To start things off, I will say that I did not have much to expect going into Senran Kagura Burst. In fact, I do not even really remember what prompted me to buy it. I do enjoy a lot of the lesser known niche titles and I probably just decided to support this one due to no one else bothering, but normally I tend to prefer JRPGs and Visual Novels as opposed to action games. That being said, Senran Kagura Burst is absolutely superb. Senran Kagura is a game that at first looks like a rather simplistic Beat-em- up with a silly fan-service driven plot, and technically it still is. It should be known however, that Senran Kagura Burst is more then it appears.
What seals the deal for Senran Kagura Burst is the fact that it is actually two great games instead of just one. One of the two separate storylines you choose at the start of the game is actually the entirety of the first Senran Kagura game, while the second storyline is an all new adventure. Senran Kagura Skirting Shadows alone would have been worth the thirty dollar price tag in terms of both quality and content, but the fact that you have a whole other game of even higher quality is what really brings this package up. While I probably would be exaggerating if I said that the total package was worth sixty dollars, I still would have felt as though I got my money’s worth if I paid that much. Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to hype both of these titles up as absolute perfection, but I would be lying if I said that I was not surprised by these games.
Let Me Get Something off My Chest (Disclosure)
Just so I can get this aspect out of the way as soon as possible, yes Senran Kagura Burst is heavy on fan-service. I will not try to argue that it is not, or that it is not part of the appeal of the game for some people. In fact, I decided to embrace the nature of the game by putting a certain twist on my headings. I want to make it clear that fan-service is not the only appeal of Senran Kagura Burst. If the perverted characterization of female characters in video games either offends you or makes you feel uncomfortable, this game is probably not for you. That does not mean that the game is morally wrong to enjoy though. Video games, as an art form, have the ability to express their atmosphere through whatever style suits the game best. The perverted nature of the game is something that adds its own bit of charm to the game that will appeal to some people and will deter others.
The main point I am trying to make is that there is nothing wrong with playing a game like this because of the sexy women. Granted that is not necessarily the reason why I like the game so much, but it adds a rather humorous charm to the game. The game itself though is not just a case of girls being in skimpy outfits. In fact, one of the main features of the game is that your characters lose clothing when they take enough damage, and another is a dressing room where you can pick what you want the characters to wear or trying to get a look at them. What makes this okay in my book though is that it ultimately feels like the fan-service was just done in good fun and made me laugh.
Your Plot Is So Big (Story)
There are two sides to Senran Kagura’s story. The first side is the one that most people are familiar with going into a game like this; the light-hearted and humorous side with plenty of absurd moments. However, it is the other side of the game that keeps this game from being a simple fan-service cash grab. The second side is very harsh, cynical, and even a tad realistic in how it handles the plot.
The main story of Senran Kagura is about five female students whom are kept out of normal classes in order to undergo training to become shinobi. It is made clear early on that being a shinobi is not easy and is something that requires one to make a lot of personal sacrifices. As a result, our main characters do not get to really experience things like love and friendship due to them needing to keep their training secret. Also it is made clear that their sensei will not help them in their struggle seeing as how they need to be independent. To add to this even further, just about every major character in the game has a tragic back-story that lead to them becoming a shinobi, which hammers in the point that the world is cruel and you have to earn your happy ending.
Yet even in terms of those depressing aspects, the game still manages to bring some more uplifting and heartwarming moments throughout the game. One of the major themes of the game is subverting the typical view of good versus evil and portraying both sides as equally human. This aspect is handled even more effectively due to the fact that the villains were, at first, characters who you would really grow to hate. The game even takes things a step further to the point where our five main characters and the five main villains, who are students at an academy for “evil” shinobi, actually end up becoming close friends with each other despite knowing that they will have to kill each other eventually. In the end you end up growing to care just as much for the villains as you do the heroes and it makes you wonder what the true difference between them really is.
To even further emphasize this point, Senran Kagura Crimson Girls, the new adventure portion of the game, takes place during the events of the first game except with the villain’s point of view. Despite the fact that these characters embrace the fact that they are trained to be evil shinobi and that some may even have malicious reasons for becoming a ninja, they are still treated just as humanly as normal people. Predictably, this leads to the power of friendship being a major theme, which leads to plenty of heartwarming moments based on the interactions between characters.
It goes without saying that Senran Kagura Burst is a heavily character driven game in terms of story. This basically means that you will not enjoy it if you do not like the characters. Thankfully it turns out that the characters are one of the best aspects of the game’s story. Every single character in the game is not only likable, but has an incredibly deep personality and various depths and connections with each other that you rarely see in games. Listing the various hidden depths, motivations, back-stories, and chemistry that every character shares with each other is something that would probably triple the length of this review.
There is a major irony with the cast of both Senran Kagura games as well. The irony in this situation is that, despite the sexual objectification of the characters in the way they are dressed, they are actually some of the best examples of strong female protagonists in every other aspect. There is never any single moment where they need the help of a man or that their development is based around men. The only time the idea of romance is ever mentioned in the game is in the beginning of Skirting Shadows where it was quickly decided against. In terms of female empowerment, every girl in this game may look sexually objectified in terms of game-play elements, but when you consider the fact that every single one of them could kick my ass in three seconds, you realize just how strong these characters actually are in both mental and physical strength.
Yet at the same time the girls are not characters that fit the archetype of a man trapped in a women’s body and they do show girlish sides, which puts aside the idea that you can only be a strong character if you have male traits. Technically you could say that some of them do have a few tomboyish qualities but it never feels like it is overly done. I will say right here that I am generally not a supporter of feminism (lol hindsight), at least with how it is nowadays, but I do support having stronger female characters and being able to appeal to more of the female audience.
Senran Kagura is a game that would be the perfect example of how to appeal to more female gamers if it did not have such a huge focus on fan-service. This is a real shame seeing as how I like to see the games I enjoy reach other demographics. Regardless, if you do not mind fan-service aspects in the game, you will likely be surprised to see how well developed the characters are. Yes there are a couple of perverted references in the story with hot spring sequences or the characters playing around, but these scenes only have to be fan-service scenes if you want them to be. While there is an obvious fan-service slant to these scenes that I will not deny, it still shows a nice character development sequence that gives a nice break from the harsh battles the girls go through, which helps show the characters forming a bond with each other that really helps the overall depth of the story in terms of character relations.
A 3DD Experience (Graphics)
The Graphics in Senran Kagura are effective, but nothing really notable. Yeah I guess you can contribute the fact that the ladies are attractive to this, but there is not much else. There really is no use of the 3D capabilities in this game to speak of. The dressing room feature actually uses the gyroscope feature to help you “get a look” at the girls if you really want to go down that road. This fact is actually poked fun at in certain points in the game where one of them says that they cannot help but feel that there is a higher power that puts them in compromising positions while in the dressing room. Also the characters do talk to you while in the dressing room which can be amusing depending on the character. Also amusing is that one of the characters in the game, who prefers women to men actually, encourages this by saying that it is possible to get an up skirt shot. However there is no actual nudity which will disappoint some and relieve others. The dressing room is something that basically sums up the fan-service aspect quite well: you will either find it hilarious or very creepy and you may want to keep that in mind before purchasing this game.
The story is told through a visual novel style where text simply appears on the top screen without any animation going on. While I do think that the visual novel style is a valid choice, it could potentially disappoint others due to the lack of any real animation. The levels themselves look nice and colorful, although the backdrops are reused a bit too much for my tastes. I have heard some people mention issues regarding the frame rate but I have not noticed anything like that in my experience.
The musical score for Senran Kagura is a well done score that adds to the game and makes nice use of both the electric guitar and traditional Japanese instruments. There is not really that much to say. The songs are definitely nice to listen to and fit the story and characters they represent, yet I would not say this is the absolute best soundtrack I have heard. I did like the various character themes that played when you used them in battle depending on whether or not you have made your shinobi transformation. The shinobi transformation songs always do a good job at conveying the idea that the girls are not messing around anymore. In Skirting Shadows, my personal favorite would have to be Ikaruga’s theme which starts out with a riff lifted directly Phantom of the Opera which then transitions into a fast paced yet also intense track. As the game itself described, it shows that Ikaruga is nearly unstoppable when she gets angry.
A nice touch in Crimson Girls is that the shinobi transformation theme for the girls in that game is the same as the music that played when you fought them in Skirting Shadows and vice versa for the Skirting Shadows protagonists. Another track of note is Mirai’s shinobi theme, which manages to combine both the intensity of the fight as well as representing the elegant Gothic Lolita aspect of her character thus making it one of the more memorable tracks in the game.
The voice acting in Senran Kagura is done entirely in Japanese with no English voice acting. I personally do not mind it but some others possibly will. The voice acting itself is alright. I cannot say that it really helped the experience but it did not harm it either. Really though I often have forgot that the game was voice acted which itself is not a good sign. Sound effects are nicely whenever you are smashing enemies or blasting them with a special attack. Otherwise there is not much else worth mentioning.
Fun Bags (Gameplay)
The game-play of Senran Kagura Burst can be best described as an arcade style beat-um up, which I assume is similar to games like Streets of Rage or Final Fight. I say that I assume because I have only briefly played Streets of Rage and am not familiar with Final Fight, but I figure I have a general idea of what they are about. Basically this means that Senran Kagura is a Side scrolling action game where you try to beat up enemies by trying to hit them before they hit you and get in attack combos until they go down for the count. There are a few things about Senran Kagura Burst’s main gameplay that are different. The first is that it is much faster paced and you can move around a lot quicker. The second is that there are a lot more moves at your disposal. One of the key factors to efficiently taking out enemies is to get a proper attack combination that will launch them into the air, which allows you to simultaneously deal massive damage to an enemy while avoiding enemy attacks.
You also have both strong and weak attacks that function differently. Strong attack do more damage while weak attacks help build up more combos while keeping enemies from attacking. Your moves also change depending on whether you are currently in the air or not which adds a bit more strategy to the game.
The enemies in the game are admittedly not all that varied and it will feel like you are fighting most of the same ones a lot of the time. There are still some challenging moments but they are dependent on other circumstances like time limits and the sheer amount of enemies themselves. There is also a hint of RPG elements included in the game. These elements are gaining experience points and levels based on the high combo counts you can get or by the number of enemies you kill. The levels both effect stats and can allow you to increase the length of possible combos.
One thing that Senran Kagura does very well is the variety it offers between the different characters. Each one plays significantly different enough to effectively change up the strategies depending on the character which helps keep the game from getting too repetitive. The same thing applies when comparing the main characters of Crimson Girls to Skirting Shadows. Surprisingly, the characters in Crimson Girls never feel too similar to the ones used in Skirting Shadows either, which is surprising seeing as how most sequels try and make characters that mirror the abilities of the ones from the previous game for the sake of familiarity. This also presents itself well in boss fights which oftentimes resemble fighting games seeing as how you are mostly fighting against other characters.
There are a few complaints I have with the combat in Senran Kagura Burst however. The first is the Yin and Yang system of the game. The way that certain additions to combos are added is by increasing your affinity to either the Yin or Yang element. The problem with this is that you can only increase one element per mission, which means that you will only be able to max out one element if you do choose one constantly, and if you want to max out both then you will need to repeat a lot of missions. Another complaint I have is that the bosses in Skirting Shadows are way too easy. A lot of the bosses towards the end of Skirting Shadows were were supposed to have a powerful atmosphere but felt a bit anticlimactic due to getting crushed in mere seconds. This was thankfully fixed in Crimson Girls where the bosses had a more moderate challenge.
The Climax (Conclusion)
Despite the fact that the structure of Senran Kagura Burst is predictable and does not change, it still never got old for me. This is especially surprising considering that most Beat-em ups tend to be repetitive by nature. Senran Kagura Burst is a game that can best be described as “pure mindless fun.” In addition to this Senran Kagura also has a really well told story with surprisingly deep characters and themes. Also there is plenty of fan-service if that is your thing. I do understand that the fan-service aspect of Senran Kagura means that the game will not appeal to everyone, but that is not what I am basing this review on. It is instead based on my experience and its overall quality as a story and as a game, both of which it excels at. Senran Kagura Burst also makes sure it gives you its money’s worth by including, not one, but two games in a single, thirty dollar package.
At this point in time, Senran Kagura Burst is easily the best Beat-um up available on the 3DS and is one that I can easily recommend to fans of the genre. I can also highly recommend this game to any fans of niche Japanese games and anime due to the deep, heartwarming, and feel good nature of the plot. Overall, Senran Kagura Burst is a game that shows that you cannot always judge a book by its cover. It may look like it tries to appeal to people through fan-service alone, but it excels in nearly every quality of a good game. Senran Kagura Burst is easily one of the best 3DS titles to date.
Cumming Out (Further Thoughts)
One can naturally tell that my style was quite different back when I wrote this in comparison to how it is now. For context, this was posted back in November of 2013 and is one of my earlier reviews. One can also tell that I still identified as male and had a lot more insecurity in regards to my enjoyment of these games and it was written with the thought that others may be judging me if I did not put up enough of an argument.
I will say that I have surprisingly felt far more secure in enjoying these types of games as a woman than I did as a man, which definitely shows how far gay rights have come in recent years. It definitely does feel odd to think of how my authority on this subject can just shift like this and be accepted. Maybe it’s internalized transphobia that emphasizes the cultural aspect over the physical and makes me feel like I’m some type of pervert pretending to be a woman to justify my tastes and be shielded from criticism. This is despite knowing that none of this is true in a logical sense and that plenty of cis women share my perspective. I would think that when I have gender critical feminists are saying this is not the case that this insecurity would dissipate, but some wounds never heal it seems.
Regardless, even having been out for close to three years and with having so much time passed since I played this game, I still adore it. I seriously don’t know how I haven’t gotten around to playing another game in the series. Well technically I played about 45 minutes of Shinovi Versus but never got back to it due to the backlog. Hopefully I can get to them soon enough considering how much I adored this one.
This review was originally posted to GameFAQs on November 14th of 2013 and has been re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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