I must admit, going into Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus I was both hopeful and a bit wary of what I could find. While the title was an extension of the enjoyable anime/manga series (IMO anyways), it was also a fanservice-heavy import title; which could either mean it was going to be awesome, or a bloody mess (and not in the good way). Thankfully, only a few minutes into the title I realized this was going to be a fun one to review – and man, was it ever.
Shinovi Versus puts you in the shoes of girls across four separate ninja “schools” (one is more of a gang); Hanzo, Hebijo, Gessen and the Crimson Squad. These schools are comprised of groups of five girls, each with their own 5-mission short story to better introduce you to their personality and/or back-story. Aside from each of the girls’ separate short stories, there’s also four different 25-mission school-wide stories which alternate through the respective school’s characters while pitting them up against various girls from the other schools. Each of the storylines (which are woven through the missions) are presented as a series of text/visual novel elements thrown in between bouts. The girls’ respective personal stories are five missions long and are very much primarily about them, while the school stories are more drawn out (twenty-five missions over five chapters) and involve all members of the group equally. These stories are enjoyable and usually funny (especially some of the personal ones), so try not to skip them your first time through. 😉
So, did you catch those numbers? That’s twenty different characters (each with their own unique fighting styles, costumes, looks, and special moves) and two hundred different missions to play. Taking that into consideration, it’s no wonder I hit thirty-six hours on my play-through just to complete the entire storyline set (not getting the platinum or maxing everything out). The game offers a ton of content for the player, and will keep you coming back for more again and again.
All the characters in the game come with their own unique look including hairstyle, shinobi outfit and lingerie – but there’s also fifty different base costumes, fifty shinobi outfits, half a dozen unlockable haistyles, forty accessories and just shy of one-hundred unlockable lingerie pieces (using the lingerie lottery feature, which is sort of like a slot machine). If you’re looking for customization options you’ve certainly got them, as just about the only things you can’t change are the respective girls’ figures, move-sets and voices.
Moving on to the levels, they’re designed as large open arenas that you can move freely within or trails/rooms that require you to defeat a certain amount of enemies before you can progress. Each arena has breakable items which contain bonuses (ninja energy for special moves, health, buffs, etc) as well as obstacles to get in your way and a large area to battle in. Locations vary from hill-side trails to school gymnasiums and even open fields – each with their own charms and limitations.
Missions on these levels range from the typical “kill a bunch of enemies until the boss comes out” type missions, to one-on-one battles, to one-on-two battles (these are interesting, but rare) – the only thing they all have in common is that they end when you defeat the boss (or second boss if two) in combat by bringing their health gauge from full to empty. This is easier said than done in some cases (and depending on your skill level), as the bosses can be quite aggressive and – if they catch you just right – juggle you like a pro. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to avoid this and/or turn the tide, all included in the move-sets.
The combat in Shinovi Versus is oh so satisfying, and not just because you can cut/rip your opponent’s clothes off either; if you catch your opponent just right and time your moves perfectly, you can go a whole match without even being touched. That said, one fraction of a second too late and you could be put in the same situation by the sometimes merciless AI. The two-button attack system, combined with button combos for different attack types and charging abilities in some cases allows for quite a bit of attack variation, especially when you add the fact that changing modes or affiliations will change your move styles.
Aside from the standard mode of attack, you have the shinobi transformation mode, frantic mode, and the three different affiliations. When in any of the transformed modes (read; not standard) you can use ninja energy in the form of scrolls to execute special moves (secret ninja arts) which have exponentially higher damage and are much harder to avoid. Executing these moves is as simple as having enough scrolls and using the left-trigger with an attack button, and making sure your enemy is in your path.
There’s also another attack however, which isn’t unlocked until later in each of the schools’ respective story-lines – the super secret ninja art. This requires you to have completed chapter 4 of your respective character’s school mode and to be both transformed and down to less than 20% of your health (red, flashing bar) to execute – but will unleash an attack with much greater power than any other move in the game. As a bonus, if you’ve got your opponent down to their underwear you can render them completely nude (with censors, of course) by pulling off one of these in their face.
Aside from the two hundred available missions, Shinovi Versus also houses an online mode – offering ad-hoc or infrastructure multiplayer across three major modes; Death Match, Strip Battle and Understorm. Death Match is as you’d expect – fighting your opponent and/or the CPU to the finish, Strip Battle involved you beating the clothes off your opponents for points, and Understorm is sort of like capture the flag – if the flag was a bunch of panties. All of these modes have various settings such as time or score you can set, as well as other restrictions – and all of these games are quite fun with some friends. While it’s possible to just load up a multiplayer game full of bots, this one’s definitely geared towards some laughs in a party chat with some real opponents.
The graphics in Shinovi Versus are done quite well, despite being somewhat simple. This “simple but pretty” approach allows for the game to play very smoothly, which is important when you’re trying to time attacks and blocks properly. As for the audio portion of Shinovi Versus, it’ll disappoint some and please others, depending on what you’re looking for from it. The game contains both a ton of sound effects (including “noises” for the girls to make) as well as a Japanese-only voice over; for the purist like me (did I just say purist after referencing “noises”, wtf?) it’s a perfect fit as I prefer the original language and English subtitles, however I’m aware that many would rather just play the game with an English voice over and not have to read (as much). It’s also worth noting that those noises I mentioned earlier might warrant a mute if you’re anywhere within earshot of someone else and have any shame (I don’t, by the way – ha ha).
As for the controls, they’re pretty straightforward and do well to allow for lots of combos and different maneuvers without sacrificing a lot of moves or activations to the touch screen (which I’m not super fond of in action/fighting titles).
Before I get to the conclusion and what I really thought about the game, I wanted to also touch on all the DLC that has been released so far. As of this review, the Costume Set #1 and #2 DLC packages and the Character Set DLC are available for purchase, as well as a set of free hairstyles, a free Halloween lingerie set and a balloon accessory kit. I’ve purchased and installed all of this DLC, and while the costume sets are a bit pricy and may not appeal to everyone as they’re mainly cosmetic (and the balloons suck…) – the Character Set DLC containing the veteran shinobi Daidouji (Hanzo Academy) and Rin (Crimson Squad) is certainly worth a look and a purchase.
This DLC pack comes with the two characters, each having their own 5-mission character story-line to complete as well as being completely unique (and quite over-powered, in my opinion). They’re a great way to extend your gameplay if you enjoyed the game as much as I did, and the final fight in their personal stories is one of the best and hardest in the game.
That’s right folks, I kind of gave it away there but I’ll say it again for posterity – I thoroughly enjoyed playing through Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, and it wasn’t just ’cause of the T’n’A. The depth of the combat system, the different modes and affiliations you can enter/use, the eye-pleasing visuals and the unique and customizable characters make this a great action game to sink some real time into. At thirty seven hours and counting, I don’t see myself stopping the fight any time soon – and if you haven’t joined in you better get to it!