As Community Manager for Marvelous Entertainment’s upcoming Senran Kagura: Estival Versus game on both PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, Michael Fisher is certainly aware of what makes the Senran Kagura franchise so popular in the West. And to find out more about the game, as well as the franchise’s enduring appeal, I spoke to him and got to ask him as to whether there is anything else that the franchise should be renowned for apart for its fetishisation of breasts and Japanese schoolgirls.
Regarding your Senran Kagura franchise, how successful has it been for you in bringing it over to the West and what has the reception been like for the franchise?
Originally for Shinovi Versus and Bon Appetit I wasn’t part of the team, but I have been since Senran Kagura 2 and Estival Versus. Senran Kagura 2 is for 3DS and it’s the first physical edition we’ve done. There was great feedback and the fans loved it. We got an absolute ton of pre-orders. When we got the chance to announce Estival Versus for PS4 and PlayStation Vita we did it again. We created a Special Edition and it sold out pretty fast. Fans were really excited for the game. It’s getting bigger and bigger in the west and it means we can do more and more things for everyone.
Senran Kagura originally came out on 3Ds. What made you decide to take the series to the Vita afterwards?
The series director, Kenichiro Takaki – he originally made Burst on 3DS as he wanted to do something with the 3D. And then the Vita came out and he was excited by the hardware and tried it there… he did a few experiments that he liked, and then went back to the 3DS for the direct sequel. He likes trying new things. The PlayStation 4 has come out and he’s envisioned Senran Kagura in full HD today… that’s what he’s done, and Senran Kagura: Estival Versus will be coming out early 2016 on PlayStation 4.
How does Estival Versus differ from the earlier games?
Estival Versus is obviously going to be on PS4 so it has outstanding graphics. It’s also on the Vita as well because our legacy fans are on Shinovi Versus and Bon Appetit and he [Kenichiro Takaki] wants to support them as well. It has online multiplayer, tons more characters, insane abilities. On PS4 I think it supports 10 player online death match, and 4 on PlayStation Vita. It’s taking the Senran Kagura series to higher grounds.
The thing about Senran Kagura though is that it’s basically like Dynasty Warriors. Will you be making any concessions between the PS4 and the Vita… like in terms of number of enemies on screen?
I imagine there will be some differences. I don’t know exactly what. We’ve been getting some builds through and we kind of compare and contrast. We’re looking at the idea of the save data working across both platforms… and it’s still something we’re looking into. Other than the graphics and quality, we don’t have any content cut from the Vita version and it has the same content as the PlayStation 4 version.
I know that Senran Kagura originally came out in Japan, and Japan has a fetish for these type of games. How has the franchise fared in the West when ultimately it’s more of an ecchi game? I know that sort of stuff does really well in Japan as the country has different norms and values regarding sexual content and even sexual expression, but this sort of stuff is ultimately frowned upon in the West, which probably explains as to why booth babes aren’t highly regarded in certain circles. Given the stigma that is associated with the sexualised teenage schoolgirls, what sort of risks has Marvelous Games taken in bringing the franchise over to the West and ensuring that the initial games did well, whilst also paving the groundwork for future games to meet commercial sales expectations?
We don’t censor any content apart from certain things that don’t work in America. XSEED do the translation and they bring them here. We don’t censor the content and we give the games to the Age Rating Boards. The Age Rating Boards give us the ratings back. Senran Kagura 2 got a 12 rating. For us, it’s not really a risk at all because we know there are fans that love this stuff and we love being able to give it to them. When fans can’t get the games in their language and they can’t get them in Europe and they have to import and pay loads of money and all the charges… it’s not fair on those who want the franchise. So for us, it’s never really a problem. There is that stigma but this game doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s quite tongue in cheek. I think there’s a big thing to do with cultural differences where in Japan it’s very much the norm whilst over here, it’s very much the niche. Bringing it over here, we’re pleasing the people who want it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.
Would it be coming out as a physical release?
Yes. We’ve done special editions again for Estival Versus… for both Playstation Vita and PS4.
With physical inventory costs there’s obviously a certain associative risk. Given the diminutive install user-base of the Vita, how well has Senran Kagura done for you?
For us, it’s done very well. It’s our most successful game alongside Rune Factory 4. Originally, we weren’t too confident. We’d only done a digital release of Shinovi Versus and Bon Appetit as we weren’t sure about the markets. We were new to it. And then we did physical for Senran Kagura 2 and Senran Kagura Estival Versus and we pushed that out a lot. Our fan base is growing by the day. It’s done better than expected. We have piles and piles of boxes in the office to wrap up and send to our customers.
The thing is though… Rune Factory 4 is regarded as being a pretty good game in its genre, whereas Senran Kagura almost has this production-line aspect to it… like Onechanbara. It basically sells itself upon its sexual content as there isn’t any underlying depth to the gameplay – although I haven’t played the games and am just stating according to online feedback. Its underlying gameplay depth isn’t quite as nuanced or as grand as other games which have over-sexualised female avatars – such as Bayonetta 2 which not only has an incredibly pretty main character but also is an incredibly great game. Even though in Senran Kagura you get to play as girls with big breasts, do you sometimes think that maybe the games will be marginalized among gamers whose tastes are probably more “refined” – who just want a great game and who don’t necessarily care about the physical dimensions of avatar breasts or graphics?
Obviously on the surface, this game is very pretty and it is sexualised. That’s how it is. There is depth to the gameplay. The combat system is great. There’s tons of characters and each one is different. The storyline is very well written. The localization done by XSEED is amazing. Each character has their own storyline which is very, very good. We’re not just talking of fluff storylines. There are deep storylines with emotion.
What about play mechanics?
In terms of play mechanics, you’ve got the base combat. As you mentioned before, you’ve got that sort of hack and slash Dynasty Warriors type thing. As you level up, you unlock more combos and more special moves. The boss fights are all about pacing yourself… walking, defending, fighting back. There is definitely depth in the combat.
Thank you very much.