This is my first dive into a full-on w33b brawler, a risk I decided to take due to feeling guilty for overwhelming our very own ‘Mikein2D’ with all ‘Pervy Sage’ related material. Although the thought was there, I decided to drag Mike into another co-op review, mostly to educate me on Japanese outdated need to over-sexualise female protagonists.
Reggie: Mike, as a gamer who’s far more accustomed to the culture of Japanese gaming than I, am I on my own? You are probably the most male feminist I know, am I taking this too seriously? Is there maybe an educational need for some of our readers who, like me, are planted in a western ideology in the industry to take a broader view?
Mike: Straight up? Yes and no. Let’s not pretend the sexualisation elements are aimed at anyone but a particular type of audience, but it would be naive to think this problem is situated within the Japanese games industry. It’s a deep societal level problem that needs addressing in a much more nuanced way. Effectively Senran Kagura is not shy about what it’s doing. It’s honest and whether or not you feel comfortable with this type of fiction is up to the gamer to decide.
However, this whole fixation on the Japanese in terms of sexualisation is at odds with what Western media is doing itself in this regard. This isn’t for kids and it isn’t marketed to them.
The greater problem lies in society’s normalisation of ‘how to treat women’ (something that should even exist as a phrase but unfortunately needs to). Outwardly the West is far worse for pretending this doesn’t happen in my view, but the more global problems worldwide are often equally as bad and, in many cases much worse elsewhere. What we are concerned with here is a niche, animated work of fiction created for late teens and adults, something that isn’t likely to influence anyone, exactly in the same way CoD won’t give me the urge to own a gun. There are plenty of toxic internet groups that would have you believe otherwise, but we need call them out, as loudly as we would call someone out for suggesting women should do the cooking.
Let’s make one thing clear; these games, in modern-day terms, are as much for a Western audience as they are a Japanese one. The whole Otaku culture may well have a unique Japanese flavour, and no one’s pretending it doesn’t come with problems (like literally anything else; violent football fans, toxic gamers or sexualisation of music videos marketed at kids, for example), but some these issues are not as rife in Japanese culture as the Western media would like to portray (that’s not to say ‘doesn’t happen’ but it’s not ubiquitous with Eastern living).
Geeks are still geeks in Japanese society. You wouldn’t see the average Japanese person walk down the street, see a ‘boob mouse mat’ and not wince. This stuff is as weird to them as it is to us.
So, yes, there are better ways to handle sexualised content (see Catherine), but this isn’t a serious game, it’s not meant to be taken seriously and it is completely self-aware, made by Otaku, for Otaku. For me it doesn’t necessarily add or detract to the experience.
There needs to be a respect for the small audience that wants to escape and dive into this silliness for what it is, without being judged accordingly. However, if the other subset of fans ruin the perception of everyone else by being weird about it, it’s those people we should steer clear of. For everyone else, they really shouldn’t concern themselves with it. The problems need addressing, for sure, but we all need to do our bit.
Let’s step away from the politics for a minute though and look at what this actually is; a game. What’s your overall take on the gameplay?
Cut To The Chase… Gameplay!
Reggie: Senran Kagura Burst Re: Newal offers up an initial refreshment to the Dynasty Warriors formula by introducing juggling mechanics and it air-dashes to make quick work of crowd control. With little latency, players will find their Shinobi protagonists obeying their every whim without question, leaving a satisfying battle system that is easy to learn and not to hard to master.
Mike, what games could you liken these mechanics too? How does the overall experience stand up to other titles in the same vein?
Mike: You’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of the fluidity of the combat and the aerial elements do help elevate the base movement to surpass the Dynasty Warriors equivalent. Likewise Musou is by far the easiest and most appropriate comparison. It’s button-mashy, super fast and generally fun. Unfortunately, Burst Re: Newal falls flat on its face when it comes to depth. Yes, there are specific styles for each character, exp-driven movement upgrades and a lot of surface changes. The problem lies in that it doesn’t do enough outside of the base combat or even within the base combat.
This may sound unfair when making a comparison to Musou, which comes with it’s own problems with lack of depth but honestly, there’s little beyond battle a crowd, move on. It’s very much a case of once you’ve played for half an hour, you’ve experienced all the game has to offer in a raw gameplay sense.
What do you think, Reggie Boi Smooth? Are the problems with lack of depth tied to combat alone or is there more to it?
Reggie: For me, Re: Newal’s advances in button layouts and engaging mechanics are let down by the lack of in-game environments and lacklustre character designs. Given it is a product of its time, games were still pretty content packed six years ago. The disappointing use of the same handful of maps completely disengaged me as a player and as someone wanting to know more about the ‘way of the Pervy Sage’, leading me to just giving up on it around five hours in.
Whilst Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal’s plot can draw players in, it’s delivery is a dull and lazy one. Simply displaying endless paragraphs of text in-between chapters without so much as an in-game cutscene to add to player immersion screams a Friday afternoon in the development office. Although, it is commonplace in Japanese niche titles.
Mike: Let’s be fair here though, they don’t have giant budgets for these titles and the cutscene approach is accepted as a perfectly reasonable method of delivering an engaging story for those who are already accustomed to the style. Unfortunately, this game’s story isn’t particularly engaging and, I have to agree, even for the genre, the style of delivery is a little bland, the cutscenes have fairly subdued animation and not a lot going on beyond the speech. I’ve spent far more time with the game but I can’t imagine the extra hours will change your mind much.
I Am… Bland Shinobi…
It’s not all bad though. The story does eventually pick up somewhat but its shinobi melodrama is only par with a fair anime, without particularly standing out.
It’s easy to forget the game’s 2011 (2013 was the Western release) 3DS origins, as this is effectively the plot moved into the newer engine used for Estival Versus. The presentation is as sleek as the newer entries. In terms of content, there’s plenty here with the option to tackle both the Hanzo story and the dark-to-Hanzo’s-light, Hebijo story, as well as the usual wealth of cosmetic unlockables, plus some brand new story content.
For series fans, it’s an easy choice, for anyone else, it’s hard to recommend unless you’re really pining for a bright anime, mindless brawler and won’t find the over-the-top sexualisation (and I really can’t stress just how over-the-top it is) off-putting.
Reggie: The presentation cannot be faulted, with clean menu screens, smooth animations (including outrageous jiggle physics), catchy J-Pop all being complimented with a cell shaded aesthetic, it is a well-rounded package in this regard. It’s not enough to save it for me. Any final thoughts?
Mike: The soundtrack is fun, keeping everything high energy, the anime intro is exquisite and the combat is flashy as hell, though strictly in a presentation sense. But those gains are offset by the pacing and lack of variety in the overall package.
There are worse brawlers but there are far better third person action-RPG titles which better fill this role. For a game that has so much focus on bounce, it can often be very flat.
Overall Score: 6.5/10
Format: PS4 (reviewed), PC
Publisher: Marvelous Europe / XSEED
Age Rating: PEGI 16+
Release Date: 18/01/19 (UK PSN)
Review copy provided by publisher