When I picked up Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus: The Girls' Proof for my Vita, I was filled with existential dread.
I knew very little about the game itself going in, but after watching the anime based on this game series in preparation for my playthrough, I was more than a little worried. For the most part, sexual fan service in games and anime doesn't bother me. But as the anime was nothing but sexual fan service that gave little regard to plot or anything else, I was certain the game would be similar. And while fan service does indeed permeate every facet of Shinovi Versus, underneath the mountain of fan service, there is a game that's fun to play.
[*Note: Pictures in this post are most definitely NSFW.]
When it comes down to the gameplay, Shinovi Versus is half Dissidia: Final Fantasy and half Dynasty Warriors. Each level, you slash your way through a couple dozen normal enemies and make your way to the boss (usually another one of the playable characters) and then fight it out in a climactic battle.
As each character has a completely different move set, each battle feels unique—and that's before they start adding in odd combinations of the lesser enemies to up the challenge. Moreover, each move and combo has a different speed and effect; so it takes skill and strategy to find the best way to defeat each of your opponents.
Back when I was a kid watching Power Rangers, I always wondered why they didn't morph right away—or better yet pop into the Zords and just stomp the monsters. Shinovi Versus actually uses the gameplay to answer this question.
In your normal, untransformed state, you only have access to about half your moves and combos and all your special moves are locked out. The trick is that transforming gives you a full heal. So a large part of the game's strategy is deciding when to transform. Do you do it as soon as possible and hope to blitz the enemies with your super attacks from the start? Or do you wait as long as possible to get the most out of your full heal while risking battle against a transformed—and thus far more powerful—opponent?
Starting off as a level one character, Shinovi Versus isn't exactly an easy game. You will easily be comboed into an infinite juggle your first few tries at the main story. Luckily, there is a separate side story for each character where the battles are easier and experience is plentiful. In less than thirty minutes, you can gain 20 levels and thus unlock many new combos and attacks.
Moreover, these side stories tend to be light-hearted and funny—be it a story of a girl who is tired of being treated by other girls as an attractive boy or a story of a girl wishing her bust size was bigger outside of her transformed form.
Of course, as you may have guessed by that last sentence, fan service does indeed permeate everything in Shinovi Versus. Everything. This includes major plot points, side stories, and pretty much the entire graphical presentation of the game.
In battle, the game has “jiggle physics” that would make Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball blush. And if you are able to complete a full combo on your opponent, you will be treated to a short cutscene of their clothes being torn apart. Repeat this enough times and they will be in nothing but a tattered thong with band-aids over their nipples—if they are not actually completely nude and being censored by carefully placed light streaks. Of course, the characters are then presented in all their clothing-less glory for the post battle conversation scenes.
Outside of battle, you spend time buying costumes and playing dress-up with the ninja girls, getting them into any number of fetishy outfits. Maid outfits, slutty swimsuits, cat ears—they are all ready for purchase.
The problem that often arises when every character has a completely different move set is that some moves (and thus some characters) are incredibly unbalanced. Some characters can easily stunlock you, others have moves that hit an incredibly large area and thus make dodging impossible.
This would be bad enough, but the AI in the game is more than happy to turn a single hit into an infinite juggle—resulting in your death even if you have a full life bar. Most of these are escapable, but every so often you'll find yourself trapped against a wall with no way to get free. While not game breaking, it is more than a bit frustrating when it happens.
But the worst part about losing isn’t the dying in and of itself—after all, most levels last only 3 to 5 minutes. The worst part is the loading times as it takes a good 15 seconds to load any level or conversation scene. And since you want nothing more than to get right back into the action after dying, that 15-second wait is nearly unbearable.
Coming into Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus: The Girls' Proof, I was sure it would be nothing but fan service for the sake of fan service with only the most rudimentary gameplay to back it up. Surprisingly, I found the gameplay to be not just decent, but downright enjoyable. Yet, while the gameplay is rather strong, fan service is still the point of this game—the end all, be all of its existence. Frankly, you have to like fan service—or at least be apathetic towards it—to get anything out of this game. So if fan service is indeed your fetish of choice, you will definitely enjoy this game.
Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus: The Girls' Proof was released in Japan for the PlayStation Vita on February 28, 2013.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.