Review: Senran Kagura 2’s little things matter

Describing the Senran Kagura series is an odd challenge. After all, it’s an innuendo-laden adventure that quickly delves into button-mashing in the hopes of beating the clothes off of all your opponents before they similarly strip you. Really, the results screen in the game even keeps track of it with that wording. After a level is completed, the grade is accompanied with a statistic that states how many opposing ninjas were stripped. (A higher number results in a better grade, naturally.)

With this sort of focus on sexuality, it would be easy to peg Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson as a fanservice fiesta. Who cares what some person has to say, so long as three questions can be answered affirmatively? Are there still playable, female characters that are unbearably buxom and feature customizable appearances? Yes, 11, though only ten are well-endowed. Is it still a huge brawl with cathartic battles? Sure. Does it look and run better than Senran Kagura Burst? Absolutely.

But brushing it off as a must-buy just because Senran Kagura 2 meets a few critical criteria would do you a disservice. There are some nuanced details to consider and people who appreciate the series for its characters and content will appreciate knowing about the finer things.

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For instance, the story in this installment is more mature. Yes, the previous game ended with Asuka, one of the “good” ninjas from the Hanzo National Academy, defeating the massive Orochi Yoma summoned by Dougen, principal of the “bad” ninja school. But the story was often rather fluffy, as it followed the five good girls retrieving a stolen ninja scroll from the five bad girls from Hebijo.

Don’t worry if you missed it, because Senran Kagura 2 picks up at the climactic finale of the first game. People go through the last few battles as the Hanzo girls, defeat their Hebijo foes, take down Orochi and reclaim the scroll. It’s in these final moments that we see the five girls who were originally enemies doing a heel-face turn. Homura and her four squadmates abandon their school, turn their lives around and become renegade ninja as the Homura Crimson Squad.

Yes, the characters still make plenty of advances toward one another, discuss each other’s attributes and have the kinds of conversations that make some roll their eyes and others snicker.

It’s then that the game picks up. Dougen wasn’t defeated, Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy is becoming a weapons-of-mass-destruction lab for Yoma and the Homura Crimson Squad’s former teacher leaks this information to them in the hopes they’ll save their former school. The five girls from Hanzo join in as well, because Yoma are bad for everyone and new characters pulled them in, so the whole crew comes back to save the day.

It’s as the story begins that people will notice the first change. Senran Kagura 2 takes more cues from visual novels than the original game. There are still 3D portraits of the characters, which have animated motions and expressions, but there are also solid walls of text offering introspection and insight into particular heroines’ mindsets as events proceed. It’s rather fitting, since the series has inspired anime and manga spin-offs. That people can tap into a glossary or check a backlog of scene text is a helpful addition for those who care as much about substance as style.

Yes, the characters still make plenty of advances toward one another, discuss each other’s attributes and have the kinds of conversations that make some roll their eyes and others snicker.

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The combat largely remains the same as well. The X and Y buttons are button mashed for attacks, and chaining them together while on the ground or in the air unleashes combos. Initially, there are few to choose from, but more unlock as a player levels up a character and uses her to defeat opponents. Not that it really matters, as with Koei Tecmo’s Musou/Warriors series, randomly jabbing is as effective as strategically smashing when it comes to generic mobs. The girls can still use ninja scrolls for a Shinobi Transformation that allows the use of special arts, but these abilities are best reserved for bosses. The same can be said for the Frantic mode that reveals all and cuts health, but boosts stats and offers regeneration for defeated foes.

Especially since the camera works against a player in Senran Kagura 2. This is the first 3DS installment to offer 3D environments, giving a person an entire area to explore. While this makes fights more interesting and certainly results in a prettier title, it also means there will be instances where you’ve locked onto an opponent with the D-pad, but won’t be able to see her due to a fixed viewpoint. It also means multiple moments where someone is attacking you, but you’ll have no idea who or from where.

Some may find Senran Kagura 2 leans a little too much toward repetition, but the extra content is diverse enough to keep people playing.

The tag team system alleviates this somewhat. In some levels, two characters will be assigned to work together. The computer will control one and players can switch between the two by pressing the A button. If both are transformed, they can use a combined special move that’s more powerful than their solo special. If one’s health is getting low, the fight won’t end unless both are knocked out. If you can keep the one character alive long enough, the other will eventually rejoin the battle with full health.

Unfortunately, all story missions initially require someone to beat them with assigned characters. It’s understandable, since some characters will take the focus in specific situations, it’s best to level up girls equally and such an action forces people to go outside their comfort zones and explore. But this is a game in which each heroine plays differently. I’m most comfortable using Yomi, Ikaruga, Yagyu and Homura because I like the reach of their weapons and ability to easily hit multiple enemies with each swing. Levels where I’m forced to use characters like Katsuragi and Hibari, close-combat fighters, don’t end well.

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Some may find Senran Kagura 2 leans a little too much toward repetition, but the extra content is diverse enough to keep people playing. There are multiple modes in the game, with experience, clothes and weapons that offer cosmetic changes and Shinobi Stones that actually serve as rewards. Challenging the story missions, Yoma Nest and Special Missions repeatedly feels worthwhile. The downside: difficulty spikes at boss battles make the grind feel necessary. It’s not a matter of skill, but rather endurance, to defeat them. These brutes have overbearing health bars. Difficulty can be adjusted at the start of each mission, however. Combine that with the fact that experience is earned even when you fail, and you’ll never find yourself stuck.

The number of extras unlocked by the extracurricular activities are helpful incentives. There are multiple outfits to unlock, which are shared among the girls. Weapons that look different, but behave the same, are available. Senran Kagura as a whole is about putting a pretty face forward, and this is the best looking installment on the 3DS. If dressing the girls up in the coolest (or most revealing) clothes, preparing a photo shoot and building a library of photos is something that excites you, you’ll be set.

That’s true about Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson as a whole. This is a series that attracts a very particular audience. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but there are certain expectations for these games. As long as those are met, fans can be very forgiving. People who love the Hanzo and Hebijo ninja will appreciate the prettier people and places, smoother gameplay and bevvy of content. There are some annoying elements present, like an unaccommodating camera and extraordinarily healthy bosses, but the ability to change difficulty levels and grind in supplemental modes should leave everyone who is interested in the game happy.

Score: 7/10
Publisher: XSEED
Release Date: September 15, 2015
Developer: Tamsoft/Marvelous
Platform(s): 3DS
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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