[Note: Due to the fanservice-heavy nature of this game, some of the images in this article may be considered NSFW.]
A New Challenge
For a series that’s released more games than years its existed, many might start to worry about the risk of it becoming stagnant. After all, how can you possibly pump out games so quickly without repeating something over and over and over?
Well, it’s very possible that this is the reason Senran Kagura producer Kenichiro Takaki wanted to attempt a new challenge. After six years of creating a franchise of action titles (and one unusual rhythm game spinoff), it seems like he felt it was time for something new. Something to push the franchise in a different direction, and possibly bring in some new fans while he’s at it.
This year, the change has come to pass. Senran Kagura has been pushed into a brand new genre: third-person shooter. In our interview with Takaki at this year’s E3, along with wanting to take on a new challenge, he mentioned his desire to bring new people into the franchise, people who may have never given the games a shot otherwise.
Attempting such a drastic change in a well-settled franchise, though, can be a major risk. Personally, while I have become of a fan of this series’ action titles, the aforementioned rhythm game spinoff ended up leaving a horrible taste in my mouth. Aside from issues with mechanics, the rhythm genre just didn’t make sense for this series to move in to – jumping from action to music is just too big of a leap to pull off gracefully.
With this memory fresh in mind, I approached the newest Senran Kagura title with a bit of hesitance. Will Takaki be able to take on the genre shift challenge successfully, or will it be another stumble?
Developed by Tamsoft and published in the west by Xseed Games, Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash was released on September 26th, 2017, exclusively for the PS4.
A History of Fanservice
Peach Beach Splash centers around an ancient shinobi tradition and ceremony, the epynomous Peach Beach Splash tournament. For centuries, young shinobi warriors have been engaging each other in watergun battles for…one reason or another.
Fast-forward to modern times, where the girls of the Senran Kagura franchise have been invited…or, rather, forced into…participating in a modern version of this ancient ceremony. With no option to decline, the girls reluctantly agree to don their bikinis and battle, while trying to figure out exactly why they’ve been pulled into this tournament.
This franchise has really stepped away from any semblance of seriousness its original entries had, and it really shows here in Peach Beach Splash. The stories presented here are nonsensical and full of innuendo and dick jokes, but that’s really the standard for recent series entries. If you’ve picked up this game in hopes of a deep and compelling plot, you’ve made a serious error.
Despite the nonsense of it all, though, the plot is still vastly entertaining to play through, if only to see just how far the game is willing to go. I was constantly laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all, which is a plus in my book.
This game is a major departure for the Senran Kagura franchise. Whereas most entries in the series are beat-em-up/musou style games, Peach Beach Splash is instead a team-based third-person shooter…and a surprisingly competent one.
In single player, you’ll be playing as a member of a five-person team against either another team, mobs of enemies, or singular larger foes. Your weapons are, obviously, different kinds of waterguns. You have everything from pistols to sniper rifles and rocket launchers available to you, each with their pros and cons.
The shooter gameplay itself is fairly standard, but there’s a couple of unique twists to help make this game stand out. The most obvious one is the collectible card system the game uses for special skills. Each character has a customizable loadout of thirteen cards – three “pets” and ten skills. These cards range from special attacks to stat increases for your team and decreases for your opponents.
The cards are representations of various characters and items from the series. Each card character corresponds to a specific skill (i.e. All cards featuring Candy-And-Pancakes-Girl Minori are cards that can heal you), but there are multiple rarity and art variations of each card you can collect as you play. Any multiples of cards you end of receiving are essentially turned into experience points, which you can use to upgrade your other cards, weapons, and the characters themselves.
Probably my favorite twist on the formula comes in the mobility options you have. Everything is based on refillable water tanks. These tanks act as your ammo, but can also be used to propel your character fast across the ground or up into the air. The ground dashing can get you out of tough situations, or allow you to surprise an enemy, but it also drains your tanks quickly, possibly leaving you vulnerable if used at the wrong time.
There are also multiple versions of air dashing, depending on the weapon you equip: dual pistols give you a simple double jump, assault rifles allow you to pretty much fly everywhere (using a lot of your water reserve), and sniper rifles allow you to hover and use very little water. The different mobility options mean you have to think a bit more about your loadout, over just “which weapon is more powerful.”
Speaking of the weapons themselves, though, some of them feel like they have balance issues. I didn’t notice it as much playing through single player, but jumping in to multiplayer is a different story. For example, sniper rifles are stupidly overpowered, even at base level. You’re encouraged, of course, to use these at a distance, but with no options to go into first-person ironsights, lining up a distance shot is tricky…which I believe is supposed to be the balance. Often being a one-shot kill, though, using it as a mid-range weapon almost instantly makes you ruler of the battlefield.
Short-range weapons such as the shotgun are, by comparison, incredibly difficult to get use out of. These feel surprisingly underpowered, even at point blank range…if you can even get that close to an enemy. To get much use out of this weapon, you’ll either need to play stealthily, or pump a ton of experience points into it. In the end, most multiplayer loadouts usually tend to consist of sniper rifles and assault rifles, with an occasional bazooka in the mix.
As a couple of wrap-up points: the characters, while there are over thirty of them to choose from, they all play exactly the same. Aside from each having a unique melee attack, they’re all essentially different skins, with differences only occurring when you choose to level some of them up. As such, there’s no “good” or “bad” characters, so just pick your favorite waifu and go have fun.
Finally, it wouldn’t be Senran Kagura without some blatant fanservice, and in Peach Beach Splash, it comes in the form of the “squirmy finish.” Defeated enemies will linger on the field for about ten seconds before respawning. If you approach them during this time, you can activate this finish, putting you into first-person mode with a fully automatic rubber duck weapon. Once here, you can choose to fire water at the girl’s face, swimsuit top, or swimsuit bottom. Focusing on either of the latter two will eventually cause the piece of clothing to fall off…with censorship of course. Aside from one of the multiplayer modes making performing the most of these finishes the win condition, this mechanic is really just fanservice.
…but it is fun to do.
Turn On and Get Turned On
As the first game in the series developed for the PS4, Peach Beach Splash easily has the strongest visual presentation. Every battlefield has its own unique aesthetic and flair, and are often nicely detailed, although a few of the indoor stages are a bit more repetitive. The various water effects are surprisingly well done in an anime style, and even the fanservicy wet t-shirt and clothing shots use some impressively detailed transparency.
This game also carries over the strong and often hilarious voice acting of previous series entries. The characters all retain the same performers from the other games, with is definitely a boon, both for familiarity and the knowledge of how to act the character.
Unfortunately, this entry also carries over the lackluster soundtrack as well. I’ve yet to hear a standout song from any Senran Kagura entries (especially the rhythm game spinoff we reviewed last year), and it remains the same here in the latest entry.
A Bright Future
While I did go in to Peach Beach Splash with a bit of worry, I can say that I’ve come out the other side rather impressed. Senran Kagura managed to pull off the leap to a new genre fairly gracefully, creating a game that is surprisingly addictive and just plain fun to play.
The game does feel like it has some balance issues that need some tweaking, but they weren’t enough to keep from spending hours getting my ass handed to me in multiplayer mode. I personally hope the series continues to pursue this genre, as the potential exists to create a truly excellent team-based shooter with a bit more work.
Much like the rest of the series, if you’re not averse to blatant fanservice, Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash comes highly recommended. Just, you know, don’t play this game (or watch the opening movie) around your parents.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Xseed Games for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.