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…
I’m a man of extremes. We started with the origins of video game wankery, so now let’s look at something more modern. You’ll forgive me for not plugging “porn video games” into Google, but, with little to no research, I want to say the Senran Kagura series is currently the most popular “perverted” video game franchise on the market. Since Senran Kagura premiered in Japan in 2011, there have been a total of five games released in the last six years, and that’s five more games than we’ve seen starring Captain Falcon. What’s more, these games have transcended platforms (Vita, Playstation 4, and Nintendo 3DS), which is something very few other “niche games” (euphemism) have achieved (see: the entire Vita library). And, of course, all of these games have made it across the Pacific, so it’s not like we can just claim it’s some “weird Japanese thing”. We wouldn’t have seen Senran Kagura 5 (not actual title) if Senran Kagura 1 didn’t succeed on our shores.
Now, as I’ve said before, I consider myself something of a video game historian, and, even if I know I’m not going to relish a videogame, I usually give it a shot when a price drop inevitably arrives. I have no great interest in Halo, for instance, as I rarely enjoy FPS games, but I own the entire franchise because it is indisputably a part of video game history, and I feel like I should at least try to play ‘em to see what all the fuss is about. No, I’m not playing the games to completion or attempting Legendary Mode anytime soon, but I can at least identify where this Cortana creature that invaded my taskbar originated. Similarly, with Senran Kagura making such a shameful splash, I decided I had to give this franchise a shot.
No… that’s a lie.
Alright, the main reason I decided to start playing Senran Kagura was thanks to its creator, Kenichirō Takaki. Mr. Takaki had a brilliant idea, and that idea was simple: “The Nintendo 3DS’s 3-D effects would be really great for displaying breasts.” Thus, Senran Kagura was born of a simple need to look at boobs. The end.
Frankly, that’s amazing.
The video game industry as we know it currently is, frankly, immature. While I’ve “narrowed” this week’s entries to games that are more overt, it’s rare to go a month without a game release featuring at least one woman dressed… let’s say “provocatively”. Don’t get me wrong, this is a trend that is getting better. But for every heroic Samus we have a damsel Princess Peach, and for every sensible journalist Jade we have an erotic immortal Ivy. And it seems like every time a game developer is asked about this casual misogyny, the answer is something about imaginary empowering, or there was a female developer involved (so it’s okay), or, my personal favorite, “well, it’s not like our men are dressed/proportioned realistically.” Nobody seems capable of admitting that, like every other market on Earth, video games want more straight, white male eyeballs, and Lady Boobington on the cover is going to get some attention. You don’t see Budweiser trying to justify its advertising campaigns with claims of empowerment…
So, when Mr. Takaki admits that he made a video game for the glory of breasts, and nothing more complicated than that, I take notice.
Of course, noticing and actually forking over the dough for a game are two different things. I continued to ignore Senran Kagura until the release of Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! (the exclamation point is theirs). I.. probably would have purchased this game regardless of pedigree, because it was an anime rhythm cooking game, and that’s just bonkers enough to get fifteen bucks out of me. It’s an oddly specific genre.
Honestly, I’m very glad this was my introduction to the Senran Kagura universe. First of all, the plot of this game takes nothing seriously. This is a very good thing. Dead or Alive has some complicated plot filled with death and destruction and ninja and come on, guys, it’s just a breast-delivery vehicle, why so serious? SKBA is about a group of ninja competing against each other… in a cooking contest. And the winner gets any wish she wants. And the goals of these girls? Let’s see here… one character wants to be more approachable, another is trying to win a minifridge so she doesn’t have to leave her room so often, and yet another combatant wants to rekindle her love of beansprouts. And while the stories are “light”, the characters are taken seriously and consistently. Like a fighting game, there are rivalries between particular “fighters”, and the storyline stays consistent no matter which ninja you choose. Overall, while the plot might be ridiculous and fluffy, the game considers the motivations and desires of the characters a lot better than some games.
And, while it seems almost disingenuous to evoke the Bechdel Test for something that’s obvious wankery material, it’s nice that not a single one of these 22 women seem to care about boys. Yes, there are a few ersatz phalli running around (at least one ending features “sushi” that… should not be), but no one in this plot is concerned about man X, boy band Y, or any of the other million “crushing” tropes that usually concern teenage heroines. What’s more, there are a few obvious homosexual relationships floating about the plot, but they’re actually varied, and not all the same lipstick lesbians that pervade porn. I mean, it’s not a stretch to assume that many of these relationships are for the benefit of a male gaze (girls making out! Totally hot!), but at least it’s not all the same lazy interpretation of “girl on girl action” that hangs on dorm room walls.
My secret shame about this game? I want to say it’s my favorite rhythm game on the Vita. Ignoring all the sexual trappings, there’s a very straightforward “press X now” GUI involved with scrolling buttons, and the timing seems completely natural. I initially played this game shortly after playing Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F, and I found this teeny downloadable title much more enjoyable to play than the flagship Vocaloid franchise. What’s more, the music is pretty alright. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s familiar enough to be engaging (a number of songs remix “classics” into character’s themes), and very video gamey, which is unusual in an era when most rhythm games want their tunes to be Now That’s What I Call Music #132. It’s no Gitaroo-Man, but it’s ideal for a boring bus ride, or to advance a few rounds before heading to bed.
But this is Wankery Week, so let’s get back to what we’re all here for, and where Senran Kagura Bon Appétit! fails.
As I mentioned, this is a rhythm/cooking game. While you’re tapping buttons to the beat of a random song, your digital avatar is one of twenty or so ninja girls… cooking. You don’t have a lot of time to view exactly what’s happening (most of these songs have a pretty snappy BPM), but, in general, your ninja are doing typical cooking stuff, like kneading bread, breaking eggs, or just watching a microwave do its radioactive magic. But, this is Senran Kagura, so each cooking session is divided into three rounds, and, for each round, there is a winner and a loser… and the loser loses come clothing. It’s not a straight “strip poker” situation, the clothes grow more and more tattered, leaving only undies for the final round. Also, if a ninja is losing, her facial expression turns to tears. Also, if the player is doing particularly well, the camera will focus more intimately on the “losing” girl.
Add this all up? The visuals for the final round usually involve a camera performing a proctology exam on a woman that is, incidentally, crying. And it really doesn’t help that at least a quarter of the cast is portrayed as really young. There’s a “kindergarten” costume available.
I know I said I wasn’t going to judge kinks this week, but after praising the game so much for its gameplay, I feel like I have to say this: It’s disgusting. At the very least, it’s very, very distasteful.
And, in all honesty, I really don’t understand it.
Like, alright, I get that a lot of people enjoy seeing women in their underwear (let’s not act like I’m some saint, I’m all about that, too). I also get that some people enjoy seeing a woman in pain (or at least “duress”). Crying seems a bit on the far end of the spectrum, but I guess you could slide it into the whole “embarrassment” thing that I know a lot of people enjoy seeing. I can get all that, and, while it’s not my thing, I can understand someone liking that, and wanting to see their particular itch scratched.
But it’s in the middle of a rhythm game. In fact, it’s during the final, most difficult act of any given rhythm game stage. Have you ever played a rhythm game? I can’t think of a genre less conducive to riding the bologna pony. Even fighting games have charge characters (Guile’s theme goes well with everything, wink wink). And this is a Vita game! You need at least one hand just to hold the dang thing, and there’s no rumble feature (don’t know why that just happened to occur to me…).
My point is that this game doesn’t need to give you a timeout so you can bite the wax tadpole, it’s that it decided to throw in some titillation for a very specific audience right when even its target demographic can’t do a thing about it. Sexual imagery is always going to be derisive: literally every adult alive has opinions on where bikinis are appropriate and whether or not women should be allowed to leave the home wearing literal shrouds (funny how these opinions only seem to focus on one gender…). But at least you can imagine someone… enjoying everything from a scandalous beer commercial to Sucker Punch. Here, though, you’ve got the imagery, and it’s going to offend some people, but its admirers… are stuck playing the game and can’t… participate. It’s a seriously weird situation, and begs the question: if you want to make a pornographic video game, why the hell make it a rhythm game!?
Congratulations Senran Kagura Bon Appétit!, you’re an excellent rhythm game that completely fails only when it comes to your advertised appeal.
WW #2 Senran Kagura Bon Appétit!
- System: Vita, home of all the best dungeon travelers and criminal girls.
- Number of players: Would you believe this game has a “head to head” 2-player mode? I still don’t think I know a single other person in my life with a Vita.
- Could you play this with someone else in the room? Technically, yes, as I’ve always suspected the appeal of Vita’s more… interesting titles was that you could play them under the covers and no one will ever know. That said, if someone actually saw you playing a naked cooking game… I doubt it would end well.
- Favorite Song: Hibari’s “I Want to Marry Sweets” is a mix of her theme song and The Wedding March. The Wedding March proper doesn’t really kick in until about the third segment, so every time I hear it, I’m amazed that this is actually happening. Not a song I ever expected to hear in a video game…
- Other Rhythm Niceties: In addition to the previous reasons I listed for this being a very good rhythm game, I feel I need to point out that every song/stage starts with an “introduction” portion that allows you to get the beat before you’re tapping buttons. This is another thing that the Vocaloids need to learn.
- Break Time: If you S rank a stage, you get to see your opponent naked and covered in dessert of some kind. You can move around the camera with the Vita’s gyro sensor. I’m only mentioning this because the game practically tosses up a “you can masturbate now” sign every time. So I, again, wonder why they bothered with the pervert cam during the game proper.
- Did you know? Each of the ninja have a “spirit animal” that influences their attacks in the more combat oriented games. Yagyū, for instance, has an octopus/squid spirit animal. And her “special dish” is calamari based. I… don’t want to consider what this means.
- Would I play again? I really like the “game” portion of this game! Just… not so much looking at all of it, or feeling like I’m “supporting” whatever is happening here. I guess this is one of those “problematic likes”.
What’s next? Just so I can knock ‘em out at once, let’s look at the rest of the Senran Kagura franchise all in one go. Careful, you might go blind. Please look forward to it!