Senran Kagura Burst Review
Any gamer who has been around a while knows that there are truckloads of games made in Japan that never find their way to American shores. When it comes to "objectionable" content, there are some Japanese games you just know will never make it across the ocean. The Senran Kagura games, which feature female ninjas in various states of battle and undress, are some of the best examples. I reviewed an import copy of Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus on the PlayStation Vita a few months ago and liked it quite a bit. Being that the Nintendo 3DS is a region-locked handheld, I never expected to be able to play the Senran Kagura game(s) anywhere but my region-free Vita. Marvelous AQL and XSeed Games have shocked those in the know by localizing and publishing Senran Kagura Burst on Nintendo's eShop. And it's a good thing they did; Senran Kagura Burst is a great beat 'em up, and one of the better games available exclusively on the eShop.
Senran Kagura Burst is actually two games in one, believe it or not. Players get both Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows and Senran Kagura: Crimson Girls in one neat little package, and there is a lot to do in both. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind and talk about what these two very Japanese, very, um... revealing... games are about. Senran Kagura Burst tells the story of modern day rival all-girl ninja schools. The Hanzo school, the good guys (girls?), are the focus of the game, but you'll have plenty of opportunity to play as girls from the two rival schools as well. The Senran Kagura "hook," though, is that when these ninjas battle, it is more about tearing one another's clothes off than it is actual physical damage. Taking enough damage will leave these ninjas clad in just their delicates, and transforming into powered up versions of themselves often does the same. See why this series is so popular now?
Though I'll never underestimate the gaming community's perviness (is that a word?), Senran Kagura probably wouldn't be quite as popular if it wasn't so much damn fun to play. If you played and loved games like Final Fight, Streets of Rage or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time was back in the 16-bit days, then Senran Kagura is everything you want, wrapped up with some frilly unmentionables and a few ninja weapons. Much like the brawlers of old, Senran Kagura puts you in control of a girl against a field of enemies and eventually, bosses. You mash the attack buttons to string together combos and build up energy to activate the often very revealing powered-up transformations. It's a formula that was fun back then and still is now.
But, like all things remembered fondly, sometimes the old "mash attack" formula needs a bit of fine-tuning for modern standards. Senran Kagura Burst incorporates a leveling system that makes you feel like real progress and character building is resulting from these battles, and it proves to be a satisfying way to update the old formula. If you were lucky enough to check out Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystaria earlier this year, you already know how smart character building and RPG-lite leveling can enhance a dated play model. Senran Kagura Burst does this brilliantly, and a lot of the replay value comes from beefing up your favorite warriors to their maximum levels.
Unfortunately, Senran Kagura Burst doesn't share a replay-enhancing treat from its Vita counterpart. A lot of my time with Shinovi Versus was spent buying and collecting all the outfits for all the girls. There was even a (I swear) panty lottery, in which you bet coins on unlocking new sets of frilly things for your ninjas, kind of like Smash Bros. trophy system. It was awesome, and it kept me playing the game long after I had the desire to move on. Senran Kagura Burst doesn't have a shop; instead, you unlock new clothes and accessories as you play through the story. Lame. And it will be quite a few hours before you've progressed enough to have more than a small handful of choices. Double lame. The game does keep track of how much you've unlocked at all times, but simply beating stages isn't nearly as fun or addictive as a shop or lottery system. It's not something you hear often, but the Vita wins this battle.
If there is any other fault to the gameplay, it's that things can get old fairly quickly. The brawling is structured as such that you start on a screen full of enemies, you smack them around for a bit and move to the next screen and more enemies. Flashy combos and transformations keep things lively, but all battles are essentially the same. Further injury is done by level length; if you could pick up and play for a minute or two, boredom would be held at bay. Levels can take upwards of 10 minutes or more to clear, meaning those who are easily distracted could play a level, get sick of it before the end and simply muscle through to the last. It wasn't uncommon to play a single level and move on to another game after I'd spent some time and leveled some characters. The unlocking is great, but the battling itself may tire out some more quickly than others.
Let's get in a quick word about presentation before we wrap up. The game runs fairly smoothly, sometimes with tons of enemies and action on-screen. You will see some noticeable slowdown in weird places, such as major attack animations and cutscenes. The graphics are pretty decent and the 3D adds a little extra "bounce" to the action (I'm so sorry about that). The spoken dialogue remains in its original Japanese, but the text has been translated to English. All in all, the presentation is above average, though it does hit one misstep. The intro movie and song for the PS Vita Senran Kagura game was wonderfully sublime, an anime mixing bowl of flashy action, female body parts and a Japanese skate rock song that still gets stuck in my head, despite it being months since I played the game and the fact that I have no earthly idea what that singer is even saying. The intro for Senran Kagura Bust is equally flashy, but the song just doesn't have the same tangible kinetic energy as the other one. It's nice, but I was ready to crown the Vita's Senran Kagura song my second favorite game song ever (right behind "Simple and Clean" from Kingdom Hearts). This probably won't be a negative for most people as few Americans have played the Vita title, or any Senran Kagura game for that matter, but it was a little disappointing for me.
Ok, so I wasn't going to include this last part, but a lot of people online are talking about it. In bringing over a game with such questionable-by-American-standards material, a big question is around possible censorship in the game. I can tell you this: there was and is no nudity in this game, nor was there in the original Japanese version. The girls' bits are always covered, though sometimes just barely, and this is how it is across all the games in the series. So no censorship there. The in-game dialogue (written, not spoken) goes straight for the "where do you keep your ninja scrolls" nonsense and though I can't read Japanese, it seems as though the translation is fairly accurate and uncensored from the original games. After much searching, the only censorship I've seen in the game isn't really "censorship" at all: In the Japanese original, the girls' ages are given, and they definitely aren't of legal age in the U.S. In this version, no ages are ever mentioned, and nothing is missed. If Nintendo, the company that famously covered Tharja's rear end in some Fire Emblem: Awakening DLC, let Senran Kagura Burst go through with all but a few meaningless numbers intact, things are looking good for the future of truly uncensored gaming. Whether or not you agree with this kind of material being used in games, you don't have to worry about it being cleaned up and sanitized for us tender-minded Americans.
So aside from some creeping "been there, done that" tedium, lack of an in-game store or lottery, extremely minor censorship and a good song that isn't a great song, there isn't really anything bad to say about Senran Kagura Burst. It's a huge game (two, actually) with lots to do at a budget price. It features tons of action, a story and characters outside Nintendo's usual family-friendliness and an updated take on a classic genre. I guess one could complain that the game is exclusively available on the eShop - a boxed copy would have been a nice choice - but other than that, this is as solid a brawler as you'll find on any handheld right now (including Dragon's Crown - gasp!). Obviously, it doesn't reach the dizzying heights of greatness achieved by big budget, tent pole titles like Pokemon, Super Mario 3D Land or Shin Megami Tensai IV, but what it does right on a smaller scale, it does really, really well. Don't hesitate on downloading this one unless your wife, mother or girlfriend plans on watching you play. You might get some stares from them.
Final Rating: 74%. A solid brawler, just play it during your alone time.