It’s easy to crack jokes and poke fun at the Senran Kagura series. Now, I’m a fan of the franchise, but even I heartily acknowledge how weird and perverse it is. Underneath the wet t-shirts and exploitative camera angles, though, these games have thrived on addictive gameplay and entertaining character interactions that have kept me hooked for years. To me, this is where the heart of the Senran Kagura series is. Senran Kagura Reflexions rips that heart out like a Mortal Kombat fatality and leaves you with nothing but a lifeless, uncomfortable corpse of a game.
Every Senran Kagura game that’s been released til now was primarily grounded in one kind of genre of gameplay, from Dynasty Warriors-style action to button-tapping rhythm action. In each of these games you could also customize the appearances of your characters in the dressing room, and with a certain option in the dressing room, use your controller to poke and prod at the unwilling anime girl. It’s a weird and creepy fanservice thing, but it was always just a minor easter egg and never a primary gameplay mechanic. In Senran Kagura Reflexions, however, the only form of gameplay is this aforementioned massage madness, and it is… terrible.
In Reflexions, the player is alone in a Japanese highschool classroom with one of the protagonists of the series, Asuka. She’s feeling flustered and confused and asks you to hold her hands. With her hands in yours, you can move the Switch Joy-Con or the sticks to slowly and awkwardly prod at every part of her hand. If you rub certain parts long enough, Asuka will start to fantasize one of a handful of different scenarios between the two of you. She imagines herself as a drill sergeant, or a volleyball player, or a student caught in the rain. No matter the scenario, though, the outcome is the same: she desperately needs you to touch her body.
From here, you’ll do the standard dressing-room body-poking until you initiate a further level of body-groping: the leg massage. Here, you get the privilege of swinging your Joy-Con up and down like drumsticks to beat your hands against her thigh in an uncomfortably long and monotonous leg-massage minigame. This culminates in some ending dialogue, a progress meter being filled, and the loop starting over. Do this 4 or 5 times and you’ve beaten the game, alienated your roommates, and been put on a special government watch-list.
Look, I’ve spent years watching anime and playing Japanese video games. I know stuff like this isn’t new, and I know it massively appeals to a lot of people and massively disgusts plenty of other people. I’m not going to tell you if it’s right or wrong to soak a virtual ninja girl with a water gun and slap her thighs like a chicken breast cutlet. What I will tell you, though, is that it is not fun at all. This is the only thing you ever do in this video game, and it isn’t rewarding or challenging in the slightest way. Some of these massage mini-games even have broken, finicky timing that made me unable to finish them. The only saving grace of this awful gameplay is that you’re finished with it in just barely over an hour.
The short and sweet story sees series mainstay Asuka confiding her blossoming emotions and fantasies to you through these various massage events. The story is such an anomaly because, much like the gameplay, it removes everything that made Senran Kagura special. Asuka has always been a plucky, high-energy ninja in training with a heart of gold and incredible determination. In Reflexions, though, she’s just a shy, submissive anime girl. She’s also the only anime girl in the game. This series excels at character interactions and quirky ensemble scenes, so having none of that in this just further depreciates any kind of appeal this game could have.
The visuals are at least impressive, with the game looking as sharp as their PS4 releases and never faltering in frame rate. But with only one character model and flat-backgrounds being rendered, that isn’t exactly much of a feat. Reflexions also utilize the HD rumble feature in the Joycons, but it also similarly isn’t all that impressive.
Senran Kagura Reflexions is only just coming out in English territories now, but it originally released in Japan back in November, just half a year after the release of the Nintendo Switch. Back then, the library of games for the Nintendo Switch was still maturing, and there weren’t too many titles available that showcased the full breadth of features for the new Nintendo console. In that context, Senran Kagura Reflexions was at most an interesting novelty as a sort of tech demo for the system.
Fast forward to almost a year later, though, and the Switch library is so much stronger. There are plenty of games that show off the abilities of the console, and the shop is updating with nearly a dozen titles or more every week. Senran Kagura Reflexions no longer has the novel “well, I might as well grab it” appeal it had last year. I think even the most dedicated and lonely of Senran Kagura fans would have trouble finding anything appealing in this release.
While the Senran Kagura series has always been rife with fanservice and hyper-sexualization, these moments were at the tail-end of addictive action gameplay, funny character interactions, and classic anime cheesiness. These things are what make up the heart and soul of Senran Kagura, and by removing those and placing full focus on the T&A virgin wish-fulfillment, Senran Kagura Reflexions is just a lifeless alternative to an afternoon with your Chrome Incognito tabs.