Review – Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars
Fanservice is a controversial inclusion in video games. Hell, just the presence of it is enough to turn folks away. It’s understandable, but I believe that using sexuality doesn’t make a title necessarily bad. For instance, I’ve reviewed several that boasted scantily-clad women, perverse dialogue, and so much more, only to give it high praise. That’s because the gameplay is what’s important, and having butts and breasts at the forefront shouldn’t change that. Two franchises known for in-your-face fanservice are Neptunia and Senran Kagura. I suppose then it’s only natural to fuse both into an amalgamation of pervertedness, as one does. When I first booted up Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars, the anime opening had me smiling cheek-to-cheek like an idiot. Does the gameplay maintain my glee, or did it leave me frowning?
Before starting, forgo any inclination for an intricate storyline because this here is unadulterated silliness. In typical Neptunia fashion, 4th wall-breaking dialogue is abundant. From poking fun at the various tropes that JRPGs harness, like amnesia, to Nep-Nep referencing what constitutes a protagonist. The self-awareness the four Goddesses display is always a defining facet of the series. Moreover, their playful teasing and banter bring about that lighthearted humour that’s familiar to fans. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes are terrible, and, for the most part, even groan-inducing. Yet, despite that, there’s this odd sense of charisma intact. What helps is the narrative taking the absurdity onboard and never trying to be anything else. It goes full balls-to-the-wall with it, and I appreciate that. Just remember it’s juvenile as hell… they compare breast sizes as a metaphor for strategic combat.
As for the Senran Kagura half of the collaboration, many alterations were made due to Sony’s censorship policy. While it retains the vulgarity, it’s tamer in comparison to what’s found in mainline titles. The perverse content, for instance, isn’t as substantial, albeit still there to a much lesser degree. The girls have been toned down, too, and as a byproduct, lack personality, relying on generic traits such as naivety. Although, that’s more due to the franchise’s generally weak literary prowess, as opposed to censoring. The Neptunia girls are not only more personable but are, far and away, the highlights. Even Vert, who fits the naivety archetype like a glove, feels well-rounded. Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars does still try to sneak in raunchy material under the guise of mere implications. It also takes subtle jabs at said policy to, I’m sure, test the limits.
Now, if you don’t fancy yourself an anime fan, skip this. See, those tried and true characteristics of the genre are littered throughout, with every girl loosely fitting into each. Hell, Noire is straight-up called a Tsundere, while Blanc’s a Yandere – she’ll stab you. If that’s not enough, before a move, the girls shout its name. Or perhaps the fact an in-game scene is a direct callback to a popular show will convince you. There are many commonalities, but what solidifies it is the padding – there’s so much. A lot of exposition could be cut, and the plot wouldn’t be any less shallow. Yes, I concede that it’s understandable, but nothing saves it from becoming tedious. There’s needless commentary that serves no purpose. It doesn’t add substance or flesh anyone out. Like I said, a sense of charisma is evident, but it’s never realized due to the awful localization.
The over-explained dialogue and, at points, poor dialect, makes me believe this was a straightforward translation. By being so, it misses out on a lot of the nuance the English language has. I did like the back-and-forth banter, but would prefer it more if it wasn’t so rough. There are even snippets that, in spite of concise humour, fell short due to loose writing. The effort to ensure a seamless language transition just isn’t there, and it’s painfully obvious. Discussions felt stilted and unnatural, while some gags didn’t land. For example, the horny robot that is shy around women. While I see the joke trying to be conveyed, it’s not delivering. Still, as a bit of silver lining, the writers nailed getting the likeability of the Neptunia girls across. I just wish there was more put into the actual localization too.
One third of gameplay in Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is hack and slash, with each girl doing her best Kill Bill impersonation. The objective is simple: defeat an evil corporation and bring peace back to Gaminjustri. They achieve this by murdering their foes with weapons of various types or unleashing special skills. To use those, they utilize a stamina bar, I imagine, to prevent spamming. One decision the developers made, however, causes this very mechanic to fight against you. See, I’m a kamikaze player and love charging into combat, and I make liberal use of dodging. That’s also tied to stamina, meaning I have to choose between doing that or a technique. There were times I’d try to sidestep, only to fail. Guarding isn’t viable because enemies have no warning before striking. To make matters worse, they spam attacks, contributing to a few unfair deaths and, by proxy, frustration.
Now, here’s the thing about abilities, because when using one, you’re vulnerable and enemies can harm you. Sure, your defense increases and damage is cut by half, but it still adds up. Furthermore, at any given moment, a cluster of foes can come parading at you. It’s possible to be berated by a stream of thrusts and die – this killed me twice. Yeah, on the surface, this doesn’t seem problematic and I’ll grant you that. It only becomes a real nuisance during the post-game challenges or when item usage is void. At that point, health becomes precious and to give away cheap hits because of no invincibility frames is infuriating. I suppose the developers knew this and made sure there were three on-screen most times. Well, the issue then is, anything less than a big group is dull – plenty to slaughter is where the fun lies.
When I wasn’t slicing up watermelon ghosts, I was reading a visual novel. It’s a genre that makes up another third of Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s why I covered the literacy aspect so much. You either hate it or don’t, and while writing quality is known, there are still nitpicks. For starters, character models for every girl exist, but are very rarely used. Instead, lifeless portraits of them all bounce around during conversations. They’re gorgeously drawn, but they don’t get what’s happening across effectively. By animating these scenes, the interactions would feel more vibrant, and body language would help give context. Alternatively, further variation on character artwork would also do. Yes, voice acting should help, but I struggled to comprehend the unexaggerated nuances of Japanese.
Before each level, a certain amount of items get brought in. In other words, if you’ve collected ninety-nine of a certain kind, only ten accompany you. If, during the run, all is consumed, there’s two ways to replenish: by beating the current area, or looting it from an enemy. During normal combat, I rarely had to heal as long as I kept it one-on-one, or even two-on-one. Boss fights, however, are a different story, especially that last one. They demand rapid reflexes, amplifying the dodge issue. Every strike comes in fast, hitting me more often than not. To help alleviate this, there are gems that offer perks – from attack, defence, to hit points. As those level up, the buffs they provide also do so. If that makes grinding a worry, one gem can be allocated between ten girls, meaning it, while still a factor, it’s less so.
Finally, the final third of the gameplay is menu scrolling – there’s a damn lot of it. Accepting side quests, meditation that grants temporary buffs, the shop, selecting formation, and so much more are all done through one. There’s no warnings for new side-quests either, spurring the need to consciously check. Synthesizing gems together to create much more potent versions is, again, tied to a menu. The simulation of chatting with NPCs to collect personal side-quests is, due to the refusal to animate anything besides the action sequences, a Goddamn menu. The almost obnoxious amount of menu surfing breaks up the fast-pace and devolves it into utter monotony. It brings down any adrenaline from battling and kills any momentum. It’s definitely mindless but it’s no longer dumb fun; it’s a chore. If the absurd number of times “menu” is said isn’t a clue, let me spell it out – it’s a problem.
As I’ve already gleaned over, the voice acting is alright, but because it’s a different language, I miss out on inflections. Voice is a powerful tool and can distinguish between emotions by tone shifting. It’s why I firmly believe having body language visible would help, especially in a dub. I do love that some phrases are said in English, with profanity always making the cut – they say it with such conviction too. I also enjoy the soundtrack. It’s a superb marriage of the differing stylings of both games. I adore the Japanese influence with wind instruments like flutes. One excellent detail is that those would play on the eastern portion of the world map. The Western side had tracks with more oomph. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but if it wasn’t, it’s quite the happy little accident. It didn’t alter the experience, but was a fun discovery.
Neptunia X Senran Kagura is flawed, but meets all my expectations. The combat, while fun, is only so when there’s plenty of monsters in an area. It’s for that reason that I can’t help but wonder if a Musou title, much like the main Senran Kagura games, wouldn’t have been better. Then again, with Tamsoft as a developer, I suppose the vision was capturing that Oneechanbara fun.
Due to odd choices, such as having skills and dodging tied to stamina, it severely hampers the fast action and undermines that goal. The character portraits are certainly something to behold, and are quite voluptuous – breasts are everywhere. The level design isn’t, however, with bland environments that resemble those from the PlayStation 2 era. With all things considered, these types of games are rarely masterpieces, but they’re certainly experiences. Besides, sometimes it’s interesting to jump into an out-or-the-box title.
I’d go so far as to recommend Neptunia X Senran Kagura, just to lay eyes on the lunacy. I, however, only do so if it’s found at a good discount. This isn’t worth the full price.
The character models are very well done. Character portraits are beautiful, but the environments are ugly as sin.
One word can describe the immense tedium that surrounds this game and that’s “Menu”. Little strange choices hurt the core gameplay and defeat the fast-paced spirit the developers wanted to nail.
I really like the differences in music from the east and west end of the world map. Sadly, there’s no memorable tracks and, while pleasant to listen to, I’d sometimes throw on a podcast.
Fun Factor: 6.0
This is a game that’s perfect for sessions that last for an hour or two. Due to the same strange choices that affect the gameplay, the fun factor sees itself hindered. Just when I was getting into it, the action would slow down.
Final Verdict: 6.0
Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is available now on PS4.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars was provided by the publisher.