This time around, I’ll be musing about a game from my fairly extensive collection – this particular series is the precursor to Valkyrie Drive, and for this post I’ll be focusing on the first game in the series that got an international release.
“Every light casts a shadow. This is the basic principle of Yin and Yang.
Yet, even within the depths of the shadow, there is still light.
Since time immemorial, evil shinobi have specialised in assassination and subversion for politicians and corporations. Meanwhile, good shinobi have worked on behalf of the various nations.
Some would say the evil exists in the shadow, while the good exists in the light.
But, are the differences between the two so great?
Both must hide their true selves from the world, and both must do the things ordinary people cannot.”
Let’s go back in time, to March of 2010 – when Nintendo first announced the 3DS. A month after that, Kenichiro Takaki believed that what people most wanted to see in 3D was breasts – and as such, he began work on Senran Kagura.
Kenichiro Takaki produced Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows – this one never saw release outside of Japan as a standalone title.
However, it was one half of Senran Kagura Burst, which gave us all the Skirting Shadows content and added a new story and playable characters with the Crimson Girls content.
The story of Senran Kagura Burst focuses on the two different schools, and the clashes they have as their ideals clash.
Senran Kagura Burst is a side-scrolling brawler that the official website calls both 2.5D and 3D. As you might expect of a brawler, you get fast punches, mid-air attacks, combos and super attacks.
As characters take damage in battle, their clothes will tear and those unfortunate enough to sustain enough damage will find themselves stripped down to their swimsuits.
Across both the Hanzō and Hebijo stories, there are a total of 140 missions to conquer. Only a handful are required to advance the plot; the others are optional missions you can take on in order to increase the characters’ levels even further. The story is told through a combination of a visual novel format and in-game cutscenes, and the game retains its original Japanese audio.
As you play through the game, you’ll gain access to 72 different costume sets. These include school uniforms, swimsuits and ninja uniforms. You can even change the characters’ hairstyles, giving you access to plenty of different looks.
When you start the game, you can choose to either play through the Hanzō or Hebijo storylines. First, let’s take a look at the Hanzō story, which makes up the Skirting Shadows section of the game.
Hanzō National Academy is the premiere school for good shinobi, which is directly funded by the government. Girls who attend the academy are trained to uphold peace, justice and love.
You control five different trainee shinobi through the game, who all attend Hanzō Academy. Hanzō Academy is a school for good shinobi. The five shinobi who attend the school are Asuka, Ikaruga, Katsuragi, Yagyū and Hibari.
All five hail from good shinobi backgrounds, though they do struggle with choices that are laid out before them as the game’s plot plays out. Turns out following the path of light may not be as easy or righteous as one might expect…
Asuka, voiced by Hitomi Harada, is a cheerful girl who is dedicated to the path of the shinobi. Being the granddaughter of the legendary shinobi Hanzō, she strives to live up to his legacy. Asuka is a loyal friend, and her fellow Hanzō Academy students see her as their leader.
In battle, Asuka’s weapon of choice are a pair of wakizashi, whilst her favourite food are futomaki rolls.
Ikaruga, voiced by Asami Imai, is an honour student and heir to a wealthy family. She very much plays the role of big sister to the other Hanzō Academy students, especially with her thoughtful and kind attitude.
The sword she wields is called Hien, and it was passed down to her from her family, despite being adopted. Her adopted brother, Murasame, is jealous of this. When it comes to food, Ikaruga prefers Japanese cuisine.
Katsuragi, voiced by Yu Kobayashi, is headstrong, but also heartfelt. Though she is well intentioned, she will occasionally say the wrong thing. Fortunately, her friends forgive her for this, as they know she means well. She relies on deadly and powerful kicks to fight.
Katsuragi’s weapons are ‘Kicks of Fury’, whilst her favourite food is ramen.
Yagyū, voiced by Kaori Mizuhashi, seems to come across as something of a loner. However, she is very fond of Hibari, simply because she seems to understand her. Despite keeping to herself more often than not, Yagyū is always willing to lend a hand to her fellow Hanzō Academy students.
Yagyu wields a bladed oilpaper umbrella in battle, and her favourite food is dried cuttlefish.
Hibari, voiced by Yuka Iguchi, excels at gathering intelligence. She has a sweet and childish demeanour, and can often be clumsy. However, you’d be hard pressed to find truer friend than her, and despite appearances, she is a skilled shinobi too.
In fights, she relies on the “Odd Pummelling Martial Arts Style”, which makes use of random movements in order to throw opponents off-guard. Hibari is a lover of sweets.
Kiriya, voiced by Keiji Fujiwara, is a teacher at Hanzō National Academy. After a tragic incident with a former student, Kiriya tries to not get involved too much with his current shinobi-in-training for fear of history repeating itself. He does teach his student everything he knows, whilst ensuring they get the independence to be strong on their own.
The story of Skirting Shadows starts with Asuka and the others training, but it soon introduces the girls of Hebijo. At first, the Hebijo students are just tough enemies for them to overcome, but with each fight they have, the Hanzō students come to realise that the Hebijo students are exactly that – students. But since the Hanzō students are the heroes of the Skirting Shadows story, we don’t really learn too much about their foes.
That’s where the Crimson Girls storyline comes into play – it allows you to control the five students of Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy – Homura, Yomi, Hikage, Mirai and Haruka.
The principle that this school was founded upon is “Where good favours few, evil accepts all.”
The training at Hebijo Academy is incredibly harsh, with many of those who train there losing their lives. Of course, those who are able to survive the training become formidable shinobi.
The five members of the Elite class all hail from different backgrounds, but they build strong bonds regardless.
Homura, voiced by Eri Kitamura, is the head of the Hebijo Clandestine Academy Elite class. She seeks to become stronger by any means necessary. She tends to be pretty rough at time, but she also has a surprisingly softhearted side as well.
Homura wields six swords in battle, and carries a seventh sword that she has never used. As you may guess, that certainly changes over the course of her story. Homura prefers Japanese food.
Yomi, voiced by Ai Kayano, has a regal air about her, but she’s worrying about how she will get her next meal. Being from a poor background, she tries to live her life to the fullest whilst being strong and cheerful. She also has an intense hatred of the wealthy, and as such despises Ikaruga with the very core of her being.
Yomi wields a colossal broadsword in battle, and her favourite food are bean sprouts.
Hikage, voiced by Ryoko Shiraishi, only ever has a neutral expression that makes it hard to gauge just what she is thinking. She herself says she has no emotions, thus coming off like a machine. This does make her an efficient fighter, though her enrolment in Hebijo Academy has sparked an interest in emotions.
Hikage wields knives in battle, and she does not have a favourite food.
Mirai, voiced by Saori Goto, is the only 1st-year student in the Hebijo Academy Elite class. She tries to present herself as an adult, but her both her personality and appearance both show she has a lot of growing still to do. One of her biggest annoyances is being ignored. Mirai was actually a good shinobi before, but her circumstances led her to Hebijo where she became an evil shinobi. Being in a class of older girls daunted Mirai a bit at first, but she formed close bonds with all of them over time.
Mirai’s weapon of choice in battle is a machine gun-brella, and her favourite food is stew.
Haruka, voiced by Megumi Toyoguchi, is a puppet master. She thinks of herself as a queen, and she certainly has plenty of admirers who share that train of thought. She does actually care for her true friends, and always has the well-being of her fellow Elite class members in mind.
Haruka likes to perform experiments, and as such she uses ‘steamy chemical warfare’ in battle. Her favourite food is dried kelp.
Suzune, voiced by Suzuko Mimori, is the teacher of the Elite class at Hebijo. She is always cool-headed, and takes her teaching duties seriously. A top-ranked shinobi who prefers to take a hands-off approach to teaching her students, though she cares deeply for them.
With the plot and characters introduced, let’s take a look at the gameplay. First of all, the respective academies serve as the hub of all operations.
From the hub, you can do things such as change character, save the game, use the dressing room and many other things besides. You’ll usually return to the academy between missions, though there are times when the plot may prevent that.
The visual novel segments of the game serve to add depth to the game’s world, as it is through those that the characters’ histories, inner thoughts and daily struggles are divulged. Of course, it would just be a novel if there was just words, so there is also artwork to go along with the stories.
Adventure sequences show the girls interacting with and challenging each other, and these serve as the introduction for each stage. As previously mentioned, these sequences have the original Japanese voice-overs with English subtitles.
Of course, the heart of the game are the action sequences. This is where you take control of the good or evil shinobi to battle others, across a whole host of missions.
The dressing room is pretty much an essential feature of any Kenichiro Takaki game, and Senran Kagura Burst was the first opportunity many western fans had to experience it. Each shinobi has three parts to their costume: uniform, swimsuit and shinobi uniform. By completing missions and gaining titles, you can unlock new clothes. There’s a variety of clothing on offer, and with the addition of accessories you can give each girl her own unique style.
As you customise a girl’s outfit, you can view it in 3D on the top screen. A movable camera allows you to check out the character’s clothes from all kinds of angles, and you can also try blowing into the 3DS’s microphone for a surprise.
In battle, each shinobi uses her own unique style and attacks to defeat her foes. All characters have access to both weak and strong attacks, which can be chained together in order to rack up huge combos. The higher your combo count, the more experience points you gain. If you knock an enemy into the air, it is possible follow them and perform an Aerial Rave. This allows you to deal damage while airborne.
Clothing damage is a major part of this game, so much so that it is even touted as a feature. Taking damage lowers the durability of the girls’ clothes, and once they’ve received enough punishment they will tear off. A girl reduced to fighting in nothing but her swimsuit will take more damage.
Attacking enemies will build up a Ninja Art gauge. Once it is filled enough, the girl can perform a Shinobi Transformation, complete with transformation sequence. Being transformed gives the girls access to special moves called Secret Ninja Arts, which deal more damage than normal attacks. The girls have different Secret Ninja Arts based on whether they are in the air or on the ground.
In the game, there are three different “Balance” attributes: Yin, Yang and Flash.
Yin mode can be accessed by pressing L and R at the same time at the beginning of a mission. By doing this, the character you are controlling goes Frantic, and strips down to their swimsuit. Yin mode grants access to longer combos, Yin moves, greatly increased attack power and increased short dash. There are drawbacks, however: your defence is greatly reduced, and you can only use Limit Break when surrounded by light.
Yang mode is what you get when you perform a Shinobi Transformation. Through Yang mode, you get longer combos, Yang moves, an extra Aerial Rave loop, and increased short dash speed.
When a character masers both Yin and Yang modes, they are able to use Flash mode. This is a mix of both attributes, which increases attack and defence by up to 1.5 times, increases the short dash invulnerability, makes it easier to build the ninja gauge, makes limit breaks use less health, makes Aerial Raves infinite and allows strong attacks to break an enemy’s guard. The only downside? You cannot go into Frantic mode – and even then, I don’t feel like that is too much of a loss.
That covers what the game is about, so I suppose I should share my thoughts on it. One issue that is inherent in practically every game of this genre is that sooner or later, it will become repetitive. In its purest essence, you are just hitting buttons to make the enemies on the screen disappear. The different characters and their fighting styles can vary this up a bit, but all that may really change is just how you press the buttons.
Saying that, I really enjoy this genre. Perhaps it’s the feeling of effortlessly being able to mow down hordes of enemies with some flashy special attacks thrown in for good measure. I’m aware that it won’t appeal to everyone, but fortunately, I am not everyone.
I like how Senran Kagura Burst presents two sides of the same story, though the whole ‘Hanzō Academy only being able to win because their enemies were holding back’ comes up far too often for my tastes – even in subsequent games.
In the Skirting Shadows storyline, the Hebijo students are little more than tough enemies for the Hanzō students to overcome. However, in the Crimson Girls story, they actually receive character development and we get to see them interact with each other. This immediately makes them a more interesting bunch, and leads to some interesting rivalries between the Hanzō and Hebijo students.
The two stories may be differing perspectives, but there are also changes to certain plot points – one in particular involving Hibari.
The characters all have their own unique charms, but I’d have to say my favourites are Asuka and Homura. I guess I’m just pretty fond of the leader type characters, and it helps that their fighting styles involve swift attacks. I’ve always preferred speedy characters over power and technical types. It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that I ship the pair of them – in fact, they are my favourite pairing in Senran Kagura. They motivate each other to grow stronger, whilst showing genuine concern towards each other.
Another character I’m particularly fond of is Mirai. She simply wants to be recognised, and works hard towards that goal. Or perhaps I like her is for some other reason, I don’t know…
Going back to ships for a moment, the only other one that I really support is Yagyu and Hibari. Though Yagyū’s desire to protect Hibari borders on obsessive, they do manage to work things out by the end of the game. The reason for Yagyū’s feelings towards Hibari come from some pretty interesting circumstances.
Haruka also gets a few moments with Hibari, but I definitely feel Hibari is far better matched up with Yagyū.
Both Hanzō and Hebijo have one extra playable character on their rosters, who you can unlock after playing through both main storylines. I won’t say who they are here, but perhaps one of them has already appeared in this post…
Senran Kagura Burst also shows you a completion percentage, and getting that up to 100% requires the following: clearing every story mission with all five initial characters, getting all characters (including the two unlockable ones) to level 50, and clearing every mission at least once with an A rank and once in Frantic Mode. With both stories having 70 missions each, this may take a while. 100% completion is totally optional, but if you want to completely conquer the game…
Providing you don’t mind the fanservice, Senran Kagura Burst is an enjoyable side-scrolling brawler, and something I recommend for fans of that particular genre. It’s by no means a perfect game, but it is certianly a fun way to kill some time.