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.