Shiren the Wanderer (3): The end of the road

My wandering days are over at long last. I finally beat Shiren the Wanderer, after 54 hours and 174 adventures. And boy, what a ride it has been! From peaks of elation to pits of dismay, my long trip through Table Mountain was undoubtedly one of the rockiest video game runs I’ve ever had, but also one of the most fulfilling. Without further ado, let’s dive into the last segment of my run and see how things unfolded until my ultimate victory.

I climbed it my way

After my two resounding failures at tackling Table Mountain, I kept trying, patiently upgrading my equipment again before venturing ahead… and failed a third time, this time at the hands of a different enemy that I cannot remember. This third defeat was downright annoying; the whole pattern of upgrading my equipment only to die while facing unknown monsters was getting old, and I needed a breath of fresh air. I then resolved to play the game in a slightly different way and see if it would work better. This different way was the one advocated by seasoned Shiren players, i.e. not buffing up your equipment and relying solely on whatever you find during the course of your current adventure. On top of offering a welcome change of pace, this way of playing would force me to develop my strategic skills and to use all the items at my disposal instead of relying solely on my sword. The results were encouraging, to say the least: I progressed much further than I would have expected, even going as far as the 25th floor during one adventure. This way of playing was also immensely rewarding, as I found unexpected ways to escape from the most desperate situations: I swear that I had some kind of epiphany when I managed to escape from a Monster House-floor solely by using a Switching Staff to switch places with a monster that stood next to the exit. Strategy does go a long way in Shiren, indeed; after that, I became convinced that I could beat the game without resorting to upgraded equipment if I tried hard enough. 

However, there was a major issue with that way of playing. As fun and stimulating as it was, it was also way too similar to the accursed platformers of my youth for my taste and comfort. I was never too fond of the whole “die-and-retry” thing, and I’m even less fond of it now that I have a greater variety of games to play and less time on my hands. On top of that, I had already been playing Shiren for more than 40 hours at that point, and gaming fatigue was starting to loom on the horizon. I needed closure, and I needed it soon, or else I would drop Shiren again for another couple of months—or maybe forever. 

That was when, unbeknownst to me, I devised the ultimate strategy that would finally lead me to victory: to combine upgraded equipment and useful items with cutting-edge strategies. To play as if I were weak and vulnerable, relying solely on my super-buffed equipment if no better tactics were available. This strategy catered to all sides of my gaming personality, mixing my love for planning and patiently building up my strengths with my immoderate taste for puzzle and strategy-laden games, and it promised to be the most fulfilling way of playing as far as I was concerned. I went into upgrading full force and ended up with a Lv. 55 Armor Ward and a Lv. 65 Kabra Sword—both carrying a couple of useful seals for good measure. I also collected a couple of carefully selected items in the process; and after a last goodbye meal at Naoki’s restaurant, I finally ventured ahead, my bag loaded with jars, my belly full and my heart fluttering with anticipation. 

Despite what I had pondered in my last post, I cleared the whole stretch between Mountaintop Town and the Waterfall Cave in one go. It was then or never, and the Winds of Fortune seemed to be on my side on that fateful day. I climbed and climbed, working my way through countless hazards and disposing of enemies as cleverly and safely as I could. I ended up in a tight spot a couple of times, the most dangerous occurrence being when I was stuck at the entrance of a Monster House and repeatedly paralysed by three Mecharoids ganging up on me. I only managed to snatch a turn every once in a while, and my survival was solely due to my over-buffed Armor Ward that protected me from the numerous blows I had to endure before I managed to get rid of these pests. But I cleaved my way through this obstacle and the rest, until I finally found myself on the last floor again, facing that dreaded Tainted Insect and its disgusting cronies for the most epic showdown of them all.

This time, I was fully prepared and in control. I located the accursed Skull Wraith and swung my Postpone Staff at it first thing. Things didn’t work exactly as planned, though: since the last level doesn’t have an exit to speak of, the creature was not whisked away. However, it was paralysed for good, which allowed me to concentrate on the threatening Tainted Insect that had crawled closer to me in the meantime. I faced the foul thing and unleashed my ultimate strategy, devised eons ago in the safety of Canyon Hamlet: I grabbed a piece of Mamel Meat from my inventory and threw it at the creature. The roast hit its target, and the massive insect turned instantly into an innocuous and powerless Mamel, jumping and quivering in distress at the thought of the terrible fate that awaited it (my imagination going wild). One neat slash of my overpowered Kabra Sword, and the creature perished, along with all its cronies. I was paralysed for a couple of seconds, my mind still reeling from the magnitude of what I had just accomplished. I had killed the last boss! I had done it! After recovering from the shock, I started moving around carefully, looking for the fabled Golden Condor. My steps were slower and more careful than ever: for all I knew, the room could be bristling with traps, and the last thing I wanted was to die stupidly after such a grand victory. Nothing unpleasant happened, though: I found the Golden Condor and left the place on its back, my hair flying in the wind. Then came the sweet, long-awaited ending (spoilers): people marvel at the sight of the Condor flying in the golden glow of the evening sun, everybody makes a wish, the Condor drops Shiren and flies towards freedom and lands unknown and Shiren walks away in the setting sun. Blame this on the “Lucky Luke” comics and cartoons that I used to devour when I was a kid, but I’ve always been a sucker for these ‘Hero-walks-toward-the-sunset’ endings. Blimey, I could even feel unshed tears of joy, relief and overall happiness welling up in my eyes, and it felt amazingly good. Oh, what a ride

Beyond Table Mountain

I then accessed the vast postgame territory, with its new dungeons, travel means and opportunities. The first pleasant change is the brand-new dialogues: every NPC you talk to congratulates you for your amazing feat and expresses their awe in front of your amazing self. That’s certainly a nice change from their former lines that blended lukewarm encouragements with an ever-so-slight touch of doubt and compassion—heck, you could nearly hear them shaking their heads and thinking “ha, the delusions of youth. Soon this poor lad will be vulture’s food”. Another neat feature is the possibility to travel instantly from Canyon Hamlet to any other village in order to rally the postgame dungeons. Did I mention that you also get to keep your precious equipment as well as all your items after you free the Golden Condor? Although it seems pretty normal overall, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest if the game had stripped me of my gear with a crappy justification—or no justification at all, for that matter. After all, we’re talking about Shiren, one of the most unforgiving games out there. At any rate, this display of fairness was most welcome, and I put it to good use by clearing another ascent of Table Mountain. Of course, the Tainted Insect was gone, as well as the Golden Condor; the only thing I found was a golden feather left for me to pick up, marking thus the end to that second victorious run. 

For curiosity’s sake, I decided to sneak a peek at some of the postgame dungeons. I ventured through the Tainted Path first: it was challenging all right, with considerably more powerful versions of already encountered enemies, but it was also quite boring. The thrill of wanting to beat the game was gone, and after having cleared 25 floors in a row, I started yawning and wondering how long was this dungeon exactly. I finally died on the 30th floor, and it felt like a huge relief—especially since my masochistic dungeon-crawling impulses would probably have pushed me to go on and on, no matter how boring the roaming was. At any rate, it is crystal-clear that these postgame dungeons are considerably harder that Table Mountain and are designed to be explored while relying on heavily upgraded equipment. I then tried the God Kitchen Shrine, cleared three floors and died, and put the game down for good without trying any other dungeon. I had gotten my fill of Shiren and didn’t feel like playing it any longer. From what I’ve read, most of the postgame dungeons are considerably longer than Table Mountain itself; it’s nearly like the game is starting for good once you free the Golden Condor—a feeling reinforced by the fact that the postgame dungeons contain tons of items that are nowhere to be found in the main game, from shields and swords with interesting seals to brand-new types of Scrolls and Staves. Well, I’ll pass this time, thank you very much. Maybe we’ll meet again on my next run, Tainted Path and co; for now, I’m moving to new pastures with a huge smile on my face and no regrets. My work here is done—till next time.

There will be a next time, indeed, both in terms of gaming and writing. I will undoubtedly play Shiren again, as well as try my hand at its sequels—which are all part of my precious collection and will hopefully turn out to be as excellent as their elder, if not more. As for writing, I will come back soon with a final post wrapping up that most amazing experience of playing Shiren the Wanderer. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Senran Kagura Burst (2): Too much of a good thing

Here’s my second post about Senran Kagura Burst, and it will focus on the less stellar aspects of the game. After all the praise I lavished upon it, it should be pretty clear that I really loved SKB and had tons of fun playing it; however, my warm feelings for the game didn’t make me blind to its flaws. For SKB does have flaws, indeed, and rather noticeable ones at that; they are not deal-breakers, but they are present nonetheless and must be addressed, if only for the sake of equity and information. Without further ado, let’s examine SKB’s less glorious bits!

Bigger is not always better

The first blatant flaw that I want to cover is the one I alluded to at the end of my first post, namely the overabundance of content. The game is divided into two distinct storylines, the Hanzo Arc and the Hebijo Arc; both contain five chapters, each chapter comprising fifteen stages. Multiply this by the total number of characters, namely ten plus two hidden ones that can be unlocked once you beat the final boss, and you get a staggeringly humongous beast of a game that obviously require dozens of hours of gameplay to be cleared entirely. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t manage to reach 100% completion for a single character route, let alone for the whole game, and I shudder while thinking of the amount of time needed to achieve such a feat. But wait, why exactly is that such a huge issue, you may ask? Well, that excessive length is not an issue per se, but it is in SKB because of the nature of that game. Senran Kagura Burst is a Beat’em Up, not some J-RPG that has a complex story to tell. Beat’em Up being repetitive by nature, probably much more so than any other genre under the gaming sun, it is nearly necessary is to keep them tight and short in order to offer a fulfilling experience. Code of Princess understood that perfectly and kept its main campaign reasonably short while offering a lot of replay value thanks to its roster of characters. SKB, on the other hand, was way too greedy and over-expanded itself to the same absurd proportions as the bosoms of its heroines; as a result, it suffers from a watered-down, spread-out design that dilutes its intensity. The main campaign is drowned under tons of extra stages that recycle already used settings ad nauseam, and it is absolutely impossible to clear the full game in one go, which definitely robs you of the pleasant experience of picking up the game and completing a full run in a couple of intense hours. Of course, there is still the possibility of picking up the story-related stages one by one and clearing these only, but it’s still not as satisfying as having a clear-cut main campaign that flows smoothly as you pummel everything in sight. 

This overabundance of content may also seriously wear down the player. Heck, it certainly wore me down: when I first picked up the game, I was absolutely set on clearing both Hanzo and Hebijo Arcs and reaching 100% completion for all characters. I laugh at my own naivety now: by the time I finished the Hanzo Arc, I was starting to suffer from a serious case of gaming fatigue, and I had not managed to reach 100% completion for a single one of the Hanzo shinobis. (I was three stages away from it with Azuka, though, but kept failing because of another main flaw of the game, which I will expose right after I’m done with this one.) I tried to soldier on and started the Hebijo Arc, but didn’t reach very far, although the story seemed interesting and just as compelling as the Hanzo Arc one. I was just getting exhausted and tired of the game, and one day, I put it down for good and stopped playing it entirely—literally from one minute to the next. Now that’s a case of gaming burnout if I ever saw one. Maybe I’m the only SKB player who lent into this, but I’d wager that I’m not. The game is just too enormous not to exhaust most of the players who would dare trying to clear it in one go. Of course, maybe that was a foolish attempt in the first place: SKB is two games combined in one, after all, and common sense would dictate that one should let some time pass before tackling the second half of the game. This doesn’t change the fact that whether they are taken together or separately, these two games are bursting at the seams and way too gargantuan for their own good, as well as for the player’s one. 

Unbalance averted—or is it?

In my first post, I praised the sheer equilibrium of the roster and the fact that all the young shinobis were so neatly balanced while offering a delightful variety of highly functional fighting styles. Well, it’s time to smear that near-perfect picture a trifle: the fighting styles are all functional indeed, but some are definitely less functional than others, which in turn leads the characters that wield them to be definitely less balanced than others and ruffles the equilibrium of the whole roster ever-so-slightly. Not to the point of breaking the game, mind you—far from it—but enough to be noticeable and mildly annoying at times. The Hebijo Arc is the most affected by this slight unbalance, which is not so surprising: since the Hebijo shinobis are supposed to wield more unorthodox weapons than the Hanzo shinobis, designing their respective fighting styles was a bit of a challenge per se, and one that Tamsoft didn’t completely manage to step up to. While Homura and Hikage are a treat to fight with, the other three are a trifle harder to handle. Yomi is uncomfortably slow, Haruka is as stiff as a board and has pitifully inefficient Secret Arts, and Mirai… Well, whoever came with the idea of letting Mirai wield mostly long-range attacks must have secretly hated Beat’em Ups. The last thing I want when playing a Beat’em Up is to be forced to retreat constantly in order to have enough room to shoot at enemies. If I wanted to do this, I’d play a shooter, thank you very much. A couple of long-range attacks are fine, but the bulk of one character’s attacks being long-range ones? That’s over the top, and entirely impractical to boot. The Hanzo Arc is not entirely exonerated from unbalanced characters: Daidoji, the extra character unlocked after beating the final boss, is so slow and heavy that it’ll make you want to scream and shake the 3ds. Don’t get me wrong: this quatuor is still very much playable, but they come across as uncomfortably clunky compared to the rest of the roster, which is a pity.

A much more serious unbalance lies within the game, and one that can seriously ruin your fun and prevent you from enjoying the game to the fullest—and I mean that literally. See, the reason why I couldn’t clear a single character arc is because I kept failing at a couple of missions; and I kept failing at them because SKB’s difficulty level suffers from a blatant case of unbalance. Some trash mobs use long-range attacks that can pretty much drain your life bar in three hits, all the more so if you’re playing in Yin Mode: when you’re pitted against a dozen of these pests like in some of the harder missions (the ones I kept failing at), there is very little chance to last more than ten seconds, let alone survive the whole ordeal. Oh, that is certainly possible after many tries and with a lot of practice, but the difficulty level of these missions is seriously uncanny. To make matters worse, there is no parry move and very few of the shinobis wield long-range attacks themselves, which puts you in a highly vulnerable position against these accursed foes. On the other hand, the boss battles that pit you against the shinobis of the opposite clan are disappointingly easy: you can breathe through them by cornering your opponent and spamming them with hits. They won’t try to escape, and if you hit hard and fast enough, they won’t be able to squeeze an attack either. These shinobis are supposed to be the elite of their respective schools, and yet they’ll make you sweat considerably less than a bunch of trash mobs with long-range attacks: now that’s what I call unbalanced difficulty. This is both ridiculous and frustrating, and I can only hope that Tamsoft fixed that issue in the subsequent Senran Kagura instalments.

Too much, too little

Last but not least in that litany of flaws is, well… the fan-service. Now, branding the fan-service as a flaw may seem like a paradox after I spent a couple of paragraphs explaining how inoffensive, unobtrusive and humorous it was in my last post; and yet, I stand by all of these statements. The problem lies in the dosage of the fan-service: the amount of fan-service present in SKB is such that no matter how you look at it, there will very likely be either too much or too little of it to satisfy players. 

The “Too much” side is a no-brainer: every gamer who loathes fan-service in any way, shape or form will obviously avoid that game at all costs, possibly slandering it in the process and raging against developers who use dirty tricks to force their games on people. These gamers may miss an excellent Beat’em Up in the process, but they will abide by their own moral rules about gaming. Then, you have the gamers who are mildly disturbed by fan-service: they may buy the game and play it, but they will do so with a grimace of distaste and will cringe regularly at the sight of the fan-servicy bits, which will make the game an underwhelming experience in their eyes instead of the blast it could have been. 

But there is also the “Too little” side. A gamer who openly bought this game for the fan-service may ultimately be disappointed by how tame the fan-service actually is, and may feel that there is not nearly enough of it to satisfy their peeping urges. For every five seconds of risqué bits, you have to trudge through dozens of minutes of demanding fighting, which is hardly conducive to titillation. The ridiculously salacious European box, with its raunchy cover art and dirty innuendos in the game’s description, may be blamed for ramping up expectations way too high: anyone who expects a similar level of lewdness in the game is in for a huge letdown. I never came across any complaints regarding that particular point—gamers are usually busy arguing if such a game should have the right to exist in the first place—but I’d wager that some people have been disappointed, even though they were not vocal about it. Heck, even I was nearly disappointed that SKB was not as lascivious as it promised to be, despite the fact that I don’t care one bit about fan-service in games.

This leads us to a striking conclusion: it's very likely that the gamers who will be the most satisfied and at ease with the fan-service involved in SKB are the gamers who do not care about fan-service either way. I am one of these, my stance towards fan-service being similar to my stance towards gorgeous graphics: they will never be the main reason why I purchase a game, but if they don’t hinder the gameplay nor steal resources that should have been allotted to it, then I’m perfectly fine with them and can even appreciate them if they are to my retina’s liking. And sure enough, I loved SKB and would be ready to praise it without the slightest hint of shame. There’s some biting irony at work here, and that irony colors with sadness when one ponders that for all the attention it drew to the game at the time of its release, this campy fan-service coating may well taint its legacy on the long run. Risqué games may create an uproar when they land on shelves, but they never reach a cult classic status or enter any gaming hall of fame: as time goes on, they become a curiosity, something to giggle at, sneer at or shake your head at with a rueful smile, but certainly not something to play, let alone love. Any gamer knows Cluster’s Revenge, but no gamer would call it a cult classic or even a remotely good game. SKB will probably follow the same path and be remembered only as “this game that let you ogle at female bits in 3D”, without the slightest mention of how excellent a Beat’em Up it is. That’s a pity and a shame, really. 

However, that will not prevent me from being fond of Senran Kagura Burst and replaying it in the future. This is a fantastic Beat’em Up, and if you’re a fan of the genre and can stomach the fan-service, I would most definitely recommend it. I would not recommend it to someone who wants to get loads of fan-service first and foremost, not try to convince anyone who hates fan-service to give it a try for the sake of its other qualities; there are tons of eroge and fan-service-free Beat’em Ups out there that are bound to satisfy such gamers way better than SKB could. I will certainly take a look at the subsequent entries, all the more so as the Beat’em Up genre is not exactly at its peak these days: an ongoing Beat’em Up series with several games under its belt is nothing to be sniffed at, and I can only hope that the other Senran games will turn out to be as excellent as Senran Kagura Burst, maybe even stepping as far as correcting their elder’s flaws. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Senran Kagura Burst (1): There’s more than meets the eye

“Meets the eye” is the right expression, indeed. Heck, “tries to pierce it” would be even closer to the truth. Never before had I played a game that tried so actively to perforate my retinas with glorious displays of perky bosoms and bottoms—and I was not even playing with the 3D on. 

We’re now tackling Senran Kagura Burst, a game that became famous—and infamous—for all the wrong reasons. Developed by Tamsoft and released in 2012(jp), 2013(na) and 2014(eu) for the Nintendo 3ds, Senran Kagura Burst (SKB for short) is actually a combination of two games, namely Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows and its sequel Senran Kagura Burst. Both of these games are classic side-scrolling Beat’em Up à la Streets of Rage featuring a variety of characters with distinctive fighting styles. However, you’d be forgiven for missing that piece of information: from its very inception, the SKB series has been marketed nearly exclusively as a naughty, kinky game that would let you peek at young women’s ample bosoms and behinds through their ripped-off clothing. Since the series was kick-started by one developer’s somewhat mundane desire to see female anatomy displayed in glorious 3D on the 3ds, such a turn of events shouldn’t be too surprising. This is a heavy legacy to bear—in more ways than one—but SKB does so with grace and ingenuity and manages to emerge unscathed from the unsavoury marketing campaign that surrounded it. Behind the game’s busty chest beats a heart of gold: SKB is actually an excellent Beat’em Up that has much more to offer than a couple of risqué shots. There’s more than meets the eye, indeed; let’s now explore SKB’s often-overlooked goodness!

The elephant in the room

Let’s be honest: talking about SKB without mentioning the fan-service is purely and simply impossible. It’s so blatant and purposeful that you cannot ignore it, and every review of SKB under the gaming sun has commented on it, with tones ranging from ecstatic to disparaging. I might as well do the same—and start with it while I’m at it, since SKB’s fan-service is so in-your-face, basking in the spotlight like an attention-hungry teenager. Or is it?  

Well, that was the first pleasant surprise SKB had in store. The fan-service is nowhere near as extreme and/or pervasive as you’d imagine by seeing the European cover art—as a matter of fact, this cover is ten times raunchier than anything you will witness in the game itself. The Shinobi transformations, during which the ladies change from their school uniforms into their personalized Shinobi outfits in order to gain extra strength and speed, really don’t show that much flesh. They look like shortened versions of the Sailor Senshi transformations with a heavier emphasis on bottoms and bosoms, but it really doesn’t get more scandalous than that—as a matter of fact, you’ll probably see much more flesh in a Sailor Moon episode than in a session of SKB. As for the infamous shredding bits that let you see the ladies’ outfits being ripped into pieces, they are incredibly brief—blink and you’ll miss them entirely—and really don’t show that much flesh either. To make the fan-service even more inoffensive, all these already rather mild and short sequences can be skipped entirely by pressing the Start button, which will probably be a blessing for everyone at some point: even the most ravenous fan-service aficionado has to get bored after seeing the same snippets a hundred times. 

Furthermore, the game turns out to be surprisingly conservative in some ways. The story-telling segments are unexpectedly sober and subdued: instead of ramping up the fan-service and drowning the player under tons of risqué close-ups as one would have expected, the game favours a more dignified approach by displaying long lines of text over pictures of various empty sceneries. Kinky jokes and innuendos are very few and far between, and the couple of shots of the young ladies that appear during the storyline segments are really quite tame. Even the stripping mechanics are not that risqué when one ponders it, and it boils down to a simple reason: the ladies wear swimsuits as underwear instead of lingerie. While swimsuits don’t cover much more than lingerie and still have some kind of erotic charge (especially in Japan), they are still ten times less suggestive than your average lingerie. Having the ladies don swimsuits seriously defuses the eroticism of the stripping sequences and makes them feel more like pool trip antics than like raunchy peeping sessions. 

Last but not least is the fan-service’s saving grace, which is none other than the delicious irony that pervades it. SKB’ s brand of fan-service is self-aware and self-derisive: the developers joyously take the piss out of their own fan-service obsession—and the player’s one as well—by inserting tongue-in-cheek jokes and puns about their own design choices. The fact that the young ladies wear swimsuits also has a ring of irony to it: it’s nearly like the characters are being aware that they are going to be peeped at and donned swimsuits in order to be prepared for it, taking the piss out of the player in the process. And let’s not even mention the relaxed and  playful atmosphere created by the all-female setting, which has the girls bantering joyfully, acting in ways that could definitely be considered un-sexy, not caring in the slightest about having their body parts exposed and being friendly and supportive towards one another instead of worrying about their looks and vying for male attention like in your average harem RPG. Oh, and there is also the hidden irony at works behind the ripping mechanics: having your clothes ripped into pieces may be serious eye candy, but it’s not a good thing as far as gameplay is concerned, since it means that you’re heading closer to defeat; and the better you become at playing SKB, the less shredding—and flesh— you will see. It doesn’t get any more ironic than that, really. 

So indeed, there is some fan-service at work in SKB; however, it represents only a small fraction of the whole game, and that fraction definitely more comes across as more campy than salacious. Most importantly, it doesn’t desecrate the ladies; and that makes complete sense, since you actually play as them. No gamer can enjoy to see the very character(s) they incarnate being routinely mistreated and humiliated, and Tamsoft understood that perfectly. More than that, they actually went to great lengths to flesh out the young ladies and turn them into interesting characters that the player can care for as well as relate to. Without further ado, let’s see how this was done!

Fleshed inside out

There is no doubt that the ladies were generously fleshed out as far as their measurements were concerned; however, their personalities were not forgotten and have been given as much care and love as their body lines, if not more. 

On the narrative side, each of the young dames was granted her own private backstory, as well as a personalized ending that can be uncovered when meeting certain conditions (namely clearing every single mission in Yin Mode, which is easier said than done). Those backstories are both interesting and touching and give a great incentive to relate to the ladies; they may be young, but their struggles and responsibilities are heavy ones indeed. Their personalities are equally clear-cut and distinctive; and while said personalities are a little bit on the cliché side (the inexpressive and nearly mute girl, the ever-smiling clumsy one, the dignified one with a serene look and so on), they remain endearing and compelling. It is a real pleasure to discover the ladies as you play the game, and caring for them as well as relating to them comes  as naturally as delivering blows (more on that later, he he). 

This commendable attempt at crafting deep and moving characters is conveniently consolidated by subtle yet effective features. The voice acting is the most blatant one: it is amazingly good and fits the ladies’ personality like a glove, and is a pure pleasure to listen to—and this is coming from a person who usually hates voice acting in videogames. Another element that may take more time to sink in is the fact that each girl is granted her own individual musical themes during the fighting sessions, both in Normal and Frantic Modes; and amazingly enough, these themes manage to fit their personalities just as well as the voice acting—and they are pure ear-candy to boot. 

The fact that this crew of young dames is as nicely fleshed out outside of battle is already pleasant enough, but there is even better in store. This is a Beat’em Up after all, and Beat’em Ups are typically the kind of games in which characters’ personalities should shine first and foremost on the fighting field, in the heart of some red-hot action. And fortunately, SKB gloriously delivers in this department and doesn’t disappoint one bit. The ladies’ respective fighting styles are as distinct as they could be while remaining totally functional (or nearly so—more on that later). Each girl has her own moves, special attacks and weapon, and they are all neatly polished and carefully balanced. Granted, some of the ladies are a teeny-weeny bit stronger and some a teeny-weeny bit weaker than the rest of the crew, but the differences are kept to a minimum and don’t hamper the gameplay nor drag the game down in any way. At any rate, it’s an absolute pleasure to try your hand at so many different fighting styles, and getting to know and master each girl’s distinctive way of kicking butts certainly goes a long way in establishing them as rock-solid characters. And that’s quite a good thing, since kicking butts is, after all, the primary point of the game.

The name of the game

Indeed, it may seem a bit pathetic to cover all things fighting only at the end of that post, knowing that SKB is first and foremost a Beat’em Up; but it was hard to proceed otherwise. I’m following an agenda set by the game itself, willingly or not; and since SKB clamoured for attention in the most unsavoury way by aiming straight at the player’s groin, I first had to dismiss the idea that this game is just a load of fan-service crap. Now that the deed is done, we can pore over the heart of the game, namely the butt-kicking. And boy, is it good

A Beat’em Up lives and dies by its physics, and SKB’s physics are absolutely brilliant. The control over your character is total, with no trace of the sketchiness or wobbliness that plagues games such as Code of Princess, and foes have a kind of pleasant density that makes the fighting incredibly fulfilling—you can really feel yourself punching them, so to speak, and it’s quite the guilty pleasure. The action is fast-paced and nervous, and combat is very much aerial-based: the most devastating combos are performed in the air and a couple of aerial attacks are available, as well as a double jump which is an absolute blessing and can be a life-saver at time, especially when combined with the aforementioned aerial attacks. And there is a dedicated jumping button to boot, saving you the trouble of having to fumble with the analog stick. 

Talking about buttons, it’s worth mentioning that SKB keeps things as simple as possible in that department and spares the player a lot of button-mashing. You never need to press more than two buttons at a time to perform any action, and the combos are based solely on various combinations of the X and Y buttons—displayed at all times on the touch screen for your convenience. SKB is as close to as beginner’s Beat’em Up as it gets, while remaining deeply fulfilling thanks to the sheer variety of moves that you can execute—a variety made even wider by the size of the roster. 

Said roster, and the array of fighting styles that comes with it, is most definitely another highlight of SKB. Each of the shinobis offers her own interpretation of the fighting system, prompting you to adapt your way of playing accordingly. This is obviously a staple of the genre, but SKB pulls it out better than most Beat’em Ups. Each girl is obviously endowed with her own exclusive combination of speed, strength and endurance as well as granted her own private combos—this was already the rule in Streets of Rage, and it’s still valid today. SKB then pushes the envelope a tad further by allotting different ranges and areas of effect to each lady’s Secret Arts (i.e. powerful special attacks), and pushes it even further by giving the same treatment to their regular attacks. This could have ended up as a giant mess of unbalanced characters, had things not been handled admirably well; what you get instead is a lively, vibrant and multifaceted fighting system that can nearly give you the feeling that you’re playing a different game every time you switch characters—expect that you’re not, so you still have the benefit of fully mastering the game’s commands. This obviously gives SKB a huge amount of replay value; as a matter of fact, I’ve been playing the game for a good twenty hours and still didn’t fully explore all the variations of the fighting style embodied by the ladies. 

When all is said and done, and when one looks beyond the campy fan-service coating, Senran Kagura Burst is a gloriously good game. It’s a fun, lively and exuberant Beat’em Up that offers a rock-solid and exhilarating fighting experience, as well interesting characters that are highly loveable and relatable and a touching storyline. The wealth of content packed by SKB is truly staggering: there are so many different modes, stages and fighters that you can rest assured that your initial investment in the game will be recouped several times over. The amount of content is actually so enormous that it borders on being overwhelming, leaving the player queasy and with the feeling that there is way much more than they can chew and that they will never see the end of it. I’d like to elaborate on that point, as well as on the other flaws of Senran Kagura Burst; however, this post itself is on the verge of becoming overwhelmingly huge and indigestible, so these matters will have to wait for my next post, which will be dedicated to the less glorious aspects of the game. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!