Senran Kagura: Estival Versus Review
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus blends an arcadey-action feel with Dynasty Warriors, with a smattering of fun PVP action and the obvious anime tropes. While there are a few obvious assets the game is trying to convince you to buy it with, there are quite a few pieces under the surface that show the developers know how to make a quality game as well.
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is a new title in the ever-growing series that started on the 3DS and has evolved through to Sony platforms and mobile, going from sidescroller to full on 3D action, even taking stints as a card game and a rhythm cooking game in the middle. Also including some orignal animations under it's belt, there is plenty of lore to be had in the Senran Kagura series. For a first-timer such as me, it gets a bit intimidating: I was originally drawn in by the beautiful anime cutscene that opened the story, but was quickly overwhelmed as the first few levels seemed to be rushing through the roster to make sure everyone was there. Once you get to the true main menu, though, you can get into the real variety of gameplay.
On first bootup, you find yourself with only the main gameplay mode available. (With my downloaded copy, extra data was being downloaded, preventing me from online play, etc.) Eliminate the strategy of field domination, add in power ups, wall maneuvers, and upgrade transformations and you find yourself with an even more arcadey take on the Dynasty Warriors franchise with a noted anime feel. Run through the level seeking out throngs of enemies and take them out. After a few levels (where every faction and team get introduced and conveniently sucked away by a bright light into this dimension) the game opens up and explains itself a bit. I'm sure that the storyline is more cohesive to regular fans, but it just kinda throws you in with the girls, stereotypical tropes and all.
Once you get your final data downloaded AND get to the main menu, the game opens up it's bevy of features. Aside from the story (a thin excuse for the characters to both fight with and against each other at varying times), you'll find many ways to enjoy your time on the beach (or wherever the plot allows you to be conveniently transported to). You can do the "thousands of enemies that you can plow through" mode or tame it down and fight against a selection of the playable characters, with better AI and a higher challenge. Outside of battle, there's time to play the lottery for unlockables, shop for new items and accessories, and a dress-up theater that allows you to make your favorite combinations of outfits for pictures or in-game play.
I will be honest: Estival Versus' multiplayer mode will need a separate review post-launch. With the tight window and lack of a community, it is difficult to express the potential that I feel is in multiplayer. The game has a variety of King-of-the-Hill and Capture the Flag contests, all wrapped up in the Senran Kagura theme that as far as gameplay, sound very interesting, but when I got online the only match I made was with a single silent opponent who was only interested in PVP on a single map. The fighting styles translate to one-on-one a little roughly. Lock-on lets you keep your opponent right in front of you, but the dramatic camera sweeps during awesome single-player brawls turn into confusing angle changes in multiplayer. Plus, the really cool chain attacks you inflict on opponents gets old when you are on the receiving end. Set off a super attack in front of you with a concentrated attack area that misses? Your opponent could walk up behind you and all you can do is watch as they time the start of a combo right at the end of your animation. I'm not going to give up on the multiplayer yet, though. The idea of a ten-player free for all or games themed more around capturing high ground or holding onto the flag would bring a little more chaos to the battlefield. Much like Super Smash Brothers, Senran Kagura's multiplayer will only shine more with extra players all trying to dominate the battlefield. All playable characters, both online and in solo play, have unique weapons and outlandish moves that make them memorable and a blast to play, from a giant sniper rifle to three swords in each hand between the knuckles acting like extreme Wolverine claws. A missed super attack won't lead to someone waiting for animation to end; they'll be too busy trying to keep themselves alive. Get enough people in on a multiplayer match, and I'm sure that it's a blast. So long as the community grows, I'll drop another review describing the multiplayer post launch.
But, the elephant in the room here is the thematic quality of Senran Kagura. It's not known for equal representation of quality characters (not a male in sight, hypersexualized females that end up in compromising positions or with unnecessarily ripped clothing). It's really kind of baffling that games like this come out without any comment while Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V ends up owning news sites for months (I know, the difference in fanbase is an obvious detractor to setting these together). The ladies of Senran Kagura put the antics of the Dead or Alive franchise to shame (Ayame is actually a downloadable bonus character, but was not available for review at this time). In the options menu, I found a few tweaks that allow the game to be toned down if you so desire, which was welcome to me. You can turn off the story scenes, where most of the lewd comments and stereotypical tropes come to fruition. You can prevent the ripped off clothing. All of the extra modes like photos or collecting the extra clothing are 100% optional, and unnecessary to complete the actual game. There's no turning off the inherent bounciness of the ladies and their desire to make every motion into a dramatic wave of energy, though.
Distilled down to it's core elements, though, this game can be pretty sweet. I have made quite a few eye rolls during my play time at the parody-level girls and their antics, but I felt like a true warrior once I figured out how to pummel 20 enemies into the air, run up the wall following them to add more to their beat down, then air dash after them to pound them back into the ground, ending their life and my 250-hit combo. Much like when Bayonetta came out: the game looked sweet, but the lore and mostly naked hairweave heroine didn't sit well with me. Platinum turned around and made Transformers: Devastation, and it's currently one of my favorite games. Senran Kagura's wacky over-the-top characters may be a bit much for me, but the engine is solid. XSeed Games is doing wonderous work in helping share the unique culture of Japan with the West. From Senran Kagura, to PopoloCrois, NitroPlus Blasterz to Trails of Cold Steel, there's a lot of gaming beyond what's popular in the west, and I love groups that help bring over new adventures. My gaming history is filled with fond memories of Katamari Damacy, Incredible Crisis, and Rising Zan: Samurai Gunman. Without developers trying new things, those experiences would have never happened. And the solid engine under the main game mode of Estival Versus is begging to be used in other places. I can't wait to see what happens next.
If you already know Senran Kagura, you know you're going to find excess everywhere you look. It's pleasing to see, though, that the developers have taken the time to make a cohesive title that would be fun even without a single lick of characterization. If this game's engine ran the next Dynasty Warriors game, or had random generic dudebro characterizations, it would still be fun, and that's the quality to take out of it. Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is a flat-out enjoyable experience for someone wanting a quick arcade beat-em-up.
Final Score: 4.25/5
Thanks to the developers and XSeed Games for providing a copy of the PS4 edition for review.