Senran Kagura Estival Versus: Sights and Sounds

The Senran Kagura series has a particularly striking aesthetic that makes it instantly recognisable — and this is the work of not only its visuals, but its soundtrack, too.

Combining the distinctive character designs of artist Nan Yaegashi with a delightfully rockin’ (and varied) soundtrack, Senran Kagura clearly has a keen awareness of the fact that successful series consider their identities carefully. While it clearly isn’t on the same scale in terms of budget as today’s most lavish triple-A titles, what it does do within the constraints of its medium, console hardware, game engine and presentation style is a significant factor in what makes it one of the most fondly regarded Japanese franchises out there.

Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the most impressive installment to date — and while it shines on the lovely screen of the Vita, it’s an absolute delight to behold on a big TV thanks to the PS4 version.

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Senran Kagura Estival Versus: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

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

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

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.

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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.

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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!

Oh, Japan!