Oh boy, where to start with this one. Senran Kagura, as a series, can probably be summarized in two easy words: busty ninjas. Shinovi Versus is the second game in the series, moving away from the 2D side-scrolling and into a 3D battle style of gameplay. Admittedly, I once saw some gameplay footage and thought: “that kind of combat style is one of my favorites! Maybe I should pick it up?” when it released on the Vita, followed shortly thereafter by being to self conscious to actually pick up a physical copy. Well, apparently we’ve come full circle now that I get to review it for the PC port. If you ignore the gratuitous fanservice and downright questionable “physics”, what lies underneath is a rather solid game.
Shinovi Versus is hard to describe, but if I were to give a description to it, it would be like rolling Dynasty Warriors and Street Fighter into a ball and soaking it in an anime stylized bath. Starting up the game you get to choose from one of three “modern-ish day ninja schools”, and you follow the five elite shinobi members from that school. Yes, they are all female, and yes, they do have “bounce”. The general overarching premise is that there’s a sort of inter-school ninja competition, where the five elite members from opposing schools fight each other, and the winners get to burn the losing teams school to the ground. So friendly, these ninjas. The story will actually have major changes depending on which school you play as, with some characters even being alive in some scenarios but dead in others. Overall, the game sets up a big focus on the difference between “Good Shinobi” and “Evil Shinobi”, which amounts to little more than a title, seeing as the only difference between the two is that good shinobi are like a national defense group whereas the evil shinobi are mercenaries that work purely for cash and their own beliefs.
In addition to the school battles, there are also individual character storylines, which are completely independent from the main story. These independent missions, story wise, should be played after completing the main story, however I found them a great way to get practice in before I started up on the main plot line. So then, how is the story actually? Well, that’s a bit of a loaded question. Most of the main storylines start off pretty light-hearted or standard cliché, and then move into surprisingly depressing or deep background problems. Spoiler warning, I swear every character in this game has either dead or abusive parents or family members. The individual stories are a lot more light-hearted than the main stories, and are all over the board in terms of content. They include: finding sushi ingredients, collecting candy, collecting blackmail material, disciplining rambunctious students, finding the best boobs to grope, and discovering that cuteness is justice, just to name a few, not to mention the “hermit crab” ordeal.
Stories take place in short missions, where the objective is almost always “defeat the boss”. These missions are often quite short, and often start with your character running around an area beating up lesser ninjas until the boss (read as opposing ninja) comes out. Main story missions will have you swapping between characters often, giving you a chance to try out all the characters. The individual side missions consist of five rounds of missions, which will proceed back to back unless you exit a mission, although your mission progress is saved after every completion. The main missions sometimes proceed one after another and sometimes return you to the school’s ninja room, which acts as a sort of hub area between missions. The ninja room gives you many options, such as: saving and loading, embarking on missions, changing characters, costume and outfit changes, accessing the online mode, the in-game shop etc. Combat consists of combinations of light and heavy attacks, dashes, guarding and “aerial raves”. Heavy attacks are guard breaking attacks, and can normally be charged on their own via a held button press, are linked in to light combo attacks in the middle of a combo. Certain combo hits and heavy attacks can launch enemies into the air. These launching attacks serve two purposes, the first allowing for a follow up combo; the second is that normally the opponent’s clothes will break on launch attacks. Follow up attacks, or aerial raves as they’re called, allow you to dash to a knocked away opponent in order to start an aerial combo on them. Dashing can be used either as travel or to avoid damage, with the efficiency being dependent on character. Some characters, such as Mirai, don’t have much of a “dash” per se, as Mirai does a simple backstep. Other characters can combo as many dashes as they want together to either run away or get close while avoiding attacks.
Each character also has unique combos and attack patterns as well as three forms that can be used. There’s the default form, ninja form and frenzy form. The default form is the basic starting mode, and by either hitting the transformation button or guard and heavy attack at the same time while in the default form, you can enter ninja mode or frenzy mode respectively. When changing forms, your character not only gets an outfit change (believe me when I say that “ninja outfit” is probably the most loosely described word) and fully healed, which can be incredibly useful if you get in a pinch. Ninja form increases general stats, whereas frenzy form trades any semblance of defense for power and an “infinite” combo. While in either frenzy or ninja form, you can hold the transform button and hit either light or heavy attack for a character specific special move, which takes either one or two “ninja scrolls” which are earned through a gauge that fills when damage is taken or received.
After a certain point in the game, you can also hit the transform button and dash in order to use the super special move, as long as you have at least five ninja scrolls and are in the red health zone, which the game may never actually tell you. You only get a loading screen notice about it randomly, so you may never know unless you google how to use it. Special skills not only deal large amounts of damage but will also destroy pieces of clothing. If you finish a fight with a light or heavy special skill, you can also strip your opponent of either their panties or bra, or both if using the super special. Thankfully most of this info is available through a handy tutorial function in the mission sub menu. After completing, or failing, a mission, you are awarded general exp, form exp, and money. General exp will go towards increasing the level of the character used, and will increase their stats and unlock new combo moves. Form exp is awarded only for the form/s used, and at certain benchmarks will give you enhanced abilities in that form, such as improved dashing, for example. Money can be used at the store via the ninja room.
Back in the ninja room, you can outfit your characters in a wide variety of different outfits, most of which are purchasable at the store. The outfits don’t change stats any, but they do change the cutscenes and battles against NPCs. For instance, if you put cat ears on a character, and then change to a different school, that character will still have the cat ears even when you face them in battle or during another school’s cut scenes. The same happens for outfit damage, it carries over into the after battle characters appearance. Also available at the store is the soundtrack, after clearing certain personal stories and main story events. Normally when playing a game, if I have to think about whether or not a soundtrack was good, it means it was decent but didn’t really stand out. The Shinovi Versus soundtrack I instantly took a liking to. Every character has their own theme that feels tailored to their personality, which is rather rare to see done well. The soundtrack really stood out for me, not as one or two tracks, but as a whole package.
Most of the issues with Shinovi Versus are small, but become more annoying as you continue playing. While the loading times don’t normally tend to be that long, there are a lot of them, and the handy tips don’t always show up either, which can mean you may not figure out certain aspects of the game until well after it used to be relevant. I also found the frame rate would drop during the worst timing, and would stay low until the mission finished. Of course we also need to mention the “physics”. I may not be a girl, but I’m almost certain real boobs would never move how they are depicted in the game. The game could be viewed as short enough to pick up and play for awhile, then put down, but conversely, it feels more like a game that you would only play for an hour or two at a time before you need to come back to it later.
The mechanics sometimes aren’t explained fully, and the fact that the plot lines actually differed greatly between which school you choose bothered me more than I would have liked. Every time you break a piece of clothing, there is a mini cutscene, which thankfully you can skip, but it still slows down the gameplay, and could give the opponent the chance they need to counter. It would have been nice to see the developers do more with the different stages; maybe some uniquely styled missions and not purely “beat the boss” types of battles.
Overall, Shinovi Versus is a game that honestly ended eating up a lot more of my time than I expected it to. The core gameplay is solid, most of the characters are at least likeable, and each one seems to have a unique background story and personality. The soundtrack is really good and it was really nice to see that in battle costume breaks actually affect the out of battle scenes. Probably the biggest issue with the PC port of Shinovi Versus is exactly that; it feels like a port. While the game was really fun and characters likeable, the frame rate drops and the fact that I wasn’t playing it on a Vita, where I would be able to easily set it down for a while, really felt like it detracted from the experience. Shinovi Versus is a solid game that suffers primarily from the extremely niche audience that it caters to. If you’re a fan of boobs, ninjas, and beat ‘em up anime-style gameplay, you’ll like Shinovi Versus, just be well aware where you set up to start playing.
Marvelous USA, Inc.
Article by Richard