Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal (PlayStation 4) Review

By Justin Prinsloo 12.03.2019

Review for Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal on PlayStation 4

It's stylish, it's campy, it's more than mildly inappropriate: one of the most divisive guilty pleasures in gaming has returned and is just as risqué as its forebears. Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal is a remake of the Nintendo 3DS exclusive, Senran Kagura Burst, one of the first entries in the eight-year-old series. The original side-scrolling brawler has received a facelift that is more in line with the styles of the recent Shinovi Versus and Estival Versus instalments, which saw the series boosted into the fringes of the mainstream due to its musou-like combat, and the fact that the games pack enough fanservice to make a beetroot blush.

Senran Kagura games have generally received poor reviews from critics, due to their average performance in key areas, but great reception from fans, having established a cult following thanks to their lewdness and risible tone. Anyone expecting a departure from the large-breasted ninja girls with questionable morals in this remake will be left disappointed: Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal is more of the same from developer XSEED Games, who have established a niche, and seem intent on sticking to it, political correctness be damned. There are some surprises along the way, however: Burst Re:Newal manages to shake things up just enough to hint that there might be more to the series than just a pretty assortment of… um, faces.

As a remake of one of the first Senran Kagura games, Burst Re:Newal is logically a great entry point into the series for new players. While everything from the combat to the interface has been revamped for the PS4 and PC, not to mention an understandably significant graphical upgrade, the story has remained largely the same as the original and serves as an introduction to the warring shinobi schools Hanzō Academy and Hebijo Academy, who brand themselves as "good" and "evil" shinobi, respectively. Both schools have their own campaign which runs alongside the other, and the two can be switched between and played in any order.

The player controls each of the shinobi girls in turn, all of them boasting unique abilities and strengths. The combat is intuitive enough that the characters can be cycled with little difficulty, but deep enough that each still manages to feel unique. This is one of the main achievements of the game, so it's a crying shame that the level design is about as dull as has come to be expected of Senran Kagura. The environments are mostly plain, with only a few breakable objects here and there, and mission variety is almost non-existent. All of the levels amount to fighting a few waves of enemies, sometimes with a boss at the end, or simply having an outright boss battle from start to finish. Needless to say, this sorely lacks additional modes such as Timed and Survival, and the slow menu navigation is grossly at odds with the fast pace of everything else.

Screenshot for Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal on PlayStation 4

The levels are sadly as short as that description indicates. Burst Re:Newal can't really be considered a musou due to the small scale of the battles, but this in itself isn't a bad thing: the combat is smart and focussed, punishing blind button mashing. Countering enemy attacks is a big part of the experience, incentivising battlefield awareness, and players who have experienced Shinovi Versus and Estival Versus will find the bulk of the mechanics at once familiar.

There is a glaring flaw amongst all the good things that can be said of the combat, however: the AI is far from convincing and is at times downright rubbish, with enemies getting stuck on walls and subsequently breaking the flow of a combo. Another niggle is that the combat often never lasts long enough to hit full flow, being severely hindered by the short levels. Most of the missions last only four or five minutes, with just as much (if not more) menu navigation in between. It's a good thing, then that the story is compelling enough, and the characters three-dimensional enough to warrant seeing it through to the end, and even though the levels are short, there is an impressive wealth of them, with over eighty main missions and a fair few side quests as well. It is by no means a small experience, but the diminutive levels unfortunately make it feel that way, and the breakneck pace of the decent soundtrack has limiting appeal when each track can hardly be enjoyed for a few minutes at a time.

For the first few hours there seems to be little appeal besides the frequent display of ample bosoms and almost-nudity, as the shinobi girls (and they are girls, none being over the age of 18 - more on that later) do battle by trying to outstrip each other. For players who like their sexual themes a little subtler and a little less pervy, this may be an instant turn-off. However, once the story picks up and the characters' backgrounds come to the fore, some big themes come into play that are juggled quite well for a game that otherwise appears to be nothing more than bawdy.

Screenshot for Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal on PlayStation 4

While the story of Burst Re:Newal is on the surface a tale of good and evil, exactly what constitutes 'good' and 'evil' is constantly called into question. It may sound surprising for a product that is morbidly fascinated with the female form, but there's a nuanced and complex approach to these opposing sides. Without straying into spoiler territory, the story debates what is truly moral, questioning the societal perception hereof. This isn't exactly unbroken ground in modern storytelling, but what makes it unique is the fact that it feels at home among the subject matter, and nearly - but not quite - overshadows the fanservice.

In amongst this tale of ethical grey areas is a cast of well-written, three-dimensional characters that come across as more than just the sexualised caricatures that they initially appear to be. Hibari, for example, is crippled by anxiety over being "dead weight" to her friends. Homura's philosophical plight as she comes to terms with the merits of evil, as it were, is also particularly impactful, as is the camaraderie amongst the characters as they battle their respective demons.

Other big themes such as poverty, depression, and sexuality are tackled with a respectable amount of care, and in a manner that always manages to feel sincere. Again, this is particularly commendable given it has to vie for dominance with the fanservice. Perhaps aiding the delivery of these themes is the fact that they unfold almost entirely through a visual novel-like format, with walls of text being the vector while the lewd imagery takes a break. These segments do break up the pace a bit but are mostly compelling, and the already jarringly short levels don't suffer too much from this further disruption to the pace.

Screenshot for Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal on PlayStation 4

Now, carrying on from the earlier observation on the age of the protagonists: many of the main characters are minors and age between 16 and 18, and there is no difference in the sexualised portrayal of the underage characters. This casts a dubious shadow over the reckless sensuality that steeps their depiction regardless of their unrealistic proportions. However, Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal is, at the end of the day, a videogame, and hardly caters to a sense of realism. Besides, the questionable subject matter is in fact one of the series' main draws for fans.

That being said, Sony has taken steps to censor the 'Intimacy Mode' on the PlayStation 4, even though it is still present on the PC version. This mode sees players able to get hands-on - literally - with the girls by viewing each of them in a gallery of sorts and manipulating their bodies with a pair of virtual hands. The fact that Intimacy Mode was omitted from the PlayStation 4 release has ruffled none too few feathers. Effort is clearly being made on Sony's part to allay the issue of sexualisation, but the manner in which it was done - censoring a game that has plenty of raunchy imagery elsewhere - has been branded a little underhanded and unnecessary, despite the fact that most critics of this move expressed no interest in using Intimacy Mode in the first place. The issue here is the seemingly sporadic nature of censorship, and so it's good to see the gaming community taking Sony to task on it.

Morals and ethics aside, Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal is fleetingly enjoyable, with its decent combat being neutered by issues like dodgy AI, poor mission variety and disappointingly short levels. The story is surprisingly good and makes a valiant effort at holding up the rest of the game, and the characters are deep and interesting, despite the fanservice that overshadows most of their other attributes. Overall this is a very niche game that not everyone will enjoy but for those who do, it makes a strong case for being one of the best entries in the Senran Kagura series, with plentiful content and consistently stylish presentation offering a reason to keep coming back for more.

Screenshot for Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal plays it safe with the series' established formula, which is ironic considering these titles are anything but safe. The series has always stuck to its roots and embraced the perverseness that in equal measures repels and attracts gamers, and this entry does little but remind the gaming world that these games exist. Aside from Burst Re:Newal being a ground-up remake, there's surprisingly few innovations to take the series into uncharted territory, but the combat is nevertheless enjoyable, and the story interesting enough to just about support the weaker points of the experience.

Developer

Marvelous

Publisher

Marvelous

Genre

Brawler

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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