Under Your Radar: Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus


Hanabana no Kakugo (Resolution of Blooms) by Hitomi Harada (voice of Asuka) and Yumi Hara (voice of Yumi)

Light is enveloped by darkness
Seeking the peace that’s granted by a fleeting dream

Waiting for the mood to strike
For those who’re called shadows
Scattering dance!

Life and death battles make us scared and sad
So I cry out in despair

Our beautiful, blooming flowers are powerful, yet fleeting
Always in anticipation of what we may become

Don’t flee! Don’t give up!
Don’t break! Don’t quit! Don’t lose!

Now, be sure to be mentally prepared!

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It’s time for Under Your Radar! Today, we’ll be covering Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus -Proof of Life-, released in Japan as Senran Kagura SHINOVI VERSUS -Shōjo-tachi no Shōmei- (the sub-subtitle is more literally “The Girls’ Proof”) in February 2013 and in North America one month ago.

It was developed by Tamsoft and published by Marvelous AQL in all regions (XSEED is just a label for their US division if you weren’t aware). Amusingly, in a reverse of the previous game, only North America got an English physical release (the “Let’s Get Physical Edition”), but only for one print run. Europe got it digital-only.

The game is a beat ’em up that takes place 6 months after Senran Kagura BURST, therefore also taking place after the not yet localized Senran Kagura 2: Crimson. As such, there are unmarked spoilers for BURST everywhere, including in that opening video above. The game assumes you’ve either played it or watched the anime (this came out in Japan just after the anime). I will be assuming you don’t mind me outright stating spoilers for that game as I proceed. I spoiled it all in the linked Under Your Radar to get the game’s tone across anyway, so click on that link to read about it if you want.

Story

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As with BURST, there are multiple storylines (5 chapters each, one mission per girl per chapter) that contradict each other. I’ll be briefly summarizing each one and then piecing together what I think actually happened. So, basically, spoilers for the entire story, though I’ll leave some stuff out. In addition to the main plot, each girl has a brief 5-mission side-story that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Also, beating the game unlocks the “Last Battle”, which allows you to play as Asuka or Homura for the hardest fight in the game against whoever you didn’t pick, with no gimmicks.

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There are two returning factions (Hanzō and Crimson Squad) and two new ones (Gessen and Hebijo). You need to finish the other three to unlock the Crimson Squad (or you can go to the school selection screen and hold L+R, while inputting ↑←→↓↑→←↓↑→↓←↑↑←↓→↑ on the D-Pad to get them immediately, but that’s cheating).

There are 20 playable characters this time, not to mention the NPCs, plus the two DLC characters, so I’m not gonna go over everyone again this time. Just know that a lot of backstory happens in every route.

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Hanzō National Academy

Dance and fall with the poise of petals!

It is now time for Ikaruga and Katsuragi to prepare for their graduation exams, but then Gessen challenges Hanzō to a Shinobi Battle Royale. By those rules, both schools take turns attacking each other. If either side is completely defeated, the losing school is burned to the ground and the students of that school may never again try to be shinobi. Needless to say, the preparations for their graduation exams are put on hold.

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As with BURST, Hanzō’s storyline is the same old plot with the other school kicking their asses before they train and then beat them completely afterwards. (They opt to not burn Gessen down, nor does Gessen to Hanzō in their storyline.) However, just like in BURST, we get continued backstory for all of the characters.

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For example, Hibari’s plotline is continued with information about her family’s hereditary technique that allows control over other people. Her siblings all wanted this ability, and Hibari just wanted to run a sweets shop. But she ended up getting it, so she ended up becoming the heir. Like before, she’s creeped out that nobody’s mad, but now we know why. Remember, her family’s technique is temporary mind control. A plot point is that she can’t control it yet, so she’s worried she may be controlling everyone unintentionally.

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Amusingly, Asuka’s character continues to not have anything going on of note. Also, Ikaruga makes up with her brother, which is amusing because he would later join the playable cast in Senran Kagura 2 as the only male of the bunch. We also find out why Yagyū has an eyepatch (it’s actually quite sad), and Katsuragi gets her parents pardoned.

We also hear about Hanzō’s old rival Kurokage, who was the target Katsuragi’s parents failed to kill. He apparently went too far in his hatred of evil ninja, and was kicked out after trying to kill someone who was somehow both a good and evil ninja simultaneously. Kurokage’s the grandfather of Yumi, the lead character of the Gessen side, so the attack on Hanzō is supposedly due to their friendship with the Crimson Squad.

Kurokage interrupts the final fight against Gessen. Keep this in mind.

Gessen Girls’ Academy

Dance in the dreams of sleeping souls!

On one fine morning, the Gessen elite are taking some food to Kurokage, who’s apparently bedridden according to the events of Hanzō’s storyline. Speaking of which, Hanzō himself eats all of the food, stealthily gropes all of the girls, then rejects the challenge Yumi gives him in a rage, saying his granddaughter Asuka should be a better match. The girls go home, too ashamed to see Kurokage. Their teacher, who sounds oddly like what I’d imagine a Japanese Rafiki to sound like, tells them their next mission is to challenge someone to a Shinobi Battle Royale. They pick Hanzō Academy, of course.

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The plot here is basically a reverse of Hanzō’s story’s main plot. The backstory, in this case, are that all of the playable Gessen girls were adopted by Kurokage when their parents were killed by evil ninja (Yumi’s actually his real granddaughter, though). The backstory is mostly from Kurokage’s perspective, hoping that the girls grow up healthy and lose their thirst for revenge, something he himself lost far too late. Not knowing this, the girls themselves slowly lose their resolve to eliminate evil shinobi, realizing what the Hanzō girls realized the last time around – they’re not so different from good shinobi. But they’re afraid to stop because it would disappoint Kurokage.

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The character here is named Minori, by the way. The subs vanish by the time the name appears.

In the end, it turns out that Kurokage was dead the whole time – it was his lingering spirit that was narrating the backstory. The story ends with the girls visiting his grave and polishing his tombstone, as Yumi looks up to the sky saying goodbye and hoping he’ll accept their decision to not try to eliminate evil shinobi. Ths was a surprisingly powerful scene, even in a series that already gives this much mood whiplash.

Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy

Dance in the burning souls of calamity!

The story starts off with the end of BURST. Basically, the two leads for this storyline (Miyabi and Imu) were incapacitated by a yōma attack prior to the events of BURST. (I’ll explain what a yōma is further down.) They were two of the Hebijo elite prior to then, and Homura’s group took over afterwards. With the school burnt down and rebuilt, the two rejoin Hebijo and form a squad of five. Their first mission: kill the Crimson Squad. Whoever does so will become the new Hebijo elite.

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For the remaining three members of the squad, they get two girls who defected from Gessen, as well as Imu’s more powerful sister. Imu’s sister holes up inside all day out of self-loathing, thinking her sister hates her. She’s also a fan of Rapunzel the Shinobi, which she doesn’t know is written by Mirai of the Crimson Squad.

This storyline breaks pattern because, unlike Homura, Miyabi is actually somewhat evil. For example, they apparently kill off most of the cast (Well… it’s contradictory. The plot keeps acting like they did and didn’t simultaneously.) and actually do burn Gessen down after beating them in a Shinobi Battle Royale.

The story ends with the girls trying to kill each other (the girls who defected from Gessen were out to kill Miyabi for revenge over their dead sister), ending with all of them somehow okay and becoming the new Hebijo elite as friends.

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We also learn about the secret shinobi rank known as “kagura”. This is the highest rank of shinobi, whom are authorized to take missions to kill yōma. The final boss of BURST was apparently a freshly-revived yōma, whom I presume wasn’t at full power, since yōma are top-secret beings that can apparently kill off tons of high-ranking shinobi like they’re nothing. This is the true reason why shinobi exist in this game’s universe, as well as why there are good and evil shinobi – yōma are both created and drawn by bloodshed within shinobi barriers, so having shinobi fight each other draws out yōma so high-ranking shinobi can kill them… but this also creates more yōma if I’m understanding this correctly, so maybe I have part of this wrong.

Homura’s Crimson Squad

Dance as the crimson lotus falls!

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This storyline is about how the Crimson Squad are rotating part-time work to be able to live, and how they intend to handle the lack of a goal. The plot here is mostly a behind-the-scenes to all of the other plotlines, with a few differing or confirmed points. A minor character from BURST‘s Hebijo storyline returns, as well as the evil investor Homura supposedly killed in the first place. After Homura re-kills the dude, the Crimson Squad is let off the hook since it turns out he was manipulating all of Hebijo. They choose to stay renegades, however, since Hanzō quietly told Homura abour the kagura rank, which can be obtained regardless of whether one is good, evil, or renegade.

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Also notable here is that we get closure on Rin’s plotline. In a touching scene, she visits her old teacher and her friend at Hanzō Academy, then resigns from teaching at Hebijo to aim to become a kagura.

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“PEACE TO THE WORLD! LOVE AND PEACE!”

 What I Think Happened

All of the backstories are most likely canon. But otherwise, to put it bluntly, Hebijo’s plot after the introductory chapter is probably bullshit. That said, some variant of the final chapter (the part where they try to kill each other) most likely happened. The Crimson Squad and Hanzō are likely the canon set of events with a few things off. For example, I would presume that Kurokage actually is dead, like in the Gessen storyline, since a bedridden old man interrupting a fight between two shinobi in their prime sounds a bit stupid and Kurokage being dead is the whole point of the Gessen story.

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…How does this censor even…? Agh, my brain!

The reason why I presume these are canon is because the Hanzō girls are the series leads and the Crimson Squad’s plotline seems to corroborate its events (Hanzō beating Gessen, for instance) and explain a few others. Additionally, the Hebijo storyline goes against all of the others by default, down to who was fighting who in the Hanzō VS Gessen fights.

Oh, also, nobody outside of Hanzō and the Crimson Squad should have access to their Ultimate Ninja Arts, since they’re only supposed to be learnable by having a friendly sparring match between a good and evil shinobi. And yet all of the girls from all of the schools somehow receive them in chapter 4 of their respective storylines.

Still, I must say, damn is this plot dark and serious. At least, far moreso than you’d expect from a series with such… well-endowed characters. I wish they’d be coherent as to what happens, though. Also, any damaged clothes from cutscenes stay damaged in the scene that follows, leading to the stuff on the screen not matching the mood in a hilarious way.

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Gameplay

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The gameplay here is basically BURST taken into full 3D, without the framerate issues caused by being on a 3DS. You kill waves of enemies and proceed further in each stage until you inevitably reach a boss. Defeat them and you win. At least, most stages work like that.

Characters have access to three kinda of Secret Ninja Arts (one that costs one ninja scroll and one costing two), the third being unlocked later and requiring five ninja scrolls (as opposed to one or two) and your health being in the red. If the former two hit, they will strip off a layer of clothing corresponding to which kind of technique you used, while the third will strip off both if used to finish someone off, leaving them naked outside of censors.

Attacks are as wacky as usual. One character (Minori) is essentially a big child, and one of her moves is dropping giant pancakes on her foes.

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A sniper rifle is clearly the best melee weapon.

Gameplay is fluid, and Frantic mode (which strips the characters to their underwear and lowers their defense to something pitifully low) has been changed to be activateable at any time from your base state, and no longer has its own rating for clearing a stage with it. You can also do a normal Shinobi Transformation from your base state, of course, which heals you to full health. However, this will not heal status ailments. You have to pick one, though – you can’t do both.

I should also note that, should you face an AI opponent, they will transform after being damaged enough (though sufficiently-skilled players will be able to cheese some of them to death before they touch the ground and are thus able to transform).

The Aerial Rave system also returns, so air juggling at the end of a combo to extend it is as much a part of the game as ever, and it remains ever so satisfying. An alteration to this system is that your opponents can do it to you, and you can either fight them over who gets to do it or just escape.

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Added into this game are various new moves, like a taunt and another move that spends some health to knock all enemies away from you and recover from knockback.

The combos for the base form (Flash), the transformation (Yang) and Frantic (Yin) are levelled up separately, eventually allowing for much longer combos (though the shorter ones are just as functional in practice since they still let you do an Aerial Rave). The characters themselves also level up, which heals you to full health and refills your scrolls.

But the most notable thing here is just how different all the characters play from each other. The 20 present in the base game have been differentiated even more than in BURST, with specialties all over the place. This led to Haruka getting a chainsaw and other changes that made her easier to play than before (she was really tough to use before). Katsuragi, however, has a bit of a learning curve now since she now moves really slowly, but her attacks can be charged to make her hit like a truck.

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Aside from the stripping being more in-your-face, this is pretty much all I wanted from BURST. I wish there was an option to toggle off the stripping cutscenes like it does in multiplayer, but whatever.

Rin and Daidōji are DLC characters for the Crimson Squad and Hanzō, respectively, which also unlocks them in the rhythm game spin-off (though Rin is part of Hebijo there). These two are very powerful, but I’m a bit saddened at their being DLC.

Multiplayer

[You can’t screenshot multiplayer, so this section will be without images.]

Yes, this game features multiplayer, surprisingly enough. There are a few modes, all of which need 4 players (random bots will fill in slots, but you can’t choose who they play as, short of kicking and re-adding bots until it picks who you want, though you can set their difficulty). Also, all of the special animations for ninja arts, stripping and the like are skipped.

Deathmatch is exactly what you expect, though random enemies are included. You can also have a Strip Battle (strip your enemies to win). Finally, there’s the Understorm mode, where you collect panties raining down from the sky. You can set custom point targets and time limits, and even team matches.

All of these are actually rather fun. I tried it with bots, as well as with a friend, and we had a blast after said friend picked up the rules. It’s just too bad I only have one friend with the game. Collecting panties works like collecting coins in Super Smash Bros., except they also come down from the sky. That said, the bots aren’t programmed to play this mode and will just attack each other, so it’s only worth playing with actual people. If you’re facing real people, however, it’s quite the tense mode, despite the hilarious premise.

If you could play without bots, and without any enemies in Deathmatch, it’d be perfect.

Customization

The customization has been greatly buffed. On top of all the stuff you could customize before, you can also give characters up to five accessories and adjust their positioning to your liking – a necessity if you intend to use several together on the same area of the body, like my nekomimi maid Homura:

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(She’s wearing a tail, but it’s not visible in the shot.)

Sadly, whoever designed this also decided that the Kitten Mittens should take a slot per hand, so I ended up with no slots to dedicate to the bell collar I wanted to add. You also can’t set accessories to only appear when transformed, so Homura has the head part of the maid uniform even before donning the maid outfit in combat.

There’s quite a few pieces of the costumes to buy from the in-game store, and there’s both free and paid DLC to add more. You can also bet on a lingerie lottery, a mechanic that allows you to put money into one of those shrine prayer things they use in Japan, then you shake something, which lets out a fortune and selects one of 98 pieces of underwear to give you. Each of these are unique and equippable, though it’s mostly about ten base types with different textures.

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There’s also an additional secret where you can sexually harass the girls on the customization screen (no, I won’t show it you pervert). On a less sinister note, you can hold a button to hide glasses, masks, etc. from a character’s model on the loading screen before starting up some gameplay. The character animations will act as if they’re still there, though.

Verdict

The SENRAN KAGURA series will continue to run non-stop.
That is the calling of a NINJA.
They run faster and jump higher than anyone.
They can easily jump over people’s expectations.

These games still have the potential to grow big and large.
Just like the girls’ chests.

Tits are life, ass is hometown.

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Unjust

…Real talk: I love this game, but it’s going a smidge too far off the perverted side of things, such as how it’s now fairly consistent that major stripping will happen, rather than being a rare thing like before. I suppose the honesty’s part of the appeal, though.

MGSZ

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