Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: September 15, 2015
ESRB: M for Mature
At one point, I would have used the term "plot" to both ironically and unironically to describe previous Senran Kagura games. Now, Senran Kagura Burst on 3DS was most certainly a flawed game, but the sincerity of its plot, despite its "plot" (aka shameless "fanservice"), caused me to like it perhaps more than I should have. Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus on Vita was less to my liking, however. It was ultimately a better game than Burst, but the title embraced far more "plot", rather than real plot, and played more like a Musou game rather than a beat 'em up.
The latest localized 3DS title, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson, has basically made me forget what promise I saw in both of those games. It is a bigger, flashier title than the original Senran Kagura Burst, and returns to a beat 'em up formula, yet it feels lacking in so many ways.
On paper, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson adds a fair bit to the series, especially in regards to variety (which was severely lacking in previous games). Everything from more unique enemy types to the more technical combat (... in theory) for the various characters, Deep Crimson clearly tries stand out with its second 3DS showing.
The primary combat of the game is noticeably different from both Shinovi Versus and Burst, and sort of feels like a weird medium between the two. Though it is in complete 3D, like Shinovi Versus, Deep Crimson's combat itself plays more like a character-action game. Attacks feel like they are more designed to take out singular targets, rather than juggling entire groups at once like various Musou games. It also plays with visual perspective more. Whether this comes from quickly teleporting from the ground to beat up enemies floating mid-air or deliberately turning entire camera an entire level to give a side-scrolling feel, it feels less one-note than previous entries in general design.
The most obvious new gameplay feature outright is that you can use two Shinobi at once in many battles. This goes as far as to have unique tag-team special moves for different characters pairs in addition to being able to swap between either of them on the fly (assuming they aren't incapacitated). To complement this addition more is the inclusion online multiplayer to play through various stages, from the lengthy main story or the huge level/costume unlock grind that is the Yoma's Den (there are A TON of costumes)... if you happen to find someone else willing to play this title proudly.
I think where Deep Crimson broke for me the most is just how poorly balanced the actual combat is. It has what I would define as a Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge complex. It often feels like the title deliberately punishes you for trying to play it properly. For example, basic gameplay things like attack hitboxes outright whiffing, enemies randomly countering you mid-combo, or some enemy skills being pretty much unavoidable (without the invincibility of using super attacks, at least) makes standard combat frustrating. I could go on a separate rant about the suicidal ally AI or the awful camera (for side-scrolling stages in particular) too, but just take my word that both are rather poor. There were many fights where I simply fought exploiting the enemy's aggressive AI patterns, rather than trying to play the game properly with finesse or even fun, simply to progress the main story (since victories often felt random otherwise).
As implied before, I do actually secretly try to play Senran Kagura games for their stories, or... rather I did at one point. Not because the stories themselves were particularly amazing in previous games but because their focus on character-development was handled better than you would expect. Deep Crimson's story, however, is essentially a rather pointless interlude between Burst and Shinovi Versus. It is a drawn out story arc around the newcomers Kagura and Naru, neither of the two being particularly interesting or do very much throughout. It also has far less exposition between fights, making most of them feel entirely unnecessary and unnecessarily frequent. If you want an idea of how pointless the narrative is for this title, roughly 1/5 of the main story takes place in a hot spring.
To continue my disappoint with the title, the soundtrack isn't nearly as good as the previous two games (let's pretend Bon Appetit doe not exist when I say that.). It is not bad per say, but nowhere near as rhythmically interesting, or varied overall. A lot of the musical themes feel like half-step remixes of previous releases than anything else.
Of course, it would be disingenuous to not talk about the visuals too, which actually have seen a huge step up from its previous 3DS showing. Exaggerated bouncing physics and exploding costumes aside, there is a striking fluidity to the presentation in general. The surprisingly flashy cutscene cinematics makes this most apparent whereas previous games were generally carried by visual novel-esque scenes and little else. The 3DS's 3D toggle may be next to useless during actual gameplay (since it throws off depth perception) but otherwise in-motion Deep Crimson may very well be one of the better looking titles on the small handheld screen.
Though Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson boasts the first true sequel moniker to the series, it unfortunately feels like an unnecessary interlude as a whole. It sacrifices pretty much every aspect that caused the series to subvert expectations, which primarily was the better-than-you'd-expect character-driven story mode, in conjunction to adding newfound frustrations with its many balance issues for basic combat. For just about everything except for the improved visuals, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson has little in its own defense for being as shallow as it may appear.
+ Fairly smooth cutscene and combat animations
+ Absurd amount of outfit and accessory options
+ More combat variety from tag-team mechanics to actual enemies
- Very poorly balanced combat
- Actual narrative is significantly less interesting than previous games
- Awful ally AI
Overall Score: 5 (out of 10)
Though it is a better-looking title than its predecessors Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson embraces none of which caused the series to subvert expectations, leading to an unfortunate mess of a sequel
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.