Not exactly what I was expecting.
As is now tradition, I’ll be covering this anime crossover game in the Review FAQ format. As the protagonist of this format, I think Neptune would approve (that’s a Neptunia joke).
It’s finally here!
No, you live in Alaska. I’m talking about Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars. Wasn’t this one of your most hotly-anticipated games of 2022?
I was really hoping you meant spring, because this has been the longest winter in recent memory. But yes, I’ve been playing Neptunia X Senran Kagura, which I’ve really been looking forward to since the announcement of a Switch port. And I’m thrilled to say it’s exactly what it says on the tin, but nothing more. Maybe even a little less.
That’s because it is. First of all, as I said in my preview, Nep X Senran is a Neptunia game that co-stars four of the Senran Kagura girls. The plot, menus, new characters, quests, environments, and several gameplay aspects are straight out of Neptunia. The Senran Kagura contribution is woefully thin on the ground. To me, as somebody who prefers the Senran series to the Nep-Nep games, this was a disappointment.
Is Shiki one of the Senran girls? You know, the actual Best Girl?
How about Haruka?
Yes, but only by virtue of being one of the Senran series’ leads (along with Asuka, Homura, and Miyabi). There are no other Senran characters in the game, even as character portraits. Meanwhile, there are two new characters: Yuki, the resident catgirl, and Goh the Crow, an amnesiac ninja. Both fit into the Nep-Nep cast more than the Senran cast, but both are fun to play as.
What do you do in this game?
Did you play Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed?
Oh, you mean the Tamsoft-developed Neptunia hack & slash game for Vita (and later Steam)?
Yeah, it was mindless fun.
That’s basically what Nep X Senran is, with more complex maps. You’ll pick two characters (who you can freely switch between in the field) and then press the Y button a lot to perform attack combos, occasionally tapping the X button to throw shuriken or kunai, block enemy attacks with A, and dash away from unblockable attacks with ZR. You have “stamina bars” which refill over time and are used to unleash four different special attacks (Ninja Arts) which can be strung together in certain ways to provide buffs, debuffs, or status effects. You can also—and I frequently forgot about this—activate your own temporary buffs which only have so many uses per mission. For bosses, you’ll want to try and build up their ”Break” meter by mostly spamming your shuriken/kunai to get them into a stagger state, where you can dole out a lot of punishment without the threat of retaliation.
Finally, generally once or twice per area, your girls will get a super attack which looks super cool but is almost always completely underwhelming. It won’t even take off one full bar of a multi-life-bar boss.
So typical hack and slash fluff?
Basically, yeah. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but like any game like this, it gets old before too long. Oh, and blocking doesn’t cancel your attack animations, so if you’re in the middle of a combo (even a Ninja Arts combo) and the enemy isn’t staggering, you’ll wind up taking a lot of hits, potentially fatally in the case of bosses, which isn’t great!
Do the characters differ?
Not really. I will say that the Senran girls come to this game with their signature fighting styles and specials intact, so they felt the most familiar. The Neptunia gals’ combat abilities are built from scratch, and so don’t feel as unique. Their specials seem more interchangeable and their combat styles—though all looking quite different—wind up blending together. If Vert or Blanc had nunchucks, that entire team would have Ninja Turtle weapons, but sadly that’s a missed opportunity. You do have some ability to customize each character, though, so let’s talk about this game’s biggest time sink.
RPG stuff! In another pull from the Neptunia series, each character can customize the order of their specials so that they provide extra benefit depending on the order they’re used. For example, one attack might result in a status effect if used in the second slot, and other might provide a character buff if used last. Each girl learns more specials as they level up, so you’ll be revisiting the Ninja Arts screen often. However, you are limited somewhat by the amount of stamina each attack uses up. It’s surprisingly hard—if not impossible--to find a combo that will result in all four specials being utilized in quick succession in the proper order—the only way to see all the benefits of a Ninja Arts combo. Further, you customize the list in list form, but in the field, the specials show up in a diamond shape, so it’s very hard to tell, at a glance, what order you’re supposed to use them in.
It is, but you have items on-hand that will refill your stamina meter, and certain Soul Gems that will reduce the amount of stamina you use up.
Are you sitting down?
…should I be?
Yeah, ‘cause this is gonna take awhile.
Soul Gems are an admittedly interesting, but poorly-implemented, system in which you can customize each girl’s stats. You’ll collect dozens of multicolored Soul Gems in treasure boxes, as quest rewards, or by purchasing them from the in-game store. They are organized into several categories, including attack, defense, growth, Ninja Weapons (shuriken & kunai), and Ninja Arts. Each specific Gem type (like “EXP Legion”) has four or five tiers of power, so it’s not unusual to have duplicates of each level of a given Gem. You arrange the Soul Gems on a large 5x5 grid which expands as the ladies level up. Your goal is to arrange them in such a way that several Gems become connected, thus providing a larger buff.
Wait, hold on, I’m getting lost. Give me an example of what one Gem does. Like what does “EXP Legion” do?
Oh right, sorry. Each Gem provides some kind of minor buff. “EXP Legion” means that you’ll get a slight boost to experience points earned from each defeated Steem Legion enemy. Other related Gems give you more experience for each defeated Yokai enemy, or large mini-boss enemy, or proper boss. There are similar Gems in other categories: your attack against Steem Legion enemies is higher, or you’ll get more Zenni from defeated Yokai enemies, that kind of thing.
In general, your goal is to collect as many high-level Gems of each type as you can and arrange them on the ever-expanding Soul Board in a way that gives that girl the best possible buffs. Your grid is graded from F to A, although it doesn’t tell you how to improve your rating. Using high-level Gems seems to help.
Does the Soul Board apply to every character?
Nope, you have to set a different board for all ten girls.
Are you…insane? Do you have to have a hojillion Gems so that they all have duplicates to use?
Thankfully, each girl can use the same set of Gems, so if Homura is using all the “Attack UP” Gems, don’t worry—Noir will be able to use them, too. My strategy was to give each girl a mix of buffs from the many categories, trying to balance them all out. You can also synthesize Gems, but I have no idea how to do that—it’s poorly explained, and it was just easier to buy extra Gems at the store. You can also buy new shuriken and kunai at the store too.
Are they cool?
They’re mostly useful for status effects, though there's always some small damage components. I miss the Senran light/heavy attack dichotomy. Frankly, I miss a lot of the Senran staples: transformations, Flash mode, outfit-based bonuses, costume customization, character-specific sidequests, outfit damage, combo attacks.
Back in Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson, you could also switch between two characters, and some of them had very powerful combo special attacks. I was hoping to see that in this game—because it also has you playing as two characters.
I admit to being a little weirded out that Nep vs. Senran doesn’t have a dressing room.
Right? That said, this game does come with all the costume DLC from last year’s release.
Are they good costumes?
NOPE! The Senran girls get their traditional pre-transformation outfits (but cannot transform) and the Neptunia cast gets…alternate color schemes. Considering that was paid DLC, I expected better options or at least way more choices. Have you seen the DLC for a typical Senran game? It’s a mile long list of outfits and accessories. Give the Neptunia girls their traditional cyber-goddess outfits, at least! Oh, and Yuki & Goh the Crow don’t get alternate outfits at all. If anybody in this game is crying out for bikini DLC, it’s Yuki.
Dare I ask why?
Let’s just say that she must have a very strong back. Also, given her weapon of choice (claws), her role could’ve been taken by an existing Neptunia character—Peashy, a.k.a. Yellow Heart—who also has claw weapons and ridiculous proportions. Just missed opportunities left and right in this game.
Sounds like you didn’t like this one. Anything else you want to touch on?
This game does do something that I really hope is carried forward to future Senran and Neptunia games: during the (many) cutscenes featuring illustrated character portraits, their eyes and mouths move, and expressions frequently change. It’s a small thing, but I really liked it. Despite it being a gigantic hassle, I like the Soul Gem system in theory, but it needs some revision. The boss fights are generally unpleasant in that they take way too long. The “Final Chapter” is about as long as all the previous chapters combined. Oh, by the way, the story is garbage.
Yeah, you haven’t mentioned the story.
It is to be endured more than enjoyed. The world of Gamninjastri –
Instead of Gamindustri.
I know. The Senran and Neptunia cast are members of warring ninja factions who don’t actually go to war ever and are, instead, best friends. When an extradimensional group called the Steem Legion arrives and tries to take over, the “warring factions” team up to take them down.
So it’s a play on the game platform Steam?
I couldn’t tell, because there are also cracks about Instagram and likes and retweets and the leader of the Steem Legion is a girl named Yoh Gamer and they’re trying to awaken a giant demon…it’s all nonsense, every cutscene goes on way too long, and by the end I was just pressing A like I was playing Mario Party.
After you beat the final boss, you unlock more subquests (BUT WHY) and a new Hoard-like endurance mode that I just cannot be bothered to play through. Maybe if the combat was more robust, but not like this.
Okay so you didn’t like this one.
Not especially, no. I expected more out of this waifu crossover, but it’s less than the sum of its parts. I’m happy that both of these franchises are coming to Switch more often, but I really wish some of the better games in both series were getting ports. Where’s Estival Versus and V Generation? Heck, I can’t imagine that the remake of Senran Kagura Burst would be all that hard to port, although it may be a Sony exclusive. Anyway, the point is, I was really looking forward to Neptunia X Senran Kagura and came away very disappointed.
Last question: have you bought any new Senran Kagura figures?
Tragically, no, but not due to lack of interest. There are two matching bunny girl figures (of Yumi and Yozakura) but pricing for figures of all scales has exploded in the last few years. We're talking $300+ for the pre-order. If you miss that, the aftermarket price is completely unreasonable.
Geeze, that sucks.
It does, but my wife doesn't seem to mind.