Thursday, 7 April 2016
Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is the latest in Marvelous' musou style brawler series by legendary boob lover Kenichiro Takaki and serves as the seventh game in the series as well as a sequel to Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus.
To say that I was excited for this game is a little bit of an understatement, I've no doubt Spooky probably got bored of me constantly gushing over how gorgeous the game looked in trailers and probably despaired at my single minded determination to get this game the moment it came out.
My love for this game comes not only from the deliciously soft looking characters (although that certainly does help) it is also stems from the personality of the developers and of the artist Yaegashi, whenever I read an interview or even look at the illustrations in my art book or in the game itself I can feel the passion these people put into their work, a rare thing to feel in a gaming landscape where most protagonists and game worlds seem to all look the same.
My favorite thing though has to be how unapologetic they are with the things they create, I get a real feeling from them that they design characters and create games that they themselves would love to play and they strive to pass that experience onto their worldwide audience with as few changes as possible.
The story of the game is fairly straightforward, the girls are beckoned by halos of light into another world where they are told they have to take part in a midsummer festival in order to lay to rest the souls of their deceased loved ones. It's a simple enough premise that sets the stage for conflict between the characters who are established as friends by the end of SV so the conflict between them never seems forced.
While the story premise is simple it's with the characters that Senran Kagura shines, each girl has their own huge and bombastic personality, each girl can easily stand on their own but when they come together they form one of the most charming casts you can imagine without really pushing over the edge into moeblob territory, at least in my opinion.
The story itself jumps back and forth between the four academies and the new faction that is introduced - the Mikaruga sisters, these characters are good but in my opinion they are definitely the weakest of the cast with Renka being the only one of the sisters I truly felt myself drawn to, although all their designs are solid and convey their personalities well whether it's Hanabi's cow eyed expressions or Renka's solid frame and determined gaze.
The canon that the game itself goes for seems to not take from any single route in SV instead choosing to take aspects from all four academy routes to form a single thread which I surprisingly quite like, it seems like a good compromise to make so as not to totally dismiss any one route from being 'pointless', the fact that the story opts for a more focused canon this time around by simply flitting between girls instead of going for different stories for each faction eliminates this problem going forward in the series in the most logical way possible.
If you feel like your favorite girl does not get enough time to shine then the Shinobi girls hearts missions make a return where they get their own focused story and as with SV they range from hilarious to adorable to everything in between and more often than not a mixture of the two.
The visual presentation of the game is gorgeous, the girls look better than ever on the PS4 and considering the range of costumes you can dress them in that's definitely a good thing as you'll be spending a lot of time staring at those beautiful character models in all their jiggly glory.
The game really makes good use of the PS4's power rendering both the beautiful character models and very colourful backgrounds smoothly even when there is intense action on screen, I have yet to experience any freezes or lags while playing even when I've been in the middle of an enemy swarm with particle effects and bomb explosions going off all around me.
The only issue I really have with with regards to the visuals is the fact that some pieces of equipment can clip through the character models which sometimes led to a girl having a scarf morph through their face on my play through but in the grand scheme of things this a very small niggle for a visually stunning game.
The visuals of a game mean very little if the sound design is off but fortunately Estival Versus does not disappoint in that regard, the background music for the various stages is upbeat and enjoyable and the girl's individual themes are fantastic and do wonders to convey the energy of the girl they were written for, my personal favorites are Homura and Ikaruga's themes which I bought as soon as I finished their Girls hearts routes.
The attack sounds in Estival Versus seem to be an improvement over Shinovi Versus and seem to convey more weight with their impact, especially with some of the slower characters such as Daidoji or Katsuragi.
At this point the voice acting in this series barely needs a mention as it is easily one of the strongest areas of the whole game, all the women involved in this game are immensely talented and they really own the characters they play, it's what makes me happy that the games come with original Japanese audio only as I don't believe that American voice actors could even hope to do these girls justice in a dub and I think that more companies need to consider having sub only releases and if not that at least having dual audio on games to avoid players needing to cringe themselves into oblivion.
The only voice I have issue with is the voice of Ayame the shopkeeper and that's only really because I tend to save up Zeni and buy a large number of items in a single go meaning I have to listen to the same line of dialogue repeated again and again by her which gets grating very quickly.
If you have played any musou game before you will be very familiar with the gameplay of Estival Versus as it is just musou with cute girls but this does not mean it is by any means boring and without any level of nuance.
There are several forms that your character can be in during the course of a battle, these are flash, yin and yang, flash refers to your characters default state where they are in their standard costume and are unable to use their secret arts, I tend to find this is the mode I spend most of the battle in.
Yin is the mode you're in when you trigger your shinobi transformation, in this state you fully heal any damage you received previously and you gain a small boost to all your stats as well as the bonus of being able to use ultimate ninja arts.
Yang is triggered when you activate 'frantic mode' by stripping your character down to their underwear yourself, in this mode the damage you deal is massively increased alongside your speed while your defense sharply drops and you get the added bonus of being able to chain together nearly endless combos and this increase in punch is translated to your ninja arts as well.
Each of these modes seems to have a particular advantage, for instance I tend to find that Yin works best for one on one showdowns against highly mobile and aggressive opponents as it grants you the defense you need to tank a couple of necessary hits while you get off your own combo and yang is best used when you have to face large groups of enemies as it means your combos can sweep up huge numbers of enemies and make short work of bosses who may wander into your path in exchange for exposing yourself to increased punishment.
Enemy types are not terribly varied with most of them making a return from SV with a few new additions such as large goat type enemies that morph into smaller enemies wielding hook swords when you deplete enough of their HP but other than this most of the enemies are fairly standard mobs.
Some levels of the game can get frustrating as you're swarmed by enemies that are in my opinion a little over powered, an example of this would be the wolf type enemies that were the bane of my existence in SV, they skate around your character in quite large numbers and sprint in to nick off little pieces of HP and potentially freeze your character in place allowing more enemies to swarm you and thus the cycle starts anew, turtle enemies also make a return and though they are not as defenseive as they were in the previous game their ranged attacks are powerful enough to send your character sprawling and inflict you with the burning status making any fight where you have these two enemies in tandem an exercise in frustration.
In comparison to SV it is also more difficult to strip enemies now, something I personally appreciate as rending an enemy completely nude now feels like an achievement as opposed to just a pedestrian event. The only exception to this are the creative finishers, special objects in the environment that if you finish an enemy near them will strip them of all their clothes and show you a special defeat animation which serves to spice the game up a little bit.
More variety has been woven into the combat thanks to the addition of wall attacks that allow you to strike back against enemies that have you pinned or they can be executed if you simply want to add some stylish flair to proceedings, these attacks work well in conjunction with aerial raves as if you launch an enemy towards the edge of a stage or if you yourself are launched to the edge of an area by an enemy it adds an extra dimension to the repertoire you can use to either finish the combo or launch a counter attack.
Level layouts seem a little strange, shinobi barriers block the way towards Festival platforms which you have to break in order to unlock the girls hearts missions and poses you can use in the dressing rooms, the use of magic walls seems bizarre as a method to encourage exploration to locate these items as it just seems like such an outdated concept, normally you can structure a level with much more natural seeming barriers to encourage exploration as opposed to just slapping a big purple barriers in the way. I understand that these barriers are meant to extend the time you are in each mission for but it still feels really out of place in a modern game.
Another gripe I have with the game play is the fact that some characters shinobi arts seem to have really bizarre hit boxes, for instance Mirai's level 2 shinobi art sees her surround herself with guns and charge forward hitting all enemies around her, on more than one occasion I used the move I would strike a boss character head on with the attack only to see them be pushed gently out of the way of the attack and take barely any damage as opposed to being swept up in the attack's momentum and taking the heavy damage one would expect.
I also have this issue with both the first and second levels of Kafuru's shinobi arts as I had enemies stood within range of these attacks who bizarrely took no damage, maybe I'm just unfortunate but I felt it worth mentioning.
Combat seems to flow a lot better in this installment as opposed to SV however one downside of this is it is sometimes difficult to tell when an enemy is using their own ninja art, in SV both you and your opponent would see a little cut scene indicating when a shinobi art was triggered, Estival however sometimes does not do this meaning it is very easy to approach an enemy you think is recoiling from an attack only to walk headlong into a high damage move yourself and sometimes I even triggered my own attack during one of my opponent's invulnerability frames given to them by their own move, it was frustrating to say the least.
Overall though the gameplay is satisfying, each character has enough differences that they stand on their own in comparison to the other characters, some feel heavier than others and pack more punch as a result or some are high speed sweep machines designed to dismantle groups without any problems... And then there is Daidoji who as usual is an absolute fucking beast able to annihilate anything laid out before her, safe to say I appreciate the option to use Daidoji in any mission I have previously completed just to see how little effort it takes her to take out the hordes of enemies.
The solid musou game play is supported by the fantastic variety of costumes and accessories that you can acquire with even more coming via DLC, this adds an extra dress-up element to the game which I spend far too much time having fun with.
In conclusion Estival Versus is a solid entry to the series with fun - if a little repetitive game play that has all the charm and humor you would expect from the series at this point, if this game is to be your first time with the series I would highly recommend it and I think you should get your hands on a copy as soon as possible.
Final rating: 8/10
TL;DR version - great, fun game - hurry up and buy