[Review] Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson
Posted on August 27, 2015 by Patrick(@Patricklous) in 3DS, 3DS eShop, Features, New Nintendo 3DS, Reviews
System: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: August 27th, 2015 (EU) – September 15th, 2015 (NA)
Publisher Marvellous, XSEED
Best girl: Rin
Let’s just get this out of the way first: Senran Kagura has always sold itself on the breasts of its female protagonists rather than the actual gameplay and on the surface this sequel is no different. It’s still all about teenage anime girls fighting it out in the perviest way possible and it’s bound to be a style that will alienate most of the console’s audience. Though it wouldn’t be particularly professional to do so as a reviewer, Senran Kagura 2 is absolutely the kind of game where it is reasonable to dismiss it based on the premise alone. That said, there is more to Deep Crimson than finally making good on the producer’s promise of viewing breasts in stereoscopic 3D and there are some welcome refinements to the brawler gameplay.
My only experience with the series prior to this was the Playstation Vita spin-off, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, a game I didn’t care for at all, which made it even more surprising when I ended up enjoying Deep Crimson quite a bit. I still have my misgivings about the game’s aesthetic, but the fast-paced combat and bizarre tone definitely filled a niche on the console’s library. Though the gravity-defying blobs the game calls breasts might still be Senran Kagura’s primary selling point, there is thankfully a bit more to it this time around.
Like the first game, Senran Kagura 2 follows a clash between rival clans of good and evil ninjas – in this case the impossibly busty schoolgirls of the Hanzo and Hebijo academies. As always tends to be the case, the villains are a more interesting bunch than the heroes, so thankfully Deep Crimson mixes the stories of the Hebijo girls into the main narrative and makes them all playable. Eventually both teams have to join forces in order to fight some unsurprising corruption in the evil ninja academy and an army of demons raising hell in Kyoto, a plot point that plays into the sequel’s new focus on co-operative combat.
The story is told through a mix of visual novel style walls of text, chats between characters and cinematic 3D cutscenes. Though all of the voicework is still in Japanese, the localisation is solid with plenty of funny lines that take some liberties with the translation. Yeah, Mirai might not have sworn like a sailor in the original release, but for a character who so earnestly wants to be treated like an adult her constant f-bombs fit perfectly. Other gags fell a bit flat for me (you can only make so many sexual harassment jokes), but the characterisation of each of the girls is surprisingly deep. Unlike the collection of worn-out anime tropes and bizarre fetishes I encountered in Shinovi Versus, the cast of Deep Crimson have distinct character arcs, differing ideals and are driven by their relationships with each other. Considering how seedy the game is with its pervy transformations and clothing damage, it’s nice that the writing makes some effort to portray the characters as more than just sex objects.
There’s some serious tonal dissonance in Senran Kagura 2, but it mostly works out in the game’s favour. For a game marketed with cutesy anime girls the plot goes to some strangely dark places; everyone has some kind of tragic backstory and the business of slaying demons is as bloody as you’d expect. It’s impossible to take seriously with the character designs, especially when all of the drama is balanced with an equal helping of anime slice of life shenanigans and boob-grabbing nonsense. Yep, Senran Kagura just can’t quit with the tits, and the series’ obsession with breasts pervades every aspect of Deep Crimson’s design. The philosophy of “just add a pair of breasts to everything” is taken to hilarious extremes. Spiders, centipedes, ogres and all kinds of hellbeasts are depicted with giant bouncing breasts and it’s all so absurd that I can’t hate it. I was ready to dismiss the game for its focus on fanservice, but then I encountered a boss fight that involved an evil goddess descending from the heavens only to have her breasts pop out and turn into Madballs. It’s safe to say that anyone who approaches this game because of their fetish for breasts might think differently after a look at the final few bosses. Senran Kagura 2 is totally weird and creepy, but not entirely in the way I was expecting.
Unlike Senran Kagura: Burst, Deep Crimson moves away from its arcade brawler roots with faster fights where the characters can move around more freely. With a more consistent framerate and the ability to lock onto opponents, battles are smoother and attacks flow effortlessly into each other. The game has a heavy focus on combos; the girls can now grapple onto opponents by tapping the R button, making it easy to follow up launchers and keep enemies juggled in the air. That’s not to say the fights in Deep Crimson are easy, though; as a wise man once said, if you simply press XXX or YYY or XXYY, you will be sucked. Though there are only two attack buttons, there are branching combos and certain attacks can be charged to produce different effects so there’s a decent amount of depth.
New to Senran Kagura 2 are co-operative battles where two of the girls team up and can tag out or command each other by using the A button. Though the AI-controlled characters aren’t all that adept at actually dodging attacks, playing in co-op makes the game much easier since you can dish out double the damage and revive each other by consuming a single scroll. Like the first game, stringing together attacks nets scrolls, which can also be used to unleash powerful techniques after entering “Shinobi Mode” with the perviest magical girl transformation ever seen. The combat is fun, but the game’s dedication to constantly pointing out the existence of breasts is still very much present. On top of all the clothing damage, the fights are constantly interrupted by cut-ins of the girls flailing around in embarrassment as their clothes are ripped off. Not only is this gratuitous, but it slows down battles significantly and throws off the pacing. However, it’s now possible to disable most of this and fight free of sexy interruptions.
With its satisfying animations, quick pace and a soundtrack that mixes traditional Japanese instruments with shredding guitars, fighting in Senran Kagura 2 feels fitting for controlling a ninja, but there are a few aspects that are a little clunky. There’s no real way to dodge or block attacks and the only option for getting out of a sticky situation is a short dash that’s difficult to position. The small resolution of the 3DS screen doesn’t help matters and it’s sometimes hard to keep track of the action. Although the viewing space is a bit small it is possible to slightly manipulate the camera, provided you’re using a New 3DS or the Circle Pad Pro accessory.
But for all the flaws with the combat, the diverse range of weapons at the girls disposal are certainly interesting. Each character has a unique moveset with their own distinct gimmicks. For example, Hibari can shock herself with electricity to change her moves’ properties while Katsuragi’s can charge up her boots to fly around and unleash tornados from their feet. There’s even a character, Mirai, who favours ranged attacks by switching between a parasol, chain gun and grenade launcher. The movesets are all fun to mess around with and because the controls are so simple and similar between characters, it’s easy to pick up their playstyle (the list of combos on the lower screen helps too). This accessibility is a big bonus considering the playable characters change with almost every mission.
Although most stages follow the same format of fighting through a few enemy grunts before a showdown with one of the girls, the fact that the game is constantly cycling through characters gives the appearance that there’s a lot of variety. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes to play through a single stage so I found myself keeping on playing to see what characters I’d get to control this time and what ridiculous events would happen next. The short stages also make Senran Kagura 2 perfect for playing in short bursts in waiting rooms or on public transport (note: THIS IS A BAD IDEA). There are some problems with the mission structure; because each girl has a dedicated rival, there’s not much variety to the character matchups. You’ll keep on fighting the same characters as the same characters with no changes to their moves or patterns. Heck, even the evil Yoma generals both squads face off against use the same move sets. It’s disappointing, especially when the game is otherwise very creative with the enemies, especially the massive boss creatures. Similarly, there are only a handful of stages to fight through and they repeat very frequently. Although it can be adjusted at any point, the constant character switching makes the difficulty curve quite inconsistent, too.
Though the story mode took me around eight hours to clear, there’s a lot to do after the credits roll even without falling back on all the repetitive grinding for higher ranks from the first game. The new “Yoma’s Nest” mode involves picking a team of characters and descending into a series of battles with demonic creatures for the chance of experience points and purely cosmetic secret weapons. You can escape from the nest after any fight, but pressing on earns better rewards at the risk of losing it all. I found this mode really addictive and it’s quite an ordeal (I still haven’t made it to the bottom). Another optional challenge is a series of side missions with different requirements like clearing out all the enemies by parrying projectiles or by only using aerial attacks. These missions earn different “shinobi stones” that can be equipped to enhance the characters’ stats, so they’re worth checking out. Senran Kagura 2 also has local and online co-op play, although naturally I couldn’t find a single room prior to the game’s release. Maybe I’ll adjust this review once I’ve spent some time with the online mode, but it’s not the kind of thing that would change my final verdict.
There are some unlockable characters although curiously the two newcomers in this game —Kagura, a young girl with a thirst for yoma blood and her guardian Naraku— aren’t playable at all, which is disappointing. The only new character is Ikaruga’s brother Murasame, who is paid DLC and the first playable male character in the series. Since he hasn’t been released yet, the jury’s out on whether his inclusion makes the even whole beating the clothes of teenage girls thing creepier or simply emphasises the absurdity that everyone’s clothes explode off their body when they’re defeated in battle regardless of gender.
I’m not really in a position to declare the game as sexist or not, but I feel that if you wanted to make an argument that Senran Kagura 2 objectifies women and promotes sexual violence it wouldn’t be a particularly difficult argument to win. While the action gameplay itself stands on its own, there are still so many aspects of the game that exist solely for titillation, like a “dressing room” mode where the focus is customising the girls and taking photos through augmented reality. I enjoyed the game despite all of the problematic fanservice, but even with the cut-ins and the clothing damage disabled, the aesthetic is still so in-your-face (literally) that it’s a tough recommendation to anyone who isn’t at least desensitised to that sort of thing. That said, the fact that these elements can be disabled shows Tamsoft have made some progress in making the series more accessible for those that aren’t necessarily into the jiggling anime girls on the cover. These are just baby steps, and I fully expect the baby to turn around at any moment and start running back to its mother’s breasts but hey, it’s progress. Considering that the refined gameplay means the series is finally worth playing for reasons that don’t involve breasts, that’s a very good thing, but it’s not quite enough to recommend Deep Crimson without a few caveats.
Fans of previous games in the over-sexualised teenage girls ripping each other’s clothes off series will find a lot to enjoy in this game about over-sexualised teenage girls ripping each other’s clothes off. In fact, from a pure gameplay perspective, this is probably the best game about over-sexualised teenage girls ripping each other’s clothes off released at this point. That said, people who are uninterested or offended by teenage girls ripping each other’s clothes off should probably avoid Senran Kagura 2. On a serious note, Deep Crimson’s diverse range of characters, fast-paced action and sheer absurdity did hold my interest but I felt awfully ashamed of how much I enjoyed this trashy experience. Sexist as it might be, I like that D-list shlock like this can still see a retail release. Those after a solid brawler for the 3DS will find an embarrassment of riches here, albeit with a big emphasis on the embarrassment part.