Interview: Senran Kagura Producer Kenichiro Takaki Talks Sexuality, Violence in Games, and Peach Beach Splash
Despite not always reviewing well, the Senran Kagura series has won over a passionate fan base thanks to its fast-paced action and jovial nature. Oh, and the busty female characters might also have something to do with its success. The series has traditionally been an action game, but the latest release, Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash, turns the game into a third-person shooter.
That drastic change in genres left me with a lot of questions. Thankfully, I got the answers to them as Peach Beach Splash‘s producer Kenichiro Takaki was gracious enough to take the time to talk about the upcoming release at E3 2017. We discussed how shooters aren’t as popular in Japan, if he was willing to tone down the series’ signature sexuality, and if there’s too much violence in video games.
Check out his answers below!
PlayStation LifeStyle: Traditionally the series has always been action games, why switch to a third-person shooter?
Kenichiro Takaki [via translator]: There are two main reasons. First is that third-person shooter seemed like a genre that was well suited for the PS4. We had been doing PS4 and Vita titles up until now, but we wanted to do a title that was specifically for consoles. The other reason is that over the years, Senran Kagura has picked up more and more fans overseas. We’ve seen that audience grow, so we wanted to pick a genre that would have a worldwide appeal and maybe bring in more fans worldwide and expand the audience that way.
PSLS: What unique gameplay features differentiate this from a standard third-person shooter?
KT: The way it controls is very similar to a usual TPS, so people familiar with the genre will be able to pick it right up and understand it. The main feature that separates it is that we’re not using real guns, but water guns. So there’s a very playful attitude, and the way to defeat enemies is not to kill them but to soak them with water.
PSLS: So, the games have a reputation for featuring busty females. Some people don’t like that. Have you ever considered an option to tone it down?
KT: A little bit. The game started out very small and that was the big selling point in order to move units. Now that the franchise has grown, and is getting more popular, it might be worth considering having features that differ depending on where it’s being sold. That way it might be able to sell better in certain regions where it would be problematic to have that kind of content.
PSLS: One of the reasons why I think it doesn’t suffer a ton due to that is because of how playful the series is with sexuality. Can you discuss the series’ sense of humor?
KT: That’s definitely something that [we try] to pay attention to. Even though there’s sexual content, it’s very light and fun. In Japan there’s probably more of a genre of erotic comedy type situations in anime/manga, and that’s definitely an angle [we’re] going for. It’s also important that the girls don’t look victimized, but that they’re in on the joke and having fun.
PSLS: What are the different types of water guns in the game, and what separates this from other titles in the genre?
KT: Even though they’re water guns, they’re all based upon the standard weapons that third-person shooter (TPS) fans are familiar with. This shower gun isn’t something that you’d see in a regular TPS. Before you go into battle you select your loadout by selecting these cards, and there are various skills that will change your stats.
PSLS: What was most challenging about developing a third-person shooter?
KT: In the games, the girls’ looks and breasts are big parts of the game. In a TPS we’re always looking at the girls from behind, so we had to think about places where we could show the girls from the front. That way players get to see them.
To give you a more serious answer, since the TPS genre is still pretty rare in Japan we really wanted to make sure that the game was easy to jump in and play for the Japanese players. That way it’s good for new players.
PSLS: The characters look very mobile in the game, and they can basically use jetpacks. Is it difficult to design levels with verticality in mind?
KT: It was definitely difficult to take the verticality in account when designing the levels, but the Senran Kagura series up to now has always been about being able to fight very quickly. So, I wanted to have that sense of speed continue in this game as well by giving the girls the water dash, boosts and high jumps. It allows the game to be played fast and frenetically.
PSLS: What type of modes are there for single-player?
KT: For single-player, there’s the usual story mode that’s structured like the modes in previous games where you get story sections in between levels. There’s also a mode that allows players to jump into missions directly without any story. The same dressing room mode from previous games is also back where you get to customize your characters and move them around.
PSLS: Since the game uses water guns, there’s no real violence. Do you think that games rely on violence as a crutch too much?
KT: Yeah, we do think there’s a trend of using violence a little too much.
PSLS: What’s your design philosophy when it comes to implementing trophies?
KT: I feel that its good to unlock about 40-50% of trophies by playing the game normally. Then get to 60-70% if you play it more in-depth, so that percentage of the trophies would be easy to obtain. The final 30% would be the ones that are difficult to obtain, and are hard to get. It’s disappointing when you beat a game and only get one or two trophies when you feel like you did so much more.
PSLS: What hooks are in the game to keep players coming back for more?
KT: Every time you clear a stage you get a card pack, which has several random cards in them. You can collect them, as they have nice pictures on them, but they also can be used as a skill card to buff and customize your character.
PSLS: The series has continually grown in popularity, but it hasn’t always reviewed well. Does critical reception matter to you?
KT: Obviously, when you get good reviews it makes you very happy, and it’s what you love to see. But when making games, you know that you’ve never made a perfect game so reading bad reviews is also very important so we know where to improve and what didn’t go over well with players. However, there are also reviews that ignore the games due to the sexual content, and write it off from the start, so those aren’t very helpful. If you’re going to write it off due to a main component then that game just isn’t for you, and that review isn’t really useful as feedback.
PSLS: Peach Beach Splash is a PS4 exclusive. Since you don’t have to design for the Vita anymore, has that opened what you can do graphically?
KT: That’s absolutely true. The characters look a lot better in this game, they look a lot prettier, and since water is such a big part of the gameplay, we wanted the water to look realistic. We also wanted clothing to look realistic when it gets wet and become more transparent.
PSLS: There’s a hardcore fan base for the series. How difficult is it to please those fans while also bringing it to a wider audience?
KT: One of the things to do is to listen to feedback, but don’t listen to too much of the feedback. Everyone is going to have different opinions, and if you’re trying to make everyone happy then you won’t have a clear direction for your game. [Our team] as always had a clear direction for the games, and how to make people happy, so we’ve been able to keep that core audience there.
PSLS: The story modes have always been surprisingly in-depth. What can players expect here?
KT: Yes, this game will have an in-depth story. It’ll be a lot lighter than some of the dark stories you’ve seen in the past, as this has a vacation feeling to it. It’s part of the main storyline to the series, and acts as a bridge between past games and what’s to come. So, it’s a pivotal moment.
PSLS: The Senran Kagura series has been able to jump around from genre to genre well. Are there any other genres you’d like to create a Senran Kagura game in?
KT: I’m a big pinball fan. I’d like to make a Senran Kagura pinball game.
(Kenichiro Takaki then pretends to cup a pair of breasts while the translator finishes his sentence, and all three of us in the room crack up laughing during the greatest moment in my journalistic career.)
PSLS: What led to you getting into game design?
KT: I love video games so that’s a major reason. When I was a kid I wanted to become a manga creator, but over time I realized video games are special due to how the player has direct control of the action. So, that became very appealing.
PSLS: Why should our readers should give Peach Beach Splash a shot, even if they didn’t like past games?
KT: I really like FPS and TPS games, and I love them even though they’re based on war settings. Fans of the genre should expand their horizons. We have a game that’s about girls having fun together, and it’s different from what they’ve played before. So, I’d love if people gave it a shot and got a new experience from the genre.
We’d like to thank Kenichiro Takaki for taking some time from his busy E3 schedule to sit down and answer our questions. Stay tuned for more Senran Kagura coverage, and don’t forget to check out all of our E3 2017 coverage.