Review: Senran Kagura: Estival Versus [PC]

20 Mar 2017

[Note: Due to the fanservice-heavy nature of this game, some of the images in this article may be considered NSFW.]

For the Many or the Few

Nearly every creator of entertainment media is going to hope and wish to reach the largest audience they possibly can. Not only because more sales equals more money and attention (for most creators), but also for the satisfaction of knowing that millions of people are experiencing the work they spent so much of their life on.

Sometimes, though, the creator has a vision that will wind up alienating a portion of this potential audience. Something that they know may turn people away, but they are unwilling to compromise on. Some may call it artistic integrity.

For Kenichirou Takaki, that vision is of gigantic, bouncing breasts.

His Senran Kagura series of games has built a name for itself on two foundations: solid beat-em-up gameplay, and anime girls with breasts the size of their heads. Having such a premise, of course, manages to turn away a number of potential players.

However, as mentioned in our review of another series entry, Takaki doesn’t care – he’s creating his games his vision, paying no heed to those critical of the content. His vision appears to be paying off, as the Senran Kagura series has a solid and ever-growing fanbase, and has released titles regularly since 2011.

Today, we are looking at a port of the most recent entry in the series. More and more Japanese developers and publishers are becoming attracted to the PC and its potential audience, with today’s title being one of the latest to capitalize on the trend.

Originally released on March 15th, 2016 for the PS4 and Vita, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus received a port to PC via Steam on March 17th, 2017. The game was developed by Tamsoft and released in North America by Xseed Games.

Beach Party of the Dead

Estival Versus follows four groups of shinobi-in-training, each from different schools and of varying ideals. The story begins following the characters Ryoubi and Ryouna, two girls from the Hebijo school of evil shinobi.

While walking through a forest, the two girls come across some kind of special shinobi ritual being performed. They observe the ritual behind some bushes, watching as figures being materializing out of bright light. To their surprise, one of these figures is their older sister…their deceased older sister.

They interrupt the ritual upon seeing this, and when they try to approach their sister, a flash of light teleports them to a new location – a beach. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the game’s cast is teleported as well.

Once they are gathered, the nature of the ritual is revealed: it is a festival that gathers the souls of deceased shinobi who are unable to move on from the world. The cast is asked to perform the “Shinobi Bon Dance,” a team battle between the four shinobi schools and a group of girls assisting in the festival, to allow these souls to pass on.

When it comes to the overall plot, Estival Versus continues to suffer from an issue plaguing most of the series – inconsistent and occasionally schizophrenic tone. In one moment, the various girls are debating between performing the ritual or staying together with their lost loved one, and in the next, they’re having a contest to see who can eat the most panties.

Absurdity aside (because, yes, that’s an actual plot point), the constant switching between somewhat somber and serious and inane sexy fun hurts the game more than it helps. On the plus side, one improvement over the previous entry, Shinovi Versus, is that this title does offer one overarching main plot, rather than multiple smaller ones.

Sexy Showdown

Much like the previous main entry in the series, Estival Versus is a 3D beat-em-up style game. Each stage will have you controlling one of the game’s cast (out of a surprising 25+ characters) to take down waves of enemies and duel other cast members. The game controls almost identically to Shinovi Versus, so you can check out that review if you want the rundown of the most basic of basics.

This title does bring a number of new mechanics to the table, along with a couple of minor changes. One of the bigger new additions is the ability to wall run and perform attacks off of walls. These maneuvers are simple to execute and add an entertaining new dimension to battles, especially against flying enemies. Hurting the fun here, though, is a camera that seems to enjoy getting stuck in walls when you get too close. It’s not an issue if you pan the camera to face the wall you’re approaching before running up, but with how hectic battles can be, often I wouldn’t have time to pan it away and it’d get stuck, leaving me blind until I fought my way away from the wall again.

Speaking of new dimensions, unlike the mostly flat battlefields of Shinovi Versus, Estival’s stages provide more levels and platforms to battle on. While not so interesting against waves of generic enemies (who tend to run into the platform your standing on, or just wait for you to come down), they provide a bit more entertainment and strategizing opportunities when fighting against other cast members.

Another new addition for this title is team battles against the cast. While fights against main characters in the previous title were mostly one-on-one duels, Estival mixes it up with some two-on-two fights, two-on-threes, and even the occasional one-on-five. Along with this comes a new mechanic added to the game’s Aerial Rave function (where you can chase down enemies that you’ve launched into the air), allowing you to call up your teammate to assist in an aerial attack.

One of my favorite things about this series, which is still present here, is the amount of variety in the playable cast. Even with over 25 characters, each handles differently and manages to feel unique, even if some have the same basic combo tree. I’ve said it before: much of the fun here comes from learning and mastering each character, and learning how to fight against each of them as well.

…although I don’t believe I’ll ever enjoy playing as Minori, a.k.a. THE GIRL WHO WEAPONIZES CANDY AND PANCAKES.

A Bevy of Beautiful Bazongas

To put things simply, Estival is an incredibly attractive game graphically. Like the previous game’s port, you have the ability to play this game in full 1080p and 60fps, although it may not be as big of a selling point this time around, considering Estival did receive a PS4 release (Shinovi Versus was previously a Vita exclusive). For those that owned the previously released Vita version, though, the PC port is a major step up.

All around, Estival is easily the best looking game in the series. The level of detail in both character and environment designs has been upped significantly, as has the number and fluidity of the animations. Hell, they’ve even included fully animated cutscenes this time around.

One of my major complaints with Shinovi Versus was how often the game would cut away from the action. If you activated a character’s transformation, used a special move, or caused clothing damage, the battle would halt and play out a quick cutscene. Estival still isn’t perfect in this regard, but it has improved somewhat.

Performing a transformation still pulls you away from the action for a cutscene. Considering you and all your enemies will most likely transform every battle, this gets annoying quickly. Special attacks, though, are performed on the field rather than in a separate cutscene. You do still lose control for a moment as your character performs the attack, occasionally with some fancy camera work, but it feels much more fluid this time around. The same can be said about clothing damage scenes – they are performed on the field, and significantly sped up, helping to keep you in the action.

Of course, there’s probably one thing everybody wants to know: “How are the breast animations?!” Well, I am…is “pleased” the right word?…to report that the motions of your selected girls’ mammaries is slightly less insane and unrealistic. Rather than the water-balloons-stapled-to-chest motions in Shinovi Versus, they appear to be made of soft rubber this time around, still retaining everyone’s favorite exaggerated motions, but snapping back into place rather quickly.

The Same Ain’t Bad

I know I keep referring back to Shinovi Versus, but there is quite a lot that both of these games have in common, and one of those is the soundtrack. Once again, much of the soundtrack is driving rock, lots of synths, and some occasional eastern flair blended in. Still very “video game-y,” but it compliments the game well, with tracks matching up well to environments and currently active characters.

Estival is also fully voice acted in the original Japanese, and it sounds like the actresses from previous entries all reprised their roles here. Voice acting has been a highlight in every entry in this series I’ve played, and Estival is no exception. The performers carry both the dramatic and the inane moments quite well, and do a great job breathing life into character interactions.

Not for Family Gatherings

The Senran Kagura series has quickly become a guilty pleasure of mine, and Estival Versus is definitely the pinnacle of the series thus far. An eclectic and varied cast, familiar gameplay with some much welcomed adjustments and expansions, and wonderful graphical presentation make this the entry to look at if its ever caught your interest.

Camera issues do end up causing some not-insignificant problems during the fast-paced battles, though, and there’s still the issue of the occasional cutaway cutscene taking you out of the flow of battle. The inconsistent plot and tone overall is also a notable annoyance.

If you’re a fan of the series, or have ever had a passing interest, Estival Versus is definitely a title to check out. If you’re not, the game still provides enough mindless beat-em-up fun that makes it worth a second glance. If you’re averse to blatant fanservice, though, you may want to stay far away.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by Xseed Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.