Developers: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, and Tamsoft
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Genre: 3D Hack-and-Slash Brawler
Platform: PlayStation 4
If you’re familiar with Senran Kagura in passing, then learning that it was getting a crossover title with the Neptunia series might’ve raised your hackles a bit even if it’s not all that surprising. The Neptunia franchise is no stranger to fanservice, but more recent titles have dialed it back a little as compared to earlier ones, and it was never quite as risqué as Senran Kagura even in the early days. As such, I was hesitant about Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars before starting it, but I am pleased to report that Neptunia seems to have tempered Senran Kagura somewhat in their crossing over. Though this game is a bit more out there, it never goes any further than anything earlier Nep titles did.
The basics: Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is a 3D hack-and-slash brawler which also serves as a crossover/collaboration event between the Hyperdimension Neptunia series – which is about anthropomorphized video game consoles fighting and being vaguely gay at each other – and the Senran Kagura series – which is about ninjas with big boobs being placed into compromising situations. Neptunia has a tendency to play things fast and loose with its setting of Gamindustri (or in this case Gameninjustri), drastically altering and retconning details or even remaking it entirely to be able to suit the current title’s narrative, with very few consistent points of commonality beyond the four core cast members. The same is true here, with the typical pseudo-stock market being replaced by a dynamic more akin to feudal Japan that serves as just as good a vehicle for the sort of hijinx and/or shenanigans of Nep and friends as any.
The game opens with a fairly lengthy set of visual novel style cutscenes with a very brief gameplay tutorial in the middle that introduces the eight main characters and highlights right off the bat how weird the Senran Kagura characters’ 2D sprites look in comparison to the Neptunia cast. An attempt was made to bring the art styles of the two franchises closer together during the visual novel sections with favor given towards the typical presentation of Neptunia, and while it mostly works for the SK cast there are times when it just looks off, particularly with the eyes and mouth movements. Once you get further into the game it’s easy not to register it any more, but that actually only makes it all the more jarring when you do notice it again every so often. The Nep-side characters, on the other hand, look really good, with some fun redesigns to better fit into a ninja-themed setting that might just be my favorite looks for some of them.
By contrast, the level design and 3D models of the characters during gameplay all look great and have a higher degree of polish than I typically associate with Neptunia. The environments are fun to look at and fight through as well as being surprisingly detailed in places. The models mesh well with each other despite coming from different series and combat animations are satisfyingly fluid, not to mention some pretty good sound design. I will also say that, despite the visual limitations of the visual novel segments, there are a few comedy bits that landed surprisingly well with the characters just describing the action, so the characteristic goofiness of the Neptunia franchise is perfectly intact.
The combat feels good in general, really, with the proper amount of oomph put behind both normal attacks and special skills for carving through groups of enemies to be easy without feeling dull. It’s a fairly standard third person brawler with a few cool ideas, such as two types of ranged weapons that can be strung into combos (shuriken for pure damage and kunai for status effects), a really interesting combo system for special attacks that makes it so abilities can have extra effects depending on what order you activate them in, and a “spirit gem” board that grants a moderate degree of control over each characters’ stats and perks. There are ten playable characters – the four gamer goddesses, four characters from Senran Kagura, and two original to this title – that all play fairly differently, with a solid mix of fast and light characters and slower heavy hitters that make it fun to try out different techniques and combos. That said, only two characters can be selected to take into any given mission, which means it can take a while to get a handle on how any one character fights unless you just neglect a large part of that roster. Benched characters do, at the very least, receive a significant portion of the amount experience earned by active characters, so it’s ultimately not that big a deal if you decide you prefer someone you haven’t used at all to a character who had been your mainstay up to any given point.
Of course, what would a Neptunia game be without its fair share of gripes to be had? In the case of Ninja Wars, perhaps the most glaring is that the menus are tedious to navigate, particularly when managing character loadouts and stats. Rather than being able to easily switch between, for example, a general stat overview and equipped weapons screen using the shoulder buttons, you instead have to back out to a higher-level menu and then go into whatever you want to look at next, which makes comparisons a pain. Additionally, when choosing a loadout for special moves you have to first select one that’s already equipped in order to look at other options. And, of course, there’s the long-standing problem the Neptunia franchise has of making stat numbers so big that it’s hard to really wrap your head around them, and so they stop meaning much of anything and you just go by feel. Aside from that, the side content gets repetitive really fast, an issue not helped by there being only eleven areas total that you end up running through again and again with only minor differences in mob spawns and, by extension, objectives. Though the moment-to-moment gameplay is nice and juicy thanks to the combo system, the broader design has as little variation to it as pretty much any other Nep game.
Then again, the characters and shenanigans story are what draw fans back into Gamindustri again and again, so it’s not a big deal if the quests are mostly just variations on “kill ten giant dogoo”. And that, dear reader, brings me once again to the qualifier I attach to any review of a Neptunia game: this is a franchise that has its audience, knows its audience, and is really only interested in that audience as opposed to getting a new audience. When combined with another (and even moreso) fanservice-heavy franchise like Senran Kagura, this becomes even more true, and so ultimately the question this review needs to answer is “will fans of Nep and co. be satisfied with this latest outing?” The answer, as you may have surmised by now, is “yes” even if the fact that it is a crossover with Senran Kagura made you as wary as it did for me. In short: maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for Neptunia, but those lunatics at Compile Heart done did it again.
Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars
A fun combat system and good degree of polish makes Ninja Wars the better of two Neptunia games to release this year in the West.