Senran Kagura Estival Versus: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

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One of the biggest strengths of the Senran Kagura series as a whole is its comprehensive lore, consisting of numerous intertwining character backstories and its own take on Japanese mythology.

Interestingly, the complete series doesn’t take a linear approach to exploring its narrative, instead breaking itself into three main branches: the “main” plot, the Versus plot, and the spin-off stories. Each of the individual installments stand by themselves as a complete story in their own right, but taken in context with all the other companion pieces, it’s clear that Senran Kagura is a franchise that has been thoroughly planned from start to finish — and it’s very likely we haven’t seen the last of it with Estival Versus, not by a long shot.

So where does Estival Versus itself fit in to the grand scheme of the complete series? Read on and let’s find out.

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Senran Kagura Estival Versus: Historical Context and Mechanics

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The Senran Kagura series as a whole primarily has its roots in the brawler or beat ’em up genre, and while it draws mechanical influences from both classics in the field and contemporaries, it very much has its own identity.

Exactly how Senran Kagura channels the brawler genre has evolved somewhat over the game’s several installments. The first game in the series, Senran Kagura Burst, is most recognisable as a classic-style beat ’em up, but while all the subsequent entries make shifts into 3D to varying degrees, the fundamentals remain quite similar.

To understand the mechanics on display in Senran Kagura Estival Versus, it pays to look at the history of the genre as well as more modern contemporaries. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

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Senran Kagura Estival Versus: Introduction

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Senran Kagura is one of the most consistently misunderstood series in the entire Japanese gaming canon.

At least part of this is due to the outspoken nature of series creator Kenichiro Takaki who, legend has it, only created the series in the first place because he wanted to see breasts popping out of the glasses-free stereoscopic 3D screen of the Nintendo 3DS, and who is credited with “Righteous Boobage” in every installment’s credit roll.

In a way, this is kind of unfortunate, since it causes a significant number of people — and press outlets — to write the series off as nothing more than cheap fanservice. In reality, however, although the game does include a significant amount of cheeky, overtly sexualised content, it’s a great deal more than titillation, featuring a strong ensemble cast, gameplay mechanics that have evolved, changed and improved between installments — and between different host platforms — and an intriguing unfolding story that draws together elements of Japanese mythology and a more creative, fantastic element of what life as a shinobi might be like in modern-day Japan.

Continue reading Senran Kagura Estival Versus: Introduction

Let’s Get This Show Back on the Road

I’ve been doing some thinking lately: about what to do with MoeGamer, which you’ve doubtless noticed has been dormant since last August; about how I can provide good quality writing that will encourage people to show their support via my Patreon (which is due a revamp — watch that space over the next few days for details); and about how I can help plug the gaping hole the mainstream games press has left when it comes to coverage of more niche-interest Japanese games.

MoeGamer has always been a passion project that I’ve worked on when I’ve had 1) the time and 2) the motivation to write something. It’s easy to get wrapped up in something like this and start pressuring yourself to provide “content” day after day as often as possible — this is the model the majority of the Web operates on, after all, but it’s partly why the games press (and much of the press at large, it has to be said) is in such a mess right now. That constant drive for content — not writing, not criticism, not analysis, content — makes it very easy to get burnt out, which I think is partly what happened here.

Whenever I’ve done regular writing about Japanese games, be it for my READ.ME and Swords and Zippers columns on the now sadly defunct Games Are Evil or for my JPgamer column during my time at USgamer, I’ve always felt the pressure to always try and be on top of things: to be writing about something new; to be writing about something relevant; to provide an interesting spin on something that takes the pulse of (supposedly) popular opinion as well as my own take; to maintain the audience’s interest. Content, content, content.

While that may be an effective way to operate an ad-supported site with a team of regular staffers, it’s no way to run a passion project in which I just want to write in-depth articles about games that have particularly resonated with me — and which I want other people to experience the joy of, too. As such, I’m rebooting my thinking with MoeGamer and trying a new approach that will hopefully create something a little bit different to other games coverage out there.

Continue reading Let’s Get This Show Back on the Road

MoeGamerTV: Treasures of Steam’s Summer Comiket Sale

Steam’s running another Summer Comiket sale full of Japanese doujin games goodness — they’ve actually remembered to promote it this time, though! Here’s a selection of games that are worth exploring.

Check out the articles from last year for more on some of the other games available in the sale:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

MoeGamerTV: Sword Art Online Re:Hollow Fragment

Sword Art Online Re:Hollow Fragment is a PlayStation 4 rerelease of a Vita game that was itself an expanded version of a Japan-only PSP title. It’s a “simulated MMO” that follows on from the first arc of the Sword Art Online anime, and it’s one of the most interesting RPGs to be released recently. Take a look!

MoeGamerTV: Omega Quintet

Hi folks! Been a bit quiet around here of late, I know. An update for you, though: I’ve been experimenting with making videos, and am going to try and put out more when I can, both “readings” of existing articles accompanied by visuals, and original content.

Here’s the first example of the latter: a look at Omega Quintet for PlayStation 4. Enjoy!

More articles to come soon. Thanks for following MoeGamer!

Free-to-Play Games Quietly Got Good

Free-to-play games, particularly in the mobile gaming sector, have something of a… reputation, to put it politely. And it’s not altogether undeserved.

Mobile development has a cloning problem. And not just in the literal sense of developers stealing assets from competitors’ games to create bootleg versions: there’s also a major problem with free-to-play mobile game developers taking the “easy” option and simply reskinning tried-and-tested mechanics and systems rather than attempting to innovate with their gameplay.

It was ever thus in the games business, of course — that’s one of the ways in which genres of games developed over time — but in mobile gaming, it always seems particularly egregious, because in many cases those base mechanics and systems simply aren’t very much fun in the first place, focusing not on how to give the player an enjoyable experience, but rather on how to extract money out of them at every opportunity.

But gradually, quietly, we’ve started to see changes. While Western free-to-play game developers are still seemingly mostly content with FarmVille-style “tap and wait” gameplay, looking East to Asian teams from Korea, Singapore, Japan and numerous other territories reveals an altogether different picture: free-to-play games that actually make a bit of an effort with the “game” part. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Continue reading Free-to-Play Games Quietly Got Good

Let’s Talk About Dungeon Travelers 2 and “Ecchi” Content

The story so far: In the beginning, Polygon’s Phil Kollar posted an article called “Atlus can do better than this creepy, porn-lite dungeon crawler“. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

With apologies to the late, great Douglas Adams for the bastardisation of his quotation, it’s worth exploring this subject a little further, if only to counter the extreme negativity of Kollar’s article — negativity which, frankly, appears to come from a position of ignorance as to what games such as Dungeon Travelers 2, the game under scrutiny in the article, actually involve.

You see, it’s okay to like ecchi or even hentai content. It’s also okay to not like ecchi and hentai content. Where it stops being okay is when someone who doesn’t like these things starts calling for publishers to stop catering to people who do like these things.

Why? Because if these games continue to exist, people who don’t like them have the option of not buying and supporting them with no harm done. If they don’t exist, meanwhile, the people who do like them have no option — they simply have to go without. And that doesn’t strike me as terribly fair; it would be a case of certain individuals having the power to act as the “morality police” on behalf of people who may not share their ideological viewpoint.

Is that a problem? You’re damn straight it is; let’s explore it in a little more detail.

Continue reading Let’s Talk About Dungeon Travelers 2 and “Ecchi” Content

Senran Kagura: More Than Just Life and Hometown… Much More

“Tits are life, ass is hometown.” So runs the catchphrase of Senran Kagura creator Kenichiro Takaki, and the unofficial tagline for the series as a whole.

While Takaki’s sentiments are refreshingly honest in a world of increasing political correctness — indeed, supposedly the only reason Senran Kagura exists at all is because Takaki wanted to see breasts on the glasses-free 3D screen of the Nintendo 3DS — in a way it’s a bit of a shame that so much emphasis has been placed on this aspect of the series. Not because fanservice-heavy media is inherently bad, of course — on the contrary, Senran Kagura represents a good example of how fanservice can be used to create a very distinctive look, feel, style and overall personality — but because for those less familiar with the series, that’s all they see.

And there is one hell of a lot more to Senran Kagura as a whole than just “life and hometown”. So let’s take some time to explore exactly what it is that makes this remarkable series tick, and why you should check it out if you’re not already a fan.

Continue reading Senran Kagura: More Than Just Life and Hometown… Much More

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