Video game franchises crossing over with one another has been a celebrated part of the industry for almost as long as there has been one. The earliest example I remember is Battletoads & Double Dragon, which saw a few rentals in the Andriessen household back in the early ‘90s. But the origins of this practice go back years before Rare popped out that memorable brawler on the NES. Games like Super Robot Taisen, Konami Wai Wai World, and Alex Kidd in Shinobi World were early pioneers of the concept, laying the groundwork for future franchises like the Vs. Capcom series, Super Smash Bros., and Kingdom Hearts.
Some crossovers seem almost inevitable, like Battletoads & Double Dragon or SNK vs. Capcom. Others are more out of left field. Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars belongs in the former category. These two franchises, linked by frequent developer Tamsoft, have pretty much been on a collision course since Neptune appeared as a guest character in Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash. Given how many spinoffs and side games both franchises have seen, it was only a matter of time before we got a proper pairing of these two niche series.
Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars (PS4, PC, Switch [reviewed])
Developer: Tamsoft, Idea Factory, Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Released: April 19, 2022 (Switch)/October 26, 2021 (PS4)/May 11, 2022 (PC)
Actually, “proper pairing” wouldn’t really be the words I’d use to describe Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars. To me, the idea of a “proper” pairing would mean that ideas and concepts from both franchises are used to create something that can satisfy two distinct fanbases that might not necessarily overlap. While I’m sure the Venn Diagram for the fans of these two series comes pretty close to forming a perfect circle, those who favor Senran Kagura’s structure and side activities might be a little disappointed with what’s on offer here. This really isn’t Neptunia x Senran Kagura as much as it’s “New Neptunia Game featuring the Girls of Senran Kagura.”
Asuka and friends are merely guest stars in Neptune’s latest escapade, which sees Gamindustri reimagined as Gamninjustri. In this world, inspired by ancient Japan, two warring kingdoms — Heartland and Marveland — agree to set their differences aside as they face a far greater threat that could spell doom for the entire world. The only way to save the day is to join forces and grind their way through a handful of short levels populated by a sparse number of enemy combatants. Players start off with access to the four heroes of Heartland — Neptune, Vert, Blanc, and Noire — but it isn’t long before they’re joined by Marveland’s greatest ninjas in the form of Asuka, Homura, Yumi, and Miyabi.
Cue the saucy “group bath” scene.
As with all Neptunia games, the story here is pretty lightweight, with low production values that managed to educe a few chuckles out of me. There is still a heavy emphasis on reference humor throughout, with nods to the game industry, the developers and publishers of these two franchises, and past Neptunia titles. As has been the case with previous games in the franchise, the narrative is wildly overwritten, with no piece of exposition left unsaid. Individual cutscenes can run several minutes and while it is possible to skip over everything to get straight to the action, if you cut out most of the story, you might find yourself with not much game left.
I wouldn’t mind sitting through so much story if the combat waiting for me at the end was engaging and worthwhile. Sadly, the action here is rather basic and a mediocre showcase for what developer Tamsoft is capable of. Before each mission, players can choose two characters to take into battle and you can mostly switch between them on the fly. Each character has a single-button melee attack and it is possible to start a combo with one character only to finish it with the other.
Characters also have two long-distance projectiles and four Ninja Art Skills that can be loosely chained together for huge damage. Then there is the flashy Shinobi Extreme attack. Fill up each character’s attack gauge to unleash this powerful maneuver that you’re pretty much going to save exclusively for the various bosses you’ll encounter. Add in the Fuurinkazan Drive system, which lets you switch your battle type at will for various short-term benefits, and you have the makings of a somewhat decent fighting system, one that would be a hell of a lot better if the action didn’t pause so damn much to annoy players with cutscenes of gates opening and closing. Or if the auto-targeting system were more reliable. Or if it were easier to cancel out of combos and Ninja Art Skills.
Like with some past Tamsoft titles, the use of the dodge mechanic is pretty rigid here. If your character is in the middle of an animation, be it when you’re attacking or taking damage, be prepared to wait until it’s over before you can dodge or block any incoming attacks. This wouldn’t be so much of a big deal if it weren’t so easy for enemies to strike you from off-camera, sometimes even through walls. While I was playing through this game for review, I redownloaded MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune as well as Senran Kagura Estival Versus to compare and contrast the action. I found that these titles, both developed by Tamsoft, had a lot more fluidity in both their combat and their movement and that’s something I would have liked to have seen more of in Ninja Wars.
I also would have liked to have seen a lot more content and characters. At just 12 or so hours, Neptunia x Senran Kagura is a brief excursion with some pretty blatant artificial inflation of the running time. You’re going to be revisiting the same few maps often, completing not-so-optional requests outside of the mandatory story missions to grind up your character levels. And you’re going to be doing it with just 10 characters. The four protagonists from each franchise are joined by newcomers Goh the Crow and catgirl Yuuki, and while the representatives from Neptunia and Senran are an obvious bunch of heroes, it’s pretty pathetic other characters from those two expansive rosters couldn’t make their way into the game. Especially considering that MegaTagmension managed to get 15 playable characters in there while Estival Versus had a whopping 34 when you include DLC.
It’s not just the roster that is anemic. Outside of combat, there is very little extra content for players to engage in. For those who primarily enjoy the Senran Kagura series, know the dressing room and diorama modes did not make the cut in Ninja Wars. Also out is the plethora of costume options the series has cultivated over the years. And you can forget about getting a little one-on-one time with the girls. The only additional activity you’ll find here is the Peaches & Cream Meditation mini-game, which uses motion controls to see how well you can keep the girls balanced on a giant peach. Doing well here will net you buffs in battle, but eventually, you’ll be able to earn tickets that will let you skip the balancing act altogether while still scoring the rewards.
And really, the lack of commitment I see with the Peaches & Cream mini-game is evident throughout the entirety of Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars. It just feels as though the developers didn’t have any interest in presenting players with anything other than a mindless hack’n’slash. All the characters more or less play the same, all the requests you accept are more or less the same, and all the maps feel derivative of one another. It’s just a run-of-the-mill experience from beginning to end.
There is so much potential in a crossover between the Neptunia and Senran Kagura series that it’s a real disappointment this is the best Tamsoft, Compile Heart, and Idea Factory have to offer. What should have been a celebration of two niche franchises that have defied the odds (and critics) to succeed in this industry is instead yet another forgettable spinoff for two series that have already seen their fair share of forgettable spinoffs. Both franchises deserve better, and quite frankly, so do the fans who have done their part to keep them going.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]