You came for the boobs, but will you stay for the beatdown? In short, maybe. I don’t recommend picking this game up solely for its value as a side-scrolling beat’em-up. The mechanics are solid, the animations fluid (depending on your luck and/or SD card – I’ll get more into that later), and the actual gameplay is fun (in a mindless sort of way). But know this going in: Senran Kagura Burst (SKB) is a novelty package more than it is a game, and if that’s what you’re prepared to buy into, then you will absolutely get your money’s worth.
It’s quite evident SKB draws attention by mashing boobs and butts (in 3D) into the 3DS screen. If that’s not your thing, step off the train right now – this ain’t for you. But folks into “moe” and “ecchi” are in store for a real treat. The visual “fan service” (as it’s oft now referred to) is abundant, sexy and fun. However, the dialogue and story also offer delightful entertainment in a Naruto-esque sort of way. SKB can be serious and touching at times, but it’s wrapped liberally in cuteness and comedy.
The hub area allows you to interact with the various characters in the game, as well as tinker with unlockables and such. There’s something about this space that just feels inviting and fun. The conversations before and after action sequences are both adorable and engrossing, and the beat’em-up gameplay is an imperfect but addicting combofest.
For all intents and purposes, Burst is broken up into two games, starting with the Hanzo perspective and then into the Hebijo story. The game is comprised of several chapters per side, with each chapter consisting of roughly 10-15 missions. Key missions contain conversations between characters, setting the stage for combat, and each chapter also contains one or two long story sequences that offer quite a bit of backstory for the game’s characters.
Surprisingly, the story is quite compelling, but the longer story sequences are uneventful in terms of visuals. You’re merely reading text atop static screens, and these breaks in gameplay can run a tad overlong. I think the main disparity is in the fact that when playing a game like this, you’re not like to approach it with the mindset of wanting to sit and read a long, drawn-out tale. You kinda just want to jump into the action and see some boobs flop in your face.
But again, the story intermissions are few and the combat plentiful. Perhaps too plentiful, but it’s really just a means to an end: unlocking…stuff. As you play through missions, you’ll unlock new school outfits, new bathing suits, new shinobi outfits, accessories, music, pictures, and on and on. That’s really where SKB reveals its wealth. Hence why I recommend considering the game for its value as a novelty, rather than putting too much stock in its ability to perform as an action brawler.
The actual combat is fun, and there is a significant amount of growth for your characters as you progress. However, if you merely wanted to mash the Y button most of the way through, you could with little resistance. There are boss fights and ranged enemies that pose some minor threat, but by and large, SKB is pretty easy and pretty mashy. Though it’s not a musou-style-combat game in design, the fighting system will definitely appeal to folks into that sort of gameplay.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the combat is the aerial rave. Each character has launch attacks, and when an enemy is airborne, a green circle will flash indicating the ability to follow the enemy into the air and continue the combo. You can repeat this in the air as well, or press down-X to perform a downward series of attacks. There are also special attacks that can only be executed while airborne, and all of this plays into racking up super-long hit combos. The longer the hit combos, the greater the experience you’ll earn at the end of missions.
There are also three main fighting modes for each character, Yin, Yang and Flash, each offering its own unique move set and attributes. You can also choose to begin missions in what’s called Frantic mode, which allows your character to fight in only their bathing suit. By doing this, you’ll greatly increase your damage output, but your defense is drastically decreased.
One thing to note is that SKB is all about offense. There’s no guard command, though you can dash (which makes you invulnerable for the few short frames it takes to animate), as well as perform a Limit Break, which helps to break through large enemy crowds.
Though you can easily mash your way to victory for most battles, there is ample room for finesse. You just need to make the effort to discover the game’s deeper systems. There are a lot of cool combos and set-ups to fool around with, but it’s buried underneath the game’s shallow exterior.
The levels are very attractive, very Japanese, and Japanphiles should jump on this game with both feet for that fact alone. Backgrounds are detailed, and with a decent SD card (and not putting your 3DS in sleep mode during loads), you should experience a smooth framerate during missions. The character models are really pretty to look at, both during conversations and combat animations, as are the enemy models, though to a lesser extent. There are some really cool little touches, such as cars passing by far in the distance of one level, and there’s ton of variety in terms of the visual fare.
Each character comes complete with their own unique shinobi costume, and you’ll unlock a lot of trinkets at a steady pace as you progress through the two stories. Most of us came for “the plot,” though, and you see it from many different angles. The game isn’t actually all that risqué, but you’re not gonna get jipped out of your fan service, either. As your characters take damage, their clothes will get ripped off. So, even when you lose, you win. And what you can’t get a peek at in combat, you can give special attention to in the dressing room – gyro-controlled and all.
The 3D effect is only turned off during combat, though it comes automatically back on during shinobi-transformation and special-attack animations. Otherwise, the rest of the game is in 3D, and the effect is really well done. That being said, it also hurt my eyes, and though I enjoy the novelty of the effect every once in a while, I mostly play the game with it turned off. I know a lot of the game’s appeal hinges on the idea of 3D boobs, and to that end, you’re getting what you pay for; it’s good, but not exempt from the eye strain the system’s effect tends to cause most players.
Other than the ages of the shinobi students, nothing has been censored from the U.S. version according to XSEED. The panty shots and boob jiggling are as much playful as they are sexy. I think the moral uproar from some folks has been greatly exaggerated, as SKB is a celebration of beauty and female sexuality (and youth), rather than simple raunchiness.
Some folks have reported issues with the framerate and/or lag. Personally, I’ve experienced zero slowdown during combat, though the framerate does tend to get a little sluggish from time to time while moving around the shinobi base. That leads me to conclude these issues are related to whatever SD card you happen to be using, and of course, not all SD cards are created equal.
As a special aside, the music is truly fantastic (if you’re into pop-metal). There is an incredible breadth of content, and the composer even offers his insights into the inspiration for each theme (viewable from the jukebox in the game’s library section). The original Japanese voiceovers accompany the English text, which has been intelligently localized.
I’m having fun with Senran Kagura Burst. I’ve put in quite a few hours with it already, and yet I’m not even close to being finished with it. There’s incentive to complete all missions with all characters in various modes, and if you came for the “moe,” you’ll likely have fun going through the motions. It’s a solid beat’em-up, but it’s not terribly challenging. The combo system is rewarding, and the specials are a blast to look at (and you’ll be looking at them a lot).
But it should be clear that the combat and missions are merely tools for telling the story and unlocking tons of neat stuff. Make no mistake, you can have a lot of fun with the combo system, setting up massive strings of attacks and specials, but the enemies are mostly fodder. As a sexy, Japan-centric, otaku care package, however, this game scores a homerun. Many of us have been begging Japanese publishers to bring these types of niche games over for years, so if you don’t support this effort, then you’re part of the problem.
Two Etrian Odyssey installments in one year. Wow… For a series that is undoubtedly niche, fans certainly aren’t being ignored. And it’s a most welcome addition, no doubt. Though reviewers seem to be downplaying the relevance of Untold’s Story Mode, it’s a surprisingly impactful feature.
So, with The Millennium Girl you get both the good ‘ole Dungeons & Dragons-style Classic Mode, which consists of blank-slate characters you create from a pool of interesting classes, and you also get the new Story Mode, which follows the journey of The Highlander and his companions. The story isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s delightfully entertaining, with ample touches of anime-inspired prose that never go fully over the top.
If you play the Story Mode first, you can then carry the two exclusive classes (highlander and gunner) over into your Classic Mode playthrough, and I recommend you do that. It is unfortunate many longtime fans have opted to completely bypass the Story Mode, as both the premise and storytelling are topnotch. Untold isn’t Final Fantasy Tactics, but it’s obvious a solid effort went into the crafting of its tale. Popular belief is the Story Mode doesn’t fit into what a “true” Etrian Odyssey experience should be, though it only adds to the value of the game, as far as I’m concerned.
That aside, this is still very much an Etrian Odyssey. The focus remains sharply on exploration and character building, and though the skill trees and character classes aren’t terribly exciting in Story Mode, the level design is every bit as fun as past games in the series. You’ll continuously edge your way a little further into each part of the labyrinth (and Gladsheim), discovering tons of interesting tidbits as you progress.
Balancing was a bit more enjoyable for me this time around. Quests offer significant amounts of experience, and the grind is almost nonexistent. Of all the RPG makers around today, Atlus have truly mastered their craft.
But they aren’t perfect, as is evident in almost every game they create. With Untold, my biggest gripe is the lack of multiple save slots. Sure, it’s par for the series, but that doesn’t make it okay. The single slot is even more of a downer here, given the game introduces an all-new mode, which begs for additional experimentation.
It’s also a pain to have to guess about certain elements of the game’s mechanics. Like the recent SMTIV release (which was also excellent by the way – my personal GotY), Untold lacks basic descriptions of various stat elements and such.
And for the love of all things holy, stop with the adjustable difficulty settings. I’m totally on board with giving players options in terms of difficulty, but they shouldn’t be able to change it on the fly – that’s ridiculous. It makes the challenge feel artificial, which in turn can dampen the feeling of reward. Give players difficulty options, and then lock them in. Like I said with SMTIV and Soul Hackers before this, there should be incentives for players to challenge themselves with the higher difficulties, rather than simply being able to flip-flop around.
Last of my complaints is the grimoire system. To be clear, I love the addition of the grimoires in this game, but the system could have been designed a little better. Grimoire stones add skills and abilities to your party members, skills and abilities that can be acquired even from the monsters you battle, and that’s really cool. But synthesizing them is a hassle when you’re wanting to include a stone that’s already equipped to a party member, and there’s no clear information regarding what stacks and what doesn’t. Players shouldn’t have to sift through translations of obscure Japanese wikis for this stuff.
There, I’m done…
Those are relatively few and minor complaints. The rest of the package is completely engrossing. The gameplay is challenging, addicting, and oddly fresh for a dungeon crawler based on mechanisms born from the very first role-playing games. It’s not just the presentational coat of paint, either. In addition to balancing that is inviting enough for newcomers yet rewarding enough for longtime fans, the systems are polished finely and the dungeons are a joy to explore. Full auto-mapping streamlines things while still leaving room for you to notate areas of particular interest.
Building characters is probably my favorite aspect of the game, and experimentation is made easy with the ability to completely re-roll your skills at the cost of two skill levels. I think if Story Mode has one true weak point it’s the classes and skill trees. A lot of skills have been significantly nerfed, and others simply aren’t that compelling to me personally. So, having the ability to break down a character and basically start from scratch is a tremendous boon.
Etrian Odyssey might not have the budget of, say, Shin Megami Tensei or Persona, but Atlus has made more than effective use of the resources at their disposal. The visuals are crisp and colorful, with beautiful animations, and the music, sound effects, and voice work (as is an Atlus stamp by now) lend incredible weight to the overall experience.
There are, of course, some standout themes, such as the cutscene music in the Gladsheim, but there’s also the acquired tastes, like the disco-esque music that plays at the pub. Every tune might not suit every taste, but the orchestrations and performances are stellar.
As pretty as the game is, it does its share of recycling, both in terms of palette swaps for enemies, as well as reusing assets from EOIV. Also, a little more musical variety in battles would have been nice.
It’s kind of becoming the norm these days – don’t expect a printed manual. I’ll be honest and admit I miss it, but I also appreciate the convenience of being able to press the Home button on my 3DS mid-game and quickly look something up without having to put down my system and search for my game box. I only wish the developers had done a better job covering all bases in terms of stat descriptions, mechanics, etc.
In lieu of a printed manual, however, we do get an adorable booklet and CD, along with commentary from key members of the team. The artwork isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea (some folks see lolis, others see chibis), but I really dig it. It’s also worth mentioning that players can choose to play through the game with either the updated soundtrack or the original from the DS game. Classy!
If you’re not a fan of first-person dungeon crawlers and have tried Etrian Odyssey before, Untold might not be for you. That being said, I think the changes and additions here really do open up the series’ appeal. I recommend folks on the fence at least give it a rent and opt in for the Story Mode first. The game still has something of a learning curve, but the barrier of entry isn’t quite as intimidating now.
Veterans of Etrian Odyssey shouldn’t write off the game’s Story Mode. It still feels very much like a dungeon master is leading your adventure, only now your characters come alive. If you’ve recently come off EOIV, I can absolutely see the need for a break. The presentation isn’t all that different from what you’re probably used to. But when you’re ready for more, you can take stock in knowing The Millennium Girl is a very fun and respectable retelling of the very first game in the series.