The world of SENRAN KAGURA keeps on expanding. Estival Versus is our fifth SENRAN KAGURA title here at XSEED, and my fourth as the main localizer. (I started here right around the time Burst wrapped up.) In that time, the franchise has introduced about 20 new characters, provided detailed lore around (almost) all of them, and – perhaps surprisingly – let the characters grow, in more ways than one, from game to game.
On the one hand, the girls are still in the same school year they were when they started in Burst. On the other hand, it’s been an incredibly eventful year for them – even with the Versus games being on a slightly different timeline than the numbered series – and their experiences throughout that year have, in most cases, refined their personalities and strengthened their bonds with each other. That adds an extra layer of challenge to the localization process, in ways I’ll get into shortly, but it also helps enrich the end result.
With Estival Versus being a direct sequel to Shinovi Versus – and there’ll be some spoilers for the latter below – the first question I had to ask was, “Which story from Shinovi Versus?” Veteran SK players know that the girls’ first Vita outing had four different plotlines, one for each faction, and that no two of them were anywhere near the same. Characters who survived one story didn’t necessarily live through the others, and the stories’ tones ranged from bouncy and carefree to grim and bloody. So which one really happened?
Answer: They kind of all did. Estival takes elements from each of the four Shinovi storylines to weave a new tale that incorporates their highlights. In Estival’s timeline – here come those Shinovi spoilers – the Gessen girls’ adopted grandfather Kurokage passed on some time ago, Ryōna and Ryōbi hatched their revenge plot on Miyabi but saw the error of their ways in the nick of time, Homura’s Crimson Squad is still punching the clock at their day jobs, and Asuka (being her relentlessly cheerful self) has befriended everyone.
With all 20 fighters from the last game back in this one, and with all their signature quirks well-established, Estival’s story looks beyond some of those quirks to give us a greater sense of who these characters are as people. In contrast to Versus, there’s only one main storyline this time through (plus the character-specific “Shinobi Girl’s Heart” side stories, among others), and in that main story, each girl gets her turn in the spotlight. In particular, Ryōna and Ryōbi, who spent the previous game as an S&M sideshow, surprisingly take center stage this time, with their story taking them on a heartfelt journey through their family history.
Of course, that journey mostly involves kicking other ninja girls’ clothes off. That hasn’t gone away, and won’t for as long as the series continues. But part of what makes this series stand out from some other similar titles is that, odd as it might seem, the storytelling – independent of the fanservice – respects the characters deeply. It cheers for their victories, salutes their resolve, applauds their cleverness, laughs along with their jokes, and sympathizes with their troubles. As a localizer, it’s on me to make sure all of that comes through in the English script, and to make it clear that, for all the creative camera angles and jiggle physics – “like two angry jellyfish having a fight in a rubber blouse,” as one reviewer put it – there are hearts and minds behind those angry jellyfish.
True to series tradition, of course, Estival is equal parts hijinks and heartwarming. You’ve got these new “Creative Finishers,” which let you trash opponents by knocking them into conveniently placed hazards like a volleyball net or a giant octopus. Some of the girls, like Katsuragi, are just as ravenous for cheap thrills as they ever were, while other girls have grown a little wiser to those wiles. And the S&M twins, for all their newfound depth as characters, haven’t lost a drop of their depravity.
But on the flip side of all that, Estival’s storyline resonates from a deep emotional core. (Minor spoilers ahead.) The story brings the girls to a mystical realm on the shores of the afterlife, where many of them encounter their departed loved ones. As they reunite, they face an impossible choice: To stay with their loved ones forever, abandoning their own dreams and responsibilities in the process, or to part with them a second time. Each of them struggles through that dilemma in her own way, and by the end of that struggle, none of them are quite the same.
So how to write all that?
Whenever I write, I try to make sure that no two characters sound alike. Ideally, if a reader sees a line of dialogue without its name tag or character portrait, they should be able to tell, just from the line’s tone and diction, which character said it. When each character has a big personality built around a memorable quirk, that’s easy; no fan of the series would see a line like, “Boobs! There’s boobs everywhere! ALL YOU CAN EEEAT!!” and think, “That must be Ikaruga.” But when the characters don’t focus on their quirks quite so much, the script needs to bring out their other personality traits, and really examine how those traits relate to the quirks they’re famous for.
One way to do that is to take a character and come up with three quick ways to describe them. Take Ryōbi, for example: you could say, “Short fuse, foul mouth, violent streak,” and those are all obvious. But she’s not like that quite all the time, and so, when you’re analyzing the script, you can go one step further and ask, “When is she angry, and when is she not? What sorts of things piss her off the most? When is she the most calm? What sorts of circumstances might help her open up? What is it she wants, besides the raw thrill of being in control, and why does she want that so badly?” By answering those sorts of questions, a localizer can help present Ryōbi as a full, believable character, without losing what makes her Ryōbi in the first place.
Of course, Estival also introduces a slew of new characters, each with her own set of quirks, likes, dislikes and speech patterns to incorporate into the dialogue. The three Mikagura sisters – Renka, Hanabi and Kafuru – all grew up together in a rural village, but they each stand out in different ways. Renka, the oldest, has adopted a “big city” accent and a brash, aggressive personality. Kafuru, the youngest and shortest, tries to compensate for her tiny stature by constantly asserting her superior brainpower. Hanabi is the most mellow and passive of the three, but that’s mostly because of her condition – if she thinks too hard, her head almost literally explodes.
Then there’s Sayuri, Asuka’s grandmother and Hanzō’s wife. A retired shinobi (and no ordinary shinobi, but an elite, demon-slaying Kagura back in her day), she can still kick “bahonkas” with the best of them, but her deadliest weapon is her tongue. In contrast, there’s Ryōki, the twins’ kind and gentle elder sister, who’s been given a reprieve from death. Just as she was in life, Ryōki has the patience of a saint and the benevolent light of an angel, so much so that she has an actual halo – which, if anyone happens to touch it, flips a switch inside her and turns her into a shrieking, sewer-mouthed hellbeast. Why does it do that? As Ryōki would answer, “WHO ****ING CARES?! IT’S ENTERTAINING! THAT’S WHAT’S IMPORTANT!!”
Estival is chock full of new material for every character. Some of the girls set out in new directions, others still cleave to their traditional roles, but the game, set as it is in the middle of a summer beach festival, gives fans everywhere a chance to party with all of them.