The Breast Of Both Worlds
HIGH The main villain’s style is beyond compare.
LOW The lack of danger indicators makes boss fights a slog.
WTF “In this game, we’re ninjas instead of videogame goddesses!”
It was only a matter of time before before the Neptunia and Senran Kagura franchises crossed over.
They’re both about transforming superhero girls that battle monsters, and each one has a main character who’s less interesting than the rest of the cast, but makes up for it by making meta-jokes. The Neptunia series has given up on any semblance of continuity by offering stranger and stranger premises, while Senran is so desperate to avoid moving its narrative forward that the devs would rather turn out countless remakes and spinoffs instead of reaching a conclusion.
It’s a match made in heaven.
Functioning as the exact midpoint of the two franchises, Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars cribs structure from the first half of its title, and gameplay from the second.
Players pick locations from a world map and either take on story missions or complete enemy-elimination requests, but when they arrive in the field, instead of the turn-based battles Neptunia is known for, players will find themselves brawling videogame baddies in real time, as if they were in an SK game.
As is traditional for the Neptunia franchise, almost no explanation is offered for the completely transformed context the characters live in. Players are asked to simply roll with the new status quo and the writing does a great job of weaving beloved franchise characters into a ninja-themed world. The villains are a group of cyborgs who are traveling throughout the Game Industry archipelago, recruiting ninjas left and right so they have a monopoly. They’re themed after PC storefront Steam, making the whole thing a fairly obvious metaphor — is it an attack on companies that let their console exclusives come out on PC? Absolutely! — but it’s all presented with such a charmingly light touch that I can’t imagine anyone finding the attacks too offensive.
Speaking of possibly offensive content, the lascivious barometer is at the level of Neptuinia, rather than the more risqué Senran Kagura. The ninja girls all wear skimpy costumes, of course, but there’s none of the ogling inherent to SK experience — no nude transformations, no clothes destroyed as characters take damage, and no finishing moves designed to suspend naked women in salacious poses. It’s still spicy, of course, but while the combat skews heavily in the Senran Kagura direction, the plotting and comedy is all Neptunia.
Speaking of which, NxSK‘s combat is fantastic. Players select two ninjas for each mission from a roster of up to ten that they’ll recruit over the course of the game. In addition to charms and sub-weapons that can be swapped out for various effects, the ninja girls can equip stat-boosting gems to prep themselves for certain enemy types or resource farming, adding some surprisingly deep customization. Add that the fact that each character has their own exclusive movesets that can be rearranged as necessary, and the result is the most customizable characters either franchise has ever offered.
If Neptunia x Senran has a drawback, it’s the relatively tiny size of levels. Not only are they smaller than the RPG fields Neptunia is generally based around, they’re even smaller than the arenas where SK’s musou combat is set. I suspect that this is a concession to the combat — instead of battling hordes of enemies that collapse in a hit or two before the miniboss turns up, every enemy encounter involves 3-5 tough Neptunia-style enemies, as if this were a turn-based RPG. The game is an impressive melding of the two franchises overall, but this is one area where the merging feels unnatural. Removing the weak musou-style mobs takes away the feeling of power that SK offers, and switching from turn-based to realtime removes players’ ability to strategize how to defeat tougher foes. I got used to the new combat flow, but it’s the one part of the experience that doesn’t feel immediately satisfying.
On one level, I feel a little cheated by Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars — generally we can expect a new Senran Kagura and a new Neptunia every year, so it’s a bit of a disappointment that in 2021 audiences are getting a single game from both franchises. Fortunately it’s an exceptional piece of work. It won’t give players everything they’d expect from either franchise, it has satisfying systems and some of the funniest writing either series has seen in years. This is a good action-adventure, but for fans of either series, it’s absolutely essential.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Compile Heart, Tamsoft, and Acquire and published by Idea Factory and Marvelous. It is currently available on PS4. Copies of the game were obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 35 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed. There are no mutiplayer modes.
Parents: This was rated T by the ESRB, and it contains Language, Suggestive Themes, and Violence. As I mentioned, this is much closer to a Neptunia game than an SK — yes, busty women are squeezed into way-too-small costumes and cleavage is omnipresent, but beyond endless innuendo-laden jokes, it’s absolutely teen-safe. The violence is so cartoony as to be completely non-threatening. There is a creepy, sexually aggressive guy who chases after a young princess, but that’s as questionable as the material gets.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled, subtitles cannot be resized. There is no audio needed for successful gameplay. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.