At first glance, it might seem obvious what kind of demographic the Senran Kagura series is trying to play to. Big-breasted ninja girls with skimpy outfits and revealing camera angles aren’t exactly subtle and the last couple of Senran Kagura games have especially hammered this home, focusing almost entirely on the fanservice aspect of the series. There’s a lot more to Senran Kagura though, and Burst Re:Newal serves as a great reminder of how the Hooters of video games got so popular in the first place.
While the last two Senran Kagura games were ho-hum spinoffs involving water gun tournaments and thigh-slapping Joy-Con action, Burst Re:Newal takes us back to the classic beat-em-up action that the series originated with. Burst Re:Newal is a ground-up remake of the very first Senran Kagura game that landed on the 3DS back in 2011, Senran Kagura Burst. A lot has changed for the series since that first game, and this remake delivers the same story beats from the original with all the bells and whistles of the latest console sequels.
Because it’s a remake of the very first game, Burst Re:Newal is a perfect starting point for anyone looking to learn about the world and the characters of Senran Kagura. It may surprise some, but these games aren’t just mindless skin-exposing adventures or “Dead or Alive Paradise, but with ninjas”. The cast of characters in Senran Kagura is fun and varied, and this game helps give them the initial development and characterization that help make them such an iconic crew of ninja dudettes.
The game has a few different story campaigns for you to tackle, too. You can learn about the core crew from Hanzo Ninja Academy, or you can take on an adventure focusing on the evil Hebijo Academy ninjas. There’s even an entirely new campaign focusing on Yumi, a complicated character who was introduced in the Versus spinoff series. Once you pick a campaign, though, you’re locked into it until you see the credits roll. Some of these stories take a few missions before they evolve from fluffy side-story shenanigans into properly gripping tales of ninja drama, so being able to at least jump around between campaigns to spice things up would have helped.
When it comes to spice, though, the gameplay of Burst Re:Newal has it in spades. The combat of the original game consisted of side-scrolling beat ’em up segments that were most memorable for their repetitiveness and the poor framerate that plagued them. Burst Re:Newal redesigns all of these combat encounters with the full 3D action combat of the more recent PlayStation Senran Kagura games. Think Dynasty Warriors with smaller crowds, but way more enemy variety.
Every attack you dish out is fast and flashy, and each character sports a totally unique weapon and moveset that will all take time to properly utilize and master. There are also unique systems like Aerial Raves and parries that shake things up a bit. Aerial Raves let you toss enemies into the sky and dash right up to them to keep stringing your combos together even further, while parries let you stun your opponents and open them up to some heavy counter-attacks. The original Burst game was a bit of a headache to play sometimes, so combining the engaging anime-tinged story of that game with the addictive combat of the later games is a match made in heaven.
Story isn’t the only thing that’s been brought over from the original game, though. The Style system from Burst makes a return in this remake, giving you even more of an excuse to keep hacking n’ slashing. Each character has three Styles that can be upgraded up to five times, with each upgraded providing a unique permanent combat boost like air-parries or additional exp. There’s a Style tied to your base combat status as well as another Style tied to your status after you’ve activated your Shinobi Transformation. There’s also a third that’s only active when you’re in Frantic Mode, which is a major risk/reward feature that lets you sacrifice practically all of your defence for the entire mission in exchange for increased damage and infinite light attack chains.
The more damage you dish out in each of these states, the more experience you feed into their respective Styles. With 9 total styles scattered across the six playable characters in each campaign, it can be a bit of a grind-fest to level them all up. It’s a nice incentive for replayability, but don’t expect to max out any Styles over the course of your first playthrough.
Every other piece of polish and shine you’d expect from a modern Senran Kagura game is here, too. Character models look as sharp and vivid as ever on PS4, and everything from the main menu to the cutscene text boxes rocks a sleek and well-designed look. There’s also a bevy of unlockables, from costumes and accessories to library data on characters and music unlockables that are accompanied by notes from the original composer. There’s been a secret mode in the last few Senran Kagura games that lets you use your control sticks in the outfit customization Dressing Room to interact with the bodies of the characters. Sony’s stricter content guidelines mean this mode has been removed from the PS4 version, and while it isn’t a major part of the package by any means, those fans who are passionate about that content might be better off playing this on PC, where the mode is still kept in the game.
Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal is a breath of fresh air after the fumbles of the last few games in the series. I got on board with this franchise for the unique characters and addictive combat, and this game has both of those things in spades. It’s a treat to see the origins of the cast redone on home console, but if you’ve never played a single game in the series before, Burst Re:Newal is the best this franchise has to offer for you.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available on PC