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Review: Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars (PS4)

Next to fighting games, I’m generally a big fan of hack and slash games. They’re a fun way to just spend time, mashing buttons and wiping out tons of enemies with flashy moves and wicked attacks. When I was introduced to the girls of Senran Kagura and their fight to see what school will be the best school of shinobis, I was hooked. There might have also been the subject of lots of fan service that also drew me in. Some of the ladies of Senran Kagura have also made cameo appearances in various fighting games, such as Nitroplus Blasterz and most recently, Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle. You better believe I spent a lot of time with those shinobi and always look forward to seeing them.

As far as the Neptunia series goes, I picked up the first game back on the PlayStation 3 and it wasn’t something that immediately hooked me. It was clunky, but I could see that the series was trying to be something. Fast forward a bit, and I jumped back into the games on the remakes of the games on the PlayStation Vita. I still wasn’t impressed with the games and I haven’t really picked up those games since. Now, here we are, and both of those games have joined together to make this crossover game, Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars. I was intrigued that it kept the hack and slash style of the Senran Kagura series while throwing in the aesthetics of the Neptunia RPG games and felt it call to me.

Curse the censorship

The Senran Kagura series has maintained itself as a pure hack and slash with a slice-of-life story about friendship and finding one’s path in life. There were a few non-canon games that experimented with other genres, such as a third-person arena shooter in Peach Beach Slash and even a pinball game exclusive to the Nintendo Switch called Peach Ball. The series just recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in September and pretty much came and went without much fanfare. There wasn’t any new game announcement and aside from twitter posts from fans celebrating the series, Marvelous just didn’t seem like they were doing much with the series at all, leaving us fans little to be excited for or look forward to, especially since we haven’t heard anything on the series since the tease back in August 2017 of the next mainline game only titled “7even.” Seriously, Marvelous, throw us a bone here!

Prior to the anniversary of Senran Kagura in July 2021, Idea Factory International announced a crossover game taking the four main goddesses of their Neptunia RPG series and having them fight alongside four of the main leading ladies in the Senran Kagura series from Marvelous. The game is developed by Tamsoft, who’s done previous work with both IPs, such as Hyperdimension Neptunia U on the PlayStation Vita and PC. Being that this crossover game is not canon, there’s no need to play the previous games of either series, but those who have will be familiar with 90% of the playable characters. Being that this game is being published by Idea Factory and Marvelous seemed to have little to do with it outside of licensing their girls to Idea Factory, it leaves me more suspicious about how Marvelous feels about the Senran Kagura series and its future, and it doesn’t make me feel good about it.

Part of the reason we haven’t seen much of the shinobi schools is that Sony changed its policy on sexual content within its games, asking there be less revealing outfits, bouncy bits and all around sexual themes. Being that Senran Kagura often had heavy fan service, Marvelous has had to tone down the games quite a bit to meet these new standards from Sony. This was evident in their releases like Kandagawa Jet Girls on the PlayStation 4, which had far more fan service in the anime series compared to the game, such as the absence of clothes destruction. The release of Uppers in the west on consoles was also canceled, as Marvelous decided to release the game exclusively on PC, due to the sexual nature of some attacks and overall goal of impressing the ladies as you pummel your opponents. Both games included guest characters from the Senran Kagura series and because of these toned down releases and avoidance of releasing certain games on the PlayStation consoles really makes me approach this with little expectations, but still keeping hope it may not be the end.

I’ve seen console wars, y’know

The story is a rehash of the usual Neptunia plot of goddesses parodying consoles fighting over who has the largest domain and eventually fight alongside one another to overcome a larger threat then their petty squabble. Here, an army of mechanical androids known as “Steemex Legion” led by Yoh Gamer is invading Gameninjustri and it’s up to you to repel them. The enemy’s name is a clear parody of the game store Steam, keeping in the tune of parodying the game industry.

The dialogue between characters drags on between chapters, mostly just telling you to go to a particular place and beat the invaders up. There’s little motive behind everything with corny gags involving pop and gaming culture that I found myself just mashing the X button to get through. The jokes barely made me crack a smile and it reminded me of why I haven’t picked up the recent Neptunia games. I didn’t find any of the endearing backstory of the Senran Kargura girls and their troubled pasts that lead them to wanting to be shinobi, struggling to find a place to belong to. It did nothing to build on the lore of either game series or individual characters. The whole reason I was looking forward to this game was to play as my favorite shinobi girls and seeing how it might tie into past games of either series. It apparently wasn’t happening, so just let me go slash up some monsters already!

I just wanna be a shinobi

The gameplay works smoothly and is the most satisfying part of the game. I feel it’s not as snappy as Senran Kagura Estival Versus was. You won’t be fighting other shinobi, but androids, samurai skeletons, slimes and odd watermelon ghosts in small packs. Occasionally, you’ll encounter large bosses with high levels of health and attacks that can do devastating damage if you’re not careful. I noticed the absence of aerial attacks. This mechanic was one of my favorite from past games and without it, keeps this game literally grounded. I feel this holds back the combat just a bit, as the aerial attacks added more fun in juggling your opponents by throwing them into the air, continuing your attacks, building up your combo counter and finishing them off in a flashy finisher. Here, your mostly on the ground and trying to get behind them to do higher damage with the help of a dash with brief invincibility, a block button and low combos.

In your arsenal are Ninja Art Skills that use stamina for more powerful chainable supers. The Fuurinkazan Drive gives four boosts in the form of elementals, Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain. These can only be activated a certain number of times in each mission and change the color of your clothing to match their respective element, granting temporary buffs in defense, attack, stamina, or your throwing weapon. A Shinobi Ultimate attack gauge fills up over time, allowing you to unleash a large amount of damage with a unique combo for each character that’s flashy and fun to watch the first few times you use it.

Forget the lewds and have old controller gimmicks

One of the biggest draws in both series, more so the Senran Kagura games, is the fanservice. In this release, it’s toned down quite a bit. No flashy shinobi transformations or clothes destruction found here. The most you’ll see are still frames of the girls in towels sitting in baths along with silly sexual innuendo dialogue that you can quickly skip through, much like I did.

Instead, we get a minigame called “Peaches and Cream Meditation,” giving you plenty of time to pause to ask yourself what that really means. Here, your chosen girl meditates on a giant floating peach while you use the PS4 controller’s motion control to balance a ball along a curved line and keep it from going too far off one side and dumping your lovely lady into a hot spring.

I can’t say I’ve seen games these days implement these controller gimmicks on PS4, so it helped to shake up the monotony of just hitting square or X all the time and slowed things down a bit. Upon successful completion of the girl’s meditation, they will get a permanent stat boost for increased health, defense, or attacks. Three levels of difficulty exist, with the hardest giving you more than one buff. I feel this minigame was tossed in to just sate some players need to see the girls in a little less clothing. You could likely get by without ever attempting this minigame, unless you feel your character needs a slight leg up against a boss you’re struggling with.

Boring world with nothing to break

The main menu provide other areas to explore, such as the Kumotsu Shrine, where you can accept mission requests, like defeating all enemies in a certain amount of time, or collect a set of items. Ninchat allows you to chat with various characters from the Neptunia universe, such as Compa and Iffy, or other irrelevant NPCs who will give you mission requests to complete or hand you items to use as you see fit. A lot of them don’t add anything to the main story and say useless, if somewhat amusing comments, on the events happening, just as they would in an RPG. Finally, there’s the Market Street, where you can buy gems, equipment and items to help with health, defense, attack or stamina, as well as sell items you may not need. I spent little time in the store, as the main game seemed to give me more than enough items.

The various stages are bland the music fits, but forgettable. I couldn’t even tell you a song from either series that stuck with me. You’ll be visiting the forest, old Japanese style towns and some modern buildings that fit with the theme of the story. The areas are detailed just enough to attract your attention, but don’t have much to interact with. Past Senran Kagura games had you fighting bad guys on beaches, temples and through multiple floors of a school and their classrooms with destructible items, like desks and barriers with far more gorgeous surroundings, making them far more interesting.

Outside of the 3D combat, the story is told with 2D still portraits that blink and mouths that flap in a visual novel style. I feel its cheapened even more with event scenes just moving these still portraits across the screen with little to no animation. A style very typical of the Neptunia games that really turned me off and made me feel I was just watching a motion comic. There is no English dubbing here, as the Senran Kagura games never had English voiceovers.

At least there’s different yet familiar flavors

There’s ten different playable characters and you can use two at a time, switching between them at will. Some have faster mobility with weaker attacks, while others have slower attack movements, but deal more damage. All are close combat fighters with the ability to hang back and toss a weapon at enemies from a distance, or finishing a combo. Only two of my favorite girls from the Senran Kagura series were present here, Asuka and Homura, so I stuck with them through most of my play. Their personalities, attacks and voice actors from previous games were thoughtfully retained. Same of all the Neptunia girls, just now donning shinobi outfits with their own personal flair of attacks. Just pick two favorites and rock through the game with them.

Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars final thoughts

Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is available now exclusively on PS4 both digitally and physically at your local retailers. I played a digital copy that I purchased myself in hopes of supporting the Senran Kagura series. The tutorials at the beginning ease you into the game and its mechanics without being too much of an annoyance. It can be short with just eight chapters and a couple dozen side missions, so it’s best to play this game in small chunks. The lack of animated portraits and cutscenes disappointed me and I really miss the rest of the shinobi teams. I had hoped for the old flashy, lengthy combos of the past Senran Kagura games and better humor. This will likely appeal most to die-hard fans of either series. Especially if you enjoy hack and slash games like I do. Overall, I give this game 2 kunai.

Jason Morris

Arcade enthusiast and part of the Mega Visions Stream Team.

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