Exploring death with Senran Kagura Estival Versus

On February 2, 2020 by TheIrishOtaku

The exploration of death and how it affects people is a topic rarely brought up in video games, due to how death affects everyone differently, some grieve the passing of a loved one for months while other can seemingly accept the finality of death and continue living, but there has been one game that I played that looked at how death affects people and that is Tamsoft’s Senran Kagura Estival Versus.

Released in Europe by Marvelous in 2016, Senran Kagura Estival Versus is an all-female beat ‘em up game from the Senran Kagura series, a series that is infamous for its eye-catching feature that involves slowly stripping female opponents down to their underwear and creating many risqué scenes. So, how does a game best known for stripping enemies offer players a fascinating look at death and how it affects people? Well, it’s all down to its focus on character-driven storytelling.

Senran Kagura Estival Versus is made up of 20+ characters with the main cast being female high-school Shinobi (ninjas), the main cast are split into four rival factions: Hanzo Academy, Gessen Girls’ Academy, Hebijo Academy and Crimson Squad. In the game, all four of these rival factions are brought to a version of purgatory for Shinobi, a place where Shinobi who have died with regrets in their heart. The reason why the game brings these factions to this purgatory is to take part in the “True Shinobi Girl’s Code Kagura Millennium Festival”, an event where Shinobi who have died in vain can be laid to rest. This festival and the location is where we see how death and meet lost loved ones can affect people.

As you play through the game you are slowly introduced to the idea of the characters meeting those who they’ve lost, but at the mid, to late point of the game, we are given one of the most heartbreaking acts of character-driven storytelling with Miyabi, the reserved and no-nonsense leader of the evil faction, Hebijo Academy. In this new world, Miyabi is given a chance to meet her late mother who was killed by a Yoma while calling Miyabi home for dinner, this death is very much responsible for Miyabi’s current demeanour and what led her to no longer eating her favourite meal, an egg rice bowl, as it was the last thing her mother made and it creates painful memories. With that said upon reuniting with her mother, Miyabi’s current demeanour is torn down as she breaks down in tears finally getting to see her mother again, it is a scene that makes those with the even the strongest of hearts tear up. When her mother calms her down, she asks Miyabi to not crush the eggs she’s carrying as she is going to cook some egg rice bowls, although she needs Miyabi’s help as she is missing a few key ingredients, this leads to an elated Miyabi to run off and fight the other factions for the ingredients her mother requires.

Miyabi cries over the loss of her mother

Getting the ingredients and returning to her mother, could easily be the end of this reunion, but Estival Versus doesn’t like to hold back when it comes to emotional gut punches as we are treated a scene where Miyabi is thought by her mother to make the egg rice bowl dish, so she can make it herself in the future. Once they finish cooking and eating the meal her mother begin to disappear, as she finally found her peace and can move onto the afterlife, this moment leads Miyabi to scream teary-eyed for her mother to come back, as reuniting with her mother made her the happiest she ever felt. This final scene is incredibly evocative to anyone who has lost a loved one, the chance to meet a parent, child, grandparent etc. again is for me personality something I would dream about, having that one more moment with them and seeing them disappear again is heartbreaking, and it is expertly shown off by Estival Versus.

The game also brings up more questions with the likes of Crimson squad wanting to remain in limbo as they can stay with their mentor and father figure, whose death destroyed their future as they became outcasts to their fellow Shinobi and left to live a life of poverty. The scene honestly made me think that if I was in this world and I could be reunited with my loved ones would I ever want to go back to the world of the living.

For a game and series that is commonly played behind closed curtains due to its strip focused mechanics, Estival Versus asks players powerful questions about death and how people handle it, in the game, Miyabi managed to recompose herself and can move on knowing her mother has found peace, but finding peace can be difficult.

Now, what truly makes everything I said earlier special is the fact that these heartwarming scenes are done in Japanese, which means non-native Japanese speakers can only get context and understanding of scenes through English text and stills, and yet despite the language barrier the game still manages to get its message across.

So, on a final note, if you could be reunited with a loved one or loves ones in purgatory would you stay with them, or would you return to the world of the living?

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