Fried Take - "Senran Kagura Burst" (2011)

Senran Kagura is a franchise that I've been pretty dubiously curious about since its inception. On the one hand, I like kunoichi stories and brawlers, so combining the two in a portable franchise seemed to be a natural win in my book. On the other hand, the series' purpose seemed more focused on showing three-dimensional anime boob and butt cleavage as opposed to actual fighting, and the plot seemed to be almost non-existent. When one of the 3DS entries was localized, it seemed high time to try it out for myself and see what all the fuss was about.

Now that it's been sprung right in my face, the purpose of this game is entirely clear. And boy, is it a crappy one.

Senran Kagura Burst
Nintendo 3DS eShop
Rated T
Price: $29.99

The basic set-up of Senran Kagura Burst is that a high schoo-... erm, academy, hosts a secret clan of ninjas that protect the peace of the campus, as well as the surrounding area. As you've probably guessed by now, these ninjas are all young girls with perky breasts and pert butts. The term "ninja" is used in a very similar manner to how it is in Naruto, which is to say that all of the characters are loud, wear bright clothing, do flashy special techniques, and aren't really ninjas at all. Together, they stop delinquents and fight the rising clan of enemy ninjas who, of course, do the polar opposite of the main characters. Because reasons.

From that description, then, it's pretty obvious that the game starts to come apart at the seams right at the narrative level. What plot exists here is thinner than the characters' clothing, and shallower than their cookie-cutter personalities. You've got your Klutzy One, your Young One, your Stoic One, and all of the other stereotypes you'd expect from a game of this nature. Disturbingly, there are barely any male characters, and most of the ones there only speak off-camera, taking a backseat to the real focus of this game, which is ogling the female form.

There's no self-lampooning here, either. The translation attempts to be funny, and tries to play up the humor, but the fact of the matter is that the "humor" doesn't go much further than, "hur hur BOOBS", making Beavis and Butthead look like sophisticated intellectuals by way of Camus when held in comparison. When your game opens with a discussion between two large-chested girls (I cannot, in all fairness, call any of these characters "women") about hiding ninja scrolls between breasts or up skirts, it's kind of hard to call any of this writing redeemable by any standard, other than those possessed by lonely, frustrated dudes and middle schoolers. This is compounded by words like "jugs" getting thrown around non-ironically, making me feel like I've stepped in the DeLorean and traveled back to the offices of Don Draper. In short, it's puerile at best, and borderline offensive at worst.

Yeah, I wanted it to end, too.
For one fleeting moment, the thought that there might have been some redemption in the gameplay department crossed my mind. So it's almost a relief that this game is pretty thoroughly bad to its very core. Even as a fan of side-scrolling brawlers, this game is a bunch of repetitive chicanery, trying to fool you into thinking there's something substantive to the chaos. But the more you progress, the more quickly you realize that you are burning through the same stages, doing the same crap over and over again until you get new characters, or a new costume. Mashing the same set of buttons, doing the same transformations, doing the same combos. It's the same issue I took with Code of Princess, but that game actually had some noticeable sense of progression, deep combat, and a good plot to back it up.

The only "depth" offered here is the tawdry gimmick of having 3D breasts and derriere shoved in your face as the girls take damage or transform into their more powerful form, which, as awful this sounds, is somewhat impressive. Indeed, it feels like female assets are coming out of the screen, right at you. This offers some novelty for a few minutes, until the realization dawns on you that the entire point of this game is turning women into shiny objects to either be aroused by or laughed at. While, to some people, that may come across as a bit of a harsh opinion, I'm not sure what else I'm supposed to take away from a game that has used this feature as a selling point. If the developer wanted me to actually take it seriously, they wouldn't have talked about this in such detail pre-release, and in turn made themselves look like a snickering 13 year-old.

Not mention the fact that this game lags horribly at the weirdest times. Combat is largely unaffected, but if you're talking to another character, running around the hub area, transforming, or pretty much anything else, expect the framerate to drop at a pretty awful rate. When this game's central cheap trick is hindered by something like this, and players can't fall back on the gameplay for any refuge, it comes across as looking sloppy and dull. Which is pretty much exactly what it is. 

A rare moment with full attire on.
These bouncy, walking cliches don't even look that great outside of the static pictures and the opening cutscene, because the graphics take away most of the alleged sexiness they're supposed to have. That's due to the fact that it, by and large, infantalizes them to the point of making the cast seem like a collection of twelve year-olds with large breasts, which is what some of the cast already looks like to begin with. A grotesque homunculus between cute and sexy, resulting in an uncomfortable middle ground, even players who are into this sort of thing might feel a bit off about the whole affair, and those unfamiliar with the anime industry's propensity for these types of characters will feel even more uncomfortable. Graphically, the game is done in with repeated enemy designs, including an obese girl that social rights bloggers would have a field day with, dull backgrounds, and jagged textures. It all just looks very dull and flat; perky breasts do not a pretty game make.

Because this translation was likely done on the cheap, due to the fact that many corporate suits likely saw this game for what it was and gave it a shoestring budget, all of the Japanese voices remain, and admittedly, they are largely inoffensive. Characters sound exactly how they look, if that makes any sort of sense, further cementing their cliche status. The soundtrack is pretty unremarkable, neither awful nor great, and the opening ditty is a catchy piece of J-Pop. What should be said, however, that progressing some bits of the story is an incredibly dull affair, with whole pages of awkward, stilted text being read in Japanese. I enjoy visual novels, but this ceases to be similar to those, and instead gives whole storylines told in black pages that overlay the slick 2D character art, while dull music plays and voice actors drone on. It's all very boring to listen to and look at.

2013 has been a pretty important year for women and gaming. Anita Sarkeesian has raised controversy, some valid and some ridiculous. Female characters have improved with excellent titles like Remember Me, Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite. Sexism in the industry has gotten called out more than ever before, and there are definitely more of the fairer sex working on games today. But games like Senran Kagura Burst are giant slaps in the face to this progress. If this tripe is to be believed, women, no matter how strong they might be, are ultimately airheads and objects, who ought to be embarrassed about having breasts, and that embarrassment should be fetishized to the umpteenth degree. Even anime and games with more revealing fan service, such as Kill La Kill or Dead or Alive, are less off-putting than this trashy excuse of a game. In fact, I would go so far as to say that pornography isn't as offensive at a conceptual level as SKB.

And she's one of the older-looking ones.
Senran Kagura Burst is a dull game built upon a moronic and inane premise, further marred by technical problems, bland graphics and a soundtrack that is a collection of uninspired pop-rock pieces. Fans pushed significantly for this game to get brought over, and I was one of them. Now that I've spent my money on it, I can fully assert that I resent myself for having any hopes for this game. It's nothing more than sub-juvenile humor masquerading as a video game, making games like Saint's Row IV look like a Cormac McCarthy piece, and further providing ammunition for more vocal critics of my hobby.


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