Being new to both franchises, I was going into this game completely blind. I had no idea what to expect, all I knew was that the trailer looked awesome. I’m sure fans of the characters were really excited to see them all in one game together. The Neptunia series has 14 titles, and Senran Kagura has 9 (not including DLC), so they’re both well-established. I was excited at the chance to do a Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars review for PS4, as I was intrigued to find out what had made both of these franchises so popular. The game was worked on by Marvelous, who also made Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town which I played earlier this year and really liked. It’s also published by Idea Factory, who put out loads of great JRPGs.
The gameplay was very different to what I’m used to, as I rarely play RPGs that are so story-driven. There’s a lot of dialogue in this game, so the pacing felt slower than I usually enjoy. However, once I acclimated to the concept, I found myself being drawn into the rich world that has been created. Whilst not without its flaws, Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars (henceforth referred to as NxSK) is a stellar example of its genre. There’s so much to say about it, so let’s get into it!
Without delving into the realm of spoilers, I can say that the story is gripping and evolves the more you play. We’re introduced to the world of Gamninjustri, where two competing factions battle for control. The Compa style ninjas of Heartland are at war with the Honeypa style ninjas of Marveland, and neither one will cede victory. However, their usual rhythm is interrupted when mysterious mechanical ninjas begin to attack both regions. Suddenly, old enemies have to team up if they’re to have any hope of defeating the Steeme Legion. The villains are formidable, and have a commanding presence on screen. As a player, it’s exciting to watch.
I think NxSK does a fantastic job of setting up the lore for this world. Admittedly they have a lot of time to do this, as the majority of this game is dialogue/ cut-scenes. However, it’s still impressive, and the game writers deserve to feel very pleased with themselves. Ninjas are a really fun archetype, and it was cool watching everything play out. I think the pacing was a little slow, but that’s coming from the perspective of someone unused to the genre. If you enjoy visual novels, you’ll probably enjoy this, as it combines a great story with intermittent combat and exploration. You have the option to skip the dialogue, but why would you?
I also love that the game breaks the 4th wall regularly. Neptune seems very aware that she’s a protagonist in a video game, and sometimes speaks directly to the player. It’s a trope you see fairly often in TV, but rarely in games, and it was a delightful surprise. It made me laugh, and made me feel like I was really part of the story.
Whilst I can’t speak for how true they are to the established characters, I thought NxSK put a lot of work into characterisation. Everyone has a unique personality that comes through clearly in their dialogue. There are a good mix of peppy characters and moody ones, and it’s trope-y, but not in a bad way. I like the way they interact with each other, as well as with the overall story. I will say that sometimes I find the choices of dialogue to be concerning, but I’ll address that later. However, for the most part, I like the way the characters are written.
Neptune especially is a really fun character, and I love her friendly attitude. She’s sweet, funny, and easy to root for. Although I’ve never played any other games in the Neptunia series, this makes me want to. She’s such a likeable character, and I want more of her!
I also love the villains. They’re malicious, and driven, and very powerful. Whilst deep, morally grey villains can be interesting to see, I much prefer unambiguous villains in games. As such, Yoh Gamer, the leader of the Headshot style ninjas the Steeme Legion was ideal. If I’m taking someone down, I don’t want to feel empathy for them. I want to feel righteous justice, and I want to make them pay.
Whilst most of the time spent playing will involve sitting through the dialogue, it wouldn’t be a game if there weren’t at least some gameplay mechanics. There are 3 main types – Menu elements, combat elements, and adventure elements. Personally, I feel like they missed a trick by not giving the players more to do during the dialogue scenes. Instead of it being a passive experience, they could have given you choices for responses. That way, you’d feel like you had more control over the story. I really like choice-based gameplay, and I definitely felt its lack in NxSK.
Whilst I’ll talk more about the menu elements and combat, I wanted to first touch on the adventure elements. This is definitely the weakest part of the game, both in gameplay and visuals. It really doesn’t feel like there’s much to do when exploring the world, and rather than being its own complete the mechanic, the adventure elements just feel like something you to do when moving between combat sections. I’d have liked if they could have included more areas to explore, and things to collect. Instead, there are just a handful of treasure boxes that can be found throughout each level. However, to its credit, the movement controls are pretty smooth.
It’s also incredibly linear, and although there are occasional forks in the path, one will always end with a dead-end, usually accompanied by a fight. I would have liked a bit more open-ness to the level design, and a choice of which paths to take. As it is, it feels very much ‘go here, fight this, go there, fight that’. It’s a shame, because it brings down the quality of the entire game.
In the gameplay menu, there are lots of different options to customise your experience. You have access to a host of playable characters from the start, and you add more as you continue playing. You can choose who you want as your ‘Leader’, which will be your main player. Then you also choose a secondary character who you can swap to whilst playing the levels. I was shallow and went by the max HP, but you can decide which characters best suit your fighting style. Each one has unique moves to use in combat.
You can also customise the loadout for each character. In the menu, you have the option to visit the market, which carries various equipment. You can buy new weapons and projectiles, as well as equipment to improve traits such as attack and defence. There are also special Spirit Gems you can buy/ find, which when joined together on a board give you boosts in particular aspects. The prices feel steep at first, but become more reasonable once you’ve played a few levels and have more money.
Another great feature that you can access from the menu is Ninchat. As the name suggests, it’s a way to chat to ninjas, both playable and NPCs. You’ll see a range of characters available who you can scroll through and interact with. Sometimes they’ll just give you a short bit of dialogue to add to the story, but other times you get more. They might give you equipment to help you with the game, which saves you a trip to the market. You can also sometimes get extra quests to complete. This additional way to play is really fun, and keeps NxSK diverse in terms of gameplay.
If I had to sum up the combat in one word, it’d be ‘average’. The combat is pretty fun and varied, and would work well in a regular adventure game. However, because the exploration elements in NxSK are so weak, and so heavily reliant on the combat, it really needed to be more extraordinary. There’s pretty good variety in the moves, but in my opinion, the controls let it down.
In battle, you have several different combat options. There’s your standard attack, as well as a projectile attack, which needs time to recharge. You have two sets of projectiles that you can swap between, so you can decide between recharge time and power. You can also jump, dash past opponents to avoid attacks, and block to reduce the damage. Each character has unique ninja attacks, which are rechargeable through a stamina bar. There are two different sets of special attacks per character. You also have signature moves which charge slowly throughout the battle, and do a considerable amount of damage. Yet despite the relatively complex system, it doesn’t feel very exciting to play. Complex doesn’t always mean better, and the flow of combat didn’t really work.
The camera controls were the worst part of combat. The game does have a lock-on mechanic, but it didn’t work particularly well, and would definitely benefit from an update. It was clunky, and jarring, and made it really hard to see the bigger picture. Trying to run straight towards an opponent you’d locked on to was unnecessarily tricky. The camera would pan and zoom all over the place, and the inconsistency was frustrating. Even when you didn’t lock on, trying to keep the camera focused on enemies was a real pain.
Audio and Visuals
This is where I think the game truly excelled. The art style was beautiful, and looked very high quality considering the relatively low budget of the game. The colours are crisp and gorgeous, and so well-utilised. At least, they are for the story portions of the game. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the adventure elements look ugly and unfinished. There are so few assets in the levels, so they look bland and empty. There are also invisible barriers, one of my biggest pet hates. If I can’t go to an area, that’s fine, but put a fence or something so it looks like there’s a reason.
But that aside, I really was impressed with audio and the visuals. The game used Japanese voice acting even for the international release, but it felt immersive. Even though I didn’t understand what the actors were saying, the emotion in their voices was palpable. The font for the dialogue was easy to read, so I didn’t have any problems understanding what was happening. The whole game felt like I was watching an anime, but playing it instead of just seeing it all unfold. I loved the art style on the character designs (with an exception I’m about to come to), and it was really cool how they would change visually when transitioning to their ninja forms. Neptune especially looks so cute when she’s in her regular form.
There’s also an incredible opening sequence and OST once you get through the initial story-building. The theme music is upbeat and intense, and the flashes of images accompanying it are perfect. It made me feel so invested in the action, and motivated to keep playing. Honestly, one of the best ‘cut-scenes’ I’ve ever seen in a game.
I really hate that NxSK went this route. They had a solid story, a cool game idea, and multiple gameplay mechanics. But that wasn’t enough for them, and they decided to throw in the objectification of women. Like, I don’t mind a slightly busty design, but these were over-the-top ridiculous. I can tell you straight away that if girls that skinny really had boobs that big, they would be in no position to be fighting as ninjas. They’d be hobbling around with crippling back pain. The designs were clearly made to appeal to men who apparently can’t connect with female characters unless they find them sexually attractive.
This is doubly concerning when you consider how young the characters look. I don’t know how old they’re supposed to be, but they’re drawn like teenagers, or even pre-pubescent children in some cases. It’s really disturbing that they felt the need to draw them in a way that would elicit maximum sex appeal. They are animated characters, they shouldn’t have to be sexy. It’s frustrating to see this as a woman myself, because they’re drawn to appeal to the male gaze. This isn’t women reclaiming their own sexuality, these are submissive poses that reinforces the idea that a woman’s worth is defined by her boobs.
Also, without giving away spoilers, there was a scene in a bath that literally made my eyes widen in shock. It did nothing for the storyline, and played fast and loose with the concept of consent. Some of the lines of dialogue were incredibly disturbing and out of character. It was 100% pure fan service, and I hate that the game felt the need to include it.
I’d say I enjoyed Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars for the most part, even though it’s not my usual genre. I’ve been wanting to get more into JRPGs, so I think this was a good introduction for me. Although it’s certainly a shame that the adventure elements weren’t more developed, I did love the story. I think fans of the franchises would be excited to see the characters coming together, so I’d definitely recommend it for them. However, for gamers who prefer fast-paced action, this game isn’t for them. I also wish that there was less fan service, but I expect it’s par for the course with a lot of JRPGs.
Have you played Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars? What did you think of it, do you agree with my review? Join the discussion over in our Facebook community! And if you like games, you still have a few days to enter this giveaway for a copy of Darksiders III. Also, please consider donating to support my writing!