Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash: No Shirt, No Shoes, All Shinobi Shooting

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It’s understandable that some people approached Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash with a certain amount of trepidation prior to its initial release.

After all, here was a series that was supposedly about ninja girls fighting an unseen battle against the otherworldly youma forces, and yet their next game seemed to have them all clad in bikinis having water pistol fights with one another. Sure, the fanservice angle had always been part of the series… but surely, surely we were going a bit off-piste now, right?

Two things. Firstly: Bon Appétit would like a word about going “off-piste”. And secondly: Peach Beach Splash is absolutely a worthy sequel to Estival Versus that sets the series up for what will hopefully be an apocalyptic, climactic finale. In the meantime, though, yes, water guns.

The narrative of Peach Beach Splash once again concerns the series’ four main groups of ninja students — the “good” shinobi of Hanzou National Academy and Gessen Girls’ Academy, the “evil” shinobi of Hebijo Clandestine Academy and the renegade shinobi of Homura’s Crimson Squad.

The four groups have been brought against their will over a rainbow bridge to a tropical island; it’s not as if they were doing anything particularly useful before they were spirited away — indeed, several of them note how they had been craving some excitement in these days of peace (and the unseasonably warm weather) — but still, nobody kidnaps a ninja girl and gets away with it. Once said ninja girls figure out what the hell is going on, of course. And perhaps take just a bit of time to enjoy the amenities of what appears to be a thoroughly pleasant tropical getaway.

By this point in the series overall storyline, everyone involved is well and truly aware of the true reason for the divide between “good” and “evil” shinobi — the energy released in conflicts between the two “sides” attracts youma, which can then be slain to keep the world safe from these otherworldly visitors — and as such, all past differences have been pretty much set aside, and as a result everyone is able to be honest about the fact that they all like one another very much indeed. Some more than others.

You might think that this is not an optimal setup for a narrative; if there’s no conflict between the main characters to be had, what’s the whole thing going to be about?

Well, several things, in fact; there are a number of different narrative arcs to complete over the course of Peach Beach Splash’s entirety, each of which explores a different aspect of the overall narrative, gives different characters time in the spotlight and even introduces a few individuals who have, so far, been exclusively confined to the Japan-only mobile game Senran Kagura New Wave.

The game’s main story mode concerns an event called the “P-1 Grand Prix”, a tournament in the watergun event known as “Peach Beach Splash”. The girls are invited to participate in the event with the promise of a prize at the conclusion allowing them “anything they want” — and while the whole situation seems sketchy as hell, they are reassured by the presence of their teachers Kiriya and Rin, both of whom are trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to operate incognito in the form of “Mr. K” and “Miss R”, hosts of the P-1 Grand Prix.

Upon diving into the story mode, you’re given the opportunity to pick any of the four groups to follow their narrative arc. Over the course of ten episodes, each arc gives us some insight into how the group is getting on in the modern world: how they’re adjusting to getting older, the prospect of great change coming to both their personal circumstances and the world at large, and how they can take advantage of changes in the world around them to better live their lives.

Along the way, each of them start to unravel some of the mysteries behind the P-1 Grand Prix and the reason they’ve been brought to the island. After all four arcs have been completed, a new 14-episode arc involving everyone unlocks, leading them towards the truth and the “Final Splash” encounter that wraps everything up.

That’s 55 episodes in total, and that’s just the main story mode. If you were in any way concerned that this might be a multiplayer-centric title by virtue of it being a third-person shooter… rest easy.

While the initial four arcs do provide some interesting teasers about the nature of the P-1 Grand Prix, they’re mostly more personal affairs about the girls’ relationships with one another. Each has a somewhat different focus, but they’re all about change in one way or another.

Hanzou’s arc, for example, sees change coming from two directions. At one end, we have Ayame, a character introduced in New Wave, but who was both the shopkeeper and a DLC character in Estival Versus. Ayame isn’t yet a member of the elite class that the main Hanzou group belong to, but she’s an eminently capable trainee shinobi in her own right, and it’s looking likely that she will enter the elite class very soon. Consequently, she is very keen to impress the existing members with her competence — particularly Katsuragi, who she has a major crush on.

At the other end, we have Ikaruga, typically the most polite, reserved and sensible of the group, breaking down in tears in both private and public because she knows her graduation is coming up and that means she won’t be able to spend time with these girls that have become so important to her any more. Having had something of a turbulent life prior to her time at Hanzou, Ikaruga is understandably reluctant to accept a change as big as this; she doesn’t want to be alone in the world, as she’s come to think of the Hanzou girls as her real family.

Gessen’s arc, meanwhile, sees a similar but different change looming on the horizon: Shiki has received an offer from an overseas school who would like her to go and study with them. Consequently, much of the Gessen arc concerns her processing her feelings about the situation, and whether she thinks that it’s something she “should” do. She’s hesitant to leave behind her friends — who, much like in the case of the Hanzou girls, have become her family — but is also keenly aware of the promise she made to their former master Kurokage. Of all the girls in Gessen, Kurokage had the most faith that Shiki would be a truly “international” shinobi; she demonstrates a knack for learning languages, a respect for other cultures and a deep spirituality beneath her sometimes brash gyaru exterior, making her an ideal candidate for study overseas.

But she doesn’t feel like it’s just her decision. She knows that she’s an important part of the Gessen family, so she can’t just drop everything and leave them like that. Likewise, her friends in Gessen are torn between not wanting their precious friend to leave, and wanting the very best for her.

Homura’s Crimson Squad has probably the most “modern” of the stories, which is appropriate because as a renegade group — neither “good” nor “evil” by the strict definitions of the shinobi world — they’re the least steeped in tradition. Their story concerns how they are going to make the transition from effectively still being shinobi students — despite no longer attending school — to the world of professional shinobi. And, in the process, moving out from the cave they’ve called their hideout for some time now!

They’re offered a new opportunity as part of the P-1 Grand Prix festivities: the shinobi-exclusive video streaming site NewTube, which is broadcasting both the tournament itself and behind-the-scenes footage. Consequently, they figure that a good way to get themselves noticed will be to clickbait themselves into the good graces of potential clients, and so much of their narrative revolves around their increasingly ridiculous attempts to show some of their… less obvious talents.

Finally, Hebijo’s story is primarily a family matter, and concerns the changing dynamics between the various members of this group. While Estival Versus’ narrative was primarily about Ryoubi and Ryouna and how they dealt with a sudden encounter with the spirit of their dead sister, the Hebijo narrative in Peach Beach Splash places the focus primarily on the sisters Murasaki and Imu, with the conflict stemming from Imu’s obsession with Hebijo leader Miyabi.

Murasaki perceives Imu’s infatuation with Miyabi as her sister no longer caring for her, and as such becomes even more withdrawn and depressed than she usually is. She finds herself somewhat backed into a corner when her self-enforced isolation from the rest of the group sees her uncovering some interesting pieces of information about the truth behind the P-1 Grand Prix… but how can she bring this up when she’s suffering such bitter feelings towards her sister?

All of the narrative arcs are fascinating and feel distinct in their own right; the common theme of “change” and how we each deal with it is explored in a variety of different ways and from a number of different angles, and by the end of each of these stories, we have a much better understanding about how all these girls feel as they face down a seemingly uncertain, dangerous future. (For those who have been confused about the whole “two timelines” thing in the series, too, Peach Beach Splash goes a long way to explaining what that is all about.)

What’s interesting about the game as a whole is that the player themselves is also asked to deal with that core concept of change in terms of how they engage with the game. Not only is Peach Beach Splash no longer a brawler like its mainline predecessors in the series (Bon Appétit aside), but its progression mechanics are also completely different from what we’ve seen in prior Senran Kagura games.

Let’s look at that core gameplay, first, because it’s a really interesting twist on the usual third-person shooter formula that works exceptionally well when played on a console or on PC with a gamepad.

Throughout the story mode, each narrative episode will feature a mission. These tend to take one of several forms: horde-style affairs where you have to defeat a large group of weaker enemies; conflicts against another individual or group, where you have to defeat other playable characters; missions where you have to track down specific targets (usually burning objects) while being bombarded with waves of weak enemies; and boss fights at the conclusion of each of the main arcs.

Prior to each mission, you’ll be given a rough idea of what is expected of you, and presented with a team lineup. The first time you play a mission, this cannot be changed; after you’ve cleared it once, you can replace any of the participants with any of the playable characters.

You can pick any of the team members to be the character you control in the mission; the others, if any, will become computer-controlled. There don’t seem to be any obvious differences between the characters aside from their models and soundbites, and each can be fully customised with a deck of cards. Yes, cards; not only is Peach Beach Splash a third person shooter, it’s also a collectible card game.

Each character’s loadout consists of their character card, a weapon card, three pet cards and six skill cards. Their character card determines their level (and, by extension, their maximum life); their weapon card can be switched out according to your preference without penalty, so if you prefer, say, Yomi wielding a rocket launcher to her usual Gatling gun, you can make that happen; the pet cards represent summonable allies that stick around for a little while with various benefits; and the skill cards represent immediate abilities, both offensive and defensive in nature.

During the mission itself, you’ll be equipped with the weapon card right from the start and immediately draw three cards from a shuffled deck that consists of the pet and skill cards. These will then gradually charge up at a rate according to their “cost” value; the higher the cost, the longer a card takes to charge. Once a card is fully charged, it can be used by tapping a direction on the directional pad, at which point it will either summon a pet or trigger the skill in question. A used card is immediately discarded and replaced with a new one from your deck, and once you’ve cycled around your whole deck it’ll get shuffled and you’ll start seeing the same ones again.

This system might seem initially confusing, since you need to learn what all the various effects are. However, it’s not as complex as it might initially seem.

The skill cards are all based on characters from the series — and indeed their provocative artwork is drawn directly from mobile game New Wave. Different cards depicting the same character will have the same effect, with the power of the effect increasing in accordance with how rare the specific card is. For example, a one-star card depicting Minori from Gessen allows you to heal yourself by about 10% of your maximum life; a three-star Minori, meanwhile, allows you to heal about 30% instead.

There are also some minor variations between character cards, but the overall effect is the same. For example, Kafuru cards allow you to increase the speed at which you reload your weapon; lower rarity Kafurus just apply this effect to yourself, while higher rarity ones apply the buff to your whole team.

The AI makes use of cards just like you do, so when assembling your team lineup for a mission it’s important not to focus solely on your own character. Instead, it’s best to take the time to build a deck for each character that allows the team as a whole to play both offensively and defensively. There’s a pleasing amount of strategy to this; while there’s nothing stopping you just giving everyone the same deck — you can load and save favourite decks to make this easier — it’s a lot of fun trying to figure out how to set up a combination of cards from what you have available that will see your team operating at peak efficiency.

We’ll come back to the cards in a moment; let’s take a moment to talk about the actual third-person shooter gameplay. In short, this is designed to be a high-speed, very arcadey-feeling shooter that is less about accurate shooting and more about clever positioning, strategy and being able to get out of trouble when you need to.

A generous (albeit optional) auto-aim system means that with most weapons you just need to point vaguely in the direction of an enemy to be able to hit them, and a lock-on system allows you to focus your fire on a specific target if you so desire.

Despite all the guns technically being water guns of some description, they all handle very differently and have a pleasing sense of impact to them — especially the more powerful ones such as the sniper rifle, the rocket launcher and the grenade launcher. Each weapon has two fire modes, too, typically affecting things like range, damage output, maximum ammunition before needing to reload and all manner of other factors.

There are some unusual weapons in there, too; besides the relatively conventional pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and launchers, there’s a spray gun that either drenches anything in close range or allows you to lay traps; a hosepipe and shower combo that sprays a concentrated jet over two different ranges according to firing mode; and a few hidden special weapons along the way, too.

There’s a really admirable amount of feedback on the screen that is very helpful when determining if you’re actually pulling your weight in the teamwork stakes. Your aiming reticle highlights when an enemy is in range; a big arcadey “HIT” icon that Sega would be proud of appears when your shots are on target; big red RPG-style damage numbers erupt from enemies so you can see how much of an effect your attacks are having; your ammo meter pulses red and makes a noise when you need to reload.

At no point do you ever feel like something that happens is a surprise or “not your fault” — particularly as there’s no way you can be obliterated in a single barrage thanks to a system where losing half your health knocks you back and provides you with a temporary shield for a short period, allowing you time to regroup, prepare some cards, reload and rejoin the fray.

Movement is speedy and further adds to the “arcadey” feel. Your standard run is quick and agile, but things get really interesting when you make use of the water jet belt that each girl has on her waist. This can be used either for a Jet Dash or a Jet Jump move. Jet Dashes can either be a quick dodge or a sustained stream for rapid movement across long distances, while the exact form of a Jet Jump varies according to which weapon you’re using.

Some allow you to fly high in the air for a short period, while others simply allow you to do a particularly large jump. Making good use of the Jet Jump adds a pleasing amount of that much-beloved buzzword “verticality” to the game rather than keeping everything on a flat plane, and all of the stages are designed with this in mind, with some having multiple levels of corridors and rooms, while others feature high-up platforms ideal for sniping or just getting an overview of the battlefield.

The immediate, arcadey nature of the gunplay makes Peach Beach Splash a pleasure to play, but the variety of stages, the different stage types and the huge range of tactical possibilities that the card decks provide gives the game longevity and depth, even if you never touch the online multiplayer modes. There’s a ton to enjoy here as a solo player — besides the main story mode, there are also a series of “Paradise Episodes that supposedly unfold “off-camera” while the rest of the narrative is unfolding, and a set of four “V-Road” leagues where you can take a customised team of five into battle against a series of themed, computer-controlled teams of gradually increasing difficulty in multiplayer-style timed point-based matches.

The other main aspect of Peach Beach Splash’s longevity comes from those damn cards. There are over 800 of them to collect altogether, though thankfully for trophy hunters there’s no trophy requiring you to nab all of them.

Card packs are awarded after each successful mission, and can be purchased from the in-game shop using the currency you earn as rewards. (While there is a bunch of DLC available for the game, it’s worth noting that this is not a microtransaction-based game at all — it’s easy to earn currency, and by completing harder missions you can effectively guarantee yourself at least one card of a particular rarity.)

You can only have one copy of each card in your collection. Any duplicates you get will be added to a pool that can be used to level up your collection. The rarer a card is that you get a duplicate for, the more experience it will be worth if you use it to level something up. Standard one-star cards are worth just 1XP, for example, while five-star “ultra rare” cards are worth a mighty 100.

Each and every card can be levelled up. That includes the character cards and the weapon cards as well as the pets and skills; rather delightfully, the weapons actually change significantly in appearance every few levels besides growing noticeably stronger, so there’s definite incentive to advance these at the very least.

Levelling a card up increases its effectiveness in some way. Characters get more health, weapons do more damage or are more efficient, pets stick around for longer or do their job more effectively, and skill cards have a stronger or more enduring effect. While most of the initial arcs can probably be cleared with level 1 characters and decks, for later challenges in the Paradise Episodes and particularly the V-Road Challenges, you’ll need to engage with this system for not just yourself but your teammates too; it’s no good having a super-buff favourite character if the rest of your group gets flattened in a few seconds, because five-against-one tends to end badly.

Thankfully, the very structure of the game encourages you to level up a variety of characters a bit at a time. Each story mission places a different character in the spotlight, presenting them as the “default” playable character for you to take control of by putting them at the top of the list. You don’t have to follow this advice, of course, but in doing so and ensuring that everyone is well-equipped, you’ll naturally build a selection of good decks for a wide selection of characters over the course of the game as a whole, putting you in a good position for later, more significant challenges.

Those accustomed to mobile games will probably want to unlearn a few things, too; this is a game about gradual progression a bit at a time rather than spooging all your progression materials in one go. Progression requires quite a lot of experience (and thus duplicate cards) at higher levels, so it’s not always best to focus on levelling up a single card such as the character; it’s best to spread things out a bit an evenly level up your whole deck rather than hoard. It’s not as if cards are hard to come by, anyway, and the V-Road Challenge scenarios provide a good income of in-game currency with which to purchase new packs if you so desire.

You can hopefully see by now that this is all very different from the standard Senran Kagura fare of grinding XP by hammering out huge combos in battle, and levelling up Yin, Yang and Flash by fighting in different styles. Much as the girls themselves are having to deal with change in their own lives, so too are you having to deal with change in the way you approach and play their game.

Thankfully, it’s a fun and satisfying change that keeps Peach Beach Splash interesting and fresh over the long term, even if you never set a single sun-kissed bare foot online to test your skills against other fans. This is most certainly an excellent Senran Kagura game… and, hell, just an excellent arcadey shooter in its own right.

That teaser for Senran Kagura 7even in the ending, though… man. Way to blueball your audience!

More about Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash
More about the Senran Kagura series

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