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!

No comments:

Post a Comment