As The Vita Lounge’s resident “games with boobs” enthusiast, I tend to be the one who gets games like Estival Versus – but I only feel good about taking them because I know I can be impartial. While sexual aspects are great in my opinion, I know that alone they don’t equate to a good game, and I can look past the shine of it (as well as the taboo of it) to see the truth.
So when I tell you that the truth is “Estival Versus is great, but in some ways it feels like they’ve taken a step backward” you can believe me, and take me at my word. Before we get to why however, let’s dig in and get the details of what it has to offer.
The story in Estival Versus follows the Kagura Millennium Festival, which – on the surface – seeks to reunite lost loved ones with their worthy shinobi relatives for a little bit of closure. That’s hardly the whole of it however, and beneath the surface lies a tale filled with sadness, laughter, bravery, and weakness. This is the story of the meaning behind “Kagura,” and it’s a good one – so I won’t spoil it for you. The story isn’t really something most people come to Senran Kagura for, but they do pretty well for something filled with gratuitous breast jokes and f-shots. I was impressed by their narrative, and I think you will be too.
The stories that follow the individual girls were slightly less impressive and intensive, though a few of them were certainly memorable. These short stories are a series of five levels (for each girl), opened and closed with a little text monologue. They’re what I like to call “surface encounters” and are more of a cute excuse to keep playing than anything else. Unfortunately, how they’ve been implemented makes them a little less useful than they were in Shinovi Versus – due to the way that they now unlock with your progression through the game. While in the previous title you could use them to “buff” your character a tad before taking on the main storyline, now you’re guaranteed to be sent in fresh and vulnerable.
There are however two special missions available, which you can use to hone your skills. They consist of a fight between your character of choice and a team of Homura, Miyabi, and either Asuka or Yomi depending on which you choose. They have their own little “story” and are very useful for practice, zeni (cash) farming, or simply a distraction.
Moving on from the story bits, there’s also a “Shinobi Dojo” online mode available from the main menu – allowing you to fight your friends or strangers via the internet or ad-hoc connection. Online modes include Point Battle, Understorm, Capture the Bra, Shinobi Survival, Walker Battle, and Shinobi Deathmatch – each with their own rules. Options include leaderboards, create a room, join a room, random join, and online battle tutorials. I played a few online matches when I could get them, and as far as I could tell there were no issues with lag. Overall, a good online experience in my opinion.
Aside from the main gameplay modes you’ll have available, Estival Versus also includes a lot of the non-gameplay features that you’ll have wanted to see back from Shinovi Versus – including the Dressing Room, Library and Shop.
The Dressing Room is back with all your clothes, accessories, and style changes still available… though they’ve added in a brand new Diorama Mode. Now you can view one to three of the girls, posed together, and in different environments. Screenshot heaven!
The Library is simply a more thorough version of its past self, restyled for the new title. It still includes all the stats and media viewing you’d want, but now it also comes with a glossary of collected terms so you never feel out of the loop.
Lastly, the Shop is back with the same ol’ item store features and gotcha machine you’ve come to love – though the name may have changed on the latter. The gotcha machine feature 120 sets of lingerie, while the store contains well over a hundred purchasable items by the end of the game (they unlock as you play). There’s lots to spend money on here, just like before.
Additionally however, they’ve added the ability to change the view (so to speak) in the menu – allowing you to pick a girl, who then becomes the focus of some creative camera work alongside views of them with the other girls.
Moving past the setup of everything, we have what I considered to be a medium speed – or somewhere between medium and fast speed anyways – musou style action game. You pick (or are given) a girl, and then take on some grunts and/or some shinobi in a real time fight – using combos, heavy hits, launches, lunges, and even special abilities to pulverize your enemy. It uses a lock on system that also allows for free-look, and plays in locales that usually consist of corridors and “fields,” strung together into unique-looking areas.
The controls work out just like Shinovi Versus; “X” is jump, square is basic attack, triangle is launch/heavy attack, and circle is lunge/sprint. You can guard with the right trigger, lock on with “up” on the D-Pad, execute a “personal space” attack with “down” on the D-Pad, and change targets with “left” or “right.” Pressing the left trigger will send you into your transformed state, and using the left trigger with either square, triangle, or circle (level 1, 2, or 3) will execute a devastating special move. The level of the attack will depend on the button pressed, as well as whether you have the needed power scrolls to activate it. Level 1 requires one scroll, Level 2 requires two, and Level 3 requires five.
In addition to the basic attacks and those offered in transformed mode there is another “mode of play” you should be aware of, and it’s called Frantic Mode. Entering Frantic (right trigger and “X”) will relieve you of everything but your lingerie – leaving you closer to being stripped than normal, but upping all your abilities. There are no special controls for moves in Frantic, just know that all your regular moves are greatly enhanced.
Speaking of the controls and combat, we come to another “step back” moment in the game – the way that attacks are strung together. Unlike Shinovi Versus there’s no continuous flow when pulling off moves, and instead you get a moment of what I like to call “hang time” in between each motion. In the hang time the character isn’t really moving, and is more posing than anything – leading to a very stop/start looking animation. While I initially chalked it up to nostalgia glasses (I’ve put a few days worth of time into the previous title), I actually ended up going directly back and forth between the games a few times – with different characters – and it’s a legitimate change. Call me picky, but I’m not a fan.
I’ve apparently strayed into graphics territory, so let’s take on that item as well – and get the thumbs up for the “paint job” out of the way. Looking at any single frame of Estival Versus in comparison to its Shinovi Versus counterpart (or closest to it) you notice a fair difference, the newer game offering a cleaner and less flat look all around. The jaggies have been eliminated in many areas, and the textures have been upgraded. It looks good… it just requires a little extra loading to do so.
Where before you’d have a near seamless experience, now there’s a little “Loading” bar and a wait of between two and twelve seconds to carry on – the most notable “seams” appearing before a character swap-in, and in the middle of visual novel bits. While I can understand the need for concessions in order to give us some better looks and/or areas, the places these loading screens have been inserted are the most obtrusive ones you can think of aside from literally mid-fight. Necessary evil? Sure. Good execution of that necessary evil? Hmm, maybe not so much.
The good news however, is that the sound is pretty much as good as it was in Shinovi Versus. There are some more serious text-based scenes near the end where a certain “continue” sound effect completely breaks the mood – but aside from that, I found myself with the volume up and playing happily. That said, those who are looking for an English voice-over may be disappointed as they’ve kept the original Japanese track and opted for subtitles instead (my preferred method of play, but not everyone’s).
Moving to my final thoughts, they’re pretty damn good for the most part. Once you get used to the stop/start way they’ve strung together the moves you have a game that’s just as playable as its predecessor; if not just as smooth. The added benefit of some smoothed out graphics certainly keeps the eye on the ladies instead of the smoothness of the gameplay however, and you’ll be enjoying yourself all the same.
That said, when I say you’ll be enjoying yourself all the same – I mean it. Estival Versus doesn’t really offer anything new to the series on Vita, and basically just gives you another version of the game you already liked. It looks a little better in the “paint” department, but at the same time just doesn’t string moves together quite as well. As a sequel it underwhelms just a tad, but maybe that’s just because it had a lot to live up to. Either way, it’s a great game… just maybe not better overall than the last.