My favorite time of the week is when the PSN store update drops on Tuesday afternoon. Normally, it's purely out of interest for what various publishers' games are being discounted, but this week it was all about Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus. As a Vita owner, I'm always pumped to hear about new exclusive titles for Sony's somewhat mismanaged handheld, and SKSV is no disappointment for us anime fans. Like the recently re-released Akiba's Trip, which I didn't bother with because the combat looked sluggish and just generally terrible, it's an action game where attacks can destroy a player's clothing. That being said, let's dive right in shall we?
First up, let's talk packaging and special goodies. I wanted to grab a digital copy, but opted for the "Let's Get Physical" special edition when I saw there would be no release-day discount, even for Plus users (Japanese subscribers reportedly got the game 50% off back in January). The collection includes the game case with a reversible art jacket, 39 track OST CD, and an elegant 140 page artbook/ strategy guide all wrapped up in a shiny silver box. This edition is a limited run as well, so it's a potential collector's item. It's a shame I had to go and open it. The artbook is easily the most powerful incentive to go physical as it includes full illustrations, sketches, bios, and developer commentary on each character. One of these tidbits I found very interesting was that the series' creator decided to design new characters around the color he associated with the hardware the game would show up on, such as red for the 3DS, and blue for the PS Vita.
What about graphics? Well, the game's no Killzone Mercenary, but it looks gorgeous all the same. The game is bright and shiny like the anime style it's based on, and the vivid colors look great on the Vita's OLED screen even at it's lowest brightness setting. Each character's facial expressions are well drawn, but they're not really animated enough and regrettably give off that lifeless doll-like vibe during story cutscenes. Physics are very cartoony, so skirts and hair flow as if they're suspended in water and the plentiful T&A is right in your face, bouncing in a ridiculous, delightful way that gives even DOAX 2 a run for its money. This is of course is half the reason to buy the game, and, yes, the clerk at GameStop responded with "Oh, THAT game." when I asked for a copy. I laughed pretty hard at this little exchange.
The game feels easy to navigate so far and touchscreen functions are thankfully not forced on the player. Aside from poking your current ninja girl in the wardrobe menu, the game allows you to use traditional button commands if the touch options are not to your liking. This is a big help during battle as it keeps you in the fight with standard controls rather than requiring you to switch to gimmicky touch movements at a critical moment. The hub area allows you to speak to your teammates and access all the game's features by physically walking to their location, but you can also press the Vita's right bumper to bring up a shortcut menu for quicker saving, shopping, dressing-up, or what have you. One downside I've noticed is that some of the cutscenes are a bit long-winded for a portable game, but if you've really got to cut your session short, the Vita can suspend gameplay easily enough so I guess it's nothing to complain about too much.
The gameplay is about what you'd expect: fast-paced and not particularly deep. The most awkward thing about it seems to be the spotty lock on system that doesn't focus the camera on your target 100% of the time. Your attacks consist of repeatedly mashing the square button and periodically swapping to triangle for a guard break or launcher, so they lack variation, even from one character to another. However, the fighting is easy to understand, so at least you won't get lost inputting commands. I've not played too far yet, but it seems that you unlock additional moves at certain levels. Attacks labeled in green on the command list will launch your enemy into the air, allowing you to dash toward them and perform an aerial rave combo. You can also try to escape this attack by hammering the dash button. In addition, you can transform once per match to regenerate your health and give your character certain buffs to her stats. If you execute a secret ninja art, you'll wind up destroying a portion of your enemy's clothes which lowers their defense. Likewise, activating your girl's frantic mode strips your character to her undies, increasing her attack and mobility while decreasing her own defense. If you completely disrobe the opposition, her lady bits will be censored by lens flares and chibi versions of the character's face. Speaking of clothing, there's a ton of dress-up options for those of you who enjoy character customization. There are plenty of original props, but you can also earn pieces of other characters' outfits to use on anyone you like. The game even allows you to save these custom attires so you don't have to rebuild them later.
So what's the verdict? Buy or pass? I say buy if action, anime, or gratuitous pervy humor are your thing. I would like to have saved some money by waiting for a sale like I usually do, but fortunately the game is almost exactly what I was anticipating and the bonus content easily makes up for the small difference in price. As a side note, I recently returned Killzone Mercenary for its lack of a proper save feature (which was patched immediately afterward XD), so that's less of a dent in my pocketbook. If it's anything like this game, I'll be looking forward to Estival Versus in the future.