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Review

Review: Senran Kagura – Estival Versus

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Com­ing during an important time of the year for Japa­ne­se games, Mar­ve­lous Games have cer­tain­ly picked an inte­res­ting time to release the rather late PC port of Sen­ran Kagu­ra: Esti­val Ver­sus. Arri­ving a who­le year after the wes­tern release on PS4 and Vita, and on the same day as Nier: Auto­ma­ta‘s PC debut, is the­re enough here to once again ent­i­ce play­ers into a world of bus­ty shi­no­bi and explo­ding clot­hing?

 

Esti­val Ver­sus is a direct sequel to Shi­no­vi Ver­sus, taking place in a par­al­lel dimen­si­on resemb­ling a tro­pi­cal island. Here, an event cal­led the Shi­no­bi Bon Dance is about to take place which is inten­ded to lay the souls of dead shi­no­bi to rest. To do this, the four nin­ja schools that have been taken to the island must des­troy fes­ti­val plat­forms becau­se… rea­sons.

The sto­ry in Esti­val Ver­sus is honest­ly the games big­gest weak point. You’re expec­ted to know what hap­pen­ed in pre­vious games, with litt­le to no back­ground given for any of the retur­ning cha­rac­ters. Fur­ther­mo­re, the majo­ri­ty of the sto­ry­line feels unevent­ful. While the game takes place over eight days, most of them are spent foo­ling around wit­hout any pro­gres­si­on of the plot. This also takes away most of the impact when the game tri­es to throw in anything remo­te­ly serious.

An even big­ger pro­blem that the sto­ry cau­ses is that there’s far too much of it com­pa­red to how much game­play the­re actual­ly is. After sit­ting through cuts­ce­nes befo­re each sta­ge, you gene­ral­ly only get a few minu­tes of action befo­re having to sit though more cuts­ce­nes.

Thank­ful­ly, things get much bet­ter once you’re final­ly able to play. Each cha­rac­ter has a set of light and hea­vy attack, with com­bos usual­ly laun­ching enemies into the air. From the­re you can cha­se and con­ti­nue your com­bos as you see fit. Unli­ke most beat-em-ups, Esti­val Ver­sus gives you many oppor­tu­nities to take the fight off the ground, with mul­ti­ple jumps and air­da­shes let­ting you stay aeri­al for a while.

Chan­ging things up fur­ther are the Shi­no­bi Trans­for­ma­ti­ons and Fran­tic Mode. The for­mer activa­tes a magi­cal girl style sequence (which for­tu­n­a­te­ly can be skip­ped) giving you access to hid­den arts, lar­ge dama­ging attacks that can usual­ly take out groups of enemies quick­ly. The­se moves are also avail­ab­le during Fran­tic Mode, whe­re you sacri­fice defence, and your cha­rac­ters clot­hing, for an attack boost and infi­ni­te ground com­bos.

Mowing down waves of enemies is fun to start with but it soon beco­mes clear that, even with the afo­re­men­tio­ned intri­caci­es of the com­bat, the­re is not much depth over­all. Regu­lar enemies are easy to over­co­me wit­hout put­ting too much thought into what moves you’re using, and sta­ges are gene­ral­ly very short with only a few giving you the chan­ce to explo­re. Adding to the lack of varie­ty is the play­a­ble cha­rac­ters them­sel­ves. Moves are flas­hy and at least look inte­res­ting, but with com­bat being so shal­low each sta­ge boils down to mashing one com­bo for each cha­rac­ter befo­re reaching the boss.

Boss fights also pro­ve to be ano­t­her sti­cking point of Esti­val Ver­sus. Most sta­ges end with a fight against one or more of the cast, who also have access to Shi­no­bi Trans­for­ma­ti­ons. The per­son that trans­forms is gran­ted a full life bar, no mat­ter how low they were befo­re­hand. This means that bos­ses effec­tively have two life­bars if you can­not kill them befo­re trans­for­ma­ti­on. Now, this wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the break mecha­nic. Out­si­de of having the dizzy sta­tus, you can press down on the dpad to use break, a move that uses a litt­le hp for the bene­fit of laun­ching enemies away from you. Bos­ses can natu­ral­ly use this too, mea­ning that it can often be frus­tra­ting try­ing to get any sort of com­bo star­ted wit­hout being inter­rup­ted.

Esti­val Ver­sus also offers various, most­ly com­pe­ti­ti­ve, online mul­ti­play­er modes. While the coope­ra­ti­ve shi­no­bi sur­vi­val mode can be fun for a while, it quick­ly beco­mes repe­ti­ti­ve after figh­t­ing wave after wave of weak mooks. The ver­sus modes also high­lights the lack of balan­ce when it comes to mul­ti­play­er, with some cha­rac­ters being prac­ti­cal­ly useless when figh­t­ing other play­ers. Over­all, mul­ti­play­er is a decent enough way to play with a few fri­ends sin­ce it sup­ports up to 10 play­ers, but the lack of balan­ce or rewards stop it from being anything more serious or worthwhile.

One ele­ment that plays a big part in the Sen­ran Kagu­ra series is the cus­to­mi­sa­ti­on opti­ons, along with copious amounts of fan­ser­vice. The dres­sing room allows you to cus­to­mi­se each girl with various out­fits and access­ories. This even inclu­des their under­we­ar, sin­ce it seems shi­no­bi have a hard time stay­ing ful­ly clo­thed during batt­les. After taking enough dama­ge, enemies can have their clot­hing dama­ged or remo­ved ent­i­re­ly. This starts of as a novel­ty at first, howe­ver after see­ing the unskipp­a­ble cuts­ce­ne of an ene­my being strip­ped for the ump­te­enth time it just beco­mes an annoyan­ce. Con­si­de­ring how often it hap­pens during each boss fight, the­re real­ly should have been an opti­on to skip the­se inter­rup­ti­ons.

Focus­sing on the port its­elf, Esti­val Ver­sus is unsur­pri­sin­gly a clear impro­ve­ment over Shi­no­vi Ver­sus on PC. Being based of the PS4 ver­si­on of Esti­val Ver­sus, on PC it runs at a con­stant 60fps with no noti­ce­ab­le drops. Gra­phi­cal opti­ons are fair­ly slim, but what’s the­re is ser­vice­ab­le enough. Using a con­trol­ler to play is recom­men­ded as the default key-bin­dings are awk­ward with key­board and mou­se, even with the abi­li­ty to remap them.

Cha­rac­ter models have always clear­ly had the most time spent on them out of anything in the Sen­ran Kagu­ra series, and Esti­val Ver­sus makes no excep­ti­on. The cast looks gre­at in the move to HD, with faci­al expres­si­ons doing a good job of con­vey­ing each cha­rac­ters’ emo­ti­ons. Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, the sta­ges and basic enemies haven’t had the same tre­at­ment, with a lot of sub par envi­ron­ments and ene­my designs being used. To make things wor­se, a lot of the sta­ges are just recy­cled from Shi­no­vi Ver­sus with litt­le done to them.

Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, the PC ver­si­on of Esti­val Ver­sus has also car­ri­ed over the copious amounts of load screens that fea­tured in the con­so­le release. The game often has to stop mul­ti­ple times during one cuts­ce­ne, espe­ci­al­ly with big­ger group of cha­rac­ters. There’s even a small loa­ding time befo­re every boss fight, which starts to add up after pro­gres­sing through the sto­ry.

Conclusion

Taking ever­ything into account, Sen­ran Kagu­ra: Esti­val Ver­sus is a fair­ly average game at best with an unfor­tu­n­a­te launch date and pri­ce. Unli­ke the PC releases of Bon Appé­tit and Shi­no­vi Ver­sus, Esti­val Ver­sus does not come with most of the avail­ab­le DLC for the game. This would have been fine if not for the lar­ge delay bet­ween con­so­le and PC releases. Ulti­mate­ly, unless you’re a die­hard fan of the series the­re are far bet­ter choices for tho­se loo­king for an ani­me sty­led game on PC.

Sen­ran Kagu­ra: Esti­val Ver­sus
Gen­re: Beat’em-Up
Sys­tems: PC (review­ed), PS4, PS Vita
Pri­ce: ca. €40 / £40 / $40 (Steam / PSN)
Deve­lo­per: Tam­soft
Publishers: XSEED Games / Mar­ve­lous USA

This game was pro­vi­ded by the publisher for review pur­po­ses, check our review poli­cy for details.

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