If you’ve only seen, or heard of the Senran Kagura series in passing, you’d probably just assume that it’s all just about buxom, scantily clad ladies bouncing around. While that is a big part of the series, Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is actually a solid brawler / beat-em-up and more than just an excuse to ogle some virtual mammaries.
Set several months after the 3DS game, Senran Kagura Burst, Shinovi Versus has the ninja girls of Hanzo Academy returning, along with several new characters from two new factions. Making their series debut are the girls of Gessen Academy and the new Hebijo Academy elite shinobi, formed after the events of the last game. The previous group of Hebijo students, are are also playable once unlocked. Rather than being a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up as before, Shinovi Versus has you fighting your battles in 3D arena stages, generally going through hordes of faceless fodder enemies before meeting the boss and having a showdown.
For each group of girls, there’s a main storyline you can play through, Shinobi Girls’ Code, which centres around how each school ties into the overarching story, as well as a short campaign for each individual character, based around their own individual lives. These shorter character campaigns consist of 5 missions and the accompanying event scenes present a short side story, which could be about her finding ingredients to make futomaki, learning how to make friends or one of several other scenarios. These individual character missions are a good place to practice and level up with each of your characters for the main missions.
Throughout each school’s main campaign, you’ll play as each of the different shinobi and you can level them up to unlock more attack combos and gain access to new skills.Each girl plays differently based on their fighting styles and weapons/techniques at their disposal. Since the campaign will have you playing as every character, you’ll soon start to notice the differences in how each character plays and which you might prefer to use. When in battle, you have light and heavy attacks, which you can chain together to form combos and deal more damage. Executing certain combos will knock the enemy into the air and give you a chance to continue the combo in mid air an carry on pummelling your opponent in an ‘Aerial Rave’.
If you’ve played something like the Dynasty Warriors games and enjoy chaining endless combos while sending a crowd of enemies flying, Shinovi Versus provides a similar feeling in its combat. Similar to other 3D brawlers, you also have a dash/run and block ability, both of which will be useful in avoiding damage from enemy attacks. Just as before, the girls can do a ninja transformation during battle, which lets you use their Secret Ninja Arts to do preform your character’s special attacks and deal even more damage. Land enough hits with your combo attacks, or if you use a Secret Ninja Art, your opponents’ clothes will also show signs of battle damage, but the same will happen to your character if attacked. As one of the characteristic features of the series, they’ve put a fair amount of detail in rendering these battle damage sequences across hundreds of combinations of costumes/clothing options.
If you want a change of pace, you can also activate frantic mode, where your character strips her clothing and gets significant stat boosts, but has her defenses reduced. This mode can help if you quickly need to increase your power to defeat an opponent. I found this mode made things much easier, sometimes even too easy, letting you take out most enemies in 1 or 2 hits. When you’re starting off, attacks can be quite repetitive at first since you’ll be seeing the same moves and combos over and over again. But as you start to level up your characters, you gain access to more combos to add variety to your attack. There’s a surprising amount of variety to the different attack patterns, so you can have multiple ways to mix and match to preform combos in battle.
Leveling up also boosts your base stats, so you can take out enemies quicker. At the end of each mission you get a rank based on your performance, from A to D, but it seems that this is mostly just based on how quickly you complete it and if you took damage in the process. While it may be easy to keep a combo going into the hundreds or even thousands while juggling enemies, this won’t really help get a better rank over simply defeating each enemy as quickly as you can mash the attack buttons. I found it a bit challenging to get higher ranks right at the beginning, but later on once my characters started leveling up, simply spamming attacks as quickly as possible seemed to be enough to get the coveted A ranks. Using Frantic mode more often also let me just rush through some of the missions and take out the boss with little effort. If you feel that the regular missions aren’t enough for you, you can easily switch to hard mode for the main story campaign missions to have a go at a more difficult challenge.
Being the series’ first game set in 3rd person, the action on-screen was consistently fluid, with few noticeable drops in frame rate, even when surrounded by dozens of opponents. Sometimes you might notice a slight slowdown when flashy special attacks are used but that never seemed to occur often enough to become a problem during my time with the game. However, the camera can sometimes become a bit of a nuisance as it easily gets stuck in an awkward angle, making it harder to see what’s around you and where your opponent is. If I ever found myself in a corner, the camera would sometimes decide to place itself behind a wall or some scenery, rather than go to a position that would be useful.
There’s quite a lot to keep you occupied in game as you explore the story and unlock new characters and techniques, with 20 characters and several main campaigns and lots of individual character missions. loading each mission seemed a bit long in comparison to other recent vita titles, but the game gives you some tips on how to play the game, or info about each of the characters during these loads. With so many missions to play through, it probably wont be long before you’ve seen all of the loading screen tips the game has to offer. After that, you’ll just be stuck waiting for the next mission or story event to load with nothing to do.
When you’re ready to fight other people, you can jump into the multiplayer mode which has 3 different game types you can play online or locally via ad-hoc. This is where the variety of characters and differences in their attack styles are important, since you can compete with any of the characters you have access to and each one will play differently and may have advantages other particular opponent characters. If you’ve been playing and replaying missions with a certain character, you’d most likely want to play as that one if it’s the one you have the most experience with or the one your the most comfortable playing as. The multiplayer game types consist of a standard deathmatch, ‘Strip battle’, where you gain points for stripping your opponents’ clothes by landing attacks, and a third mode, ‘Understorm’ where you are competing to catch underwear raining from the sky or steal it by beating up other players for the ones they’ve collected. The deathmatch and strip battle modes are pretty straight forward battle modes, with you just beat up your opponents for points / K.Os, but Understorm is quite fun to play, especially with a full set of 4 human players.