Senran Kagura has always been a series at odds with itself. It showed even in the first game, but it became strikingly clear in Shinovi Versus. Each story ran down a rollercoaster starting off mostly serious, veering quite silly, then back dead serious for everyone’s backstories, then usually back to silly again (and in a few cases a few more twists).
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A Pair of Worlds
There are two sides to Senran Kagura: The Fun, and what I will (only somewhat derisively) refer to as the Edge. The main story has always had a sharp edge hidden into it; the very start of Estival Versus ponders on how a Shinobi’s life is a brutal, short thing. Then most of the game returns to Fun as the girls enjoy what is more or less a huge beach party with the opportunity to visit many beloved dead relatives. Fun and Edge battle left and right through the game and indeed, the series as a whole. The other games follow similar whiplash-inducing arcs between drama and silliness.
While I definitely enjoy Senran Kagura for far more than the simple boob fan service, I’d be lying if I didn’t find the Edge side a bit less satisfying than the Fun. When it was just backstories it was very touching and intriguing; a sequence in Estival where circumstances force Miyabi to explore her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to her mother’s death, I felt very connected to her, and the writing felt so real it was a bit uncomfortable as someone with invasive memories of my own.
But the “present day” Edge of the series never really seemed to fit in well. Characters proudly threatening to murder each other (often after just recently having a far more jovial interaction with the same characters) always felt a bit much and a bit awkward in the grand scheme of things. I’ve always been confident the series was too lighthearted to actually have any of the main characters die or kill each other, but that only served to make the Edge feel more out-of-place and dull.
Awkward bits of Fun and humor would seep into even the most serious parts of the Edge storyline (it’s very hard to take the drama of Senran Kagura 2 seriously when the giant hideous Yoma…also has massive breasts). Even if you play Senran Kagura seeking the Edge exclusively and completely disinterested in the Fun, the characters, the jokes, the silliness, I can’t imagine you’d entirely enjoy it.
As much as I appreciate the backstories and hope the series continues to explore characters deeply, the Edge just never worked as well as intended. The series often enjoys it’s Shōnen tropes and drama but it really can’t support the light-hearted fun that is, in my opinion, the core of the series, while also trying to craft a dramatic, grim JoJo-esque world.
And bluntly, we have entirely too many grimdark crapsack world series going around lately anyway. Regularly killing characters is plot du jour, but it must never infect Senran Kagura
This split, some might say cleavage, came to a head in the difference between SK2 and Estival Versus. I did not frankly enjoy Senran Kagura 2 much at all and haven’t finished it yet. I played it out of order, starting it in english after I had played Estival Versus in Japanese, and Estival’s focus on Fun just made it really hard to get into the Edge of SK2.
An especially frustrating part of the Edge aspect of the series is Homura and Asuka’s constant rivalry (which has not meaningfully developed beyond the ending of Senran Kagura 1). A rivalry that almost exactly the same in Senran Kagura 1, 2, and Shinovi Versus, sometimes several times in the same game (there are two final boss fights in Shinovi Versus; they are both Asuka vs Homura, you simply play both sides).
This rivalry (which never really produced anything interesting beyond the initial “good shinobi and evil shinobi aren’t even different”) and the mainline series’ insistence on bringing it up always felt like it hampered the main story to me, and I was far more interested in the Versus cast of characters. I wanted to see more of them, more of what they would bring.
Same Old, Same Old
But that wasn’t meant to be, many fans of the “Nintendo” side of the series told me; the next game was going to release on Nintendo platforms and it was going to be serious, and to boot all your favorite little Versus series characters won’t be in it! Because that’s how SK goes; one main story game on 3DS, one more open and fun game on Playstation, then back again.
That always hit wrong for me, because it feels like the main series is quite rapidly running out of interesting progression for its 10~ main characters. But I had kind of figured they were right; it was a reasonable assumption based on the first four games.
Except Peach Beach Splash didn’t continue that cycle.
Peach Beach Splash Breaks The Cycle
Peach Beach Splash is not only not a mainline game, not only is it not for a Nintendo console (it’s PS4 exclusive), but it appears to be a completely Fun focused water gun fight game with swimsuits, wet clothes and optional clothing destruction. (You can find some English info on the game in Gematsu)
It’s got thirty characters to start with, including all the “Main” and “Verses” cast, and a few fan favorites from the New Wave card game. Continuing the main game with so many characters has always been hard (Estival Versus explicitly drops any attempts to give everyone equal story representation), but on the other hand not having your favorite characters in the game at all is a harder pill to swallow than “not everyone gets a full storyline”.
I could be wrong here, but it seems to me Peach Beach Splash is a pretty strong embracing of all the fun and silly aspects of Senran Kagura, and I’m quite open to it myself. The Edge was never bad, but even at it’s best it made the series quite a bit of a thematic rollercoaster. It’s also made the series quite awkward to recommend; it’s serious, but it’s not, but it’s fun, but it’s grim, but it’s pervy, but it’s back to serious, but not this part you see—oh nevermind just play it yourself!
Where To Go From Here?
According to an early PBS Famitsu interview, there is another Senran Kagura game in the works. It’s described as another “action game”, presumably returning to the styling of one of the prior games. It’s entirely possible this series will bring back the Edge, drama, and discussion of people dying all the time. (Then of course, no one actually dies, rending it all pointless.)
But honestly…I quite hope it doesn’t. Senran Kagura is better as a fun series. I think it could find a better balance than Peach Beach Splash as I do enjoy the clashes and passion most of the characters have when it gets down to it, but the “main” series simply wasn’t doing it for me.
Perhaps a reboot (soft or hard) could bring the series to a better balance. But for now, I’ll enjoy Peach Beach Splash when it launches, and be glad I don’t have to hear about nasty old Haruka turning corpses into puppets.