The Senran Kagura series is a bit of an odd duck. This game in particular isn't actually the first game in the series, even though it sort of is. You see, Senran Kagura Burst is an enhanced re-release (Basically the Game of the Year Edition) of the original game from 2011, 閃乱カグラ：少女達の真影, or romanized, Senran Kagura: Shoujo-tachi no Shinei. Wikipedia says this means "Skirting Shadows" but considering that not a single word in that subtitle means "skirting" or "shadows", and that they didn't include the obvious "girl" in the translation, I'm going with the Google Translate and Kagura Wiki version, Portrait of Girls.
This version of the game was never released outside of Japan except as part of Burst.
Senran Kagura Burst includes everything the original version of the game had as well as an additional secondary storyline, more playable characters, more stages, more 3D features, different transformation animations, and an additional library of music, glossary terms, and character accessories.
This brings me to the issue with the two storylines. This game has the same problem that Sonic Adventure had in that the two storylines directly contradict each other at multiple points. The difference is that the two don't mesh easily to form a coherent whole, since both of them seem to be taking place in their own version of the world presented to us at the very start. I'm not entirely certain which of them is supposed to be canon to the rest of the series, but since the Hanzo storyline was the original, I presume that's the one.
Before we start digging into the plot any further, let's tackle the gameplay and controls.
Then there's the A button, which easily has the most use in the game. Under most circumstances you use the A button to dash around. Tapping it causes you to dash into enemies and damage them. Holding it makes you run very quickly. Why the run function couldn't have been mapped to the joystick and not the A button, I don't know. For some reason there's very little (if any) analog control in this game, and you pretty much move at a steady pace when you hold the joystick in any position. I didn't think we needed a run button in this day and age, especially since analog joysticks have been standard on consoles since the nineties.
The A button is also useful in combo attacks, which brings up the biggest issue with the controls. If you hit an enemy or group of enemies with the right combo, they will fly up into the air in something they call an "Aerial Rave," with a green circle surrounding them. You can chase the circle by pressing the A button, launching yourself into the air while your enemies are helpless, allowing you to get in a load of hits at once. The problem is that this can also happen when your enemies are out of health, since they don't actually disappear until they hit the ground. This can be rather irritating when you're trying to run after another enemy on the other side of the screen and you wind up in the air chasing after a dead body. Why the bodies don't just disappear when they hit zero health is beyond me. Especially when they actually do when you're in the last of the main Hebijo stages.
Going back to the R button, under what circumstances do you think a quick explosion that knocks enemies back would be useful in? Well, naturally when you're surrounded by them. The problem is that you can't activate any special abilities, or even do much of anything while you're being hit, which can lead to you getting pinned between two mobs of enemies and losing most of your health before you can try and jump out of their range. You also can't activate a Limit-Break when you're lying on the ground or in the air. Plus, if you've just been hit and haven't pressed B to recover, you can't activate an aerial attack. This rather odd control restriction has led to a number of otherwise avoidable deaths. There's also the issue of not being able to recover from some attacks easily without taking a crapload of damage. The controls are responsive most of the time, but when faced with a huge mob they get a bit inadequate. If they tightened the controls up and removed a few of the stranger conditional restrictions, it'd be a much better game.
There's also no support for the Circle Pad Pro, which might have alleviated a few of the control issues, such as the A button issue. With the two additional buttons the controls could be spread out a bit more, and there would be less incredibly irritating overlaps.
Some of the control issues I've mentioned would be easily fixed by just reconfiguring the controls in the settings menu, swapping some functions around and leaving a couple of them out entirely. But no.
This might not sound like a huge issue, but it becomes one later on in the game. If you know anything about this game, you know that it's got clothing damage in it. When that happens, the combat just stops and the camera cuts to whoever's clothing is being shredded. This isn't too bad at first, but eventually it starts getting on your nerves and you want to turn it off. It's like the battle animations in Fire Emblem: Awakening, they're pretty cool at first, but after about thirty hours they start to get kind of old. I know that they're part of the point of the game, but once the titillation factor wears off (Which if you're particularly jaded is fairly quick) they're just irritating.
Then again, this is the kind of game where the player-characters can summon massive machine guns from beneath their dresses, wield huge buster-swords and shoot energy from parasols, so the baseline for realism is set fairly low. I'm not complaining about the awesome weapons or the cool attacks, or the supernatural awesome stuff that happens, all that's fine. It'd just be nice if the so-called Shinobi actually dressed like Shinobi, or at the very least military stealth-operatives. Then again, without fanservice, the game might not have been as successful.
In terms of fanservice ensembles, we're not exactly operating at Rosario + Vampire levels of compelling characterization, but I've honestly seen worse. Most of the characters appear to be archetypes, but they're at least fleshed-out enough that they're a bit more than just stock characters hanging around. We also don't have a personality-free main character hanging around taking up space, so that's good. The closest they get is Asuka in the Hanzo storyline, and even she's got stronger characterization than the guy from Lord of Magna.
Like I said, the plot isn't exactly complex, but I appreciate the simplicity at times. If I was trying to unravel intricate double-crosses and complex plot threads I might not appreciate the massive amounts of text in the visual novel sections.
For that matter, there are quite a few issues with the Hebijo cutscenes. Take a look at the below screenshot.
Wrapping up the art issues with the game, we now move into analyzing the game from a technical standpoint.
This game shares a few issues with another Marvelous developed game I've reviewed, namely the bizarre frame-rate and clipping issues from Story of Seasons. While you're inside the Ninja Room, where you find most of your options in the game, the frame-rate dips to something around fifteen to twenty frames-per-second at best. Then, occasionally during combat missions the framerate jumps up to thirty to forty. Not all the time, not in all the missions, but often enough that it's noticeable.
Now we come to balance issues. The enemy AI seems to switch back and forth between aggressive and cunning to dumb as bricks without much transition or middle-ground. Sometimes enemies will just stand there on the other side of the screen and not attack you unless you come too close, or they'll dart around the screen without attacking you for a while before noticing you're there. Other times they will literally dogpile you to the point of making it nearly impossible to get loose and get a few good hits in on them without taking loads of damage and possibly getting killed within a few seconds. Occasionally there's a middle-ground where the enemies are aggressive as all hell, but not numerous enough to utterly overwhelm you. That's where you've got plenty of challenge to make things worthwhile, while not being overwhelming. If the rest of the game was more like those stages are, then the gameplay would be significantly more engaging, since there would be decent stakes in every combat encounter.
The enemies also don't seem to be able to avoid your special attacks despite the fact that the player can avoid enemy special attacks. Some enemies also don't seem to be able to grasp the fact that they probably shouldn't walk into your special attacks if they're not currently stuck inside them, especially Homura's ultimate attack. This also brings me to an issue with Homura's regular ultimate attack. While she's in her normal mode, she spins her six swords in a flurry of blades. The thing is that unless the enemy is currently lying on the ground the momentum on the hits will fling them out of the range of the attack. She also doesn't do nearly as much damage with her ultimate attack as some of the other girls attacks do. It's still useful, but it's not as good as her aerial attack, especially when attacking a single powerful opponent.
It was also easier to beat Hebijo's ultimate Shinobi than Hanzo's, despite it being incredibly difficult to beat her in the Hanzo branch. Every now and again I'd run into an optional mission with a low time limit that I'd wind up skipping, but overall, even after I'd cleared both halves of the game Hebijo was still easier than Hanzo.
For instance, to the left you can see a character saying something incredibly ludicrous in English, while in Japanese she said "Itadakimasu" which translates to "I humbly receive" or in plain English, thank you, typically said before eating. The translators decided that this rather strange rhyming joke was a good thing to insert into the game, despite it making no sense, and not being something anyone actually says.
Now that we're done with talking about everything from the significant issues to the more minor ones, let's take a few minutes to delve into a bit of otherwise pointless nitpicking, shall we?
Why are they pixelated? Why do they have to eat them live? Doesn't that violate health standards in several countries? Why, if the contest had allocated all the noodles in the area, do they only have earthworms? Why do they have endless earthworms? Why in the hell are they pixelated?! If they're supposed to be earthworms, then there's no reason to pixelate them. Unless of course, the artist didn't know how to draw them.
I never use the 3D features on the 3DS in regular gameplay, and since this game doesn't actually have 3D features outside of the fanservice bits, I didn't feel particularly bad about leaving it turned off. Maybe if they had 3D features in the rest of the game it'd make it easier to tell where your enemies are in relation to your character.
There's also the fact that the game put me through the tutorial level in the Hebijo branch after I'd already cleared and saved my Hanzo clear data.
Honestly though, all of this takes a back seat to whether the game is fun or not, and it is fun. If you're not bothered by loads of text in between story-missions, and can manage to ignore the rather bizarre frame-rate fluctuations (Fifteen FPS indoors, might I remind you) then there's a rather fun beat-em-up to be had. However! A thirty-dollar price-tag is a bit much for a game as unpolished as this one is. Despite being an enhanced re-release, there are still a host of technical and art issues, the kind of which I would have sent back for a second draft, especially before an international release. Isn't the international version of a game supposed to squash the bugs, balance issues and technical problems present in the domestic version?
All in all, taking everything into account, my fun outweighed my frustration, but even being fun doesn't excuse some of the more egregious issues I encountered. In the end, I give Senran Kagura Burst a 6.2* rating.
I wound up deciding to take a week off and just play the game to completion rather than trying to rush through the story missions, plus I had already spent most of Friday and Saturday doing other things, and there's the fact that my birthday was coming up and I didn't want to stress myself out over it if I didn't have to. Next week I'm either gonna try and get through Deep Crimson or possibly one of the other games I've got in for review. In the event that falls through I'll probably just get around to publishing one of my best/worst lists of 2015. I'll see you then! For now, as of time of writing, I'm off to bed!
Cover from thecoverproject.net, screenshots taken by me.