Almost two years ago now, Senran Kagura Burst… um… burst onto the scene with its mix of fast paced brawler action and clothes shredding mechanics. Since the reception was uncertain, it was released as a digital only title in North America, but has since gained enough traction to spawn localizations of two Vita spinoffs (one as a physical release) and now a 3DS exclusive sequel. The phrase “vote with your wallet” is thrown around a lot, but I think it accurately describes how this franchise has exploded over the last couple of years.
Which brings us to Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson. The game combines elements from its predecessor as well as Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus and builds on top of them to create the ultimate kunoichi stripping experience. While far from perfect, it at least succeeds in being a worthy entry to an otherwise odd series, while introducing some much desired enhancements.
The plot retreads some of the material from Burst at the point where the Hanzo and the Hebijo shinobi face off against one another (side note, it would be wise to play that one first to avoid spoilers). From there, the Hebijo establish themselves as the Crimson Squad, and square off against the main antagonist who was thought felled in the previous encounter. The final arc introduces new characters, Kagura and Naraku, as they flee from an army of invading Yoma. The entirety of the story missions are broken down into five chapters, including one almost entirely devoted to bath house brawling.
Since the backgrounds of the main cast were covered in the prior game, the visual novel style exposition is rather light. There are periods of doubt explored by the protagonists, but for the most part, the new material is dedicated to the backgrounds of Kagura and Naraku. Everything else is merely to stage set pieces for the various brawls you’ll be engaging in. Some of it is a bit of a stretch too, with an exasperating number of battles fought out of a disagreement among friends or for training. It’s a shame too, because despite characters and situations that comfortably fill familiar anime tropes, the prior game pulled this off in a very interesting manner. At least the localization is strong with what’s here.
Mission progression is linear, with new story quests unlocking as existing ones are completed. Each one requires a specific character the first time through, but it can be completed with other unlocked characters for additional experience later on. Optional specialized missions open up to you that require completion under strict circumstances, such as only being able to deal damage with ground attacks or fending off all of the enemies within the time limit. Success grants performance enhancing items by way of equipable shinobi stones to make subsequent missions even easier. There’s also a mode called Yoma’s Nest, which challenges you to progress through a fourteen floor pyramid with no opportunity to to heal in between, for an opportunity to gain cosmetic weaponry.
Gameplay is not strictly 2D as it was in the prior game, though it’s not exactly a free roaming three dimensional environment either. Some battles will put you in a side-scrolling environment, though they eventually open up to a wider area. The camera is constantly fixated to one side though, with the exception of certain boss battles that take place in a large battle arena. Basic attacks are handled with the X and Y buttons, and A will let you tag in a partner (more on that in a minute). Maneuvers include a basic jump and a dash move, though no block button, strangely enough. Each shinobi’s combos are featured prominently on the bottom screen, so you’ll always be aware of the moveset of the active character, which helps immensely.
As in prior games, you can initiate a Shinobi Transformation or go Frantic, which offer their own pros and cons based on the situation. A transformation will restore all of your health and grant access to character specific ninja arts. The number of arts you can store is tracked by the amount of scrolls under your health meter, and inflicting damage will grant you more. A period of invincibility accompanies such animations as a two sword slashing spree or a gun emerging from the lower extremities to fire cannons (no joke).
Going Frantic, on the other hand, will cause your shinobi of choice to strip off all of her clothes, putting them in a state of constantly draining health, but increasing all of their other parameters. Regardless of which form you take (save for the latter), suffering damage will interrupt the action with a brief scene of your clothes being shredded, and the less clothing you have, the less your defensive capabilities are. Fortunately, your enemies face the same restrictions, so you can think strategically of the best way to knock them down to their undies before going in for the kill. That… was not a sentence I expected to be typing today.
Combat is fast, fluid and quite addicting, though it comes with some downsides. The absence of a block ability limits what you can do to mitigate damage, essentially boiling the entire defensive game to dashing around the room. This isn’t a huge deal with the fodder enemies, as they hardly put up much of a fight until late in the game, but boss encounters can be frustrating. In general, bosses can shrug off and subsequently interrupt combos, and they deal a disproportionate amount of damage. Many of them boil down to forcing them into a corner and stun-locking them into oblivion using ninja arts (though this doesn’t work on the larger bosses I’m afraid). Another big hurdle to success will be the game’s camera. Even though you can lock onto enemies using the directional pad, it only serves to update you on the health of whomever you have targeted. It doesn’t center the view on that enemy, nor does it automatically direct your attacks towards them. Often, you’ll find yourself swinging at air while aiming at foes that have moved offscreen and out of your view. An arrow will point out which direction they’ve headed, but be prepared for the sucker punches that you’ll suffer from enemies that you can’t see.
When I originally reviewed Burst, one of my comments involved a co-op mode as a potential improvement. Looks I finally got my wish, as you and a buddy can team up either locally or online. I didn’t have an opportunity as of this writing to test this out, but the fact that it even exists is a huge bonus. You get a pretty good idea of how it works during the story, as you’re forced into a number of missions with a CPU party member that you can tag in and out. The A.I. isn’t the most competent, but at least it grants some options during combat, as well as a fallback character should you get taken out. There are also team attacks that you can perform that are specific to each pair in the game, and their power increases based on the characters’ affection towards one another.
The visuals have improved tremendously over the last 3DS entry in both the character models and the environments. I didn’t think the console had the horse power to keep up with the Vita, but this title gets damn close. It helps that the 3D effects are better showcased here, making it one of the few titles worth viewing this way (and not because of the Dressing Room). There’s a sense of depth to the battlefield, and it makes some of the attacks look way more impressive than they would otherwise. The frame rate bombs a little bit if you have this on, though it’s a minor drawback. On the audio side, the voices are still Japanese only, though I’ve grown used to them by now. The soundtrack is pretty solid too, and the various tracks are unlockable after completing the missions they first debuted in.
Outside of the main missions, you have access to a hub area where you can save, configure in-game options, or go online. A library exists where you can view all unlocked music and artwork, plus rewatch important scenes that have occurred during the game. A dressing room lets you try out outfits earned during normal play, plus you can setup poses among the cast in order to take pictures. The ability to poke them in various places and blow up their skirt using the microphone made it back on the feature list too. If you carry around the AR cards that originally came bundled with the system, you can bet those are usable here.
The mission list hints at the forthcoming release of DLC, though there is none available just yet. If you have Senran Kagura Burst data saved on your SD card, you can unlock Murasame as a playable character, which according to the manual you’d have to purchase otherwise. This is a nice customer loyalty bonus as it were, even though he’s technically already in the game. It also bears mentioning that Senran Kagura 2 will be released in a retail edition as well as digitally, so physical release fans won’t feel left out in the cold. It’s a good thing too, since the download size eclipses the original, which can eat away at save space in a hurry. At least SD cards are cheap.
In an age where annualized sequels churn out the same carbon copy gameplay game after game, it’s nice to see that Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson decided to change up the formula. It’s not a perfect effort, as the camera needs work and there are still some cheap moments in the gameplay, but the addition of co-op play is a huge bonus and the combat is still very solid. If you weren’t ashamed to play the last game due to its subject matter, there’s no reason to stop now. Chalk up another worthwhile niche game to the 3DS.
Short Attention Span Summary
Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson both looks and sounds better than its predecessor, plus it adds co-op play both locally and online. The combat lands somewhere between Burst and Shinovi Versus, with a fixed camera that grants larger fighting arenas than the former but doesn’t quite delve into the Musuo territory of the latter. On the downside, boss encounters are sometimes cheap, especially when compared to the ease of the fodder enemies. The camera also tends to get in the way of the experience, with offscreen enemies landing blows that couldn’t otherwise be anticipated. At least the difficulty is adjustable. Still, it’s a worthwhile addition to the series and if you have any interest in ninjas duking it out until their clothes shred to pieces, then you should pick this up. Oh, and the game is fun too.