328100715

Next on the chopping block was the stupid home-base “menu”. Now instead of running around a low-FPS base you just get a nice d pad based menu for utility, and a little auto-panning diorama of the currently selected “school” of girls for eye candy. The dioramas/poses are nice to look at, but the menu being a MENU is a huge improvement.

Once you’re actually in combat, you’ll notice certain characters have a greater feel of weight to them. While surely a bit controversial, I find certain characters feel a lot better with slower, punchier moves. Yomi in particular feels pretty cool now, though I find Hanabi a bit slow without enough oomph to back it up.

Senran Kagura ESTIVAL VERSUS_20150327224317Aside from Hanabi’s speed, the new characters all play pretty well. Kafuru is my favorite, though her lame aerial attack and low-stagger normal attack leave a bit to be desired. The new characters feel like they aren’t as polished as the returning ones unsurprisingly, but I still enjoy using all of them.

Aside from the new characters, gameplay isn’t very different, just refined. Maps are larger, and you very often fight more than one other shinobi, sometimes two waves of bosses even. There is a wider variety of normal/trash enemies, and some of the most annoying enemies (turtles and bears) got major nerfs, appearing less often and rarely performing the block/rolling attacks that made them insufferable. Normal mobs are fun to fight again. The gameplay flow is largely similar to Shinovi Versus beyond those changes, and that’s not a bad thing.

Another welcome change is that secret ninpo/super moves no longer pause gameplay to play animations. Instead, the camera will pan dramatically when necessary, preserving all of the flair of the original supers, but without slowing the game down when you use them. This greatly improves the flow of the game, and the camera work is really good.

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Another new thing is all the characters have special poses for the shinobi transformation–it was always odd that characters had the same transformation as almost every other animation is unique per character. So now each character’s scroll emerges from a specific place (as you might guess some are quite lewd), they do a cute call out, clothes materialize, then they strike a cool pose. You can also press X to skip them to keep the battle flowing smoothly.

Characters also have more unique animations in general, such as reactions to being stripped. Ryona’s animations in particular are…really something else.

The dressing room got a number of upgrades. You now have a set of 5 characters loaded in you can easily switch to, and at least on PS4 switching characters out is instant. This is great because otherwise dressing 25 characters would be a painful chore. Also, clothes now have color options instead of distinct differently colored outfits, between 2-5 colors per item usually and you swap at the simple press of the d pad. It’s still a bit limited on some clothing, but it’s a welcome change.Review Screen Shot 2015-04-11 07-15-35

Picking clothes is simplified, and you’re no longer restricted by only equipping street clothes or shinobi outfits to your pre/post transformation states. You can pick any article of clothing for either, and there’s also new swimsuits for everyone as outer wear to suit the summer theme. Clothes also look much better on flat characters–in prior games textures looked hilariously shrunk on the likes of Mirai.

On the fanservice side of things there’s new finishers, KOing an opponent with a super move near certain environmental objects (marked with a ! sign) will cause them to be instantly stripped and conveniently censored in some comical way. Here’s a picture, obviously NSFW.

Also, stripping is simplified, all clothing damage now affects top and bottoms, and characters are fully stripped by being KO’d at full clothing damage by any super, meaning there is much more nudity for less effort. Also the low-res chibis have been replaced with generic Anime light-circles to obscure naughty bits. The chibis were kind of cute but at least the light beams aren’t super low res and ugly. Butt-rendering is improved, but still not amazing. Also there are now butt-physics. What a time to be alive.

There’s also a new Photo Mode which is part of the dressing room (not a freeze-frame mid-gameplay sort of deal). It’s got a lot of variety of poses and facial expressions but I never really did much with it. It can be used by experts to fulfill all your humorous or perverse wishes I’m sure.

Speaking of features I didn’t use, online is back, and on PS4 you can play with up to 10 other stripping ninjas! Personally I only usually play online with friends and haven’t messed with the online at all.

Now, I’ve heard very positive things about the story from others, but I didn’t understand it. The bits that I did understand were either very funny or very sad. The intro, ending and a couple events in between are actually tear-jerkers which is pretty surprising, and I imagine it’s even more effective when you can read what’s said.

Graphics

This is instantly the most noticeable upgrade coming to PS4 of course. We’ve got 1080p, we’ve got “console standard” levels of Anti Aliasing, we’ve got mostly unflinching 60 FPS (spawning enemies usually causes a dip, thrown bombs can cause a dip, oddly the camera stutters rarely in cutscenes).Senran Kagura ESTIVAL VERSUS_20150328120946

The character models are great, the textures are (mostly) clean, it’s probably the best looking Anime-style 3D game I’ve seen after Guilty Gear Xrd, and that’s not even a fair fight. The graphics are really impressive for a niche game, they’re just plain good other than some clipping, a couple low res textures (collarbones and noses are oddly blurry), and the noticeable lack of lip sync. Characters just repeat a simple talking animation until they’re done which is a bit jarring. All the clothes have proper textures now, compared to Shinovi where underwear was hilariously low res, despite being prominently featured.

Most cutscenes are still done in a visual-novel style with full 3D models performing fairly simple, reused animations to express emotion rather than fully choreographed scenes you’d expect out of say Final Fantasy. But still, the animations are pretty good, especially the eye animations. It wouldn’t be Anime if the eyes weren’t by far the best rendered element.

Level graphics are pretty decent–not quite “Next Gen” I suppose, but they do what they need to do without the embarrassing textures of Shinovi. Most stages are remakes of Shinovi Versus stages, but they’re fully fleshed out with new graphics and areas, and most maps are now quite large as well. A few levels show up too often in the story, and a few really nice ones are only used a couple times or even not at all in the main story! Expect to see a bit too much of the beach and entirely too little of the awesome Pagoda castle.

Music

The music’s pretty darn good–I haven’t burned it to a CD and stuck it in my car like the Axiom Verge OST, but the series always has pretty decent and varied music and this game is no exception. The intro and main menu theme in particular are just so happy and uplifting. The only bad thing about the music is the titles are naturally all in Japanese if you rip the OST disk.

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Controls

Aside from a pretty stable 60 FPS, the controls are basically the same as Shinovi Versus on PS Vita. The extra buttons afforded by the PS4 are basically ignored, but it’s not really a big deal. R2 is used to center the camera and the touchpad can be used as a lock-on button or to initiate tag attacks. The game does still feel a bit better than Shinovi did on PS TV though as the game’s camera controls feel a bit more focused on the bigger sticks. But 60 FPS is the real upgrade here, it feels and looks great.

Also, you can turn on enemy health bars if you want (very ugly, but lets you see the health of swarms of enemies), turn off clothing damage (speeds up battles a bit), or automatically skip story cutscenes, as well as the standard invert camera X/Y, music volumes. Note that turning off clothing damage doesn’t stop you from seeing naughty things–Puru Puru finishes will still occur with full (conveniently censored) nudity, non-boss enemies will still be stripped.

Performing supers is mostly the same, but L1+O level five super/ninpos no longer require low health to trigger. Meaning it’s actually possible to use the stupid thing. It’s still not worth 5 bars of meter in 95% of situations but hey, they look cool.

Also there was some sort of cool air super? move that one of the tutorials shows you how to use…but I could never get it to work again. Not really sure what that was about, sorry, lost in lack of translation. There’s also tag-team moves you can use instead of an air-chase in levels with partners, but it’s a pretty minor addition.

Combos aren’t really any deeper than shinovi Versus unfortunately–there’s still just light/heavy attacks, parries, charged attacks, supers and so on. No major changes to how that all works.

Should I import it?

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Honestly I wouldn’t have imported if not for the figures–not because it’s a bad game (it’s a great game!), but because it seems highly likely that XSeed will localize it at some point or another. But having played it, I quite enjoyed it and I think there’s tons of fun to be had here, but the story being unreadable is a pretty big problem (unless, of course, you can read Japanese).

The game is entirely controllable though. You can use this guide to help get you started but a lot of the menus are icon based or simple yes/no commands. Circle is confirm which takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s really not a big problem. After a couple hours I had no real problem getting around and playing. Not being able to read the tutorials sucks, but most of it can be picked up just by pressing buttons and experimenting, and the tutorials will basically force you to learn before carrying on.

Also important is that Shinovi Versus is basically required reading import or no, as it sets up the characters in a way that I’m pretty sure Estival doesn’t bother you to. It’s also a highly iterative franchise, and going back to 30 FPS Shinovi on PS Vita is pretty damn rough after playing 1080p 60 FPS Estival Versus with all it’s improvements.

So while I do recommend the game, probably wait on it to be localized. Unless you can get the figure packs, the figs are super cute, plus you get the OST and a first-print paperback artbook and OST sampler. You also get a (region locked & censored, sigh) digital copy of the OVA with the PS4 limited edition.

In case you’re unaware, yes, all PS4s are region free, all PS4s can play this game, though if you want to buy it digitally you’ll need to set up a Japanese PSN account (easy) and buy some Japanese PSN cash (slightly harder, gotta buy from a website instead of paypal/credit card). Playing this game is no harder than importing it.

Speak of the devil, if you want to buy/preorder the English version, it’s now available on Amazon. Review for the english version will be up when ready.

Now to send us off, hey Shiki, who’s the worst character?

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Author: Sir TapTap

Opinionated gaming spikeball dedicated to showing cool games and making games more enjoyable for everyone.