Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: September 15, 2015
(Warning: Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is rated M for Mature by the ESRB. Due to the nature of the game, some screenshots may include potentially NSFW content. Continue at your own risk!)
You may not have heard of Senran Kagura–we haven’t seen many of the games in the west. The clothes-ripping brawler series localized (oddly) as a cooking/rhythm game (Senran Kagura Bon Appétit!) for the PS Vita in 2014…but that’s about it. The games have enjoyed some success in Japan, to the point of spawning a spin-off manga and anime. Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is technically a sequel to the original Senran Kagura games, but you don’t need to know anything about the previous games to understand its story or mechanics. You do, however, need to be prepared for some serious…well, exposure.
Dark & Light & Red
Senran Kagura takes place in Japan, in and around two rival ninja schools: Hanzo and Hebijo. Hanzo is the domain of “good” shinobi–those who fight for the government to protect the good of the people, rather than for personal gain. Hebijo shinobi are “evil” and fight only for profit, no matter the client. Both good and evil shinobi have been fighting one another for as long as they can remember; a trope that will be challenged fairly early in the game by members of both schools. Each school boasts five main playable characters usable throughout the story (along with even more characters added as you progress), and who are interchangeable for training missions and other special challenges outside of the main story. The plot is played out between fights in Mission Mode, through conversations between characters and through novel-style narrative.
I found several places in menus or in the Dressing Room where the wrong voice was paired with a girl.
The story initially only involves the rivalry between the two schools, but quickly escalates into a darker plot as a threat to both schools looms. Though originally I found the story rather forced and jarring, it quickly smooths out and becomes one of the strong points of the game. The relationships between the girls, both those who are schoolmates and their rivals at the other academy, are both sweet and silly. Though the plot through the ending is by no means the deepest or most thought-provoking story I’ve ever seen, it’s nice and kept me engaged when other aspects of the game made me want to quit. Unfortunately, by the third chapter or so, there are so many characters that it becomes difficult to invest in any of them at all. I wanted to care about Ikagura and Yomi’s conflict, but when I only saw them every ten missions or so, I found myself caring less and less.
I was also frustrated in the localization, which occasionally included clunky written dialogue and no English voice acting whatsoever. This was especially irritating in battle, as character development frequently occurred through conversation during fights, and I missed most of it because I was too distracted by the fight to read the subtitles. Even the Japanese voice acting lacked polish; I found several places in menus or in the Dressing Room where the wrong voice was paired with a girl.
A Dance Cloaked In Shadow
Each story mission pits a different shinobi up against a set challenge, either asking you to defeat a lot of small enemies, a big boss, or both. Most of the missions grant success upon completion, though some have to be completed in a certain amount of time. The shinobi girl you control in each mission is set each time, so you can’t swap out depending on the challenge, and each girl has a different move set and specialties. My favorite, for example, was Homura, who uses six firey blades all at once. My least favorite was Hibari, who must continuously charge up her electric power and constantly trips over herself. Certain missions can be played out with a pair of shinobi, instead of just one. Each character has stat values that can be raised by leveling up, accomplished by completing missions, or training.
Senran Kagura 2 is a 2.5D game, which does not work in its favor. A straight-up 2D or 3D brawler would have been fine, but as it stands the movement feels weird and limiting. You can run back and forth and sometimes up and down, depending on the map, but the camera is constantly in a weird place and is uncontrollable by the player, so most of the time you can’t see half of what you’re fighting. The character movement also feels clunky, and even with the targeting system I found it very difficult to actually attack the enemy I wanted to.
You can make your character jump with B, and attacks are carried out by combinations of Y (quick attacks) and X (heavy attacks) that are different for each girl and shown on the bottom screen, in case you forget. Ground and aerial attacks have different effects. L also unleashes a special move activated once you fill up the yellow bar on the bottom of your screen, next to the health bar. You can swap between two shinobi on co-op missions at will by pressing A, and execute tag-team special moves when their meters are completely full. When not controlling one of the shinobi, the AI takes over, though it can be a bit sloppy.
The difficulty of Senran Kagura 2 is simply bizarre. Most fights are so easy you can breeze through by shutting your eyes and mashing Y. However, some bosses have abilities that are so ridiculously punishing that without incredibly precise timing, you’ll be toast within seconds, especially if you’re in Mission Mode and stuck playing a character you’re not comfortable with. Even then, the special moves on the L button are insanely overpowered, and some characters can activate them so easily that I spent one entire fight just chaining them together until the boss was dead.
For a game where combat is one of the primary draws, Senran Kagura’s system fell flat.
Senran Kagura 2’s combat is largely uninspired. The maps were boring and frequently recycled, the combat mostly consisted of repetitive button mashing, and while some enemies had seriously punishing abilities, most battles played out the same way, again and again. Most of the characters’ moves, though thematically different, handle about the same way, with slight variances in range and X-button moves. You even fight the same enemies and bosses repeatedly. Furthermore, the framerate in 3D mode is terrible.
Even with the added Special Missions (extra missions with special win conditions) and the Yoma’s Nest (a challenge pyramid with several fights all in a row), there just wasn’t enough variety in combat to keep me engaged. For a game where combat is one of the primary draws, Senran Kagura’s system fell flat.
Next: Clothing features, and lack thereof