Due to the subject matter of this entire week, some items may be NSFW. We’ve got some PG-13 screenshots here, but, given everyone has a different threshold, anything potentially offensive will be behind the “Read More” links du jour. Just so you are aware
So I’ve covered a number of Beat ‘em Up games over the course of the FGC. I went back and reviewed a couple of those articles before writing this, and I realized something: Beat ‘em Up Heroes rarely wear shirts. Haggar has a suspender strap, Billy and Jimmy Lee are wearing (as far as I see) ab-bearing vests, and when Liu Kang took a vacation from Fighting Games, he didn’t think to pack a top. This tells me two things: one, that Beat ‘em Up Heroes are ripped as hell, and two, they’re generally men. Yes, there’s usually an alternative choice that features the fairer sex, but nobody ever talks about wanting to see Final Fight 4 so we can get closure on Lucia’s story. Does she even piledrive anybody?
I already discussed Senran Kagura Bon Appétit, the rhythm-cooking game from the Senran Kagura franchise. As mentioned, I enjoyed that game’s gameplay (but not aesthetics), so I decided to give the rest of the franchise a try. Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus was technically the “origin” of the spinoff title, and I was rather lacking for new Vita games at the time (and forever), so I tried it, and, what’s more, I enjoyed it. It was more gross pandering, yes, but it was a fun little beat ‘em up. Also, thanks to the camera being more controllable than in the “pretty much cutscene based” Bon Appétit, I didn’t have to stare at some random cleavage all day long. I mean, obviously the cleavage is there, but it isn’t like the camera is eternally investigating the valley.
In time (and mostly thanks to sales), I tried the rest of the Senran Kagura series. The “original” Senran Kagura Burst (technically not the original, but basically the Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo to Senra Kagura Skirting Shadow’s Street Fighter 2) for the 3DS is basically a “classic” beat ‘em up to the bone, and comes off as almost a gender-swapped Streets of Rage. Its technical sequel, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson, adopted the 3-D feel of Shinovi Versus, but maintained the more “technical” aspects of the Burst gameplay, making for a more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, entry in the series. Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, meanwhile, follows the Shinovi Versus format and…
Christ, what the hell am I writing here? This is Wankery Week, dammit, not Gameplay Week.
Let’s try this again.
Senran Kagura is a series about breasts. Everybody knows that. And, frankly, this could be an easy excuse to trot out a bunch of “hot” women, hand ‘em unique weapons, and just let ‘em go to town. But, no, right from the beginning, there’s an actual story here, and characters with wants and needs and families and, just incidentally, ripe sweater melons. As mentioned, the silly spinoff Bon Appétit “bothered” with a (comical) story, but the main entries are (generally) more serious. They’re not Final Fantasy 4 serious (“Did… did I just watch a pair of kindergarteners die to save me?”), but they do take the characters and their tragic backstories serious enough to warrant mention.
So I may as well take the story seriously.
Alright, I can’t do that. Like, okay, consider the character Katsuragi. She’s a busty blonde. She was also abandoned by her parents when they failed a ninja mission and were marked for death. Katsuragi literally does not know if her parents are alive or dead, and fights fiercely to regain her family’s honor so her parents can (hopefully) return to a normal life. She also repeatedly sexually harasses her teammates, enemies, and anything moderately woman shaped in her immediate area. In one game’s “side mission”, she learns to appreciate all the “parts” of a woman, and not just the breasts.
I literally have no idea what to do with that information.
This continues constantly throughout the series. Yagyu is grappling with the grief of a dearly departed sister, and seems to come pretty damn close to raping a teammate as therapy. Hibari (the potential rape victim) is reluctantly trying to become a powerful ninja thanks to an overbearing family, and incidentally acts like a ten year old most of the time. Shiki is another orphan that believes in “the forces of good” even if it brings her to murder, but also talks like a valley girl and would much rather be updating her blog (I can relate).
This happens over and over again in the series. Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is the only game I know of that features a story where the protagonists must fight against an encroaching enormous demon that has already destroyed an entire world, but everyone finds time to have a beach-based bra-stealing contest. A beloved character is coughing up blood! How are we going to deal with… oh, wait, let’s get groped by a giant octopus first, then we’ll get back to that other thing.
I suppose it all goes back to Senran Kagura’s central conceit. This is a series about breasts, but you’ll notice that it isn’t just a series where all the characters are sporting bikinis. No, you have to work for those jiggly bits! Kinda. For whatever reason (breasts), the universe of Senran Kagura features people with the bizarre biological quirk that, after sustaining enough damage, clothes explode. And consistently in the easy to remember sequence of “a little torn” to “really torn” to “just underwear”. In some of the games, this then proceeds to inevitable nudity (though a pair of lens flares always obscure actual naughty parts). For the record, on the rare occasions that men are present (just Deep Crimson, I believe), they’re subject to the same detonating garments, so at least it’s an equal opportunity world. These clothesplosions will only occur for two reasons: you’re doing well, or you’re doing poorly. Win or lose, at least someone is getting (mostly) naked.
And I want to say that this is the appeal of Senran Kagura. It’s classy.
No, wait, that’s completely wrong.
What I mean to say is that Senran Kagura actually incorporates “video games” into its pornographic elements. Yes, Senran Kagura is another game that includes an “art gallery” so you can ogle meticulously drawn anime tig bitties, and, yes, in many of the games you can dress, pose, and play with your dollies in any manner you see fit to screengrab that perfect desktop wallpaper, but that’s just a minor piece of the whole package. 90% of the time you’re playing the game, you’re playing a beat ‘em up with all the familiar trappings of the genre. There are endless hordes of enemies, you’ve got health and special moves to maintain, and, at the end of every level is a difficult boss. There’s even a combo count and air juggling, just like a certain (also eternally shirtless) God of War. The only difference, from a gameplay perspective, between this and other beat ‘em ups is that the characters go from having more clothes than in the average beat ‘em up to much, much less. And that’s all it takes!
See, gamers are stupid. Wait… that came out wrong again. People are stupid. We have horrible, easily exploited brains that love seeing numbers go up. We’re prone to addiction, and, nine times out of ten, the addict can justify pretty much any behavior by claiming something is improving. Drinking makes a stressful day easier to bare. Doing drugs makes any given activity more interesting. Playing video games 24/7 helps me find content for my blog. Pick your poison, there’s a justification. Senran Kagura is thinly veiled porn, and it knows damn well that most people aren’t going to be excited to buy another Custer’s Revenge. But! But what if the naughtiness was just an incidental part of the gameplay? You’re winning the level, and, oh, just incidentally, here’s a naked lady. But she’s not just an object! See, she has a rich backstory full of tragedy and hopes and dreams. This isn’t some low-rent porn meant for Dan Harmon fanfic, no, this is a for-real story and video game… there just happen to be breasts. It’s cool, right? We’re all cool. Nothing wrong here.
It’s not subtle. You know what you’re getting into with Senran Kagura from the moment the game boots up (or even before, considering you can purchase DLC that is various kinds of underwear), but that’s irrelevant. If you’re offended by Senran Kagura’s boxart, you’re not the target audience anyway. No, that target audience wants a game that feels empowering. No one wants to feel ashamed of their kinks (unless that is their kink). Senran Kagura is successful because it enables its audience’s basest instincts with a veneer of legitimacy. In the same way gamers may fawn over Xenogears for being the greatest literary work since Shakespeare when they really just want giant robot fighting times, Senran Kagura fans can point to its (initially) modestly dressed (though not modestly shaped) heroines and serious (ish) plots and claim that it’s about ethics in beat ‘em ups. Look! She’s wearing more clothes than Haggar! Misogyny is over!
The Senran Kagura franchise is full of enjoyable beat ‘em up times. That’s the problem.
WW #3 Senran Kagura Burst, Deep Crimson, Shinovi Versus, and Estival Versus
- System: 3DS, 3DS, Vita, and Playstation 4/Vita, in that order.
- Number of players: Overall, I want to say there are enough of these games with multiplayer modes that I’ll just say “two players”. Estival Versus has its own online, massive multiplayer modes going on and… considering what goes on online in relation to “clean games”, I kinda don’t want to contemplate what goes on in an online community dedicated to this series.
- Could you play this with someone else in the room? You’d have to have some significant shame buffers for that. I’m sure someone could explain the complex, deep plot of Senran Kagura, and how these ninja women are just fighting for a world they love… but like six different characters would have gotten naked by the time that spiel finished.
- We have standards: You can post pictures from Senran Kagura Burst to Nintendo’s Miiverse, but not Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson. But don’t worry! You can still take screenshots for your own… uses… within the game’s dressing room simulator. Just don’t post ‘em on any official Nintendo message boards, apparently.
- Eat the baby: Incidentally, one of the villains in Deep Crimson literally takes a big bite out of a (demon) baby as part of his character introduction.
He is one of approximately four men in the entire franchise. Stereotype much?
- Some other franchises featuring tear-away clothes: Soul Calibur, Parasite Eve, and Dynamite Cop. So I guess the Dreamcast was the last time this skivvy trope wasn’t skeevy.
- Did you know? The previously mentioned Shiki’s name means “four seasons”. Her theme involves references to Vivaldi’s Winter from the Four Seasons suite. See! There are layers!
- Would I play again: God help me, I enjoy beat ‘em up games. These aren’t the kind of games I’d choose if I was going to be trapped on a desert island or something, but I’d rather replay a random Senran Kagura game than God of War. These games are meant to be fluffy, and sometimes I prefer that to a 120 hour “experience”.
What’s next? We’ve done enough looking at breasts. Let’s move down to the belly. Please look forward to it!