I’m a fan of two tremendously niche Japanese action-RPG game series – the first being Hyperdimension Neptunia, and the second being Senran Kagura. For years, both series have been massive guilty pleasures – delivering delightful characters and simple-yet-addictive gameplay in packages sprinkled with embarrassing anime fanservice and eye-rolling humor. Both series are from completely different developers and publishers, so when the seemingly impossible idea of a crossover between the two manifested, I lost my dang mind. This is my Sora in Smash Bros moment, make no mistake. And while the reality of this crossover between anime game giants ends up being a little underdeveloped, it’s still an absolute blast.
Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is set in the new alternate world of Gamindustri – a continent shaped like a shuriken where characters from both game series live as deadly ninja defenders. Senran Kagura has rarely dabbled in alternate-universe spinoff scenarios, but this is business as usual for Neptunia, wherein the last three major entries in the series have been amnesia-fueled isekai adventures into new worlds. Interestingly enough, though, it isn’t fourth-wall-shattering protagonist Neptune who has the amnesia this time – the game acts as if this world is where these characters have always lived and belonged, deadlocked in a ninja war between the Heartland ninjas (our Neptunia heroes) and the Marveland crew (our Senran Kagura characters). We only get a brief taste of this clan feud, though, as the two tribes are quickly forced to work together when a mysterious army called the Steeme Legion invade and threaten to destroy Gamindustri – thinly veiled commentary that is about 15 years late.
It’s a delight to see all of these characters interacting and crossing over, and it’s especially heartwarming to see the Senran Kagura crew return after that franchise has been dormant for so many years. With just a 7-hour runtime, though, it feels like we barely get an opportunity to explore the full potential of this once-in-a-lifetime crossover. A handful of cute references are made to other games from the Senran Kagura publisher Marvelous, like a brief Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin gag – but the game overall spends far more time developing and progressing the ho-hum crew of original Steeme Legion characters and their dastardly plans. The fact that only three non-playable Neptunia characters make story appearances and nobody from the Senran Kagura side other than the 4 playable heroines appear is insanely disappointing. The brief story mode is at least full of genuinely gut-punching jokes, and with practically zero focus on fanservice-y CG scenes or lewd double entendres, it’s also a breath of fresh air to see the Senran Kagura characters have some extra attention placed on their personalities and wacky senses of humor.
Now, despite getting equal billing on the logo and cover art, Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is much more of a Neptunia game than a Senran Kagura game. I’m not just referring to the lack of Senran Kagura characters in the story, though – this game is primarily developed by the team behind the Neptunia series, and as much as I love those games for their charm and aesthetic, their action combat has consistently been pretty messy and clunky for a while now. While Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars doesn’t have the same varied and bombastic combat of proper Senran Kagura games, it’s still the most fun and polished feeling Neptunia game I’ve ever played.
Missions see you dropping into bite-sized dungeons with small pockets of 3-7 enemies popping up in certain parts of the map, along with the occasional beefy mini-boss. You’ve got one button that dishes out a single identical combo, and a triangle button that launches shuriken and kunai projectiles at your enemies. The toolset is small and simple, but unlike previous Neptunia action games where the limited combat tools feel shallow and empty thanks to clunky animations or a lack of weight, everything in this game feels amazing. Movement and attacks are gorgeously animated and are full of dynamic weight and speed – you may just be mashing the same attack button, but the characters’ movements rival that of any big-budget character action game.
You’ve also got four special ninja arts attacks you can sprinkle in at any time, and chaining up to three of these attacks together quickly enough amplifies their damage. You’re vulnerable to attacks wherever your body is located, so smartly utilising ninja arts that send you flying into the air or teleporting around your enemies to avoid eating damage adds a surprising layer of strategy to the combat. Disappointingly, though, the cast of 10 playable shinobi all feel pretty identical despite their unique ninja arts animations. Considering the story places emphasis on how different the tactics between Marveland and Heartland ninja are, they lack the same mechanical differences you’d see in the 30+ character roster of a Senran Kagura game.
Variety is the missing spice that keeps Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars from being a truly great game. The small roster, considering how many characters are usually in these games, is a bummer. Even more upsetting, though, is the lack of extra features or collectibles that the series is known for. Senran Kagura and Neptunia games are full of bonus items, in-game gacha machines, costumes, accessory customization, photo modes & more. All of that is missing in this package, so while the game looks good and feels good and sounds good, I can’t help but imagine what a more feature-full follow-up to this formula might look like if a sequel were to ever materialize.