Review by Matt S.
Senran Kagura, the franchise, is great. Whether it’s the water gun shooter, the mainline action brawlers, the anime or the upcoming pinball game, this series brings extreme, ridiculous, hyper-sexualisation in a way that can only be called “rambunctious”. Because those games also tended to play well, and back the oppai up with an appropriately over the top sense of self-aware humour, Senran Kagura has always been entertaining in a way that meant the criticisms of it being “creepy” from some quarters have never been fair.
But with Senran Kagura Reflexions, the developers have only given those critics more ammunition. And this one is much harder to defend, since it doesn’t seem to be self-aware at all. The closest to clever Reflexions ever gets is its name, which is a play on “reflexology” (the form of massage that the game simulates), and “reflections” because the “narrative” – such as it is – is heavily dominated by a series of reflective memories.
In principle Reflexions is a dating simulator, in the vein of Love Plus or Summer Lesson (which isn’t a dating game, but follows the same structure, and is one of the rare other examples of this genre actually being localised into English). Basically, the more time you spend with a girl, doing things right by her, the more she’ll fall in love with you, and then you “win” the game. With Love Plus that relationship would be built by picking the right dialogue choices for the girl. With Senran Kagura Reflexions, you build your relationship with the Senran Kagura girl of your choice (Asuka is available in the base package, and others available via DLC) by massaging her.
It starts out with a hand massage. Your job is to find the parts of your girl’s hands where she’s tense and then apply pressure to release the tension. Do that well and you’ll next be tasked with doing the same thing to her whole body. Find the right spots there and you’ll then do a special massage, which might involve using a roller, brush, or other implement. If you succeed at that then the girl will have a moment of ecstasy (okay, being less subtle, she’ll clearly orgasm), and bam, your relationship with her will be deeper.
The relationship development side of Senran Kagura Reflexions is woefully inadequate, and the developers don’t even care. You’ll be told how much you mean to whatever girl is your favourite within the first act of each “campaign”. She’ll tell you she loves you within the first act, and from there you’re just repeating the massage minigames over and over again to get various variations of how you’re her soulmate out of her. There’s no sense of humour about this particular game, at least as far as it stands here in the west. There’s every possibility that the ease of which it is to win the “love” of your preferred girl, and the pointlessness of that process, is some kind of meta-humour on the genre, but as mentioned, we just don’t have the body of games in English for genre self-reflection to really work.
The massage mini-games are variations of ridiculous, but they’re always backed up with breathlessly earnest professions of love and adoration by the girl. The occasional pun in the dialogue doesn’t make up for the oddly sincere tone and lack of series trademark bombast in which it’s delivered. And if the writers were trying to use the more dialogue-heavy game to try and build their characters into something more substantial than Z cup-sized caricatures, they’ve failed, because the girl is far too focused on telling you how special you are for the narrative to give her much attention. Really, she’s a prop to play with, and divorced of Senran Kagura’s traditional humour and satire, it isn’t all that pleasant.
But assuming a humourless and patience-trying narrative isn’t enough to put you off the promise of a groping game, Senran Kagura Reflexions doesn’t really work on that level, either. You press buttons to poke, prod, or grab various bits of the girl’s body, and she either likes it, or she doesn’t. There’s not many bits of the body to interact with, and it’s abundantly obvious what works and what’s going to get an angry reaction, so there’s no actual skill involved in playing Reflexions.
In the leadup to the game’s release, there was a lot said about the way it would use the Nintendo Switch’s “HD rumble” function to simulate tactility; in other words, you’d feel the body as you touched and massaged it. Luckily for Nintendo this game wasn’t the tech demo to show off what HD rumble can do, because if it were people would think it was defective. The rumble effect barely feels like it has context – where different actions would cause a different rumble effect. It certainly doesn’t even come close to giving the sensation of touching anything, much less a human body.
If anything redeems Senran Kagura Reflexions, it’s the usual costuming options you’ll unlock as you play. There’s a truly staggering range of clothes and underwear you can play dress up with, and then an incredible range of poses and the like that you can get the girl to strike for screenshot options and the like. And yet… if any franchise needs a proper camera mode like what Sony and other publishers are sticking in their games, it’s Senran Kagura. The first game in the series that lets you do proper gravure photo shoots will do more to enhance the characters of the series than Reflexions even comes close to.
Senran Kagura Reflexions has actually done a lot of damage to the series. If the developers of it had set their sights on this being the series’ equivalent to Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, then it has been a resounding failure. Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 is an equally hyper-casual and hyper-sexualised experience, but it also maintained the sense of humour and what gameplay elements it offered, it nailed. Reflexions isn’t funny, it doesn’t play well, and it doesn’t even offer the most diehard Senran Kagura fans another look at their favourite characters.
– Matt S.
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