Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Kind of a REVIEW - Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus.

It's on Vita.

Okay, so picture this.  There's a girl in a school uniform with her fists up.  On each fist is a big, chunky, gleaming metal gauntlet.  


An elite shinobi of a rival school stands before her, surrounded by cannon-fodder underlings.  She dashes forward and lays in to the first defender with thumping, crunching strikes.  A jab with the left (square), a kidney strike with the right (square), and then (triangle) a piledriving cylinder glides out from the elbow of the gauntlet.  She swings her right shoulder forward, leans all her weight into the strike and fires her fist up and out. The cylinder snaps forward and an explosion of concussive force detonates at the point of impact - her knuckles.  

Time dilates. 

Four, six, eight of the enemy shinobi, and their leader, are sent flying - seemingly suspended ten feet off the ground.  With a tap of circle, our boxer springs forward.  A flash of lightning splits the screen, and she lays in to her target, thrashing them with an aerial rave (mash square).  

There's a brief (skippable) cutscene showing the damage you've inflicted on your rival, and the two of you smack into the dirt, ready to dash at each other for round two.   

Who will break first, and reveal reveal their true power?  For these are not merely ninjas - they are magical girl ninjas


With a tap of R1, Yozakura fires a sacred scroll from her gauntlet into the sky, and is coiled by a ribbon of light which hides her personal parts just so - straight out of Sailor Moon - before she explodes into her Magical Girl finery.  


And now it's on.  

In her true Shinobi form, Yozakura's movelist completely changes.  Her strength and defense attributes skyrocket, and she can unleash her supremely powerful Secret Arts.  

Sound effect: the kra-boom of a high-powered rifle.

Yozakura is one of twenty playable characters in Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus.  Each character has three forms - base, shinobi and frantic - and each form has its own attributes and move list, and levels up independently.  Each character offers mastery of a unique weapon or fighting style, each has her own five-mission mini-campaign which explores her motivations for fighting, and each participates in her school's twenty-five mission story mode.  There are four schools, and between them there are 100 story missions and 100 shinobi-specific missions.   

It's a ton of fun to work through each girl's story, mastering her unique style.  Some are tragic, some are hilarious, but all of them do a great job of illustrating personality and give you the opportunity to viciously express yourself through their violent arts, gleefully yanking out trump cards at the crucial moment that keeps you in the fight. 


Ikagura essentially permits you to brawl around as Satsuki Kiryūin from Kill La Kill, efficiently and nonchalantly tossing enemies across the screen with a twitch of her sword - right down to the white-and-gold military-esque uniform when in Magical Girl mode. 

The vicious, honorable Homura holds three swords in each hand.  Yagyu's spinning bladed parasol permits insane combos, and Katsuragi dishes out the pain with nothing but her feet.  Ditzy, pink-haired Hibari's combos are literally just windmilling fists, her launcher is whacking her enemies with a stuffed rabbit, but... once you level up her default and ninja forms, you realize that she is basically Ninja Drunk Style, by way of the School of the Accident-Prone.  Imagine if Vash the Stampede were a fifteen year old girl, pratfalling all over the place.

Sending a dozen enemies flying never gets old.

She flails wildly across the battlefield, stumbling into foes with earth-cracking hip-checks, launching herself across wide-open space in an awkward forward sprawl, and "clumsily" obliterating small armies with an innocent, whups-I-didn't-mean-to-beat-the-shit-out-of-you attitude.  Oopsies!

She's vastly different from the others - but every character in the game is vastly different.  Each feels powerful and separate from the next, with her own flow and pacing.  Each offers spectacle, and kicking ass with them - dashing across the screen, launching enemies into the sky, chasing them down and letting your Secret Arts off the chain - feels fantastic, and explosively powerful.  

The appetizingly brief, two-to-five minute missions, entertaining variety of characters’ personalities, combat style and techniques are compelling, and you’ll find yourself tugged forward through every school's campaign and every ninja's story. 


Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is a great-looking, great-playing, fun, entertaining title on your Vita with a wealth of content.  I give it seven out of ten. 

It's also a game about boobs. 


And not in any... subtle way.  It is largely about boobs.  Largely about large boobs.

At this point, I've noticed, reviewers tend to say "the boobs jiggle a lot, and clothes get ripped off in combat - you either like fanservice or you don't!" and move on.  

I can't manage that.  Let's talk about this shit - and, word of warning, and it's gonna' get awkward.  But trust me, I wouldn't even be writing this if it weren't so damned fun to play.  

Distressed that her squad mates have grown bored of and accustomed to her sexual assaults, Katsuragi (gold boots) sets out to find an awesome pair of tits to squeeze.   She meets (fights) Haruka, and they hit it off.

Senran Kagura began as a sidescrolling beat 'em up on the 3DS,  Shinovi Versus is technically the second game in the series, Senran Kagura 2 arrives on the 3DS this year, and Estival Versus - a sequel to Shinovi Versus - will drop on the PS4 and Vita in North America this Winter. Series creator/producer Kenichirō Takaki said that, prior to beginning work on the 2011 release, 
"I started to think about what I wanted to see in a game on the Nintendo 3DS and within thirty seconds, I came up with it. It was boobs." -source-
He succeeded.  Ignoring the (fun, stylish) combat and (oddly successful) story, one could safely suggest that Shinovi Versus is a game which is entirely dedicated to boobs, and all the boobing they do. 

When defeating elite enemy shinobi, your attacks will tear through their clothing - and theirs will tear through yours.  Not in any procedural way, either - it's fully animated.  Each shinobi's top and bottoms have two stages of damage, and as each stage is shattered, you're offered a brief in-engine cutscene of the cloth bursting off her (jiggling) chest or (jiggling) butt, exposing the undergarments below.   


They'll almost always say something when you do (the entire game is subtitled with the original Japanese voice work) - one third of them have a serious rapey vibe, another third are playfully modest and the others seem... into it.

Sound effect: byo-yoinnng
Like really into it. Remember the high-damage low-defense frantic mode I mentioned above?  You achieve that by tearing off your clothes, right down to the knickers.  


Which, I suppose, is why lingere selection is so important.  

There are a lot of garter options, for those who prefer their digital perversion a bit fancy.

You can play the lingere lottery to build up your 100+ strong collection of underoos, and... to its credit, Shinovi Versus does offer a wealth of options for customization.  There's free DLC that permits you to mix and match haircuts among the twenty girls, a variety of school uniforms with alternate color palettes, and... it's fun to play dress-up. 

Anyone who's ever played with Barbies can attest to that, and once I got past the bouncing bosoms and the girls of Hanzo Academy earned my genuine affection through their campaign story, their personal struggles and their potent martial arts, I found I didn't want them prancing around in barely-there thongs with dangling garters. 

I bought some costume DLC and put Katsuragi in a traditional gi - a karate uniform.


Looks way cooler than those weird gold boots.  And when you really want to kick the shit out of a boss, frantic mode is the way to go - so I end up using the lingere that are essentially boxer shorts a lot. 

If that top were a bit more sports-bra-y it'd be perfect.
Not a fan of polka dots, though.

In doing so, I'm sort of breaking the game.  These girls were not created to suffer any degree of modesty.  Tooltips encourage you to tilt the Vita this way and that to peek up their skirts in the dressing room.  If you tap on them, they snarl threats at you or cover their breasts against your attack. 

The game keeps telling me to activate my Vita's microphone to "blow into it."

Haven't done that, yet.  Not sure I wanna' know what it does.  

Asuka's grandfather, a retired shinobi, makes a special extra-thick sushi roll filled with delicious cream.
...what?  All the girls say they love the way granddad's sashimi feels in their mouth.
...what?

There is, then, a duality in Senran Kagura that I find both uncomfortable and effective.  It does a fantastic job of humanizing its heroes - making them interesting, endearing and compelling - and simultaneously expects me to view them as pure sexual objects, to be fiddled with and drooled over.

There's nothing ironic, subversive or satirical about how Shinovi Versus treats its sex appeal.  It suggests you go full-screen and turn the Vita sideways to see your chosen shinobi in their full glory in the dressing room "and... enjoy!"

I seriously think Shinovi Versus's tooltip told me to use it to masturbate.  


Problematic persistent cultural biases aside, I'm not against any one game that glorifies, objectifies and revels in the female form any more than I'm against one that objectifies men.  There's space, in this world, for entertainment of all colors and creeds, and before the first Senran Kagura game was even concepted for the 3DS, its objective was carved in stone - to shine a spotlight on spectacular chesticles.  

Does it succeed?  Does Shinovi Versus present awesome boobs well, I suppose, is the question.  

...which kind of depends on what you think boobs are. 

* * *
This is a good place to stop, I feel, and note that this entire line of discussion is a touch ludicrous - but if Senran Kagura is going to put so much emphasis on its boobs - in the same way that The Last of Us emphasizes its story and The Order: 1886 emphasizes its graphics - gosh darn it, its boobs are gonna' get critiqued
Stripped down to her undies and struck with an Ultimate Secret Art - the nakedest the ladies of Senran Kagura can get.

The breasts of Shinovi Versus are perfectly round globes, sitting weirdly high on every chest.  If they look like breasts, they are the breasts of a woman who's invested in distressingly unnatural-looking surgery.  

The breasts of Shinovi Versus are all big - save for two flat-chested exceptions - with no other real variation between them.  

The breasts of Shinovi Versus tremble and wobble and bounce at the slightest provocation (and even without), as if just to prove that they can move - seemingly light as air, and entirely alien in behavior. 

The breasts of Shinovi Versus do not look or move or behave as breasts do.  There is a vast disconnect between the game's freakish mammaries and natural globes.  Anyone who's laid eyes or hands on more than one pair (and in most cases, a single pair) can attest that such uniformity is impossible, such shape is unnatural, and such behavior doesn't represent the wholesome gorgeousness that any woman's breasts are heir to. 

Why are they bouncing?!

And who doesn't love boobs?  Heck, we all do.  Regardless of gender or sexual proclivity, you probably agree that boobs are pretty awesome, and as an enthusiast I would be up for a game that glorifies, idealizes and celebrates righteous knockers and sexy ladies with a bit more artistry, craft and... empathy. 

But at least it's empathy that produces Senran Kagura's most successful moments.  Its heavily-sexualized combat and the gasping, moaning reactions of its heroes as they tear each others' clothes off cast each battle as literal combat and allegorical coitus.  Almost every shred of mid and post-combat dialogue would apply just as well to a sexual conquest or cherished lover, and in those moments, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus is legitimately, successfully erotic. 


It works via that kinda’-guilty sense that permits one to really like Velma from Scooby Doo, and exploits the same casual sex appeal that helped Archie comics stick around for seventy-five years – albeit to an exploded, way-over-the-top degree.  One can feel affection for these characters regardless of their intangible nature, and most of the time – when Shinovi Versus is being gleefully horny instead of straight-up creepy, when it’s American Pie and not American Beauty – it rings all the right bells.  It's a raucous sex comedy.

It works on you like a change room scene or makeout session in a Betty & Veronica Double Digest, because those bursts of erotic suggestion are far more affecting when they offer an intimate glimpse of a character you have affection for.  There’s nothing quite like seeing your crush slip out of their shirt.


At twelve, this was incredibly hot.

Shinovi Versus is a sexy game, but its trademark G-cups have very little to do with it.  The bouncing of its bountiful boobs becomes a bit tired, the player becomes a bit numb to it after not-too-long, perhaps because none of its heroines' breasts are as varied and unique and well-defined as the heroines themselves.  

Its sexy successes come from the same strength its snappy, impactful, satisfying combat enjoys - the meaningful differences between each hero, how each feel unique and special, and what happens to you when a character you've fallen a bit in love with looks up at you from the screen, and suggestively blushes. 

But also boobs. 

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