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Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal Review

New look, same old Senran Kagura.

by Jelani James
Senran Kagura Burst Renewal Review

After eight years, Senran Kagura has come full circle, bringing the series’ first title to modern platforms with (mostly) modern features and graphics to match.

But first, let’s just get this out of the way: Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal is a fanservice game through and through. The series carries a lot of baggage, but I’ll try to convince you of its worth nonetheless.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? You will soon enough.

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Senran Kagura has been a series steeped in controversy ever since it debuted on the 3DS in 2011 — even more so when it became fully global in 2014. Really, with its cast of large-breasted, teenage ninja whose clothes could be torn apart in battle, such controversy was probably a forgone conclusion. With the belief that such portrayals would have a tangibly negative impact on its audience and their interactions with women in general, it didn’t take long for some to label those fans as future sex pests and even pedophiles. And while I can accept that many would take offence with the sexualization of its cast, using that as an excuse to ignore everything else about the game is not only dishonest, but doing both themselves and the game a disservice.

So, as someone who has played these games since they debuted in North America, let me set the record straight: Yes, Senran Kagura’s main draw is its fanservice — an argument to the contrary would be utterly divorced from reality. That said, the series has far more going for it than just fanservice, and Burst Re:Newal puts those qualities on full display.

Of course, now you’re probably wondering what a game with big-breasted ninja schoolgirls could possibly offer beyond fanservice, so let’s start with the less obvious one — a story that is far better than what a title of its type would warrant.

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In the world of Senran Kagura, there are good shinobi and evil shinobi, and at first we’re led to believe that’s all there is to them — good shinobi do good things and evil shinobi do evil things. However, as time progresses, we eventually come to learn that within the shinobi world, the concept of good and evil is all relative. Really, they’re just different sides of the same coin — both sides have similar dreams, experiences and aspirations, but whereas good shinobi have the luxury of being employed by the government, evil shinobi have no such advantage, typically meaning they’re often required to take on the jobs that nobody else would dare touch.

Admittedly, exploring the nuances of good and evil isn’t really groundbreaking in of itself, especially within the context of something as fantastic as big-breasted ninjas. However, what allows the story to go from merely passable to actually enjoyable are the characters that drive everything forward.

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Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal features 10 (+2 hidden) characters split up into two separate factions, Hanzō National Academy (good) and Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy (evil). They all come off as monosyllabic initially, but they inevitably grow and evolve as individuals due to their interactions with their friends and rival from the opposing faction. Whether it’s Hibari (Hanzō) realizing that everyone is nice to her, despite her constant screw-ups, is because they genuinely like her, and not out of pity or due to her subconsciously using her family’s signature power, Kagan, to mind control them; Ikaruga (Hanzō) as she struggles to reconcile her position within a family where she is the adopted daughter, clan heir and usurper of the position her adoptive brother should have held; or Yomi (Hebijo) learning to put aside her prejudice towards the privileged and wealthy as she learns that even the upper class are individuals with their own unique circumstances, you’ll quickly come to understand that these characters have far more going on for them than just breast size (except for Mirai). They’re full of depth, and whether it’s during their best moments or their worst, they’re characters who you can’t help but want to root for.

Storytelling like this is consistent throughout the main series, but it’s notably successful here because of its cohesion. Unlike future entries where there are as many as four storylines or just one trying to juggle the actions of 25 characters, this game only has two, interconnected stories. There is only one conclusion to be reached, and the characters all play an equal role as they head toward it. Admittedly, Estival Versus’ (2015/2016) approach with one story would have been successful here, but Burst Re:Newal is a remake and the developers clearly tried to remain as true to the original as possible.

Of course, storytelling isn’t all Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal has going for it — there’s plenty of action to be had when there isn’t a narrative to unfold. Coincidentally, it happens to be the most obvious merit this game has.

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But before moving on, let me first say this: Senran Kagura is not a musou, it’s a brawler. If the original was like Final Fight, then every entry in the main series since Shinovi Versus (2013/2014) would be like a more fluid, much faster-paced Fighting Force. If the only attribute a game needed to be considered a musou was the player fighting against a bunch of enemies, then why not try that with Devil May Cry? No, seriously, do that and tell me what happens.

Back on topic, stages are structured roughly in the manner as games like Fighting Force are: you fight a group of enemies of varying aggressiveness in a given area and your goal is to defeat them all before moving on to the next area containing more enemies to beat up, with the occasional super enemy (look for a reddish-black floating mass) to spice things up. Do this enough times and the mission will end, and you’ll be graded based on your performance (time, damage received, etc.). It’s all pretty standard, and just like with the story, it’s the characters that put the pieces together.

Though every character shares the same base techniques like Dashing, Guarding, Parrying, Wall Running, Aerial Raves (air combos), transforming for boosted stats and access to Secret Ninja Arts (super attacks), as well as the all-new Burst technique, granting them even greater attack power, infinite aerial raves and a one-time special attack, their similarities end there. Every character is as different as different can be, each possessing a unique playstyle that separates them from the rest of the cast. For instance, Asuka, with her twin wakizashi, offers a faster-paced, more aggressive playstyle compared to someone like Haruka who plays a more tricky game with her robot and vials filled with hazardous chemicals. And that’s not even taking into account their unique properties, such as Katsuragi’s ability to charge her attacks for increased damage, or Yagyū being able to freeze her enemies by shooting ink-like projectiles out of her umbrella. These differences will inevitably lead you to assess how you want to approach combat — even more so if you choose to forgo your character’s ability to transform and having her go “Frantic” instead, causing her to lose almost all her clothes (and defense) in exchange for a sharp increase in attack power, an altered moveset and a new set of passive abilities.

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The culmination of these features can be most readily seen when you’re fighting bosses. Not only are they aggressive (fortunately, there will be a red or purple marker on the ground indicating where their attack will land), but they’re also capable of shrugging off regular attacks with ease — if not blocking them outright. In fact, don’t expect to get a legitimate combo of any sort going unless the boss is frozen or stunned (usually by parrying) first. And the worst part? Take too long to defeat them and they’ll transform, gaining a new set of moves and fully restoring all of their health in the process. Unless you’re particularly high level, you’re going to have to apply some thought in regards to how you want to win, playing to the strengths of your own character, while mitigating those of the opponent. Such considerations are worth taking too — especially for the perverted — because not only will you get a higher grade in the end, but your opponent will be left in their birthday suit.

All in all, the combat is great. It’s fast-paced, easy to learn, doesn’t take much time to master and there’s never a dull moment thanks to its wide array of enemies. That said, it is by no means perfect: the diversity of mission objectives is surprisingly lacking.

It would be pure folly to expect a brawler to not have the player spend most of their time punching, slashing or shooting their way through legions of enemies, but Burst Re:Newal offers no reprieve between all of that. There’s no multiplayer and, more importantly, hardly any missions requiring you to do anything beyond beating up mooks or a boss. Obviously, using different characters and increasing the difficulty will help stave off the monotony a good deal, but what this game truly needed were missions where you had to find hidden items or ones where you had strict time limits. It’s disappointing that I would even have to mention this because both Skirting Shadows and Burst had plenty of missions like that; and considering that the stages are now fully 3D and multi-leveled, it feels like the developers missed an opportunity to use the various stages’ designs to their full potential.

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Beyond that, there isn’t much I can say that I disliked about Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal. Aside from the story missions, there’s a fair amount of side content (though there isn’t as much incentive to do them with each character since they’re not graded individually anymore) and there’s a wealth of customization options once you start buying (or transfer from Estival Versus) clothes and accessories from the shop using the money you earn from missions. And per usual, you can unlock illustrations, movies and music, and thanks to this being a remake, you can inundate yourself with nostalgia by changing the character portraits and listen to the character themes featured in Skirting Shadows and Burst.

See? Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal has more to it than just its fanservice. Again, whether or not it’s a fanservice game was never up for debate — it clearly is. Fanservice permeates just about every aspect of this game. You’ll find it throughout various cutscenes and the “best” way to win is to essentially strip your opponent naked. My point of contention is the notion that that’s all the series at large has to offer (Peach Ball: Senran Kagura likely fits that bill though); and my answer to that is a resounding no.

But before closing out, there is one thing I should discuss: censorship.

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If you’ve been following this game in any capacity, then you likely know about the fact that XSEED was forced to remove Intimacy Mode from the PlayStation 4 version of Burst Re:Newal because of an apparent policy change at Sony. And based on the “(mostly) modern” statement I made at the start of the review, as well as the fact that I’m bringing up censorship at all, then you can probably guess I reviewed the PS4 version.

Why? Simple. It’s the version XSEED sent.

Honestly, Sony can do what it wants with games that appear on its own platform, but I seriously do have to question why the move was even necessary to begin with. The ESRB already gave this an M rating and the removal of Intimacy Mode does effectively nothing to alter the overall product. Does it matter if I can’t grope, hold the hands of or even kiss a fictional character in a dressing room, if I can still literally beat the clothes off her body every time we cross paths in battle? Nope.

What was the motivation here? Fear? Morality? Malice? Some combination of the three? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know, however, is that the Steam version isn’t censored at all, so purchase that one if you care and have the choice.

Ultimately, I’m more annoyed than anything else. I only ever use the dressing room for the trophy, so I won’t miss Intimacy Mode at all. That said, I don’t appreciate being told how to consume my media — especially when they’re already rated M and the change does nothing. It’s almost as if Sony did it just to prove it could.

I’m loathe to end the review of a game I thoroughly enjoyed on a sour note, but I really am baffled by this.

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The Verdict

With an updated UI and modernized features, Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal takes the franchise’s most cohesive story and couples it with the gameplay it deserves. With fast and fluid combat, endearing characters and a grounded story that isn’t afraid to crack a few jokes while interrogating the notion of morality from the perspective of big-breasted ninja schoolgirls, this remake represents the franchise at its best.

If you dislike fanservice or object to the sexualization of game characters then I urge you to stay away. As for everyone else? Do give this a shot — if you like brawlers and don’t mind a good deal of perversion, then Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal may very well be your cup of tea.

"loved"
loved

Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal

  • Available On: PlayStation 4, PC
  • Published By: Xseed Games
  • Developed By: Tamsoft
  • Genre: Action
  • US Release Date: January 18, 2019 (PS4)/January 22, 2019 (PC)
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
  • Quote: "With fast and fluid combat, endearing characters and a grounded story that isn’t afraid to crack a few jokes, Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal represents the series at it's finest. That said, if you take issue with the sexualization of its characters, then this game is not for you."
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