When I first started Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit, I played as Katsuragi, a blonde Japanese girl who loves breasts and wants to turn the world into a breast utopia (of which she is the freely-groping queen) and fought a little girl who was self-conscious about her chest. In this rhythmic cooking battle, I stripped her down to her underwear before losing the third round and being stripped down to MY underwear. It was about this point that I realized that my life was spinning out of control and went to bed.
As someone who’s never played a Senran Kagura before, I’m not sure if this is the worst game to get familiar with the series or the most honest one. The game tells you right up front that there are no stakes, that the cooking tournament that dictates this whole event is entirely a result of Master Hanzo’s desire to eat a lot of food and see some breasts. Drawing most of the game’s shinobi to this tournament is a ninja scroll that will supposedly grant one wish. Naturally, this scroll’s powers are a total lie (except for the endings in which they aren’t), but for the most part, it presents enough of a reason for the ladies to enter the tournament (others join to get some food for their clan to eat or simply to escape other girls who are after them).
Given some of the positive things I’ve heard about the series’ storytelling, I was a bit disappointed (but not surprised) to see that everything in this game is narrative fluff. Series protagonist Asuka (who the game notes lacks personality due to her status as “the main character”) has her story entirely devoted to one joke: futomaki (rolled sushi) are best to put in your mouth when they’re big and thick like her grandpa’s. Imagine that repeated across five battles (three of which with visual novel-style dialogue exchanges and you’ve pretty much got her whole story. Other stories are equally cheesecakey. The aforementioned Katsuragi and Mirai want a busty harem and a bigger chest respectively, and the squid-loving Yagyu just wants to seriously deepen her relationship with the candy-loving Hibari.
There’s nothing of depth here, the characters aren’t really given a chance to show off much of their personalities, and the localization feels inconsistent (why keep futomaki and change takoyaki to “octopus balls”? Why give Asuka a catchphrase that uses “enormity” to refer to size when the word has more to do with something morally wrong?) That said, what little there is feels like fanservice that hints at something larger and more connected in the series proper (why is the emotionless Hikage so emotionless?), so it did kind of make me curious to see what the “real” games in the series are like.
So, with that out of the way, how’s the rhythm game? It’s… okay. The game has two tracks along which various inputs will descend. Press the button at the right time to earn some points and move the battle gauge at the screen in your favor. Each cooking battle is split into three rounds, and at the end of each round, whoever makes the weaker dish has a layer of clothing destroyed. However, despite the three-round setup, the only round that actually matters is the final one, the “super dish.” Win this round and you’ll impress Hanzo (who’s judging the food in addition to putting on the tournament), often with comic fantastical results. You don’t even have to press any buttons for the first two if you don’t feel like it. As long as you come back and win the third, you win.
Why press buttons at all? Well, in addition to the exploding clothes, doing well enough in the first two rounds will create a special heart-shaped note that will zoom in on your underwear-clad opponent’s… life, hometown, and crying face. Admittedly this lengthy ogle of a reward kind of skeezed me out before I’d acclimated to Senran Kagura’s cavalier attitude toward nudity (and make no mistake, this is one skeezy game)… but that’s pretty tame compared to what awaits you AFTER the match, where your opponent is displayed wearing only chocolate and whipped cream atop a bed of fruit and cheesecake. So basically, your reward for participating is perversion.
The rhythm part of this game is clearly not its focus. Easy mode is effectively a guaranteed perfect clear, Normal mode isn’t too hard either (aside from Daidouji’s theme, which I can’t clear the third round of to save my life), but that’s when the game starts getting some fun patterns to play through. While the layouts were fun, the music, which has everything from ninja-esque themes to jazz to J-rock didn’t really hook me. In fact, I don’t think I could hum you single bar with the exception of one character theme that incorporates a wedding march in a way that reminds me of Parodius. Don’t expect the visual variety of something like Project Diva F or DJ Max Technika Tune, either. There are two stages in the entire game. Your only variety comes from who you’re fighting and how you’ve dressed your characters.
Because the game often rewards you with unlockable clothing, lingerie, and accessories, which you can customize your character with after every match. Bon Appetit it draws you into a Pavlovian loop: perfect song, see nudity, customize for next round. It’s interesting that your customizations don’t just end with your playable character. Your foes will appear in battles and cutscenes however you dressed them. It makes you feel as though your successes have some overarching purpose, as bizarre or lurid as the results may be. There’s something strangely compelling about playing through the story mode over and over, just to see what you can unlock.
I’d give everyone two eyepatches, if I could.
Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit doesn’t aspire to much, but it delivers on its promises. It’ll show you oversized food and oversized breasts. It’s bizarre and almost refreshing to see a game be so honest about what it’s after, even if the game that it wraps its fanservice in isn’t much to write home about.
Food for Thought:
1. I was surprised to see that winning all three rounds renders the opponent completely naked with the exception of chibi versions of their heads covering their nipples and bars of light covering their crotch. As I mentioned earlier, this game is very enthusiastic about nudity.
2. More than half of the game’s character select screen is DLC slots. I can only imagine that will be a far more appealing prospect to Senran Kagura die-hards than it is for me.