Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus
Four rival ninja clans exist, each with its own idea of what is honorable, moral and fair. The differences are not subtle, and yet there is no clear delineation between right and wrong, good and evil. The teenaged shinobi who populate each clan are fearsome warriors, capable of singlehandedly wiping out a small army of opponents in mere minutes. The weapons they use vary: staves, blades, pistols, umbrellas, sentient stuffed animals and pancakes the size of Volkswagens. Battles between these ninja are ferocious – high school uniforms are torn to shreds, undergarments are exposed, and epic, ninja transformations are performed. In the end, one combatant is standing, a victory for her house and a chance to snap into a final pose that accentuates the bounciness of her overlarge breasts.
This is Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, a game where the over-sexualisation of high school anime characters is treated in such a ludicrous and over-the-top way, it nearly avoids a creepy vibe by presenting itself as a parody. There really is no defense for the way this game depicts women. Great lengths were taken to give the player up-skirt panty shots and the breast physics here would make Itakagi blush. All clothes are completely destructible; in fact, there is one technique in which the player can use the touch screen to rip their own clothes off to become a hyper powered up, defensively weak version of their normal self (think of it as activating “Akuma mode”).
The game is beyond ridiculous. One of the shinobi warriors, Hibari, really wants to make friends. She’s a bubbly, pink-haired high school girl who fights alongside a massive stuffed animal and transforms into a Japanese gym class uniform-wearing pink ninja of doom. During her personal story, which spans five stages, she brawls with several rival ninja in an attempt to make the most friends as humanly possible. Another girl, Ikaruga, sets out to chastise and correct all of the other ninja for fighting in such skimpy clothes, only to realize at the end, “oh, I guess I battled to this point with my clothes torn to shreds too.” Even the game’s Ken or Ryu equivalent, Asuka, is given similar treatment, with her quest to uncover the recipe of the fabled “Big Wave Rolled Sushi” ending up involving a lot of butt kicking and, ultimately, a large sushi party.
Sadly, if you can’t read or understand Japanese, almost all of this goofy story content will be lost on you. This is because most of it is presented via scrolling text (only some of which is voice acted), stills and minimally animated scenes featuring in-game character models talking (all of which are voice acted). This really is unfortunate, as each of the twenty plus characters’ individual storylines does well to solidify the game’s extremely tongue-in-cheek nature. That said, there are translations out there on the internet which you can turn to, but going back and forth from a FAQ to the game does take away from the experience somewhat. It should be noted that each of the ninja clans also has a fairly meaty main campaign which varies in silliness, and completing all of the single-player content in the game could easily take fifteen plus hours.
All of the boob-jiggling, sushi-eating, undergarment-exposing stuff aside, Shinovi Versus is a very competent 3D brawler. Think of it as a beguiling combination of Power Stone and Dynasty Warriors. Most levels are fairly straight-forward arena or corridor affairs, but they’re filled to the brim with enemies, power ups and some bigger, tougher baddies, capping off with a showdown with a rival shinobi (or two). The action is fast and furious – air dashes, juggles, 1000 plus hit combos, ultimate attacks and mega transformations all keep the player busy, tap, tap, tapping away on the Vita’s snappy face buttons. More advanced players can dive into the parry system, which is both challenging and rewarding, but certainly not necessary to do well. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but there doesn’t need to be. Shinovi Versus gets the mechanics right, and that, combined with the dearth of 3D brawlers on the market, is worth getting excited about.
Also worth noting is the game’s high level of polish. Visuals pop on the Vita’s beautiful screen, characters and environments are colorful and varied in design and each ninja has a unique voice actress that recorded an absolute ton of dialogue, which is used copiously (but not annoyingly), even when performing more mundane tasks like selecting options or navigating menus. The shinobi themselves are quite fluid in action (minus some stiff running animations) and were modeled using a cel-shading technique that emulates hand-drawn animation. Other high points include extensive customization options for the characters’ looks (clothing, hairstyles, accessories), a level up system which determines stats and abilities based on not only if you won the battle, but how you did it, and a robust four-player online mode (which is, annoyingly, only accessible if you are using a Japanese region PSN account).
There are a few negatives worth mentioning. First, as with most third-person action games, the camera can be a problem, in that you have to keep babysitting it with the right analog stick or run the risk of getting attacked from enemies off screen. Load times are also an issue, as they are rather lengthy and frequent, especially during the campaign segments. And, finally, an on/off toggle for the clothing destruction cutscenes would have been appreciated, though they can, thankfully, be skipped with a simple button press.
A few years ago, Shinovi Versus producer Kenichiro Takaki was quoted as saying, “oppai wa inochi, shiri wa furusato.” Translation: “Boobs are life, ass is hometown.” His words were certainly taken to heart by the development team. Even so, for all of the game’s over-sexualization of women, it has no qualms about poking fun at itself and never goes down that dark road of depicting preteens in sexually compromised situations. Regardless of where you stand on the game’s over-the-top attempts at titillation, it’s hard not to appreciate Shinovi Versus for its outrageous, burlesque and, most importantly, fun take on the 3D brawler subgenre, which will assuredly provide many hours of high-octane beat-em-up amusement.