Confidence is an admirable quality in any piece of media. It’s great that a game like Dark Souls is confident to be harsh and force the player to learn. It’s fantastic that a children’s movie like UP can have the stones to start with a heartbreaking montage. It’s wonderful that the books of Jasper Fforde feel comfortable paying reverence to classic literature. And y’know what? Senran Kagura Burst is certainly confident, and happy, to be exactly what it wants to be: an action game with large-chested ladies, a hokey script, fun characters, and frequent knowing winks.
“The plan for Senran Kagura originally started with [the idea of] breasts that can be shown in stereoscopic 3D and beautiful women that can be shown in stereoscopic 3D”. The words of series producer, Kenichiro Takaki, there, proving that Senran Kagura Burst was initially all about the breasts and not much more. It’s almost surprising, then, that the action game that accompanies the mammeries is surprisingly compulsive.
Indeed, Senran Kagura Burst may have begun life with the simple, puerile thought of ‘boobs in 3D’, but it’s to the game’s credit that it manages to be more interesting than that, and that’s in no small part because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Let’s be honest, if Senran Kagura Burst did take itself seriously then it would be a much harder proposition to swallow.
Senran Kagura Burst deals with the tale of two rival Shinobi schools, Hanzo and Hebijo. Hanzo are “good” Shinobi, fighting for all that is righteous and what not, while Hebijo are the self-proclaimed “evil” Shinobi. Senran Kagura Burst is actually the second, expanded release of the original Senran Kagura title, and so contains a story mode for both Shinobi schools, with five characters in each and plenty of plodding plot to wrap your head around.
The characters on both sides are typical anime fare: The plucky, worrying all-rounder, the quirky, shy no-hoper, the sly-eyed and quiet wise one, the outrageous tom-boy, the older, studious disciplinary. The rote character archetypes aren’t going to win any awards, but they are surprisingly well fleshed-out. Both good and evil Shinobi alike, in terms of motivations and back stories, are far more than just pretty faces.
It’s also very interesting to see the story from both sides and actually grow sort-of sympathetic to the Evil Shinobi. The Hanzo storyline paints the Habijo as one thing, but playing their view of events lets you see these ruthless killers at their school, chilling out and getting along. Sort of. The ability to play the story from both sides gives the narrative a whole bucketful of heart, soul and impact you simply wouldn’t expect it to have.
That said, the bulk of Senran Kagura Burst’s tale is told through slow text over images, as is the norm for many Japanese titles, and the tale can occasionally move at a snail’s pace (quite contrary to the action). This isn’t a negative so much as a polite heads-up – there’s a lot of story here for those interested, but text over images isn’t the most riveting of ways to digest the plot, even if some of the artwork is excellent. Oh and, yeah, expect innuendos.
But before we get to all that, let’s talk actual gameplay. Senran Kagura Burst is a hack and slash. I’ve heard it described as many things, some unrepeatable, but the most appropriate would be ‘Sexy Streets of Rage’. You select a fighter and then proceed to mash the X and Y buttons to execute pre-designed combos in order to slay the tens of foes in each level.
Combat is flavoured through an evasive slide on the A button alongside the ability to “chase” launched enemies into the air upon landing a complete combo string. You also have Ninja Arts that you can unleash after you fill a super meter by hitting lots of things, in order to hit lots more things all at once.
It’s not the deepest design in the world, and it’s never truly difficult. Its closest cousin would likely be Dynasty Warriors, with Senran Kagura Burst working on similar principles of corralling foes into a tight pack so that you can commit effective combo based slaughter. There’s no blocking, but you will always be able to spy an enemy that will be capable of particular types of attacks, informing you that you might need to dodge accordingly.
But it’s not the difficulty, or lack thereof, that makes Senran Kagura’s combat so compelling: it’s the combo meter. Seriously, that thing can hit ludicrous numbers. 300? 500? 1000? Pah! Once you get into a groove with a certain character you’ll find you can push, and easily exceed, 2000 hits.
There’s an unquestionable satisfaction to be found in herding foes into a big clump and battering them all at once, and there’s an equal joy in chaining an entire level into one long string of violence. The more you play, the longer your character’s basic combo strings become, too, and the more effectively you can combo. What’s more, the ten characters on offer do all manage to feel a touch unique, even if they ultimately play to the same design book.
Problems? It’s unquestionably repetitive. The “Sexy Streets of Rage” label only gets you so far, and doesn’t address the fact that the levels – and there are a lot of levels – are largely bland in their design, rarely more than differing backdrops framing the same combat. The rival encounters are also far too easy, and the game lacks any really memorable gameplay set pieces. Most of the revelations and shocks come from pre- and post-scrap narrative elements.
And then yeah, there’s the whole boobs thing. Transformation sequences (to change from school girl to Shinobi) feature ridiculous jiggle physics as the character is reduced to their underwear before their Shinobi duds burst on, while sustaining damage in combat can lead to your clothing “shredding” in a rather lecherous scene of the female attempting to cover their modesty. What’s more, hit L and R before a level and it starts in Frantic mode – you are faster and deal more damage, but your defence is low and you, well, you play the entire level in bra and pants.
Alongside this you can choose the clothes and accessories your cast wears during play – with these being the main unlocks of the game alongside artworks. This customisation includes the aforementioned under garments.
Thing is, you can also elect for characters to spend the entire level chomping on toast, or change their shinobi suit from hip ninja gear to a giant fluffy teddy bear. It’s also worth pointing out that while the game features one character that’s smuggling a pair of unfathomable watermelons under her shirt it also includes characters far less gifted in the chest department, they’re just not featured in the advertising. Yes, the game has some painfully pervy scenes. On-lookers on the bus are going to raise an eyebrow so high it will threaten to leave orbit, but Senran Kagura Burst has a light-hearted sense of fun about everything it does, boobies included.
VERDICT: Senran Kagura Burst is silly. Its presentation is silly, its combat is silly, and its whole reason for being is silly. Yet somehow, it’s compelling. Alongside the gratuitous boob and panty shots there’s a nice pair of intertwining stories here with amicably fleshed-out characters. Next to the ability to choose the colour of your girl’s skirt is a combat system that ditches difficulty in favour of ludicrous high-score combo strings.
Senran Kagura Burst does occasionally feel as if it’s a few features short (two player co-op isn’t here, but is confirmed for the sequel), and the framerate has a tendency to take a nose dive in busier scraps. But this is a game that knows what it wants to be and delivers on its core concept with admirable confidence, and you can’t say fairer than that.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.