[Note: Due to the fanservice-heavy nature of this game, some of the images in this article may be considered NSFW.]
Taking Things More Seriously
When the first game in the Senran Kagura series hit western shores back in 2013, I originally blew it off, never intending to try it out. Admittedly, my initial thoughts on it were, “Oh, it’s just another one of those games for people who want to see some sexy anime girls.”
A few years later, I became a reviewer for Gamer Escape, and of the games in the series was passed to me for to write a review on.
I played through and reviewed the PC release of the third main-line entry in the series, Shinovi Versus, and came out the other end of it pleasantly surprised. While, yes, it is a game for people who want to see some sexy anime girls (and series creator Kenichiro Takaki has never shied away from that fact), it was also an incredibly solid beat-em-up with some great character writing and an entertaining story. I’ve had the pleasure to review multiple more series entries, and while not all of them were great, the Senran Kagura franchise has become a guilty pleasure of mine.
Until this point, I had only played from the third game onward, finding delight in the series’ goofy humor and over-the-top fanservice. What I haven’t had the chance to play, though, were the original two games released for the 3DS – games that I had been told featured much more serious storylines.
Luckily for me, there was an upcoming chance to do so, with XSeed announcing last year that they were localizing the remake of Senran Kagura Burst, the first game in the series. The localization hit store shelves recently, allowing me to dive back into the warm bosom of the franchise to see where it all began.
Developed by Tamsoft and published in the west by XSeed Games, Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal was released on January 22nd, 2019, for PS4 and PC via Steam. The Steam version was played for this review.
Burst Re:Newal follows two groups of shinobi-in-training: one from the Hanzō school of “good shinobi” and the other from the Hebijo school of “evil shinobi.” When the girls of Hebijo begin to attack Hanzō because, well, that’s what evil ninjas do, the Hanzō girls are forced to put their training to the test.
The game’s base story is fairly simple and stays relatively straight-forward throughout, but it’s the characters that really make Burst Re:Newal stand out. I’ve become quite familiar with the cast here from my experience with later series entries, but their characterization in this game is easily the best of the franchise I played so far.
The key is that, as I mentioned earlier, Burst Re:Newal opts for more serious and grounded storytelling compared to later entries. For example, while the later games pretty much make the series’ main character Asuka a mouthpiece for dick jokes, this game actually builds a background for her character and how she’s developed into the leader of the Hanzō team of shinobi.
The rest of the cast is handled much the same. Even the bubbly and annoying Hibari, easily one of my least favorite characters in the cast, comes into the spotlight through story events that break her down and have her questioning why she’s trying to become a shinobi. With death, loss, estranged families, and so on, Burst Re:Newal dives into some dark subject matter. While it’s no masterclass in storytelling, what’s here is much more intriguing than anything else I’ve played in the series.
That’s not to say there’s no sexy fun, though. There’s still a few missions scattered about to fulfill that quota, such as one where the Hebijo shinobi steal the Hanzō girls’ clothes and panties and try to sell them for profit. However, these are fewer and less prominent than other entries, acting as a bit of comic relief to break up the main story.
A Show of Aggression
While the game’s story is a massive upgrade over other entries in the series, the core gameplay stays pretty much the same. While the original 3DS Burst was a side-scrolling beat-em-up, Burst Re:Newal opts for the same style as more recent titles, going full-3D.
The basics are the same – one button for light attacks, another for heavy, which you can chain together through an attack tree that unlocks more options as you level up. Knocking enemies into the sky allows you to chase them down with another button via the “Aerial Rave” system. Tapping the left bumper button activates your shinobi transformation, refilling your health and giving you access to special attacks.
Gameplay here is still the same-old button-mashy goodness during normal fights against trash enemies, and I was able to slip right back in and go to town after a quick refresher on the controls. The one-on-one fights against other shinobi, though, felt a bit more difficult than in other entries I’ve played. While I could button-mash my way through many of them in Shinovi and Estival Versus, I found myself having to rely heavily on blocks and parries here if I didn’t want to get my ass handed to me.
If anything really felt different, it was that the combat here feels a bit more…I think aggressive is the right word. It feels like there’s more weight behind each of the character’s attacks, especially when pulling off special moves in shinobi form. Duel opponents are just as ruthless in their fighting styles, although most of their attacks are telegraphed with an indicator telling you where their attacks will land.
One thing I took issue with was how often the game forces you to use certain characters. While you can play any mission with any character once you clear it, the first time you play, you have to use a specific story-appropriate character on your first playthough. Much of the Hanzō story’s first half features Hibari, meaning you’re forced to play as her in the majority of missions, and her moveset…well, it kind of sucks.
Of course, I have to mention the game’s dress-up and “intimacy” modes in passing. I’ve never had any real interest in these modes in other series entries, and the same goes for this one. If you’re interested in dressing up the girls and digitally rubbing their faces, Burst Re:Newal has you covered (although the latter is only available on the PC version).
The Camera Loves You!
As much as I love the Vita, I was glad to see the Senran Kagura series ditch it with Peach Beach Splash, allowing them to go further with the visuals without a handheld system holding them back. Burst Re:Newal marks the first main-line entry created specifically for console and PC, and the presentation definitely shows.
The first thing I noticed was the much more dynamic camera during cutscenes. Past games simply had a still shot with all the characters lined up in front of it talking, while this entry gives us much more variety in shot composition. Little things like this help breathe more life into the sometimes lengthy dialogue portions of the game.
I mentioned earlier how much more aggressive Burst Re:Newal‘s fighting feels, and the animations are a major part of it. Pulling off special attacks often gives quick dynamic shots to add to the impact of the strike, without feeling like its pulling you out of the action.
Speaking of which, as is par for the series, activating a shinobi transformation sparks a mid-battle cutscene that breaks the flow of battle, but they can be skipped relatively quickly.
As far as music and sound, well, it’s par for the course for a Senran Kagura title. The voice actresses are the same, the music is repetitive but still compliments the game well…there really isn’t much to say.
Overall, while Burst Re:Newal is more of the same in the gameplay department, the story and characters are easily the strongest I’ve seen in the series. I found myself actually getting invested in what these characters are going through, rather than simply playing to laugh at over-the-top crude humor.
Unfortunately, the intrigue of the story isn’t going to be enough to draw in people who’ve dismissed the series in the past. Despite the plot taking itself much more seriously, Burst Re:Newal is still a Senran Kagura game, which means it still revels in giant bouncing breasts and panty shots.
What I’ve said for the other games applies to this one as well: if you’re not averse to these elements, Burst Re:Newal is a hell of a fun time, and the heavier story focus here makes this entry all the more sweeter.
Review copy provided by XSeed Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.