|Published by:||Marvelous Europe|
Now I have to confess, I am not familiar with the Senran Kagura series. I know, I know, there are probably some die hard fans out there, shouting at their screens, appalled at my ignorance. But I’ve never been across anime / manga, whatever this is, save for a cursory knowledge of Akira. The blurb from the developers describe this as battle brawler, with Re:Newal a remake of an earlier game in the series.
Which all sounds very nice. But then you start playing and… oh boy. This could get messy.
Okay, let’s start with the good stuff because funnily enough there is lots of it.
Senran Kagura is an arena based combo brawler. You have buttons for light and heavy attacks, which can be chained together to unleash combos as well as special moves that can be activated within certain conditions. Levels are packed with enemies and so there is never a shortage of goons for you to try out your moves against. You’ll probably start fairly tentatively, with a kick here and a punch there. Pretty soon though you’ll be chaining together combos, booting your foe in the face and kicking them high into the air, then following them up and punting them around the football field until they breathe their last before crashing back to earth with a devastating area of effect special move to give her mates what for.
The combos are genuinely spectacular and a thrill to pull off. In fact combat generally is satisfying, your moves landing with a hefty thwack, the screen lighting up in an orgy of colourful violence as you leap from one adversary to the next. Enemies tend to fall into the camp of training dummies or real life adversaries, the latter very much more challenging than the former and requiring a rethink of tactics. Some variety comes in the shape of the characters you control with each one offering a variation on the standard move set and the special moves they can pull off.
Graphically it is superb, with crisp visuals and fluid movement throughout, perfectly capturing the anime / manga vibe. Attacks light up the screen, adding an impressive visual flourish as you dole out a beating and which in turn makes your attacks feel that much more impactful.
Lots to like then, and for fans of combo-heavy, arena brawlers there is plenty to recommend. It’s just that…Oh boy. Alright, this will be divisive.
Let’s start with the basic plot. You find yourself enrolled at the Hanzo National Academy, training to become a ninja in a school-within-a-school hidden from the other, apparently oblivious students. Here, you learn the ancient ways of the ninja, training in the deadly arts, risking life and limb for honour, family and all that good stuff. It’s all fairly basic gaming drivel but it is the manner of delivery that grates. The plot is told through a series of slide shows, text scrolling across the screen with a Japanese voiceover. But it is all melodramatic hogwash, utterly boring, with none of it carrying any emotional resonance. When you’re not yawning your way through five minutes soliloquies you are treated to some utterly insane exchanges between some of the girls at the school and it is here where things really take a turn for the bizarre. These interludes are the set up for the next mission and can involve the most mundane of issues, such as having to fight your way through the streets to get lunch or to locate a scroll that one of the girls has dropped that apparently has some super secret ninja text on it. It is nonsense and whilst it can be played for laughs, it serves to make the whole experience somewhat shallow.
But that’s nothing compared to the ‘ace’ up Kagura’s sleeve. That is if it had any. For the stars of the show are very much the girls themselves and these girls like to show off. Everything. From low cut tops to ‘what’s the point?’ skirts, heaving cleavage to skimpy swimsuits. The girls are ridiculously sexualised, virtually every scene filled with ludicrously inflated bosoms that bounce around with a life of their own. Activating a special move sees them strip down even further, the PS4 version thankfully sanitised from the original release, whilst levels can be started in a ‘Frantic’ mode that sees you take on enemies in just your smalls, the lack of body covering apparently granting you extra attacking thrust. Then there are the enemies themselves, who demonstrate their remaining stamina by disrobing further with each hit taken. One of the girls keeps trying to cheer up her classmates but instead of coming in for a hug, she asks if she can grope them, complete with creepy old guy drooling face and feely hands.
And if you haven’t quite got the message, within the menus you can try out the girls in a range of outfits, dressing or undressing them to your hearts content. I appreciate that there is a sub culture here that I am not party too and that this is a game series that no doubt has its fans but I found the whole thing utterly ridiculous, bordering on the offensive. Forgive the dated reference but at times this felt less like a game and more an interactive Benny Hill sketch.
Leaving aside the issues of taste, the underlying game itself is competent but not without flaws. The camera can be something of a pain, often leaving you without a clear view of the target and in one unforgivable scene, getting blocked by a tree in the level environment so that the on screen combat was blocked from view until I fought my way out. As satisfying as the basic combat is, there is a degree of repetition. Environments are reused whilst each mission is really just a simple variation on what has come before, such that playing for any stretch of time can become a chore. As much of a visual flourish as they come with, you soon start to realise that the best form of attack is simply to spam the buttons, filling the screen with violence the surest way to achieving victory, the targeting system rendered redundant as you wildly stab at buttons.
In the interests of transparency, I didn’t make a great deal of progress into the game. Frankly I couldn’t stomach much more. it is clear though that there is lots of game here. If it’s to your taste, the story weaves through the lives of a number of different characters with new modes, skill trees and other items unlockable as you progress, rewarding those prepared to grind and providing replay value.
There is a competent and satisfying brawler somewhere here, its visual flair somewhat offset by repetitive gameplay. But it is all lost under the crushing weight of its seedy presentation.