One of my goals this year was not to pre-order any games that I wasn’t going to immediately start playing, and I haven’t been great about that. So, as the year draws to a close, I’ve been trying to at least knock some of the more shameful ones off the backlog.
That brings me to Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash, which came out on September 26th, just as I was deep in the clutches of Valkyria Chronicles.
The Senran Kagura universe revolves around multiple competing Ninja schools, all training to be the Best Ninjas In Japan. As the series progresses, it’s revealed that the REAL purpose of their training is to become strong enough to fight supernatural beasts called yoma, and the previous Senran Kagura (Estival Versus) revealed the existence of a super-powerful world-destroying yoma named Shin, who is currently sealed but is fixing to bust free any day now.
Peach Beach Splash, then, is all about a water gun competition whose purpose is to build competitive energy in the participants, which somehow strengthens the seal holding Shin back. All of the usual ninjas (and some guest stars) are shanghaied to a tropical island to participate.
Some take it better than others.
Look, none of this is relevant to the popularity of the series, which largely comes from all of the characters being ridiculously-proportioned young women who hit each other so hard that their clothes explode. Let’s not pretend it’s Shakespeare, here.
Given this, it’s hard to imagine how a game about these same ridiculously-proportioned young women in bikinis having water gun fights could be a disappointment, and yet it manages.
To give some context, I am a big fan of the series concept and its heroines. I have bought every game in the series so far – and gotten a platinum trophy in every game released on Playstation platforms – based pretty much entirely on Yomi being the Best Girl, and I will shiv anyone who says otherwise. Unless you are a Mirai fan. Mirai is pretty much Second Best Girl, and I’m cool with anyone who happens to swap those two in their list.
(But it will make Yomi cry)
I spent my gaming time over the last four days playing through the game’s single-player main story mode and the “paradise sessions”, which are little side stories, and kept trying to find the fun in it. There were bright spots, to be sure, in the character interactions that took place between battles…
…but the actual business of running around and spraying opponents never felt particularly good.
Part of that is the ammunition mechanic. Your character has a certain amount of ammo, different water guns use different amounts of it, and when you run out you need to stop and refill from a water reservoir on your waist. This same water reservoir has jets built in to allow you to dash around or fly for short periods. On the face of it, you have a lot of mobility… but, because your ammo and your dashes and your flight all consume the same resource, even a short flight may have you landing and immediately needing to refill before you can try to shoot whatever it was you were flying up to shoot in the first place. It just turns the act of getting around – which COULD have been a joy – into a rather awkward and stilted thing.
I also had a lot of issues with the game recognizing that I wanted to go from “jump” mode into “fly” mode, and I never quite knew whether I was going to lift majestically into the heavens or just make a sad little hop.
In addition, since the same button is used for reloading your weapon OR reviving a fallen ally, I would frequently walk up to a team member on the ground, be sure that I’d lined up to revive them, and wind up locked into a reload animation for a small but critical amount of time. This was made more frustrating by the way that, if a disabled ally happened to land on a potted plant or something, the game really didn’t want me to revive them unless I was at the same level, so I’d need to try to get on to the same potted plant.
Then, there are the water guns themselves. There are 10 varieties, and most of them were pretty awful – either sporting pathetically short ranges or needing to be refilled constantly. The sniper rifle, in particular, used just over half of my water reservoir every time it was fired, so I needed to reload after every shot.
The constant refilling is made worse by the minions. Mooks. Creeps. Cannon fodder. Whatever you want to call them, the generically-weak opponents that you traditionally dispatch by the bucketload in Senran Kagura games. They’re not generically-weak in Peach Beach Splash, especially if you dare raise the game’s difficulty level from the default. They’re lethal, so you can’t ignore them, but fortunately they’re easily dispatched… which drains your water reservoir, meaning that your target BEHIND the minions has the opportunity to get away while you’re refilling or just attack you while you’re stuck in refill mode. There are several missions where I just gave up and went down to the one-star difficulty level to avoid getting stun-locked in a corner and beaten down by trash enemies.
So, now that I have vented adequately about the things I didn’t like, some positive thoughts:
First, as mentioned, I liked the interactions between the characters. This particular entry in the series also brought in characters from some games that aren’t in the main series canon, so you had interactions between, let’s call them the “Earth-1” characters and the “Earth-2” characters and those were fun.
Second, yes, there is much eye candy on display. If you don’t get eye-diabetes from this, your eye-pancreas is working overtime.
Wow, that was one of the weirder analogies I’ve ever made. Let’s just leave it at “there are lots of cute girls in bikinis, and you can play dress up.” Everyone loves playing dress up.
Third, Ayame gets a prominent role! She’s always been stuck minding the store in previous games, and now the shop keeper gets to get out from behind the counter and bust some heads with the rest of the cast.
Plus, you can assign whoever you want to mind the store in her stead, and some of the characters make hilarious store clerks.
Fourth, the final story boss was pretty awesome. If you had any doubts that the whole game was kind of a send-up of Splatoon, the last fight should pretty well dispel them.
Finally, while I really wasn’t a fan of the card mechanic (everything in the game, from characters to weapons to special attacks, is represented by a trading card, and you need to earn cards through missions to get new attacks or to level cards you already have, it’s really weird), the cards themselves have some fantastic artwork. I’m not clear whether they’re recycling art from the Japan-only mobile games or whether it’s all new art for the PS4 game, but building up my card collection and flipping through them was pretty neat.
So, to sum up the last 1100 words, this isn’t a very fun game and I can’t recommend it to anyone who’s not already a fan of the series. If you just want fan service and ninjas in bikinis, Estival Versus is a much better option. If you want a weird spin-off game involving fan service and ninjas in bikinis, Senran Kagura Bon Appetit is a MUCH better option. If for some reason you haven’t played any of the games and wonder where you should jump aboard, there’s a PS4 remake of the original 3DS games coming, and that would probably be your best choice in general.
The post-credits bit for Peach Beach Splash DOES have a tease in it for Senran Kagura 7even, and I’m quite looking forward to that. Presumably we’re finally going to get to fight Shin.