If you had said to me five years ago that I’d be playing a rhythm game on the go and it’d be filled with girls who get their clothes torn off when I win, I’d have told you that you needed help – but here I am, writing about that very thing.
Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit! is a game that melds the premise of cooking with the button-pressing rhythm of motivation, using our favourite shinobi from the Senran Kagura series to do all the dirty work on-screen. It features a story mode that follows each character on their own little adventure for a wish, an arcade mode for a story-less challenge, and a free mode where you battle how you choose against who you choose.
The Story mode is tailored to the shinobi you pick to participate with, a separate story and opponent list available for each character (meaning ten in the base game, ten more with the Hebijo x Gessen Pack and two more with the Daidoji and Rin DLCs from Shinovi Versus – for a total of twenty-two possible stories). Upon selecting this mode you’ll then choose your character, which will pull up that character’s text-based intro and then run through five encounters with other shinobi and a final text outro. Shinobi encounters will follow the following formula; visual novel intro, cook-off where you’ll play their song and cook their food, final scoring and then visual novel outro.
Being a rhythm game, gameplay is all about matching up the notes you’re give on the screen with corresponding button presses – and where this comes into play is the song-assisted cook-off portion of each shinobi encounter. How well your character cooks their opponent’s signature dishes depends on how well you match the notes to the opponent’s cooking song, which is conveniently split into three portions to match the three courses your character must prepare.
In between each course is a small judging stage where Hanzo will judge your work and give you a superiority/inferiority rating (as well as partially destroying the loser’s outfit), before issuing a final judgment after the final course (and completely disrobing the loser). If you manage to beat your opponent in all three courses you’ll even earn a “Perfect Score” award, where your opponent will be covered in tasty food and served up on a silver platter for gawking at from any angle… Yum.
As for how you’ll go about matching up button presses to the song you’re playing along to, the notes given are activated using the d-pad and PlayStation symbols; combinations of these symbols scrolling from right to left across two note bars and passing through the black/red and black/blue activation areas at the end. Easy versions of songs generally deal with single notes and little variation, though some of the more complex songs do seem to double up on notes and get trickier in their patterns regardless (especially if you play Daidoji or Rin’s DLC songs). As for the medium versions of songs, they up the chances of coming across combination notes and up the amount of notes per song – often using tighter groups than the easy versions. While both the easy and medium versions of songs tend to only use 3/4 of the buttons (the left, right and lower of each the PlayStation symbols and the d-pad), the hard versions add the upper buttons (triangle and up on the d-pad) as well as upping the complexity and maximizing the note variation to better represent the notes of the song.
Aside from hitting the notes, there’s another important mechanic that comes into play (especially when it comes to score) – and that’s the shinobi transformation. If you fill up the meter in the bottom left of the screen, adding a character to each bubble and lighting the centre, you can activate a transformation and take your score to the max. Transforming will start a multiplier which keeps running up in the same way that the meter is filled, as long as you don’t miss a single button press. The higher the multiplier, the bigger the score – so keep that in mind when you’re using it so that you can maximize its usefulness on hard songs.
The only other thing other than notes and shinobi transformations that you can encounter when actually competing in the game is the heart note, which is more of a fanservice bonus than anything. If you successfully complete the first two portions of a song and earn a full heart, it’ll be placed in the song’s third portion as a note (which can be activated with any button) and upon activation will generate a close-up once-over of your opponent’s lingerie-clad body.
Arcade mode and Free mode simply strip away the story bits and the structure (respectively) to give you the core play mechanics of the game with less of the “blah, blah, blah” that usually comes with it. Arcade mode takes Story mode’s five characters idea and simply drops the talk, sending you into five consecutive rounds with different shinobi – while Free mode removes the structure completely and lets you choose your character as well as who you’re going up against. These modes are where you’ll likely be spending most of your replay time, since you won’t have to deal with that pesky storyline or even the standard five fight structure getting in the way.
Aside from playable modes (and the settings menu), there’s also the Dressing Room, Library and Honor Roll options to choose from for additional content and/or information.
The Dressing Room mode is where you can dress up the shinobi in clothing – be it the defaults, unlocked options, DLC, or otherwise. You can choose the girls’ base clothes, transformation wear, hairstyles, and accessories as well as being able to view your choices via a full-screen option with zoom (and touch interaction 😉 ).
The Library is where you can access unlocked pictures, music, voices and scenes from the game – reliving events and other unlocks from the title for your own amusement (you naughty little bugger, you).
The Honor Roll is the leaderboard function of the game, allowing you to check out the top scores globally, the scores among your friends list, or simply your own scores in both halves of the game and across all three modes of each half.
Speaking of the “halves” of the game, I should probably explain what I mean by that – and what I mean is that when you buy the base game you’re only buying half the content. The Hanzo x Crimson bit in the base game is only half the schools and half the students and songs available (not counting the elder shinobi Daidoji and Rin), and not having the Hebijo x Gessen pack will make the game seem small and repetitive in comparison. Buying both the base game and the expansion comes out to $30 in North America or €25 in Europe (£20 in the UK) at launch – so even though you’ve got to pay at least 66% more than the base game to get the full experience it’s still not a bad deal. This review is based on the full experience by the way, so take heed of that when considering the opinion to come.
As for the graphics in the game, it looks just as good as Shinovi Versus did – so if you’ve played that game then you’ll have a good idea what you’re getting into (in more ways than one). If you haven’t, I’ll describe it this way; character models are simple but crisp and eyecatching, the presentation is of quality and the design is very “Japan”.
As for how these graphics actually run, there’s a few small issues here and there – and one a bit of a biggie. The small issues mainly have to do with the combination of camera movement and graphically intense animation sequences causing frame drops (not lag) here and there. While the music keeps in sync with the choppy animation (you can still track the notes, they just “skip” instead of glide), it’s not the prettiest or the most clean presentation and definitely could use some tweaking to fix. As for the large issue, it’s simply a severe variant of this which is present in the open-fire cooking portion of Miyabi’s song. Once the fire is shown on screen, the game drops so many frames it’s hard to line up any notes… even on easy. While these issues are few and should be quite fixable with simplifying textures and/or modifying the scenes for less movement, they’re definitely present and could possibly take away from an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Moving on to the sound in this game, on the whole I quite liked what they’ve done. Using a lot of very familiar sounding music (nothing identifiable, perhaps public domain?) from all over the place (there’s classical, pop, electronica, rock and tons of genres in-between) they’ve created a soundtrack that’s both pleasing to the ear and yet not a rehash or anything they would have had to pay out the nose for.
The voices in-game are in the original Japanese, so there are subtitles included in English to give you a general idea of what’s being said (seems like a lot of paraphrasing here) – but being a purist it didn’t bother me one bit. While many English speakers may prefer a dub, games like this need to have the proper inflections of emotion which only the Japanese voice-overs can deliver accurately (in my opinion).
My only complaint in the audio department actually lies in the fact that I can’t change the sound for hitting notes correctly to anything other than the default option and off, which is quite a feat in a game which relies so heavily on its audio.
Coming down to a question of whether I would recommend Bon Appetit! to others, the answer would be yes – however I wouldn’t recommend it blindly to anyone who likes rhythm games or Senran Kagura. With regards to the actual playable bits in the game and the production value with regards to those parts specifically, this game is definitely a notch below games like Project Diva and DJ Max, and is closer to Guitar Hero in that aspect than it is anything else I’ve seen in recent years. That said, the animated bits that play while you’re going about the song are quite enjoyable, and the character models and customization of clothing regarding them is quite a nice touch (as it was in Shinovi Versus).
Moving on to how hard the game was, I’ll say this; while I was able to readily get through almost any song on easy (near perfect) or medium (good enough to get by), I failed at every turn on hard – so there’s definitely some challenge there. That said, how much of a challenge it presents will likely depend on how serious of a rhythm gamer you are – so keep in mind that I’m a casual but consistent visitor to the genre and not a rhythm game savant.
Bottom lining it; while it’s definitely functional and fun to play, Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit! leaves a lot to be desired in rhythm-genre presentation and as such serves a bit better as fluff than it does as a great example of a rhythm title (just as Guitar Hero is fun but will never teach you to be good at guitar). Playing Bon Appetit! is going to be a bit of welcome fun for those not expecting a serious, all-ages, over-polished rhythm title – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but if you’re expecting something up there with SEGA and Pentavision’s offerings you might not find quite what you’re looking for (though you may find something else worth enjoying! 😉 )