Some will say its brave that Marvelous Entertainment are brave to release Senran Kagura Burst, a game that features rather top heavy female Japanese high-school Shinobi with Dead or Alive-esque physics and a focus on panty shots, during a time when Western gaming culture is so heavily focused on the lack of female characters that are identifiable to 45% of the community, some say its idiotic to have done so. At least one person has called it damaging to the industry but there doesn’t seem to have been anyone who’s picked up on the idea that the communities focus is the exact reason the that the Tamsoft developed side-scrolling brawler has been released in the West at this exact time despite being rather popular in Japan for a few years now.
The thing is, its incredibly easy to just judge Senran Kagura Burst for its titilation. The pretty much pervy nature of the games appearance can easily get in the way of the deeper aspects of the game, much like other titles its been compared to such as the Dead or Alive series. This isn’t helped by the game really feeling like its trying to take advantage of the controvery that will follow it, some of the content may be the norm in certain area’s of Japanese culture, but there’s arguably a minority of people in the West who are used to the kind of fan service and language used within this game. Thanks to some of the language used in conversation between the games characters it could be rather embarrassing to be caught playing, thankfully any audio is in Japanese and the text during these moments is really rather small, however its the “clothing damage” cut-scenes and bouncing breasts that will draw peoples attention.
It’s those mini cut-scenes that do the most damage in my opinion, whilst it takes a fair bit of punishment for them to kick in, they remove the player from the games hectic action just long enough to disturb the flow of the combat and feel that they are obviously there to draw attention to the girls appearances. They really don’t feel needed, theres really nothing wrong with the idea of clothing taking damage in battle, and whilst eventually being stripped down to a swimsuit or bikini is pushing things out there quite a bit, if it was handled as part of the gameplay then the on screen actions are so hectic that you don’t really notice what the character is wearing. Even so, the clothing is an important aspect of the game, as you’ll quickly build up an extensive collection of outfits for the various girls to wear for the various stages of the girls Shinobi skillset.
Gameplay feels very much like a mash-up between old-school side scrolling beat-em ups like Streets of Rage, where you have a wave of enemies you need to clear before a little “Go” symbol appears on the screen in the direction that you need to head in, whilst theres a huge element of Dynasty Warriors in there, especially when it comes to numbers. More often than not you’ll be called upon to deal with enemies that easily hit waves of 10 at a time whilst combo’s can reach ridiculous heights as you combine every day normal attacks with heavier hits and aerial assaults as you juggle groups around in the air before launching them back at the floor. This creates a kind of hypnotic up-and-down rhythm to the gameplay that can at times feel rewarding, particularly with the slower characters, and at other times like button bashing, especially when using a character like Asuka.
However, due to how much the game throws at you, the frame rate noticeably suffers. It never becomes unplayable and its not particularly distracting once you get into the zone, but it does begin to judder as the screen fills up with enemies, items, ranged attacks and the slashing effects of your characters attacks. However, if it were simply a case of the games action sequences being hit by the framerate drop then it could easily be forgiven due to how much the game feels like its pushing the hardware (and no doubt the breast “physics” aren’t helping in that respect), but during the quiter lobby moments, where you move around a 3D space to choose wether you want to change characters, read up on different aspects of the game, enter the dressing room to play around with outfit combinations or to choose your next mission, the framerate is also noticeably chuggy.
Within all of these issues, the games questionable appearance and framerate issues, not to mention the recycling of assets far too often, there’s an enjoyable brawler here. As mentioned, the combat mechanics can feel hypnotic at times and the most enjoyable aspect is that during the games two stories (one for the two academies featured, with each academy having 5 girls each), you’re encouraged to try out each of the characters andreturn to previous levels to improve your rankings or earn a ranking with each girl to unlock more items. Thankfully each and every one of them feels very different to control the rather leggy Katsuragi and Ikaruga, for example, feel very different to the short but ridiculously fast Asuka who in turn feels different to Yagyu who happens to be a similar height but focuses on power rather than speed. So whilst you’ll be pretty much bashing away the same combo’s over and again, the timing and effectiveness of your technique will differ with each girl.
So, as a final thought, and I think I’ve made this pretty clear already but just to emphasise the opinion a little. It’s a shame that Senran Kagura Burst feels the need to resort to fan service and its questionable appearance because underneath all of that is a pretty enjoyable brawler thats very reminiscent of Tecmo Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series of games, albeit different enough to stand on its own two feet. I, personally, feel there’s not too much wrong with certain aspects of the games visual identity, i.e. its female cast, the unlocking of different outfits of varying skimpyness and appearance, the idea of clothes becoming damaged as part of receiving physical punishment during battle (however it doesn’t really feel like it matches up to whats happening with the characters’ health bars), but having young girls discuss things like hiding scrolls in their (seriously over the top) cleavage and motorboating or groping each other, leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially when some elements of the story feel typically high-school-esque such as balancing normal every day teenage things with study, just leaves a bad impression thats not going to do anybody any favours.