Senran Kagura: Shoujotachi no Shinei 3DS Review
Senran Kagura is notable for being a modern brawler in vain of Final Fight or Streets of Rage that isn't based on a exiting franchise or is a update of a classic game. So far it's only been released for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan, which also means you'll need a Japanese 3DS to play it. In the game you play as one of five Japanese ninja school girls fighting [You guessed it.] a evil team of Japanese ninja school girls in a escalating turf war. One of the highlights of the game is that each girl fights differently and has a unique playstyle, which keeps things feeling fresh even when replaying stages. Senran Kagura is fairly enjoyable, but the lack of a two player mode and incredibly easy difficulty don't help it rise above its niche title status as primarily a fan service Anime game.
First let me prefix that I don't read or understand Japanese, so I could be way off on my assessment of the games story, but I'll try to summarize what I think happens. There is a team of five buxom Japanese school girls who live a double life moonlighting as ninjas. In a astronomical coincidence there is also a slightly older rival team of Japanese school girls ninjas, thet act as evil counter parts to the game's main heroes. Of course Highlander rules apply and there can be only one team of top heavy Japanese ninja school girls, especially in the same town. So a feud between the two ninja clans brakes out over who controls the territory. The story unfolds in several different ways throughout the game. Before and after most levels a cutscene will play out where one or two characters either talk to each other or have a internal thought monologue, both of which play out similar to what happens in dating sim games, but with no conversation options. Occasionally there will also be a very long segment with eight to twelve pages of text will fill the screen and set up some of the more important events in the story, like a boss fight for example. Even though every line of dialogue except for the narration is fully voice acted, it can still sometimes be incredibly boring to sit through some of the cutscenes especially when you don't understand Japanese like me. The only way I can infer as to what's going on is the expressions on their face, the tone of their voice and the eventual outcome.
The game is essentially a 2D brawler with 3D character models. You can move up and down in the environment and break objects like crates or mail boxes in order to pick up items that refill your health or increase your experience points, but neither is that vital. Most of the time you'll just move toward the right while fighting hordes of enemy ninjas and rival school girls along the way.
The combo system on the game is actually quite complex and mixing up your attacks can be pretty rewarding. The problem is that most of the time it's not really necessary since the AI really doesn't put much of a fight.
You have a light quick attack and a heavy launcher move, you can jump and also dash. A typical combo involves doing two or three light attacks, then one heavy to launch the enemy into the air, where you could either proceed to juggle them by quickly light attacking them again or dash up to them in the air and whale on them in mid-air until they finally hit the ground. You can do jump attacks and there is also a desperation move where you punch the ground which causes a fiery explosion which does a decent amount of damage to enemies, but with the cost of sacrificing some of your own health. After fighting a few groups of enemies your magic bar should be full, and then you'll be able to transform into your ninja form costume. Each girl's ninja form has increased defense, and new more powerful and faster attacks. Once in ninja form continuing to defeat enemies will fill up the magic bar again, which you can then use to unleash one of two screen clearing magic super moves that will kill basic foes and do massive damage to bosses. I must also mention the weird clothing damage mechanic. In addition to your health and magic bars, you also have a prevy clothing health bar which decreases by getting hit, especially from super move magic attacks from bosses. As your cloths take more damage they will become increasingly tattered and shredded until they're destroyed, and you're left playing the rest of the level in a bathing suit or underwear. You would think that losing all your cloths would make you take extra damage from getting hit, but I actually haven't noticed a significant increase, however It does seem like clothes act as some sort of armor to protect you from magic attacks from bosses, doing as much as reducing magic damage by half.
The objective of stages vary quite a bit. Most of the time they'll just have to move to the right and beat everyone up. But sometimes there will be a boss, or you will be expected to break something, collect some objects, or even just survive for a set period of time. The settings for the levels in the game are fairly diverse, but unfortunately some are repeated too many times For instance the city street, farm, and halls of the school levels are the setting for at least ten different stages a peace, and the levels look the same every time. But the rooftop or the classroom levels only appear once or twice. There's also other levels like the city rooftops, the beach, the forest, a mountainside and the enemy school. I commend the game for not resorting to the brawler cliché of having a elevator level, although I do still like elevator levels, despite how tripe they've become.
When you beat a stage you'll be ranked on your performance, which is mainly based on the amount of time it took you to complete it, but also how many enemies you killed, and how high your highest combo. The lowest ranking is gray, then red, blue, and the best ranking his gold. Outside of beating every stage I'm not sure exactly how you unlock new clothing items, but I'd imagine it probably has something to do with beating every stage with every character and also getting the highest rank possible. As New clothing options you unlock will be divided into different categories; civilian clothes, underwear, ninja suits, and accessories which you can wear two at a time. I find strange is that most of the costumes I've unlocked so far are substantially more conservative and far less reveling then there default attire, which is pretty strange for a game with this much fan service in it. The results screen is displayed after beating a stage.
Initially when you first start playing the game you might think that there aren't that many enemies in the game, since they're very slowly introduced. Plus the initial batch isn't that great. There are polygon fighters that look like they're taken from a Jaguar or 32X game, snakes, and weird bald guys who are just floating heads. Eventually though there will be about 20 different types of ninja schoolgirls to fight. There's ninjas that breathe fire, ones that breathe poison, some with turbans, one that looks like Kasumi from Dead or Alive, another that looks like Chun Li from Street Fighter, and strangest of all; sumo schoolgirls. Unfortunately most of these enemies don't really require any specific strategy to defeat, and as long as you attack them quick enough, they should ever get a hit in edge wise.
The main problem with the game is that it's too easy. Enemies pose little to no threat, and rarely hit you. Yes they will occasionally get a few pot shots in here and there, especially when you're playing as characters whose combos are difficult to chain, but rarely are you ever in danger of dying. They'll often run up to you and then wait there patiently for you to attack them. Bad guys also love to group together in clusters so that you can conveniently hit them all at once with one launcher combo and kill them all simultaneously. Even bosses are easily defeated, but they do love to spam their magic super moves. Plus once you change into your ninja form your health will always be fully replenished, and there are at least two or three health refilling items hidden in every stage.
To make things even easier by completing stages you'll earn experience points and level up similar to other brawlers like Guardian Heroes or Castle Crashers. Leveling up will of course give you more health, a bigger magic bar so you can use your super move more often and make your attacks do more damage. The max level is 50, but I find it odd that not all your stats are maxed out when you reach it. It's also weird that the top stat on the stage result screen maxs out at 999 when you reach level 25 since it gets between 40 to 60 points every time you level up, when everything else only gets 1 to 6, it's crazy. I don't know what each of the four stats represent since they're all labeled in Japanese, but if I had to guess, from the top down would be magic, attack, health, and defense.
This game is so easy most of the time that there's no reason to have a strategy, and you might as well mash buttons because you'll still beat the stage regardless of how much you're actually trying. Even if you do die, you'll only go back to the stage selection screen which isn't really that much of a setback considering how most stage aren't much longer than two minutes in length.
There are only really two stages in the game that are actually challenging, 5-8 and 5-14, both of which are optional by the way. Stage 5-8 is a fight with a secret boss, that you'll face five times consecondly, once with each character, and every time the boss will have three lifebars. Once you defeat the boss you'll actually unlock her as a secret six character to play as, so it's worth the trouble. Stage 5-14 is kind of a boss rush mode where you'll fight all five rivals in a row. You might have to actually grind all your characters to level 40 or 50 to beat both, since you'll need a lot of health to endure the battles. Luckily the game encourages you to play the nonessential extra stages and replay the ones you already beaten with other characters in order to unlock new costume and concept art so I guess the grinding isn't too bad.
The game is fairly long as there are five levels, each of which has 14 stages, however you only have to beat the first seven stages that actually advance the plot in order to unlock the next level. Stages usually take between two to six minutes to beat, and if you want to unlock everything you'll have to beat every stage with every character, which as you would image could take a while and I would estimate about 30 to 50 hours. Unlockables consist of new artwork and costumes for the girls that you can mix and match. However if the prospect of new costume doesn't sound too appealing then the game could actually be shorter than ten hours long if you only did the bare minimum to advance the story and skipped the nonessential stages.
One of the most glaringly flaws with the game is that it lacks any sort of multiplayer, which is totally unacceptable for any 2D beat'em up. Sure it's happened before, like in Double Dragon for the NES or Final Fight for the Super Nintendo but it sucked then too. Every brawler needs to have at least a two player mode, though preferably four player, since multiplayer is the only thing that keeps brawlers interesting after say a half hour. Co-op is a standard feature of the genre, and has been since the mid 1980s when it originated. I don't care how impractical or unlikely it is, that two people would both have copies of Senran Kagura, Japanese 3DSs and want to play with each other at the same time, it should still be in the game. Also why not add online play as well while they're at it, so it wouldn't be super expensive or difficult to play multiplayer.
I noticed that stage 2-11 has a glitch where you can get stuck because of an invisible wall and can't advance. The cause of seems to be that on the second to last rooftop two waves of enemies are supposed to spawn. However two shadows in the second wave move across the roof way too fast and if you don't intercept them before they reach the edge of the roof, or else you'll trigger the glitch, and won't be able to complete the stage.
Finally I'd like to point out that if you're thinking about buying Senran Kagura and a Japanese 3DS, you might want to consider holding out for the slightly improved sequel Senran Kagura Burst, which lets you play as all the characters from the evil team, and supposedly also features all the content from this first game as well. I'd also must point out that it shows how much I put off and delayed this review since the sequel is already about to come out.
The graphics in the game are pretty impressive especially for the 3DS. The character models are subtly cel shaded, and are very nicely detailed. As weird as the clothing damage system is, it at least gives all their outfits a nice layered look. Colors and textures the game are particularly dazzling. Although the main characters and their rivals look great, lesser enemies and the backgrounds are sometimes far less detailed geometry wise and often feature much lower resolution textures. I didn't notice any slowdown, and the frame rate seem pretty solid. A weird quark of the game, is that the actual brawling gameplay is not in 3D, but the rest of the game including the cutscenes and magic attacks are.
I think that the music in the game is pretty catchy, especially the song that plays in the dojo between levels. It reminds me a lot of cheery Super Nintendo music that I find soothing. Other songs and characters themes are well done too, but some are overused during the course of the game, since there just doesn't seem to be enough music tracks in the first place. Voice acting in the game seems to be really good, since each character has a consistent tone and personality that really comes across. I can't really judge the acting, since I can't understand Japanese, but they do show a wide range of emotion, and it was still interesting listening to them, even though I didn't understand what they were saying.
The circle pad moves your character. The Y button is a week fast attack. The X button is a strong, slower attack, that usually launches enemies in order to start an air juggle. The B button is jump. Pressing the A button causes the character run or dash to the nearest enemy. The R button causes you to use your desperation move which is a area affect attack, that uses some of your own health. As a civilian when your magic bar is full pressing the L button will make you change into your ninja form. Once you are in ninja form, pressing the L button again as well as either the Y or X button at the same time lets you use one of your screen clearing magic attacks. The L and Y button attack is a weaker and only uses one segment of your magic bar, whereas the L and X button attack is much stronger but uses two segments of your magic bar. During the text narration cutscenes, the L button scrolls the text forward and the R button moves it backward.
I really like the combat in the game, but it's never fully realized, and I wish there were much harder stages so that it could live up to its full potential and really put it through the paces. The game is pretty fun in a mindless sort of way. But after two or three hours of mashing away at the buttons the rather bland levels and incompetent enemies start to get to you. Then you'll realize that there's no point in juggling enemies or getting insane combos, since there will always be the same result regardless of how much you try or care about being good at the game. I had to put the game down at that point. You should have trouble putting down really good games and a game that makes you want to stop playing it must has some pretty big design flaws. Principally of which is that it's too boring to play since it's so easy. I also have a personal belief that all brawlers should have at very least a two player mode, which would probably make the game even easier, but at least made it more fun. Despite my fondness for the combat, the overall dullness makes it so that I don't feel comfortable giving the game anything more than a 6/10.
In the first of three bonus features I'll give a mini walkthrough of how to beat stage the hardest stage in the game 5-14, where you have to fight all five rival bosses in the game consecutively.
The order the bosses appear is; Yomi, Hikage, Mirai, Haruka and finally Homura. Hikage, and especially Haruka are pretty easy to defeat. Mirai's charging move is bothersome, but otherwise her very low defense makes her easy to beat as well. The problem is that Homura and Yomi do a lot of damage and are really cheap. There's also a glitch where the health power ups underneath the statues on the rooftop only appear during the first wave when facing Yomi. The best strategy is to wait until Yomi is only one hit away from dying, and then pick up the health and magic refilling item in the red container, before finally finishing off Yomi. Then when facing the other bosses be sure to deplete their first health bar before using any magic attacks against them as it will do a lot more damage once their clothes are gone, since they'll have less resistance to magic attacks. The magic attacks should take out another one of their three health bars. Then simply combo them until they are defeated in order to build your magic bar for the next boss. The reason for this strategy is that the bosses are unlikely to use their own magic attacks within the first minute or so of the fight, and it's therefore far less dangerous to build your meter and combo them early on. The key to beating the stage is to abuse juggling, and try to corner a boss against the invisible wall on either side of the roof. Use a strong attack to launch them in the air, then try to keep an infinite combo going by continuing to hit them so they can't hit the ground and fight back. Ikagura and Yagyuu don't have too much of the hard time completing the stage as they do so much damage, especially Yagyuu since her X button magic attack will often wipe out two whole life bars of a boss. Katsuragi actually has a really good in the juggling combo so it's not too difficult to beat with her either and the secret character's high defense and powerful magic and basic attacks make up for her slow speed and difficulty at comboing. Hibari and Asuka will have a tough time however since Hibari sucks at combos, though is good at launchers, and Asuka has pretty bad defense, but does a fairly good job of juggling. After about an hour or so of practice, I was able to beat the stage with every character. I'm not good enough to do it every time, but I can usually make it to Homura before my health runs out.
In the second bonus feature I will name and describe each character in order to help out other people who also might be playing the game, but can't read or understand Japanese like myself. I'll also give my opinion about each character, and ranked them based on their abilities in combat.
Asuka is the leader of the team. She wears an orange shirt, with a green skirt in her ninja form. Her weapon of choice is duel wielding two katanas, one in each hand. She is perky and energetic, and also shows more emotion than most of the other members of the group. I would say that Asuka is probably the second best character in the game, he has great speed, and very damaging attacks, but she has poor defense. What's especially useful is her spin attack from mashing the Y button.
Asuka's rival Homura is also the leader of the villain team. She wears all black Japanese schoolgirl uniform, with a red striped tie. She somehow has big enough hands, and particularly fingers to hold six katanas at once, three in each hand. She seems irritable, but also determined and plucky. She also seems to be most powerful member of the evil team.
Ikagura welds a samurai sword. She wears a white buttoned coat with gold trimming, and tight black pants. He seems a bit stoic, but not nearly as much as Yagyuu. She unfortunately doesn't get much character development in the game, so I have trouble saying exactly what she's like. Ikagura sword gives her incredible reach and it also does tremendous damage, which is why I think she's the best character in the game. Her attacks can sometimes be a little slow to start, but once you start a combo, just about everything will be dead by the end of it. I really like her attack where she spins around her sword with one hand like a lasso, even though it looks really unrealistic.
Ikagura's rival Yomi welds a giant broad sword that's similar to Gutstu's from Berserk. She wears a low-cut turquoise dress with a matching hat and white apron The ensemble resembles a milkmaid, Dutch girl, or perhaps an Easter colored barmaid. She seems sweeter and far less confrontational when compared to the other members of the evil team.
Katsuragi seems to primarily be a kick boxer, and outside of her large oversized boots is unarmed. She wears a dark blue checkered skirt, with a totally open white shirt and has only a blue tie dangling between her breasts. She has the deepest, and therefore least annoying voice among the good team, and is also my favorite character appearance wise. Katsuragi also appears to be the closest friend of Asuka. The problem with Katsuragi is that she doesn't do a lot of damage, and her attacks have the bad habit of knocking enemies far back, which will of course break your combo. Her attacks are also a little slow at connecting which makes her overall probably the worst character to play as.
Katsuragi's rival Hikage weld's a short knife, that looks like a short sword or dagger. She has short green hair, and wears a yellow top with black stripes and ripped blue jeans. Much like several other characters Hikage is really underused in the game. It's hard to tell if she had animosity toward Katsuragi and is mocking her or if she's flirting with her, since I don't understand Japanese.
Yagyuu's favorite weapon of all things is a parasol. Despite the parasol's questionable effectiveness as a weapon, she makes great use of it and really can really bust some heads. She has purple hair, and wears a brown uniform, with a purple skirt, and a black jacket over her shoulders. She also quite ridiculously wears an eyepatch. How did she lose an eye at such a young age? I guess I'll never know unless I learned to read Japanese, or at least ask someone who does. Yagyuu is just too cool for school, since she pretty much refuses to show any emotion at all, and says everything in a deadpan monotone voice. Her parasol is really deadly. Not only does it do tremendous damage, but it's super easy to combo off its spin attack, and it can even be used at long range when she fires it like a gun. She also has the distinction of having the most powerful magic attack in the game. The only problem with Yagyuu is that she has pretty bad defense, so you'll have to monitor her health.
Yagyuu's rival Mirai welds a Southern Belle's style umbrella with lace fringe on the sides. She wears a black ball gown with white accents, for sort of a goth look. Unbelievably see also has an eyepatch but on the opposite side that Yagyuu wears hers, I mean what are the odds! She seems pretty excitable, and gets angry very easily, often humorously so. She also has the distinction of having the small breasts in this game, where practically everyone has gazongas the size of a basketballs. She hides a giant machine gun rifle under her large skirt, that she takes out to use during her magic attacks.
Hibari is unarmed, and seems to have a slap based fighting style. She has pink hair and wears a tight white jacket and black bikini bottoms. Hibari is a good-natured and well meaning dizzy comic relief character who often gets into trouble. She's also agreeable and is easily influenced making her something of a ping-pong ball used by the two teams. Hibari attacks are very damaging, and you can easily launch someone out of your combo by mistake, but once you get used to playing as her you won't have a hard time chaining her attacks together indefinitely. Her bop bop star slap attack is great for getting your combos up, but I really hate the sound effect it makes so I refuse to use it. She has pretty interesting magic attacks. In one she summons a giant pink bunny which she rides, and drives into enemies like a freight train. In another she grows to an enormous size and then stomps on all the enemies on screen, sort of like Gianta or the 50 foot woman.
Hibari's rival Haruka is unarmed, and does a lot of gravity defying jump kicks with both legs at the same time. She is dressed very similarly to the White Queen from X-Men since she wears long thigh high boots, thin panties, a tight plunging corset, and a long cape with a high collar, all of which in white. I suppose one difference is that she also has a pink bow in her hair. Hibari appears to have some sort of attraction powers or mind controlling hypnotism powers. She uses this power to mash on Hibari all the time which is really creepy, and somewhat disturbing. She also acts goofy and for some reason sticks her tongue out all the time.
Daidouji is the secret sixth playable character, and is also unarmed. She has a slow but powerful fighting style similar to Akira from the Virtua Fighter. She wears an black wig, long black trench coat, black pants, an exposed midriff, and a sea captain's hat. Her outfit is some kind of disguise however as she actually has light brown hair. She's very hostile and shows great contempt for the rest of the good team, and only reluctantly joins them after all five members of the team beat her in battle. My problem with Daidouji is that her normal non-dashing speed is about one fifth that of everyone else's, which is incredibly slow and so annoying that I can't stand it. She does do a lot of damage, and has pretty good defense, but I really just don't like playing as her because of how long it takes her to move anywhere. When you first unlock her she starts at level 30. Daidouji can't use most of the costume options available to the other characters. In her more powerful magic attack she does a power punch that summons a tiger spirit which honestly looks pretty cool. I should also mention, that since she's a secret character Daidouji doesn't have a rival, which is interesting. Maybe that will change in the sequel.
There is also the mentor of the good team, that wears a purple suit and has white hair. I guess he's their sensei, but he's never seen in combat. He's most notable for instructing the tutorial stage 1-1. As a side note what's the deal with the mentor of the school being a guy when everyone else in the entire game is female? Even the mentor to the evil rival ninjas is a woman. I mean how much of perv is he for getting a job as the head of a ninja high school for top heavy Japanese girls? I mean I don't think he's even a ninja, though I could be wrong about that.
In last bonus feature I'll give my spoiler heavy interpretation of the story. Keep in mind that I don't speak or read Japanese, and this is just what I could infer and pieced together from the cutscenes in the game.
In the first level there is a tutorial stage and then several stages that spotlight the different members of the team. Then Hibari appears to get brainwashed and attacks Yagyuu. This triggers the war between the two ninja clans. Then Auska fights her rival Homura.
In level 2 each member of the team faces off against their rival in a series of stages. Auska seem to get the most focus and actually fights Homura twice.
In level 3 the rival battles continue, but Yagyuu loses to Homura and winds up in the hospital. Then in a twist Hibari is convinced to join the evil team by her rival Haruka. Eventually Auska infiltrates the enemy base and convinces Hibari to rejoin them.
In level 4 despite things seemingly going well during the last attack on the enemy's base, the mentor thinks that you not yet strong enough to face the evil ninja clan again. So he convinces the team go on mystic quest to retrieve a scroll that will enhance their ninja magic power. Each girl has a stage which they must complete in order to unlock their second much more powerful magic attack. After unlocking it you can also use the new second magic attack on earlier stages as well, which is great for beating them in record time.
In level 5 Auska mounts a frontal assault on the enemy ninja base. Then as you would expect a series of rival battle stages ensue. After each rival is defeated they complement their attacker, while hunched over and showing quite a lot of cleavage which I think is a bit inappropriate considering the dramatic nature of the scene. Then it seems like all the rivals keel over and die. I'm not sure but I think that Mirai, actually accidentally shoots herself in her vagina with the large rifle that she hides under her skirt, which is a really crazy way to die. Interestingly Homura has a second form where she goes super saiyan, and lets her hair down which also oddly turns red. Super Homura also has a new magic attack where she levitates each of her swords and then throws them individually, which looks really cool. The reason why I think that rivals die is that when their base burns down their spirits seem to inhabit the rubble and create a giant stone dragon monster. Auska defeats the monster, but fears for the fate of her friends. Then shortly after the rest of the group rejoins her and Auska is relieved to learn that they're all ok. Then they all walk off into the sunset victorious. After you beat the game you'll unlock the rivals costumes for their good team counterpart to wear, which I guess is a consolation for not actually being able to play as the evil team. I was disappointed that Hibari's Haruka costume lacked the awesome cape.