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Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson (3DS) artwork

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson (3DS) review

"Senran Kagura 2 has everything a fan of action or anime-inspired games would want."

Senran Kagura is always a weird franchise to review. On one hand, we have a competent action game with some of the best character variety in the genre. On the other, we have a game that will constantly be hounded by its reputation as a fan service first, gameplay second series. That doesnít change with Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson, but both elements have been vastly improved.

Senran Kagura 2 picks up after the events depicted in Senran Kagura Burst on the 3DS. The Hanzo and Hejibo girls fighting over possession of a shinobi scroll. As they often do, things get out of hand and the fate of the world lies in the balance. Itís up to the girls from both schools to put things right and have a lot of fun along the way.

That sense of fun is something Iíve always appreciated, as Senran Kaguraís ability to veer back and forth between melodrama and comedy is pretty unique. Senran Kagura 2 certainly feels heavier than its predecessors at the start, with talk of genocide, moral ambiguity and duty taking up most of the story. Worry not, however, as the game then transitions to the Hejibo girls riding on top of a bullet train after forgetting their tickets, or rival girls of both schools fighting over strawberry milk in a hot spring. Itís really the best of both worlds and something that the franchise does incredibly well.

Something Senran Kagura also does well is action. Senran Kagura Burst was a Streets of Rage/Final Fight-inspired brawler while its follow up, Shinovi Versus, featured open arenas with Dynasty Warriors-style combat. For Senran Kagura 2, the developers have melded the two playstyles into one with levels that progress on a 2D plain while enemies attack in mobs. Though mobs would normally feel out of place in a 2D beat-em-up, Senran Kagura makes it work.

Part of the reason Senran Kagura works as well as it does is the fast, fluid combat system that focuses on wide-ranging, easily combo'd attacks. Much like in Shinovi Versus, each girl has their own combo tree that gains more complexity as they level up. Starting out, each girl only has access to a basic combo string and a cancel attack. As they level up, the girls can switch up their combos and cancels to throw enemy shinobi for a loop.

Whatís even more fun is the sheer variety of characters on display. Senran Kagura 2 doesnít feature quite as many characters as Shinovi Versus did, but it has more than enough to enable players to spend hours experimenting with the variety of fighting styles on display. One of my favorite is Mirai, the goth-loli with the parasol gun. As she levels up, she can use her cancels to transition to other weapons, including a mini-gun and a grenade launcher. As you learn how to effectively use her in battle, it becomes incredibly satisfying to switch between all three weapons on the fly while never giving the opponent any room to breathe.

To really make sure enemy shinobi never get a single hit in, Senran Kagura 2 adds a co-op mode that allows two shinobi to fight together. When playing by yourself, you can switch between the two girls with a tap of the A button. Of course, youíll automatically switch control if the girl youíre playing as she falls in battle, but sheíll get right back into the action if you can keep the other one alive for a set amount of time. Itís a nice bit of insurance on the challenging boss fights. Of course, thatís not the only benefit. The two shinobi can also perform dual ninja arts that see both girls combining their powers to unleash a huge attack that cuts a bossí health in half. These attacks are even more fun for fans of the series. Some are just inside jokes that play out when you combine two shinobi that have a history with each other.

Speaking of history, Senran Kagura Burst wasnít exactly a masterclass in technical excellence. The gameís frame rate often dipped into the single digits and the visuals were pretty lackluster. I can say that neither of those complaints applies to Senran Kagura 2. Throughout my time with the game, the framerate barely dipped even once, and that was when the screen was literally filled with enemies. Every other moment has been solid, with responsive controls that never left me wanting. The visuals also received a major overhaul, with character models looking better than ever (especially the hair and eyes), while backgrounds really pop even without the 3D slider on. The only downside is that basic enemy character models can be pretty ugly up close, but they never stay onscreen long enough for me to care.

Thatís all well and good, but some of you probably care most about Senran Kaguraís most distinctive (and controversial) element. Obviously, fan service is still a thing as one of the gameís core design goals appears to have been even bouncier breasts. The developers certainly succeeded in this department, but strangely, it never becomes distracting. In fighting or action games where thereís only one or two overtly sexualized characters, it's a distraction. In Senran Kagura, itís just something that I take for granted. Is it problematic? It depends on how you approach it. I personally stopped noticing after about the first five minutes because I was having too much fun with the actual game.

Rounding out the package is the character customization, online multiplayer and the Yomaís Nest. They have been expanded in Senran Kagura 2, especially the customization aspect. There are hundreds of styles that you can experiment with, from school and shrine maiden uniforms to track suits and mini-skirt ensembles.

As for online multiplayer, the game can be played competitively or cooperatively. In competitive matches, itís you against another player in a no-holds barred shinobi fight to the death. In co-op, two players can join forces to tackle campaign missions. If youíre finding the gameís AI lacking in tackling an especially troublesome boss, having the option of calling on a real person to help you out is a welcome option.

Finally, Yomaís Nest is the newest addition to the franchise. You can think of it as a survival challenge. The mode asks you to survive increasingly difficult battles with no healing allowed in between. The end reward is a lot of XP to help improve your character of choice, but failure means you lose most of it. Itís the perfect risk-reward system for players who want to put their skills to the test.

If itís not already obvious, Iím an unabashed fan of Senran Kagura. Itís certainly one of my favorite IPs to come out in the past 10 years. While I fell in love with the franchise thanks to the goofy characters and old-school beat-em-up sensibilities, I stick around because the games keep getting better and better. Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is the best installment in the franchise to date. It has everything a fan of action or anime-inspired games would want and is an easy recommendation for any 3DS owner.


Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (September 19, 2015)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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