More Than Meets the Eye: An Interview with XSEED Games About SENRAN KAGURA SHINOVI VERSUS

SENRAN KAGURA can be its own worst enemy. Considering the effort put into its breast physics, the Tamsoft developed series immediately draws a line between those who are put off by the title, and those who are willing to give it a chance. Neither camp is wrong in their feelings, but I want to do my part to better explain why these games are so enjoyable. SENRAN KAGURA Burst for the 3DS won me over last year, proving that the series is more than fan service, and with SHINOVI VERSUS‘ release for the Vita, I’m expecting yet another terrific brawler.

I took the opportunity to speak with XSEED Games’ Ken Berry and Brittany Avery about the process of bringing SENRAN KAGURA SHINOVI VERSUS to North American Vita owners, and what makes the game so much fun.

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What makes the SENRAN KAGURA series a perfect fit for XSEED Games?

Ken Berry, Executive VP, XSEED Games (KB): I wouldn’t quite call it a “perfect fit” since we were very hesitant to touch the series at first, for obvious reasons, but now that we’re part of the worldwide Marvelous umbrella of companies rather than just licensing titles from an unrelated Japanese IP holder, we have to make an extra effort to bring over as many Marvelous titles as possible.

After seeing the continuing success of the series in Japan, our intention was to release the original SENRAN KAGURA as an eShop-exclusive title and then publish the enhanced Burst physically on 3DS if that succeeded, but the producer Takaki-san was adamant that since Burst was the superior product, that should be the first one released in North America. Some people that were wanting a physical release of Burst may be bummed to hear this, but you have to respect a producer that is so adamant about quality that he wants to make sure people’s first impressions of his product are the best possible. Burst ended up being a success on eShop and we didn’t get as much backlash from mainstream media as we had feared, so we decided to go all in with a physical release of SHINOVI VERSUS.

What appears to be the biggest change from Burst to SHINOVI VERSUS is the step away from side-scrolling brawler into a more arena based one. What does this new approach do to improve upon the 3DS game?

Brittany Avery, Production Coordinator (BA): I feel it helped immerse me into the environment more. I enjoyed the side-scrolling aspect of Burst, but the way it’s set up makes you approach battles from a fixed distance. In SHINOVI VERSUS, you’re the center of the action and can move freely, so there’s a stronger sense of control and varied movement. It adds a whole new level of strategy to battle, too; with twenty playable characters in an environment like this, you now have to take the direction and range of your and your enemies’ attacks into account more often.

What is the standout reason to play Shinovi Versus?

BA: You play it for Miyabi, of course (ha ha). But really, if you were a fan of getting to know the characters in Burst, then you’ll love it in SHINOVI VERSUS as well. One of my favorite things in Burst was seeing just how serious and dark the story would get at times. I love dark stories. Judging the game only by its cover or by the character designs, you wouldn’t expect SENRAN KAGURA to have anything like that, but if you enjoy those things too, I’d say you absolutely must check out the Hebijo route. It’s my favorite route, with my second favorite being the Crimson Squad route, though I highly recommend saving that one for last.

Still, even if you’re more of a fan of happier things, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the story as well. Even tear-jerker moments are present, some of which expand upon events previously touched upon in Burst (please try and play Burst first, if you can!). I think most will start the game for the fast-paced action or the fanservice and finish it pleasantly surprised by how much they’ve come to like certain characters or certain parts of the story.

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You have said on Twitter that you’re happier with SHINOVI VERSUS
localization over Burst‘s, saying that you and the team could focus better on this project. As someone experienced with the 3DS game, where would I see these improvements?

BA: Yes, I am happier with SHINOVI VERSUS’ localization. I was only able to be to join midway through the project since my main project at the time was Trails in the Sky for PC, but I think we understood SENRAN KAGURA’s world a little better this time, if that makes sense. We could also take our time with it instead of work on a short, hectic schedule.

Once localization was done, we had our entire bilingual office play the game to make sure the lines didn’t differ too far from the intentions of the Japanese voiceovers, barring some things that have to be changed because they just plain wouldn’t make sense in English. There’s an even bigger variety of girls this time, each with their own distinct voice, and everyone connected a little more with certain characters than others. When you connect with someone more, you’re obviously able to write them a lot better than someone who isn’t feeling them as much, so I think having so many people with different favorites look over the final product helped each character stand out as best as they could.

Normally, too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth, but we were all looking at the same finished product and we had already laid out what we absolutely couldn’t change, so we were able to stay consistent in the right places throughout this process. You’d be surprised by how many terms there are to remember. There’s hundreds.

One thing I liked was being able to update certain terms from Burst that fans weren’t quite pleased with. In Burst, the Hanzō girls would say, “[Name], 舞い忍びますっ!” /& “Let’s dance!” In a more literal sense, it means something akin to “I, [Name], will dance and sneak!” In Japanese, the ‘dance and sneak’ part comes from the word ‘maishinobu,’ which is a combination verb that mixes:

– ‘Mau’ – a fancy word for ‘to dance.’ Fancier than ‘odoru,’ anyway, which is the usual word for ‘dance’ and is less elegant-sounding. ‘Mau’ also implies spinning, and is a word you would use for a graceful, high-class dance.
And- ‘Shinobu’ – the verb ‘to sneak,’ using the same kanji as the noun ‘shinobi.’

With SENRAN KAGRUA SHINOVI VERSUS, however, we wanted to revise the phrase in order to encompass its entire meaning. The Japanese uses flowery words, but is a very direct statement, much like how Burst’s localization, “Let’s dance!” was very direct. This time, we wanted to get more flowery ourselves. What do we have now?

“I will show you a dance cloaked in shadow!”

Oftentimes the life of a shinobi is described in text as one ‘hidden in shadow,’ so we wanted to bring in that connection. It’s not only about sneaking around behind the scenes–it’s specifically about being a shinobi who sneaks. This sneaking around as a shinobi is meant to be a graceful act in and of itself, thus showing, or performing, a dance truly representative of the life hidden in shadow during battle.

Lastly, we’ve been able to get to know the dev team, Takaki-san included, a lot more since Burst, so I was much more comfortable asking even the most random of questions. With some dev teams, they prefer that you act on your own, but others are very open to you asking as many things as you want about the game’s world and lore. The SENRAN KAGURA team is definitely the latter; if one is observant enough, they might notice something that differs from the Japanese text that was not only intentional, but changed with the blessing of the original team. Probably because I asked too many questions, ha ha.

I know this seems like a lot, but I think it’s more like a bunch of little details that aren’t easy to notice outright. Still, I hope people finish the game and get a very positive impression of the localization. Trust me, we tried to think of the little things and work together with the original team as much as we could for this title.

The text-based portions of Burst were very well written, and provided some great depth to the characters. Will those make a return in SHINOVI VERSUS? What’s it like working on these serious portions when surrounded by the surreal world of the rest of the game?

BA: The visual novels absolutely make a return in SHINOVI VERSUS, and are my favorite parts! I think a game like this greatly benefits from these stories and is welcomed by the fanbase due to how unexpected it is. It’s kind of like playing a cute looking game that suddenly turns to gross horror, or something. The unexpectedness of it makes it stand out and makes you appreciate it a lot more because you think, “Ah, this team is taking its world and characters a lot more seriously than I thought they would.” The novels make you see that they aren’t just cool designs, but actual people. And the world itself isn’t just a neat background, but you’ll start to see that everything has its history if you look closely enough. And the things that don’t? Surely, that’s just because they wanted to save it for later.

Having both silliness and depth in a game makes for a nice balance, I think. Too much of a serious story will leave you feeling like the drama is forced, but SHINOVI VERSUS found the right amount to keep you wanting more between the fanservice, fun and action.

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Do the online modes have anything that carries over to the single player?

BA: Online is purely to extend the fun, but with other players, so nothing carries over to single player.

XSEED often has to go on the defense when the SENRAN KAGURA games are discussed. The game’s more risqué bits seem to be a blessing and a curse; they may be what catch people’s attention, but for some it’s all they can focus on. How does XSEED interest players enough to see beyond the naughty parts?

BA: I do want to express that we’re not ashamed of the so-called “naughty parts”! We feel it is important to showcase all aspects of the game, but the fan service is the part many tend to focus on, while they ignore the rest that the games have to offer.

It’s key to note that while the North American market benefits more from the “what else” that I’ve previously touched upon in this interview, Japanese marketing also benefits from showcasing the fan service elements. SHINOVI VERSUS had been marketed in Japan first and is seen first and foremost as a fanservice-only game, it’s hard to get that out of people’s minds. To expand upon that, it’s a bit hard to get across that it’s just two different marketing styles for a game that really does contain the best of both worlds. Sometimes, our showing off the other features or defending the title is interpreted as us covering up the fact that it has fan service, when that’s really not the case!

I feel talking to people and word of mouth is the best method. You’re not going to earn favors by forcing the content onto people who don’t like it, but there have been plenty of people who were cautious but open to learning about Burst and then gave it a chance after reading an interview or a forum post by one of the staff. It’s made my day to have someone tweet to me something like, “Hey, I read your interview and decided to give it a try after all. I love it!” Totally worth it. It’s a ‘one person at a time’ kind of battle, but I think it’s proven to be an effective method.

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I was curious about why you think the sexual content is featured in the first place? I have to wonder if it’s not fan service but instead a way to catch people’s attention when a multimillion dollar marketing push just isn’t possible.

KB: That would be better answered by the producer of the series, Takaki-san. However, I really don’t think it was a conscious effort to grab people’s attention with a cheap gimmick – Takaki-san is a very talented and sincere person that works on things that genuinely interest him. Keep in mind that there’s been plenty of other games in Japan featuring fan service such as Queen’s Blade and Ikki Tousen that released before SENRAN KAGURA, but they didn’t quite catch on the same way as SENRAN KAGURA has. A game can’t be one-dimensional and based on a single gimmick and hope to succeed in this day and age where user feedback is everywhere on the internet on the day of release, so as Brittany mentioned previously in this interview it’s all the other elements together that compose a great overall user experience that keeps the fans coming back and the series expanding onto various platforms.

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4 thoughts on “More Than Meets the Eye: An Interview with XSEED Games About SENRAN KAGURA SHINOVI VERSUS

  1. Amazing interview, love this series and xseed and Kenichiro.

  2. Excellent interview.

  3. this game interests me (i admit, sometimes for the non-gameplay reasons). i actually respect that xseed does not apologize for the smuttier aspects of it. I’m waiting for an eshop price drop, but it’s on my wish list!

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