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In Defense of the ‘Senran Kagura’ Games’ Sexy, Clothes-Ripping, Jiggly Action

In Defense of the ‘Senran Kagura’ Games’ Sexy, Clothes-Ripping, Jiggly Action:

There’s an entire genre of games based mainly around beating up as many enemies as possible. Understandably, this genre is popularly known as the “beat ‘em up.” And these games have changed a lot over the years.

In Senran Kagura, for example, every character is a sexy cartoon woman who sheds her clothes as battles progress.

Simple, entertaining beat ‘em ups like Double Dragon, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage—the games I grew up with—have gone from cultural icons to relics of a former era. It’s an understandable progression. As more games make beating up anyone and everything part of the central concept, it’s difficult for simple beat ‘em ups to find success unless a developer does something that really makes it stand out. Sensationalism is one such gimmick, and that’s where the Senran Kagura series comes in.

The series follows a number of high school girls who also happen to be ninja. They attend rival schools and usually find themselves facing off against one another. In the forthcoming Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, all 20 girls find themselves transported to a mysterious resort in another dimension for the Kagura Thousand Year Festival. It’s reminiscent of the Japanese Obon or Mexican Day of the Dead holidays, as family members that have passed on are reappearing before the women between and during battles.

But really, it’s an excuse to play as scantily clad, buxom, female ninja. Because that means you get to watch them beat up other ninja until their clothes get torn apart and the defeated characters disappear, complete with exclamations and hammy reactions from the characters as it happens. Lewd, right? That’s exactly what the developer is going for. Senran Kagura: Estival Versus trades in shock value and appearances.

Is it crass? Raunchy? Insulting to women and your intelligence? Yes. People will see it that way. But I think the game’s frantic fighting and the satisfaction that comes from delivering serious beatdowns to massive numbers of enemies outweigh that.

LOOKING OVER MY SHOULDER

Even so, I’ll admit to some embarrassment when playing Senran Kagura: Estival Versus at E3 2015. My character, a kimono-clad ninja named Yumi, had to defeat a trio of similarly adorned sisters. I wasn’t in any danger, because I’m a master at these sorts of games, but every time Yumi landed major damage on one of her foes, the game would show a brief scene where another article of clothing tore off.

Really, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus took a moment to pause and show the female character looking shocked as something flew off before getting back to the game.The first time it happened, I self consciously looked around to see if anyone was going to think less of me for being party to such a thing. (The booth attendant only looked bored.) By the third time, I stopped caring. Desensitization kicked in. My mindset became, “Let’s humiliate these chicks before they literally knock Yumi’s socks off.” The game made it inviting, because it was so much fun to play once I’d overcome the initial discomfort.

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, and the series as a whole, has reached a point where it’s so gratuitous, it’s laughable. It’s a self aware situation where everyone is in on the joke and isn’t above pointing it out. The ”Looney Tunes effect,” where so much violence and ridiculousness prevents you from taking anything presented seriously, has kicked in. There’s innuendo. There are inside jokes. Characters are going out of their way to strike physically impossible poses. I like to imagine members of the Marvelous Inc. development team got together to create some character designs, write some off-color jokes and write a nonsensical story, reviewed what they had, then decided how much further they could push it and still get it on video game systems.

I’d like to imagine that’s how the lingerie lottery came into existence. Yes, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus has a lingerie lottery. The game lets people plot out every character’s outfit from an array of options. In-game currency can be spent on a lottery that gives random unmentionables. They’re deadly killers, but let’s go ahead, get everyone the frilliest swimsuits possible and send them out to fight in that.

It’s a hook, as much as the more legitimate customization, combo systems, and real gameplay elements found in the game. Tearing through hordes of enemies like some sort of superhuman heroine is great, but not always engaging. Saying there are 20 playable characters, each of whom has unique abilities and different specialities that make them stronger, faster, or more solidly built than others, might not pull people into the game. Knowing that chaining together attacks with specific button presses can lead a character into unleashing a more lethal combination attack against an opponent doesn’t impress, because so many games offer that same element.

The fact that characters’ strengths and defenses are altered based on what they’re wearing isn’t as interesting as the fact that, hey! At one point they might not have on much at all!

COURTING CONTROVERSY

The companies behind Senran Kagura are showing off the images that will make people gasp. The out-of-context shots with tons of skin are the ones being circulated (and to be fair, in context they aren’t much better). People will be drawn to Senran Kagura: Estival Versus because of that, and they’ll play to see such things firsthand, then realize as they’re playing that this is a more than competent brawling experience.

The game is genuinely entertaining, not because of the half-naked women or sometimes crass commentary, but because fighting other characters is fun, attempting to do so much damage that opponents’ clothes are irreparably damaged is a real challenge, and sometimes the questionable script has some hidden gems that make you laugh and think.

A little pandering makes Senran Kagura: Estival Versus relevant. It’s cashing in on controversy, in the hopes people will play to see those shocking moments. It may not be the wholesome decision. It definitely turns some people off of the Senran Kagura series. Still, Marvelous Games and XSEED Games have a vision, and it’s worked for them so far. Given the options in *Senran yet when it comes out this winter.


Jenni Lada is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Michibiku, Copy Editor at G4@Syfygames, and a Contributing Writer at both CheatCC and Siliconera.


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