Neptunia action and the return of Senran Kagura
Publisher: US: Idea Factory,
EU: Reef Entertainment
Release date: 29 Oct, 2021
Neptunia Crossover Action
Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars is a game that came out of nowhere. Neptunia is an IP with a lot of games and is known for its lighthearted storytelling that frequently breaks the 4th wall. Just recently it got a Remaster of its first game as a 10th Anniversary special on the PS5. But the train seemingly doesn’t stop here since we’re also getting this Action Spinoff game combining it with Marvelous’ Senran Kagura that has been on hiatus since Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal.
Is it a crossover where both Neptunia and Senran Kagura are playing out their strengths or is it something completely different? We’re taking a closer look into what it has to offer.
Story: Super Ninja War
In the world of Gameninjustry where the different nations are on a land that is shaped like a shuriken, two countries have been fighting each other for a long time. Heartland and Marveland with the former represented by Neptune and the original goddesses, while the latter by a mix of Senran Kagura Charakters of four different schools: Asuka, Homura, Yumi, and Miyabi.
Though they are in a conflict, both sides never went all out and it has become more of something like a habit that consists of clashes where it has become something like friendly sparring. The actual goal is to destroy the Share Crystal of their respective countries.
This equilibrium is broken by an unknown force led by Yoh Gamer. Equipped with a spaceship and an army of NINJA androids they sweep over a majority of the land, eventually forcing Heartland and Marveland to cooperate to fight back against the new menace.
The story follows the Neptunia formula with some lighthearted comedy and some occasional serious scenes. It’s nothing groundbreaking or dramatic but something simple and fun, including some slight dirty jokes. As it plays out in an alternative universe called Gameninjustry, both Neptunia and Senran Kagura are in a unique setting to accommodate the differences between them. This also means that team Neptune is toned down in power levels to a more grounded ninja level.
If you’re expecting some Senran Kagura typical storytelling be prepared for some disappointment because this is at least 95% Neptune with banter between the crossover friends. The most interesting thing about the story is certainly the comical banter and Neptune breaking the 4th wall who likes to mention clichés.
Overall it’s a serviceable story that is shallow but entertaining throughout its duration nonetheless.
Gameplay: Gems and Unique Combat
Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars offers completely unique gameplay that shares only the basics of Neptunia U and Senran Kagura at best. So if you’re expecting some frantic action against masses of enemy you better temper your expectations and prepare yourself for something much different.
It shares a lot with Neptunia as it’s based on simple menus and background artworks. You can talk to NPCs that play a homage to mags like Dengeki and Famitsu who offer sidequests and others like Tamsoft who frequently presents you with items. After each mission, you can find one special scene with characters from the protagonist group.
Peaches & Cream Meditation
Well if there’s something Senran Kagura-ish it has to be this. You can choose one of the heroines to sit on a big swimming peach inside an onsen to keep her balance which is maintained by having the player by balancing a ball via the motion control. There are 3 difficulties that get progressively better buffs after completion and you even get items. Easy and Medium are pretty easy but Hard trolls you with making both the balancing line and the ball invisible.
The good news is you can either go through sidequests or buy tickets to skip this mini-game and still get the buffs that stay active for 3 missions, excluding the items. From personal experience, it’s worth it to keep that buff up as there are no repercussions and the pricing is very cheap for what it offers since you earn more than enough money.
Your typical Sidemission tab that lines everything up and even shows what you’ve already finished. On accepting the mission you automatically get transported to the mission location that are re-using story mission maps but with different progress barrier and enemy layout. Some missions require you to defeat all enemies on the map, specific enemy types, collect items or activate switches. There are some slight variations to them like time limits or the appearance of unbeatable strong enemies that you need to avoid.
The rewards are money, consumables, gems, and equipment. If you go from finishing the story mission to clearing all side-missions then you won’t have much issue with money or your character’s level. Every mission has a special first clear reward that is the equipment.
In addition, it works as a gallery where you can watch past events, movies and listen to the BGM of your choice.
The equipment is very simple and consists of 4 slots. One is for Shuriken that focuses on either disrupting or damaging enemies, Kunai that inflict status ailments onto your enemies, and 2 for accessories that offer buffs.
Unfortunately, all of the equipment is occupied by equipped characters, which means if you want to switch characters and use the same set up you’ll have to either have multiple amounts of the equipment or re-equip every time you change your team. It’s a small nitpick but disincentivizes changing characters due to the time wasted on managing it.
There’s a big Spirit Gem board that you can equip with small passive buffs (about 1%) that increase once you lay them in specific forms like a cross or a box. Each gem type can be used up to 5 times while the biggest form gives you an additional 50% efficiency.
You can increase your damage against Yokai or Legion types, stamina recovery, or even damage from back attacks. Unlike equipment, they are not occupied by equipping them and therefore much easier to use. There’s also a special function of registering specific arrangements that you can use for some quick equip for other characters or situations.
Considering that there’s a special cube before a boss, you could prepare an arrangement that’s used for bosses and another one for the road to the boss.
You can collect up to 99 times the same item though you can’t take everything to the field for balancing reasons. There’s no cooldown and HP recovery items are all based on percentages, which makes them universally useful across the whole game. Nevertheless, they are just an additional layer of security for less action savvy players.
In my playtime, I only used items a handful of times and that was because I forgot the FuRinKaZan mechanic, which we get to soon.
So how’s the combat? There are 10 characters with 4 of each game and 2 completely new. Each of them has a good amount of Ninja Arts, don’t expect any Neptunia style magic. It’s a medium-speed action game where you frequently fight against single or multiple enemies at once but it doesn’t get to the scope of the Dynasty Warriors-style. Expect about 3 enemies at once though, there are also ranged units that pack some punch.
As for the character’s action, you have an attack string, projectiles, guarding, and dodging. The medium speed comes from the ability to cancel your attacks at their later parts, which adds to the stiff feeling. Faster games allow you to cancel your attacks nearly at any time to promote fast-paced action.
There are no cities or traversal so once you’ve chosen a map it’s go time. Pretty much all of them are linear with little branching out for one-time chests. Most of the time it’s all about defeating the enemies to remove the barrier to progress.
Like Neptunia U, you will decide on a tag team to take on each mission. One character is active while the other waits for the switch. The waiting character recovers health up to 50% and stamina.
General Movement, Attack, and Stamina
You can run, jump and attack with every character having their own single attack string. Be careful though, the final attacks are most of the time rather slow and open you up for enemy attacks. Most of the time it’s better to use either dash or block to cancel early to keep yourself safe. Attacks don’t cost anything, the opposite is the case, you gain stamina for each successful hit and Extreme Ninja Art gauge.
The stamina gauge is required for dashing, running, Ninja Arts and consists of 6 stocks universally.
Dashing and Guarding
Like most action games you use the dash to dodge the attack with either the range of your movement or the short period of invincibility. It costs a slight amount of stamina but it’s not worth mentioning in the grand scheme of things.
Guarding is the riskier option and some attacks can’t be blocked but with bigger risk comes bigger reward. By timing your guard right before the enemy hits you, you completely neutralize it and regain a good amount of stamina. If it’s not a just guard then you suffer a much lower amount of damage compared to a normal hit.
As mentioned before, you need to be careful with your attacks because the cancel timings are specifically late and you can’t defend yourself if you’re attacking.
Ninja Arts and Trigger
These are the special moves and cost a variable amount of stamina from 1 or more and you can equip up to 4 of them for each mission. They are much stronger than your standard attacks but there’s one little catch, they usually take longer to recover and can only be canceled into another Ninja Art. That means you’ll be very vulnerable after executing the longer-lasting ones, unlike in Senran Kagura you’re not invincible either and the enemies can move as well. They can interrupt your Ninja Arts but that requires some specific attacks that pack some punch.
The Ninja Art Trigger is a special mechanic that comes in 4 stages because some attacks can cast a buff or debuffs on hit but there’s a special limitation to it. The Trigger mechanic automatically activates with the first Ninja Art and you’ll see the gauge on the screen that depletes relatively fast, if you use another Ninja Art it triggers the next stage.
These stages are important for the specific buff and debuff requirements because some Ninja Arts only have them at specific stages. It’s a weird limitation but it’s what it is.
These are the strongest move in a character’s arsenal. You charge them up via attacking and defeating enemies or taking damage. It takes quite some time to charge it up, which makes it rather unlikely that you can do a full charge against a boss because they’d be dead before that happens. This is why you want to charge it up for each character to deal some serious damage in time of need. The AoE isn’t that big so it’s not that useful to clear out a bigger amount of enemies that are fanned out.
Shuriken and Kunai
Shuriken is a star-shaped projectile and Kunais look like throwing knives. You can buy new ones at the shop or earn them through missions. There are 3 shooting variations that can also be mixed depending on the weapon: Single shot, Rapid Shot, and Spread Shot. You start with single shot and progress with a rapid shot and/or spread shot. The good news is you have infinite of them, the bad one is they are based on a cooldown recharge system with speeds going from slow, medium to fast. You’ll always have a set of Shuriken and Kunai so it’s unlikely that you run out of them unless you go completely gung-ho.
This comes with another advantage, these projectiles are as strong as your normal attacks as long as you have some good ones equipped. Most of the time you will be able to defeat a shooting-type enemy with one or two throws.
Kunai are a little bit weaker but can inflict status ailments such as poison and they partially work on bosses as well.
Swift as wind, gentle as the forest, as fierce as fire, as unshakeable as a mountain. This special mechanic has about 5 uses for each dungeon and you can choose one of the 4 effects split into the 4 before-mentioned elements. Fire increases your damage output but reduces your defense like a homage to Senran Kagura’s frantic mode. Forest prevents ailments, increases Projectile recovery, and heals HP. Mountain gives you hyper armor and guarding doesn’t damage you, while just guard greatly recovers stamina. Wind increases stamina recovery, Ninja Art effects, and only Ninja Arts deplete stamina.
By using this mechanic you can reduce the number of consumables used, which is an additional difficulty soothing factor.
This is a strange one because it’s one of the rare cases where the lock-on mechanic becomes quite annoying. Instead of automatically targeting the closest enemy, it locks on the closest enemy within your vision first and then those outside of your vision. This design decision is so strange and it must be the first time I’ve experienced this because it makes no sense to target enemies outside of your range when some are right next to you.
The next best option is to disengage the lock-on and use the auto-targeting that latches your attacks to the closest enemy. There’s one catch, you can only see the life gauge of your enemy when they are locked on.
Enemies and variety
Some enemies come with a certain amount of Super Armor resistance, i.e. they don’t react to your attacks until you deal a certain threshold of damage so there’s a high chance of you getting hit when the enemy attacks at the same time.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of enemy types. You get the classic slime-like enemies of Neptunia called Dogoo, samurai cats, shooting watermelons, mushrooms, zombie samurai, Steeme Legion NINJAs melee and shooters, etc. I probably just named about half or more of the enemy types present in the game. There are stronger permutations of each of them with different colors and extended moves but they are not that much different.
Shooter-type enemies are the most annoying ones because their attacks can interrupt your attacks most of the time and their aim is pretty darn good and can only be dodged by either dashing or running.
The big ones are simple as their attacks are slow and you can easily recognize and react to their patterns. Human-sized ones on the other hand are the real headaches. They are fast and have Hyper Armore, i.e. they blow through your attacks without flinching, which leads to a more passive playstyle. Like many popular current JRPGs, there’s a break gauge that leads to stun and significantly reduced defense value on depletion. It recovers when not getting hit and that’s one of the best times to put your Shuriken and Kunai to use.
The Gameplay is solid but suffers from repetition, as many of the missions are just a repeat of the same maps with different enemy layouts. Even though you can replenish your stamina quite fast, there’s still a feeling of Ninja Arts being quite weak due to the disadvantages and limitations, which means you need to pick your moments wisely when using them for maximum effect.
Granted, the enemies take much less time to defeat than in Senran Kagura, leading to shorter mook fights but the limited move set leads to a very similar playstyle across the characters.
The progress is very smooth if you take on all of the side missions. There never was a need to grind and you get plenty of money to buy equipment and items. For battle-hardened action games veterans, it shouldn’t pose any difficulties.
Graphics and Sound
There’s not much to say about the graphics as it’s serviceable like other Neptunia games. The effects are ok and decent enough not to interfere with the gameplay. For those who want to know… Yes, the jiggle physics is present in the game though without the clothing destruction mechanic.
Of course, there’s also some occasional nice artwork.
In terms of music, there’s not much to talk about either. It fits the Ninja theme but the soundtrack is as limited as the enemies because same-ish themed maps will have the same music, i.e. Forest, Town, etc.
All main events are voiced in Japanese with the usual good quality. Special events don’t get that treatment though.
Neptunia X SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars is a solid game but comes with a lot of repetition. Senran Kagura fans will have to expect something completely different like a theater play starring these two franchises heroines. You can expect about 10 hours to finish the main story with more hours of post-story content.
There’s some fun to be had, especially with the lighthearted story but at the current pricing, it’s difficult to give it a clear recommendation, which is why I give it a Save for Later. If you haven’t played Senran Kagura, it’s probably better to try that first for some high octane action and fan service, unless you want some classic Neptunia fun moments. Senran Kagura fans need to take a good look at the game before pulling the trigger as there isn’t a lot of its DNA in it.
Closing thoughts(not part of the verdict)
I have to admit that this game is quite surprising on a gameplay level because usually, crossovers try to utilize the strength of their IPs. In Marel vs. Capcom, they amped things up to 11 and created a memorable over-the-top version of both franchises. Super Smash Bros. on the other hand tries to incorporate the characters into the game while keeping their original moveset.
Neptunia x SENRAN KAGURA: Ninja Wars does nothing of that. It tries to be something else entirely. I don’t think it utilizes the crossover opportunity as there is no transformation mechanic and many of their unique gameplay potential is missing. Neptunia is known for being an RPG with traditional things like magic, while Senran Kagura offers the opposite with fast-paced action with strong aerial combos but none of that is there. Neptunia fans are used to different gameplay spinoffs but Senran Kagura fans might find it too unexpectedly different and lacking in its known elements.