Capsule Review: Senran Kagura Reflexions

(A note on versions - this game originally released in Japan as Shinobi Refle: Senran Kagura. The North America and Europe release was renamed Senran Kagura Reflexions.)

A spin-off of the Senran Kagura series that presents a short and simple visual novel about face-of-the-series Asuka exploring her feelings and confessing her love for the player character. This is accomplished via a series of sexually-charged vignettes in which the player massages Asuka in simple minigames to unlock her emotions. There’s also DLC to add four other characters (Yumi, Murasaki, Ryōna, and Yomi) and more cosmetic options for the series staple dress-up and diorama modes. Unfortunately, the game fails on almost every level.

The story is extremely thin. Asuka meets the player character after class and has something to say but has trouble getting it out. You massage her hands, triggering a series of five daydream sequences that cast the two of you in various fantasy roles - you’re a struggling student and she’s your sexy tutor, or she’s a student athlete and you’re helping her warm up, and so on. You massage her body in these daydreams, and after five of them Asuka figures out her feelings and may or may not confess her love to you based on the way you massaged her in her daydreams. Once you’ve seen all five possible endings, you unlock the true ending which adds very little. The player character is a complete cipher, no reason is given for Asuka to fall in love, and none of the scenes or dialog develop or reveal her character - if anything, she’s frequently acting out of character.

The gameplay is equally thin - it’s a stretch to call it a massage (or even reflexology) simulator. You start in the classroom, holding Asuka’s hands, and can squeeze any of her fingers or either of her palms, with different locations triggering different dream sequences out of the seven available. Once in a dream sequence, you get a mode essentially identical to what you can do in the dressing room in most Senran Kagura games: Asuka stands and you can touch a few different ways anywhere on her body to prompt reactions that steer toward a particular ending by influencing her emotional state. After this comes the final mode, where (once all options are unlocked) you can choose between striking her inner thigh with your hands, using a roller on the back of her thigh, using a brush on her arm, using a vibrator on her abdomen, or skipping this step entirely as it doesn’t affect the ending. Regardless of your choice, you don’t move to massage multiple areas or have any real choice or control. Asuka assumes a suggestive position, your chosen tool is placed for you, and you fill a meter within a time limit via a simple rhythm-based minigame. Then you’re back to the classroom to either get the next dream or arrive at an ending.

With no depth to the story, characterization, or gameplay, the only level this game delivers on is as an aid to fantasizing about being in erotic situations with Asuka. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, though it’s worth noting that cultural differences absolutely come into play here and some of Asuka’s fantasies or her reactions to certain kinds of massages might be very off-putting to players unused to the relevant Japanese tropes even though these scenes explicitly take place in Asuka’s imagination. But the game doesn’t even embrace its role as a fantasy-creator. Given that Asuka (or at least her voice and appearance) is just being slotted into these scenarios and any of the dozens of established characters would serve just as well, it’s bizarrely limiting that the base game only comes with Asuka and there are only four more girls available, each behind a DLC purchase that’s the same price as the base game. This might make sense if each character had a meaty and character-specific story, but they don’t - each character’s story goes through the same structure and even repeats many of the same dream sequences. If it’s just about seeing a beloved character in these non-character-specific contexts, why not make more of the characters available and please more of the game’s potential audience? Why charge nearly the price of a new mainline game to make a shallow side game’s full cast available when that cast is so small?

While Senran Kagura has always attracted attention through titillation, early games backed that up with solid gameplay, likable characters, and surprisingly nuanced storytelling. More recent games have de-emphasized the characters and story but usually kept up the gameplay, and Reflexions drops all three to near-zero. The only thing here is the titillation, and even that is half-heartedly executed and priced exploitatively.

I Stopped Playing When: I fully completed the base game, seeing all endings and unlocking all items. I did not purchase any DLC.

Docprof's Rating:

One Star: Not for me. While there might be someone out there who'd enjoy this game, I was actively repulsed by it or just found nothing to latch on to.

You can get it or learn more here.