Review: Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars [PC]
If you can believe it, there was a time when one IP crossing over with another was considered a rare event. While I’m showing my age with this statement alone, the scarcity of such a thing just lent itself to the excitement of experiencing the crossover in general. In comparison to the dearth of options for crossover entries nowadays, you really had to use your imagination with things that could ostensibly make sense to even do such a thing. One such example could be Yakuza and Shenmue, to keep it SEGA related. Were it not for Shenmue I and II‘s influence, the core gameplay elements present there wouldn’t have made its way to the subsequent Yakuza franchise. Given that lineage, it might not seem too far fetched to write up a crossover event in a separate canon just to give these characters a way to interact in an entertaining way.
That said, it’s kind of surprising that one of the more fanservice-laden franchises has ended up crossing over with one of the more tame(ish) ones. Even more amusing is that the tone for each of these IPs couldn’t be any more different. Taking the “goddesses as game console” girls and the “cute anime girls with ridiculous proportions” franchises and making them ninjas is a hell of a way to make a fun crossover story, for sure. While longtime fans of both franchises might balk at the idea of taking these characters out of their element, new fans might look at this and see it as an opportunity to use it as a sampler platter for experiencing each franchise further if they so desire.
Regardless of what franchise you might root for, this is a chance for fans of either franchise to get a taste of something they might not have experienced before. If anything, it might just be a chance to dive headfirst into a crossover romp that concerns itself with just being a good time instead of overextending itself past what makes sense. Developed by Compile Heart/Idea Factory/Tamsoft and published by Idea Factory International, Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars is currently available on PS4 (playable on PS5)/Switch and releasing on PC (Steam) on May 11, 2022. The Steam version was played for this review.
When Clans Collide and Cooperate
The continent of Gamninjustri (no less shaped like a shuriken) is home to two major clans sporting different styles of ninjitsu. Hailing from Heartland, the Neptunia crew sport the “Compa” style with the usual cast of characters (Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert) forming the core team. Opposite of them are the occupants of Marveland, the Kagura crew (consisting of Asuka, Homura, Miyabi, and Yumi) form the core team for the rival “Honeypa” style of combat. Tensions are high between these two nations, and combat between these teams are commonplace.
The story does open with these teams locking weapons, mainly as a way to familiarize the player with the core gameplay. Though it doesn’t take long for both of these teams to unite as a singular force when Yoh Gamer (complete with gratuitous English) and her Steeme Legion attacks the continent under some unknown pretense.
While I do love a good narrative driven game, this isn’t quite what I would call a complex plot. The overall story (told in a visual novel style) is basically just a vehicle for characters from both franchises to let their personalities mesh together and move things along. That isn’t to say that total newbies will find themselves confused and disappointed that they don’t understand either of these IPs. One benefit of crossovers is that the aforementioned shedding of established canon; the writers can primarily concern themselves with the premise and characterizations of this game in particular. While longtime characters largely stick to their established characterizations, there are times where the dialogue will slip into something resembling an overly serious samurai film. It’s a bit of a tone shift, but it’s a fun contrast to notice.
The best example of crossovers with this kind of vibe (unfortunately a pattern for me, personally) is the Super Sentai franchise. It’s common practice (since about the 2000s) to have the current team do a crossover with the prior team and let the characters from both have fun with the personality quirks of each member. That’s essentially what’s going on here with these two franchises, only they decided to shed the trappings of the usual setting ala Yakuza: Dead Souls/Ryū ga Gotoku Kenzan!/Ishin!. Namely, where they decided to take the core cast out of their comfort zone and put them in a zombie apocalypse or Feudal Japan, respectively. By separating themselves from the usual setting, it gives each character a chance to let their best selves shine through while also just having fun with the established story.
If I’m being honest, the plot is nothing more than harmless fun mixed with what you may expect from your typical anime often laden with “tactful” fanservice through character design. Given that both IPs tend to toe the line of said fanservice, it’s not extremely surprising to see that the writing amounts to nothing more than harmless entertainment. It’s not the first time that Neptunia fans have dealt with a shift in setting or gameplay, and Senran Kagura fans are used to change as well. But how does the story translate to someone merely curious about either franchise? Really, it’s safe to say that the relatively basic plotline and dialogue is a safe bet for newcomers.
So long as you don’t expect anything groundbreaking from the writing, I think you could enjoy what’s written here. I’m totally fine with the premise of “light plot in lieu of letting character quirks shine,” so long as said characters are entertaining. Thankfully, it’s not a bad time overall. While the main cast and their superiors do stay in their lane in regards to the story and writing, they definitely knew that they should let the cast be themselves despite the setting. There are occasions where tired anime tropes rears its persistent head, but they’re thankfully few and far between and are generally harmless. It also helps that Yoh Gamer often loves to chew the scenery with her right hand keeping her in check. That’s fun.
The big question that I tend to want to see answered for stories like this is whether or not both fanbases can pop into this and can walk away feeling like they had a good time with the story. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s entertaining to say the least. I don’t expect every book, game, album, TV show, or movie to be high entertainment. But I expect to be able to walk away enjoying something about it. With Neptunia x KAGURA‘s story, it tells a good enough story for me to keep playing and entertain me. That’s really all I ask for at minimum, and it at least succeeds on that front.
Shinobi Party Night
Depending on my mood, I don’t mind a little bit of brainless entertainment when it comes to gameplay. Though I do at bare minimum expect some thought put into it when I decide to dive in. Let’s use Metal Gear Rising: Revengance as a comparison. The core gameplay loop largely concerns itself with extremely fast paced ninja action, and the combat largely reflects that. While you are hacking away at foes from start to finish, you’re forced to put some actual thought and strategy in how you engage in combat. You can’t just brute force your way through and expect to finish. You’re expected to use every move and technique to get there (mobility, light/heavy attacks, Blade Mode, parrying), all while maintaining the flow and speed of combat through accompanying level design.
Being a dungeon crawler by nature, pitting Neptunia x KAGURA against a game like that might be an admittedly weird comparison. Though the hack and slash gameplay makes for a connecting thread at least. While you’re in each dungeon, you’ll find that it’s engaging enough that you can’t just coast through in a brain-dead fashion ala Neptunia Virtual Stars. There’s actually a little bit of thought put into the combat, though it’s not going to walk away winning any awards in innovation.
Before you set out for each mission, it’s a good idea to ready yourself with the equipment and such to give yourself the best chance for success at the base of operations. This is where you’ll get the chance to choose which two characters to take into the dungeon. Naturally, each character has their own combat style and set of special moves. You’re encouraged to experiment with what combat style best suits you, but it really comes down to personal preference. Enough effort was made to make each character’s moveset unique, and I’m glad that combat here has some thought put into it.
Base level combat will have you doing the usual hack and slash attacking, blocking, and dodging to advance (with the occasional blocking off to take down a number of foes). Having the ability to swap each character on the fly is nice, which does give itself the best chance for strategic switching. There is the option of ranged attacks using shuriken and kunai (which you can buy better versions of as you progress), though the damage output generally shakes out as a damage booster or as a way to take occasional potshots from a distance.
There are options for more powerful combat here. The first of which are stamina based attacks dubbed Ninja Arts, of which you gain the energy for doing basic hack and slash things. Basically, you’ll just hit a bumper and choose an attack with the desired face button. So long as you have the stamina for it, there’s the chance of a fair amount of damage. The other end of this spectrum is the Fuurinkazan Drive. Essentially a powered up form themed around natural elements, each of the four types of Drive has their own perk that can be used upon activation. The quirk here is that the number of activations are limited, which encourages strategic activation.
One last option is the Shinobi Extreme move. While you land attacks and take damage, the Extreme meter will briskly fill. Eventually you’ll be able to unleash a Shinobi Extreme move, which I generally found useful fighting minibosses and the like. Execution of the Ninja Arts and Shinobi Extreme moves will require you to have the character facing the correct way, and it usually connects the way you want. There are times where it doesn’t target the intended foe due to proximity, but it’s just a minor annoyance at best. If you need a pick me up in combat, you can quickly pull up your item list and use a recovery item if you need to. It’s not something new to see for games like this, but it’s still nice to quickly stop combat and use what you need to get back in the fray without wading through numerous menus.
The combat as a whole may not be winning any awards anytime soon, but it’s competent enough to be engaging. Thankfully, the pace isn’t plodding and the fact you can dash around the dungeon helps keep things brisk enough to not sink into something that lets you fully turn your brain off. Even with the dungeon design being a little on the bland side, gameplay is engaging enough to excuse that somewhat.
Though if you’re looking for some distractions between missions, you have Peaches and Cream Meditation and NinChat to hop into if you like. The former has you balancing your chosen character on a giant peach with certain buffs to gain upon completion. It’s a cute little distraction laden with fanservice, and not much else. NinChat is just a quick way to check in on characters and let them be themselves. While neither of these options are anything to really write home about, it’s nice to see that some consideration was taken to flesh things out in case the player wanted a break from combat.
Honestly, I’m just happy that the overall gameplay is competent enough to keep things relatively fun. I felt particularly disappointed when I dug into Virtual Stars and found the gameplay there to be going through the motions more than anything else. With this being a crossover game, I feel like there was at least a little bit of pressure to make something that does each franchise justice. While it may not be the most engaging at times, everything presented here does enough to serve new fans and old.
The Art of Ninjitsu
In a way, Neptunia x KAGURA ends up pulling double duty from an art design standpoint. On the story end, you’ll largely find the usual static and animated images consistent with what you see in visual novels. The overall artwork is well drawn, and largely sticks to the feudal aesthetic set in the modern day. Character designs, however, largely falls into the usual trap of catering to those who like the proportions on their anime girls to be a little more….robust. They aren’t over the top, but it doesn’t exactly do much to deter from the fact that they’re trying to cater to fans that like their designs a little more on the lewd side. Unsurprisingly, the Kagura characters are the ones who find themselves on this end of the spectrum. Regardless, things are well drawn and do offer more animation that what you’d expect from your average visual novel. Simple as it is, it’s more than other games in the genre might do.
Once you engage in combat, however, the aesthetic is as well represented here as it is on the visual novel side. Many of the environments are visually interesting enough to represent the environment designed here. While it can feel a little empty at times, it’s at least a serviceable effort. It may not be on the level of detail you’d expect from a AAA title, but at least it’s able to maintain steady frames on a modern build. I was able to maintain at least 60 frames a second on a 1440p display, though I’m guessing lesser hardware (namely the Switch) might have a little trouble maintaining such a framerate at all. Combat is often flashy, and it’s not uncommon for the game to lean into that in the heat of things. While I wish there was a little bit more in the way of diversity of enemy design, it’s not egregious enough that it gets in the way of overall enjoyment.
Voice acting is exclusively Japanese, and the overall performance tends to straddle the line of “typical anime acting” and “serious ninja” dialogue. It’s not uncommon for these teams to trade barbs and lay some burns at each other’s feet. But the tone generally fits the story, even with the dearth of dialogue throughout your playthrough. The asides are entertaining enough, and leaning into the cheese factor of the story isn’t a bad way to let the voice actors let loose a little bit.
Music also finds itself in service to the established Feudal aesthetic. Though much like the voice acting, it isn’t afraid to play with the tone on and also hop outside said aesthetic on occasion. However, much like the gameplay, it’s merely serviceable enough to be an entertaining soundtrack in general. I wouldn’t find myself reaching out to listen to it constantly, but I’m happy that they were comfortable enough in the direction they were taking. None of it is especially groundbreaking, but it at least meets the expectation of what they were going for.
Refusing to Hide
Since we live in a world where crossovers are more commonplace than they were a couple decades ago, sometimes you have to do a lot to stand out in the crowd to even be noticed. Though there are times where you just want to have a little fun with what you have and just concern yourself with just enjoying something a little less complex than the usual AAA offering. In that regard, I feel like this is something that would step up to that expectation and meet it. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of silly fun, and this game is most definitely that at bare minimum.
Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars succeeds at being a fun crossover and a decent enough game to play. It’s solid enough to satisfy fans and newbies alike, has a solid gameplay foundation, and isn’t afraid to let loose when the time calls for it. There’s enough here to keep you busy, and everything involved is at least competent enough to keep your attention. So long as you aren’t expecting Game of the Year material, you’ll find yourself having fun with this one. If your aim is to coast and relish in a little bit of cheesy ninja action, this definitely fits the bill.
Review copy provided by Idea Factory International for PC. Screenshots and featured image taken by reviewer.