Review: Senran Kagura Burst

“I keep mine under my skirt.” “I keep mine in my cleavage.” Yes, that’s an actual dialogue exchange you’ll read within the first few minutes of starting up Senran Kagura Burst. It’s this type of fan service and anime-infused debauchery that defines developer Tamsoft’s title at its core. But is this brawler more than just a few grade-school jokes and an excessive amount of boobery? It’s time to get to the bottom of it.

Senra Kagura Burst, in the most rudimentary of terms, is a side-scrolling beat ’em up with a cast of anime vixens. As such, an involved narrative is hardly front and center here, and what is presented in terms of story is charming at best and zany and typical at worst. Most of the time, the plot and characters exist somewhere between that polarity, which results in interactions that are wild, over-the-top and, generally speaking, entertaining for all the right (or possibly wrong) reasons. Though, this comes with a caveat: the game regularly relies on humor that exploits the female figure. Thus, talk of breasts and buttocks is quite common in Burst; so if you’re the kind of player who can’t get into this type of anime silliness, or are easily offended by cute girls with unusually large busts, then this may not be the game for you. Right from the get-go, however, it’s clear that Senran Kagura doesn’t take itself seriously, nor is it trying to convey a tale of literary gold. The premise is actually as simple as it eye-rollingly absurd: players assume the role of a handful of schoolgirl ninjas who are being trained in secret to combat what are only referred to as “evil shinobi.” These malevolent assassin’s are being used by politicians and various of dastardly individuals for malicious purposes, and it’s up to our well-endowed heroines to thwart their deeds of sin.

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Again, it’s not the overarching plot that will draw players in. Truly, it will be the back-and-forth’s between cast members that keep faces lit up with smiles. The text is quirky and expertly translated by publisher XSEED. And although it’s not the company’s best localization, seemingly consisting of more disjointed sentences and cumbersome exchanges than seen in some of their previous works, it’s still consistent enough to never deter players from enjoying the overall experience. Perhaps what’s most noteworthy in all of this, though, are the character tropes that range from decidedly endearing to out-played and pathetically archetypal. Fortunately, with as innuendo-laden as all of the characters are, it can be easy to look past the stereotypes and simply focus on the wackiness at hand; but even this can take a hit when all of the characters feel too similar for their own good at times.

That being said, let’s be frank: folks aren’t playing Senran Kagura: Burst for its narrative value. No, instead this is a game that is all about its throwback, combo-driven, beat ’em up goodness. In other words, players just want to throw down and kick ass as a skirt-wearing schoolgirl. And we don’t hold that against them because, to that end, Burst delivers in spades. Without mincing words, this is brawling done right — for the most part, anyway. Right off the bat, it’s clear that combat here is fast and frenetic; nuanced yet accessible; difficult but rewarding. When combined, we are treated to gameplay that is immensely satisfying and able to scratch the itch of anyone looking to hack and slash their way to victory.

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Getting into the details, attacks are mapped to the face buttons. Folks can dash and jump, in addition to using weak attacks as well as heavy ones. Naturally, these sequences of barrages can be strung together to create combos. After performing combos, players are given an opportunity to then initiate a launch attack with the press of the ‘A’ button at just the right moment, to then take the combination to the sky to further dish out the hurt. When putting it all together, it’s not unusual to deliver a 250- or 300-hit combo. That’s insane, yet par for the course with how Burst‘s combat is set up. Seeing as the game ushers players from one screen to the next, tasking them with clearing out each panel of the stage with each successive screen advancement, it’s easy just to hack up large groups of enemies with single attacks, racking up kills and combos all the while. Of course, the longer the series of attacks, the more EXP players earn. The more experience they earn, the more moves they unlock for that particular character. But, it doesn’t stop at just learning to sling together assault after assault — it’s about understanding when to use Limit Breaks, Frantic mode, ninja arts and the variety of special skills given to the characters. But regardless of the available attack choices, a beat ’em up is only as good as its responsiveness. On that front, Burst sits somewhere in the middle, as controls are generally quick to react, making pulling off those insane combos fairly easy. But during the bouts of framerare faltering, it can become a guessing game as to whether or not your input commands are going to be recognized by the game amdist all of the slowdown.

There are a slew of attack options presented to individuals, which results in being able to approach the battlefield from a multitude of strategic angles. While it might be safe to assume that using Limit Breaks and Frantic mode to increase attacks and deal serious punishment is the best route to take, such moves have drawbacks: some will increase a character’s strength, but decrease their defense. Thus, there are these small subtleties that players have to consider when they approach combat situations. Deciding what kind of tactic to employ for each scenario becomes something of a necessity and also a skill in and of itself. Needless to say, there’s plenty to think on when plunging headlong into the fray. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, things can quickly devolve into a war of button-mashing attrition, which can be just as effective as knowing exactly how to handle oneself on the field. Considering that the control setup is rather intuitive, slamming on the same attack button is definitely a viable tactic in the beginning stages especially. Thankfully, though, as the chapters roll on, it becomes harder and harder to find victory through this method. Even still, I did find that, on a few rare occasions, I was able to complete a mission by the skin of my teeth via mere button-mashing. Another point of contention is the fact that some moves can be exploited to easily dispatch some of the more difficult foes. Although it will be up to the individual person to decide whether or not to employ such tricks, it’s no less disappointing that it can be taken advantage of in the first place.

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What helps to make the combat more meaningful, however, is the experience and level system. Beat ’em ups can overstay their welcome if they lack depth and accolades to achieve. Burst never seems devoid of either. Most apparent, there are five characters from which to choose for each faction available. Since there are two factions, which means two separate story campaigns, that equates to a total of ten characters to learn and max out. And since each gal comes complete with unique stats, strengths and weaknesses, SKB almost turns into a fighting game of sorts, in that there are different character styles, moves, and combos to master. The sheer amount of time that can be sunk into leveling up each character is staggering for a title such as this, and due to how distinct the brawler’s moves are, checking out each one is actually interesting and motivating. As a result, it can be extremely easy to get caught up in the addiction of playing just one more mission to level up a character. Because the missions are so bite-size — making for the ideal pick-and-play experience — getting lost in the challenge of trying to top out statistics becomes frighteningly easy to do. But if gamers can get that addiction under control, there’s always the ability to unlock new costumes, accessories and various gallery items to tempt folks back into the mix. Just the sheer amount of content at players’ fingertips is impressive, to say the least.

But Senran isn’t all unicorns and rainbows; it has its share of setbacks. Most obvious is the aforementioned framerate, which stutters from time to time. Just walking around the university, which acts as a hub between missions, can make things chug. Merely using the touch screen, while nothing is going on on the top panel, can even cause a hiccup. And while it doesn’t dip too much during combat or pivotal moments against enemies, its seemingly random, unpredictable presence is frustrating all the same. On top of that, the backgrounds during talking segments can be noticeably low-res. To compound that, the font itself that’s used for the talking portions can also be strangely fuzzy at times, rendering it difficult to read pieces of text. In other words, Burst isn’t the prettiest game around; after all, it was initially released in Japan over a year ago. But that’s not say it’s hideous, because it’s not by any means. Character models are crisp and vibrant in hue, and the animation is shockingly fluid. Furthermore, certain, uh, physics are also rather impressive. The beautiful, interspersed animated cutscenes serve to round out the package as well. On the downside, most of the action on-screen and enemy models simply lack any kind of substantive detail. Conversely, the aural presentation is rock-solid, sporting a soundtrack that is every bit as upbeat and rocking as one would expect from a very Japanese brawler. What that really means is there are plenty of bouncy tunes in addition to guitar-wailing, note-shredding rock anthems that serve to get the blood flowing during those critical combat sections. The decision to subtitle the audio and preserve the original Japanese voice tracks was also a sound decision, and sure to delight the type of gamer who will undoubtedly be purchasing Burst on day-one.

Despite the game’s overtly sexual nature, it doesn’t appear a lot has been cut or censored for the North American release. By our count, the only aspect that’s been left out in the localization process are the actual ages of the heroines. That’s probably with good reason, too, considering that the average male gamer might develop a complex if they were aware that they were salivating over a minor’s exposed body. So, those who are sticklers for game’s not undergoing censorship, rejoice!


Closing Comments:

At the end of the day, whether or not you will enjoy Senran Kagura: Burst will ultimately come down to answering this question: do you pine to play a game where getting beat up means your character’s clothes become tattered, torn, or completely destroyed, revealing the half-naked body of an adolescent girl who just so happens to have absolutely titanic breasts? If you answered, “yes,” then Burst has a lot to offer: pulse-pounding combat, deep customization and a wealth of unlockables and content. If you answered, “no,” then all the best brawling mechanics in the world probably won’t make Senran‘s provocative, shinobi schoolgirl pill any easier to swallow.
Platform: 3DS