[Note: Due to the fanservice-heavy nature of this game, some of the images in this review may be considered NSFW.]
Show the PC Some Love
The Console-to-PC port market has become a burgeoning one over the last decade or so. For the longest time, many developers (a number of them Japanese ones) avoided releasing their games on PC, instead focusing on console titles. However, with gaming-caliber PCs becoming more affordable and accessable, these same developers are starting to take notice of this untapped market.
As such, a massive number of previously console exclusive titles have made their way to PC, and modern titles tend to receive simultaneous release on both PC and console. There do still seem to be some genres that aren’t making the leap though, and one that I’ve noticed is also one of my favorites: rhythm games.
Of course, there’s plenty of rhythm games already available on PC. Looking at some of the more popular ones, though, shows what I think makes the creators of console exclusive rhythm games such as Rock Band so hesitant to port their titles over. Titles such as Stepmania and Osu, alongside others, focus on player-made note charts…and much of the time, these charts are made for songs that the creator doesn’t own, and said charts (along with the songs) are often distributed for free.
Releasing a music-focused title on an open platform like PC could open up the possibility of pirated music being used for it. I’m not here to debate piracy, but I do believe it’s what makes these developers seemingly avoid PC ports of their rhythm games.
That’s not to say everyone is avoiding it. XSeed Games, already well-known for optioning some surprisinging titles for PC ports, have decided to bring over a rhythm game next. It’s part of the Senran Kagura series, though, so things are bound to get…interesting.
Developed by Meteorise and Marvelous Inc., and published in the US by XSeed Games, Senran Kagura Bon Appetit! – Full Course was released on November 10th, 2016. While the game has been available on the Vita, this review focuses on the newly released PC port, currently available on Steam.
Bon Appetit takes place in the same series timeline that the previously reviewed Shinovi Versus did. Three all-girls shinobi schools (along with a fourth group of renegades) continue their battle of good versus evil. However, this time, a new method of fighting has emerged: the Super Dish Gourmet Cook-Off.
The master of the Hanzō school of good shinobi has put on this competition in search of the “Super Dish,” a meal unlike any other. The winner will receive a magical scroll that can grant a single wish…any wish. Of course, this leads our cast of characters to duke it out in cooking battles to earn this scroll.
I had mentioned in our Shinovi Versus review that that game would’ve benefitted greatly from sticking with a single tone – humorous or serious – rather than trying to have both at once. Bon Appetit seems to have followed my advice (as I pretend that I’m important and influental), going for a full humorous tone in its plot and presentation. This is a fighting game being translated to a rhythm game about cooking, after all, so it only makes sense.
As such, the plot isn’t deep or compelling, but it is honestly hilarious. So much so that I truely did bust out laughing constantly during story segments, typically at the absurdity of it all, along with the over-the-top sexual humor that is a mainstay of the series.
Each of the 22 available characters has their own small story to play through, with the fun coming from the specific reasons why each girl enters the contest. One enters because she thinks cooking will make her appear cuter, another just kind of stumbles into it and decides “why the hell not.” The plot of the series’ main character is just a 20-minute long string of dick jokes. As long as you’re not looking for anything complex or groundbreaking, the stories presented here are great entertainment.
As I hope you’ve gleaned from this article so far, Bon Appetit is a rhythm game. Rather surprisingly, we’ve reviewed a rhythm game by Senran Kagura’s developer, Kenichiro Takaki, before. That game would be the Japanese exclusive IA/VT Colorful, and there are a few similarities between that game and the one we’re looking at here today.
The layout of the note charts in this games is fairly typical: two lines across the bottom of the screen, with notes scrolling in from right to left. When the notes hit a target near the left side of the screen, tap the correspoinding button.
The notes given to you will depend on the control scheme you set for the game. If you are playing with a keyboard, the notes will include the arrow keys, along with WASD. Plugging in an Xinput controller (i.e. the XBox 360 controller) will replace the WASD notes with typical ABXY controller buttons. Bon Appetit also takes advantage of Steam’s native Dualshock 4 beta support – plug in a PS4 controller, and the game will use the PlayStation face button symbols, which I found impressive.
I did run into an issue when attempting to use a Steam Controller, though. The game doesn’t recognize the controller as an Xinput device, so note charts default to WASD, and I couldn’t find an option to change this manually. You can, of course, map these keys to the face buttons of the controller, but it adds in an annoying learning curve if you’re used to Xbox or PlayStation face buttons for input prompts.
When it comes to the actual mapping of the songs, I have the same issues here as I did with IA/VT: the note charts can be very awkward. To me, a solid rhythm game creates a logical flow in its controls, avoiding too many “jumps” around a control pad and matching notes being pressed to the music in some form or another. In Bon Appetit, it feels like the basic rhythm of the note chart was created first, and then the actual button prompts were laid randomly on top.
In another similarity with IA/VT, the timing windows for button presses are incredibly lenient, and possibly even more so here. There were a few moments where I hit a note nearly a full half-beat after the prompt, and it still registered and kept my combo rolling.
In terms of the game overall, actual difficulty is all over the place. I did play through on Hard difficulty (the max available), and the difficulty within each character’s storyline varies wildly. Rather than having a song list available, each track is tied to a specific character, so when you battle said character, you play her track. Each story arc puts you up against five characters, two of which appear to be chosen at random.
As such, its fairly typical to start off an arc with a really simple track, then get thrown the hardest song in the game next, followed by something else entirely, etc. There’s no balance, and it doesn’t seem like balance was even attempted.
They Have Lives of Their Own
Much like Shinovi Versus, Bon Appetit is a port of a former Vita exclusive, with the addition of 1080p and 60FPS presentation. Knowing this, the port of this game has some of the same perks as the Shinovi Versus port…as well as some of the same annoyances.
Once again, giving this title a 60FPS port is a perfect idea. Much like the fighting game style of the previous game’s port, rhythm games benefit greatly from a high framerate, and I could not imagine attempting this game at 30FPS back on the Vita. Backgrounds and character animations look great with this HD port as well, especially considering this was originally a handheld game.
The clothing damage cutaways (which, yes, still exist in this title) are much less annoying this time around. Rather than happening in the middle of gameplay, each track has a breaking points built into them where the notechart pauses and lets the cutscene play. The game manages to have its cake and eat it too, keeping gameplay flowing even with the gratuitous T&A scenes.
A couple of animation issues from Shinovi Versus still exist here, though. Clipping remains a problem, especially on characters with long hair or skirts. The series’ signature breast animation still seems incredibly unnatural, as if the girls injected a gallon of water into each of their breasts. I did run across a couple of hilarious glitches where one breast on a character would stay still while the other decided to jump around wildly.
Didn’t Even Try
Music is the make-or-break portion of a rhythm game, and it saddens me to report that the tracklist for Bon Appetit is incredibly underwhelming. There are 22 tracks, one for each of the characters. A few are full vocal tracks, trending heavily toward generic J-Pop. The majority of the others are either bland poppy songs with occasional eastern flair, or remixes of public domain pieces (such as Mendelssohn’s Wedding March).
Not only is the setlist rather bland, but the individual songs are boring to play as well. Each one clocks in at about three-and-a-half minutes, composed in a standard theme and variation style, with little emphasis on the “variation” part. Despite the average runtime of each song, they often feel like they drag on and on.
The game also features voice acting in Japanese, and much like Shinovi Versus, most of the cast turn in great performances. The great ones remain so, and the annoying ones (CANDY AND PANCAKES GIRL IS BACK) persist as well.
All Style and No Substance
Overall, Senran Kagura Bon Appetit! is a game with great presentation and a hilarious plot, but it falls flat on its face in the actual “rhythm game” department. Note charts have no logic or flow, difficulty is all over the place, timing windows are abnormally forgiving, and there appears to be no balance at all. Worst of all, little effort seems to have been put into the track list, the most important part of a rhythm game.
Really, this title seems like it was slapped together to make a quick buck, relying on its overbearing sexuality to sell. Other titles in the series manage to create solid games to compliment the T&A, but Bon Appetit doesn’t even attempt to try.
While I did manage to pull some great entertainment from the inane plot, when the backbone of the game is this shattered, it makes it nearly impossible to recommend. A soundtrack with a bit more effort put into it may have been able to help overcome the other issues. Unfortunately, the package as it is just isn’t a very good game.
Review copy provided by XSeed Games. Screenshots taken by reviewer.