Like its predecessor, PS Vita is becoming a home for niche Japanese games. Despite dying support in the states, Japan has been giving the handheld a respectable amount of attention. What’s more surprising is that these niche titles have been getting noticed in North America and, in the case of Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, localized for Western audiences. Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus for Vita is the newest game in the Senran Kagura series, a franchise that’s earned itself a cult following since debuting in Japan back in 2011. Focusing on a group of busty female ninjas, the series has always had a penchant for perversion, and that hasn’t changed a bit with Shinovi Versus. But if you look past the wave of fan service, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is a surprisingly competent musou game that delivers content and depth in ways that you might not expect it to.
Before we get started, let’s address the elephant in the room: Shinovi Versus is a game about buxom female ninja students fighting each other, eventually leading to one of them losing their clothing. It’s sexualized to a ridiculous extreme. While there’s no nudity, you’ll find plenty of physics-defying breast motion and very close upskirt shots. You can dress up your ninja in whatever revealing outfit you want and you transform into a more powerful form with the Vita touch screen, where you push your fighter’s breasts apart with your fingers. Shinovi Versus makes Dead or Alive look like C-SPAN. It’s that special kind of shamelessness that transcends mere fan service and becomes almost admirable in its guts. This is a game that treats its sexualized anime girls like some kind of long-lost art form. That being said, its gratuity is clearly not going to be for everyone, so prepare to have some judgments made when your friends see some of those trophies on your PSN profile.
The story follows several ninja “schools,” each one composed of a different group of female students, and their growing interactions with each other. Due to the history of ninja wars, each school adopts a philosophy of being either “good” or “evil” ninjas. Once the ninja academies start confronting each other, the students are forced to do battle. Despite its slim plot, the characters are what make each bit of dialogue worthwhile. The members of each academy might run the gambit of anime tropes (“the energetic youngster”, “the serious sword fighter”, etc.), the characters are multi-faceted and have a lot of personality. For example, while the senior student Katsuragi might appear to be a confident girl (one who loves fondling the breasts of her juniors), her history relates to reclaiming her family’s honor after her parents were unable to assassinate a target and were dubbed as renegades. The characters’ dialogue exchanges do a surprisingly good job of giving these women motives behind the game’s events.
Mixing up 3D fighting with musou action, Shinovi Versus is about taking out your ninja adversary along with their legion of soldiers. The game controls simply enough, fluidly following the Dynasty Warriors tradition with smooth combos and chainable attacks. Between fast attacks, strong attacks, jumps, chases, aerial raves, blocks and parries, a solid amount of moves are available to use. The characters also adopt notably different fighting styles and flows, so you’re bound to find a favorite to practice with. The game has an outright terrible lock-on and camera system, however, which damages many of the battles. While enemies can be locked onto, attacks won’t automatically focus on them. Combine that with a wonky camera that can be a huge pain in multi-leveled arenas and you have an instant headache. The action is fast-paced too, so this is made even more troublesome when enemies are being blasted with rapid-fire combos, but the camera is obscured behind a rock or cliff.
The fast pace is still Shinovi Versus at its best. It has the “anime fighter” energy that the premise demands. Special attacks are as over-the-top as the characters, but look great on the Vita’s screen, scandalous camera shots and all. Taking out the crowds of enemies is addictive, especially considering how varied the enemy types are. Early enemies might seem like pushovers, but the increased numbers of ranged or melee enemies make later missions tough, especially if you’re after the highest ranking. While the game does linger on repetition over time, the stylish combat and plentiful combat options give the gameplay a respectable amount of depth.
Each mission has a specific shinobi at the helm and the story gives plenty of screentime to each one. There are a LOT of things to do in Shinovi Versus, but how interesting those things are to you is sure to vary. The story is by far the most interesting, with some great dialogue and challenges, while alternative missions specific to each fighter are available as well. You can unlock new outfits and skills as you progress, along with experience to increase attributes and movesets. The gameplay doesn’t dramatically change from these options, but it provides a level of depth that few other games of its kind have. Online options are great for four-player action, but prepare for some bleak servers and a lot of waiting. The games I was able to start functioned well enough in motion, but I was only able to start a game after a lot of timeouts, due to the (at the moment) low population of the multiplayer community.
Shinovi Versus is stylish and doesn’t do too much to sour that impression. Battles are packed with action and plenty of bizarre, but entertaining, special attacks. Animations are fluid and frame rate, for the most part, stays consistent throughout. Yes, the breast physics can border on supernatural, but there’s still charm and energy behind each fight, fan service and all. The dialogue scenes stuck to the visual novel standard with very little animation, but some expressive moments of fun for each of the characters. The story, however, had a high dependence on text, which brought the pace of many of the story missions down. Lengthy and plentiful, load screens are also a problem. The audio works better, with good Japanese voice acting (but no English VA option, just English subtitles). The music is energetic, albeit a bit unoriginal, but the personality of the series still shines through. It’s a stylish offering overall, right down to the gratuity of its fan service.
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus isn’t for everyone, but you probably could guess that by looking at a single screenshot of one of the shinobi’s underwear. It’s so shameless in its sexual nature that it borders on comical and that level of near-parody gives it personality along with its titillation. Looking past the upskirt shots and shredded blouses, a surprisingly decent musou game is found with charm to spare. The combat, while simplistic, has fluidity and evolution with its moveset and pacing. The camera is a chronic issue, but it doesn’t drain the game’s command of its style. A great story with plenty of unlockables will give you lots to do, and if it still doesn’t catch your eye, the online modes will. As a goofy little fighter for the Vita, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus provides a solid amount of content and substance behind its shameless fan service, and as a result, transcends it.
Platform: PS Vita