It sure has been a while. Today’s Under Your Radar will be on Senran Kagura BURST. This is a 3DS game that’s been released as a download-only title in North America, but has just been released in Europe physically, so I feel it’s as good a time as any to push this review out.
It’s a side-scrolling beat ’em up with visual novel-style storytelling. Furthermore, the game is actually made up of two separate games. The original game, Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows (Senran Kagura: Shōjo-tachi no Shinei), and a new storyline featuring the other side of the story, Senran Kagura: Crimson Girls (Senran Kagura: Guren no Shōjo-tachi). I’ve actually reviewed the anime already and said that it made me want to play the game, so you might be wondering what I think of it.
Since then, FUNimation has announced that the anime will be dubbed, and one of the manga adaptations, Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows, has started its release in English by Seven Seas. The game itself, however, uses Japanese voicing with subtitles. Oh, and a sequel’s incoming, and there’s a spin-off released and two coming on Vita… and a mobile game. But whatever. The currently-available 3DS game is the important part here.
I’ll tackle the stories separately and the gameplay together, so let’s start things off. Unmarked spoilers ahead. I’d hide stuff, but does it really matter? Some of my points are about the plot, so I need to say it. The plot is primarily character-driven, so this part will read like character summaries.
Chaos in Bloom (Midare Saki) by Hitomi Harada, Asami Imai, Yū Kobayashi, Kaori Mizuhashi and Yuka Iguchi (the main cast’s voice actors)
To defend those who live in this world is the way of the shinobi
My graceful mastery of this beautiful body is chaos in bloom
Our daily lives are full of laughter
But I’m beside myself on uneasy nights
There are beings lurking in the shadows
So stand up and prove yourself, vividly
And so defending those who live in this world is the way of the shinobi
These graceful, beautiful hands will slash their way through
That transient dream that we’re chasing is beyond the blazing flames
I’ll push onward earnestly to see just what lies beyond
Skirting Shadows follows the story of the students of Hanzō Academy. Hanzo Academy is an academy that, on the outside, is simply a huge academy for the prestigious. However, in secret, it is the home to the Light Faction of ninja, where people from families that have ninja backgrounds and students whom are pure (as in they have not broken any rules) reside. This side of the academy houses only 6 students (and the sixth kinda doesn’t count for reasons I’ll explain later) with one instructor.
The main characters of this side of the story are Asuka, Ikaruga, Katsuragi, Yagyū and Hibari, along with an instructor named Kiriya. These are all codenames, however – we never find out what their real names are. In most adaptations, these are the protagonists and Asuka, specifically, is the main protagonist. As the game’s genre doesn’t allow for too much story without getting in the way, the characters tend to have just one major malfunction they try to solve by the end of the story.
Ikaruga’s is very simple and is left unsolved due to its nature. She was actually adopted because her adoptive parents’ child was useless as a ninja (though all adaptations of the story, as well as the game itself, either subtly or blatantly tell us that the child took over the family’s huge company). She feels unwelcome in her family as a result, with her brother trying to take away her sword (passed down through the generations) and failing. She fights with that very sword.
Katsuragi’s parents were respected ninjas who failed a mission and ran away, leaving her behind. She wishes to make a name for herself so her parents can be forgiven and can come out of hiding. In a scene later on, her old family pet leads her to her parents, who’re now farmers, but she chooses not to go see them in case she’s being followed. Her name’s commonly shortened to Kat in the English release, and she fights with huge metal boots.
Yagyū’s sister died before she entered the academy. She looks a lot like Hibari, so she defends Hibari at all costs. She’s a super-prodigy and fights with her umbrella.
Hibari is basically useless, and she knows it. She fails at almost everything, and Yagyū always defends her in fights. Normally this would lead to a story of fighting tooth and nail for recognition, but she’s basically been denied that – nobody blames her when she does something wrong, and Yagyū has gotten to the point where Hibari only gets to fight her own battles when she’s busy fighting someone else. This is actually the main thing driving the plot towards the latter end, with her falsely defecting to the Dark Faction to correct a major mistake on her part. The anime gave her weird telepathy powers to close off this plot, but the game just has everyone else finally acknowledge her pain’s existence. She fights with her bare fists and butt.
Asuka… is basically one of the least interesting protagonists I have ever seen. Flatter than a ruler, she basically fights for good, as her very famous grandfather once did. However, she did have the opportunity to be a little interesting at the start of the story. Right off the bat, as soon as the game’s introductory parts are over, while she’s out running to train, she gets asked out by an aspiring baseball player who was passing by. After some careful encouragement from everyone and some info on how her parents met, she indirectly declines by changing her running route and later reads of the guy’s accomplishments in the paper. This is all one cutscene. What’s sad is that her trying to balance the secretive ninja life with love would’ve been more interesting than the flat character we got at the end of the day. She fights with dual blades.
Aside from Kiriya’s moping about a certain student named Rin who died and said student’s rival who still refuses to graduate until she beats her in a fight, that’s about it. The plot follows their normal life being disrupted by the Dark Faction trying to get at their ninja scroll. This is absolutely nothing special, mainly made different by the character plots I just mentioned.
The Crimson Law (Guren no Okite-me) by Eri Kitamura (Homura’s voice actor)
Along with friends
Live with a strong heart
With this song I desire
For a tomorrow where we can laugh
Every day, when you pass by
What do you think?
You’ve probably forgotten, haven’t you?
One’s help isn’t invisible
Without listening attentively to the voice of a friend
In the hidden path that you cross
Hold the pain…
And bloom fully!
Laws cut through and extract that dark shadow
The crimson path that dances the red dance
A wish that’s caught in the ends of the earth
Crimson Girls follows the students of Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy, the Dark Faction. Surprisingly, this is commonly seen as the superior storyline, as the faction is portrayed as merely being more welcoming of everything than the Light Faction, otherwise being effectively the same. They act as normal ninjas would – taking questionable jobs.
Notably, people recommend that this storyline is played second, as it is made much more difficult due to the inability to stop and save at multiple different points. For instance, the entire first chapter must be played in one sitting. Also, after the final boss, you must beat the bonus boss immediately, whereas Skirting Shadows gives you the option of fighting said boss. Luckily, the boss is made much easier in exchange.
This route follows the students code-named Homura, Yomi, Hikage, Mirai and Haruka, as well as their instructor Suzune (who’s actually Rin). Unlike the Skirting Shadows protagonists, these characters are characterized by prior, rather than present, hardship.
Yomi is from the slums, does everything for the poor, and absolutely despises the rich. This places her in direct conflict with Ikaruga until she explains what’s up. She fights with a claymore that appears to be larger than her.
Hikage is a girl who was trained to show no emotion, and was living on the streets as part of a gang under the leadership of a certain woman who she looked up to. Said woman died in an alley while trying to negotiate with a rival group. This is the only time she has ever cried, and she carries and fights with her precious knife as a memento. The anime made the stupid decision to replace this with her being a child soldier for some reason.
is basically useless, and she knows it was a regular girl who was constantly bullied. So she became a ninja in order to get her revenge! The group later convinces her to not go through with the revenge. Being the only flat-chested character, she dresses in gothic lolita style and fights with a variety of machine guns, one of which is placed disturbingly like a penis. She really, really hates being looked down upon.
Haruka has to be the hardest character to play as. She fights with puppetry and seduction. She tried to kill her parents after being treated as a dress-up doll by her parents for years, and obsesses over Hibari at all times. This actually leads to a plot inconsistency. In Skirting Shadows, she’s the one who makes Hibari join the Dark Faction for a while, but this is the work of a third party who is later killed in Crimson Girls.
Homura’s story is actually extremely sad. Her family is from the Light Faction, but she has to kill a ninja who attacks her in self-defense. This disqualifies her from being a Light Faction ninja, as she took a life before becoming a ninja, so she was disinherited and had to flee to the darkness. She usually fights using six swords like Wolverine claws, but uses a single, long, blade in the final battle.
Aside from some basic plot discrepancies like the ones I’ve already mentioned, and the fact that the characters that are focused on are different in nature, the story plays out as a basic alternate version of the story in Skirting Shadows.
As you can see, the story is mostly straight-forward. But, in this genre, it’s the gameplay and feel that matters, so I’ll just state right off the bat that the game’s main weakness is that it’s on the 3DS. While the gameplay is solid, the weak power and low resolution of the system make it so that, even with the graphics looking very weak, the 3D has to be disabled for the game to run well at all, and even then there are reports of really slow framerates that I was lucky enough to not run into.
The game runs like the genre normally does, with easy chain combos of light and heavy attacks. There are a few differences, however. Remember, the characters are ninjas, so there are plenty of attacks involving air juggling and aerial maneuvers. Additionally, you have the ability to transform into a stronger form, or you can play an entire level in lingerie with lower defense but higher power. If you take enough hits (this is completely unrelated to your health), your clothing can be damaged up to a certain point, but you’re unlikely to take much damage in story levels due to how easy most of the main story is (which I attribute to a polished difficulty curve). Optional levels, however, can be really difficult and will kick your ass.
Something they did really well was having the playable characters all play very different, while being very identical in terms of controls outside of the occasional combo difference and differences in attack ranges and specials. Still, these differences are significant enough to make a character like Asuka or Hibari ironically easy to play while someone like Haruka or Mirai ends up really tough to use.
All-in-all, the game is solid and easy to pick up and play. A far cry from the claims that the game was all large boobs and no substance. I mean, sure, the game’s director made no attempt to hide that the series was created specifically because of his love for large breasts and wanting to show them to the world in 3D, but it seems that the development team decided to make a good game while they were at it.
There’s also a dress-up menu that lets you change what the characters wear during gameplay, but this is common in Japanese games with female protagonists, and I tend to not use the feature. That said, you can choose to dress the girls in white one-piece dresses, as idol singers, police officers, etc. You can even mix and match.
Story-wise, Senran Kagura is nothing to write home about. It’s the characters that make it what it is, and the characters could easily turn people off depending on their tastes.
Gameplay-wise, Senran Kagura is nothing to write home about. Although it has the transformations and aerial combat in it, it’s still a basic brawler at heart.
Presentation-wise, Senran Kagura is very hit-or-miss. There are those who’d feel repulsed by all the girls but Mirai being well-endowed, there are those who really like that, and there are people like me who ignore the fanservice, as it’s the game that ultimately matters in the end.
I enjoyed my time with Senran Kagura BURST. Whether or not you will is a different story entirely.
And so, I rate it:
Take that however you will.