Last year, international Nintendo 3DS owners were made to challenge their perceptions following the release of Senran Kagura Burst, the bodacious Streets Of Rage-style brawler from Marvelous. The well-endowed physiques of the cast courted controversy and accusations of sexual pandering, but people who were willing to peel off the top layer were treated to a wonderfully crafted game that told an endearingly complex tale that confronted just what it meant to be “good” or “evil”. Over a year has passed since then and now, the shinobi of Hanzo National Academy and Homura’s Crimson Squad are back in an all-new installment that manages to surpass its predecessor in just about every way.
Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson‘s narrative opening by revisiting its predecessor’s climatic battle against the “yoma” Orochi not only made the story feel more like a natural extension of Burst‘s, but was a clever way of allowing fans to revisit the concept of these blood-born demons, who after maintaining a background presence in previous games, are finally taking centre stage. While on a school trip to the historical city of Kyoto, the Hanzo girls encounter a young girl by the name of Kagura and her attendant Naraku, whose presence appears to be connected to a sudden increase in yoma appearances and a cause of concern for the Shinobi Council.
The way Senran Kagura Burst handled the duality of good and evil received heavy praise from me last year and I’m happy to say that I was thoroughly impressed with how that same theme was revisited in this sequel. While Burst largely focused on finding light within the dark, when orders are issued that go against their moral fibre, the shinobi students must now confront the dark within the light and determine their own path of the shinobi – a dilemna that proves especially poignant for the usually comedic and rowdy Katsuragi. Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson‘s ability to seamlessly transition from light-hearted and heavy character moments proudly displays one of the series’ greatest strengths – the bonds forged by the girls are examples of some of the strongest writing in gaming.
The narrative isn’t the only aspect to have received a boost however. Perhaps the most noticeable change is that Senran Kagura‘s core gameplay now takes advantage of the very feature that led to the series’ inception – stereoscopic 3D. While giving the series a new striking aesthetic, the added depth also gives the game the perfect opportunity to expand on its predecessor’s 2.5D gameplay; resulting in an experience that gives you more freedom to roam without becoming as three dimensional as PlayStation Vita hack-and-slasher Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus.
The character customisation of past games has been expanded to include two new options that are unlocked through differing new gameplay modes. The first is weaponry, with new character-specific items to be found in the “Yoma’s Nest” mode; where players progress through a grid of increasingly difficult yoma battles until they drop. The second addition are the equippable “Shinobi Stones” that offer benefits such as increase damaged. Shinobi Stones are unlocked by completing Special Missions, whose challenges include only being able to damage enemies using aerial attacks or by deflecting their blows back at them. The Special Missions certainly are challenging, but I’ve found myself having a lot of fun in the Yoma’s Nest, testing which character combinations work the best and trying to beat my previous record.
While the gameplay tends to be stick largely to that of Senran Kagura Burst, I was extremely impressed with the “yoma” boss battles, not only in regards to their awesomely freakish and unique designs and the creativity of their attack patterns, which are perfectly suited for the 3D spaces they are encountered in.
Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson brings one of the Nintendo 3DS’ other highly celebrated features to the franchise with another new addition to the Dressing Room. After you have customised your characters’ appearances and poses, you can choose to take photographs of them against either a pre-rendered background or the real world, using Augmented Reality.
Back when I reviewed Senran Kagura Burst I lamented the lack of multiplayer and this time around, Kenichiro Takaki and his team have decided to include a co-operative multiplayer mode that can be enjoyed either via local wireless or over Nintendo Network. By joining forces with another trainer, you can tackle individual stages as a pair – taking advantage of the Pair Battle mode that also features prominently in the game’s narrative. The online experience feels no different to the offline; there is no noticeable lag, although the specific search requirements can make it difficult to find a partner at times. Personally, I would like to see a future game incorporate a more player-vs-player approach like the multiplayer seen in Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus.
As if I wasn’t already convinced that series producer Kenichiro Takaki has been reading my mind, I was pleased to see that the characters’ movesets have been expanded, meaning that characters who I had previously commented on being difficult to play as, like Hibari, are now more tolerable (although nothing is more pleasing than slashing through enemies as Homura).
My only criticism regarding the game would be that while it includes the option to use the Circle Pad Pro (or New Nintendo 3DS C-Stick) to adjust the camera, it amounts to little more than zooming in and out, as opposed to giving the player more dynamic control – with select stages letting you manipulate it left or right. At times, I found myself wishing that I could have more freedom with manipulating the camera.
In conclusion, Kenichiro Takaki has done it again. The Senran Kagura series may not be to everyone’s tastes, but Marvelous have delivered a game that goes beyond what you might expect – either from a first expression, or from playing the first game. With Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson bringing in so many improvements despite being on the same console as Burst, I have nothing but confidence about the franchise’s future.
(And yes, the sexiness is improved too :P).
Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is currently available on the Nintendo 3DS in Europe; with a North American release slated for 15th September.
Disclaimer: A copy of Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson was supplied by Marvelous Europe for the purpose of this review.