Back near the end of 2013, we reviewed the original Senran Kagura game, Senran Kagura Burst. It was a decent beat-em-up that proved itself as more than just a T&A fan service title with some gameplay attached, as it had a surprisingly deep story and played the line nicely between having fan service and solely relying on it. Since it's release, we've had two other titles in the franchise make their way westward, Shinovi Versus in particular taking the original's gameplay and expanding on it. But for fans of the original Nintendo 3DS release, there hasn't been another entry that controls like the original did until this year's sequel, Deep Crimson. And while it has its own flaws, it's far and above a major improvement over the original.
The two rival Shinobi academies from the original game, Hebijo and Hanzo, are back in focus again in Deep Crimson. You initially start out as playing as the Hanzo students in an attempt to get back their school's ninja scrolls that were stolen by the Hebijo students, but both groups end up having to work together when an even larger evil threat pops up and starts commanding demons to do his bidding. There's some of the series' trademark humorous and crass jokes placed here and there occasionally, but the deeper story mechanics those who played the original know of is still here in this entry as the teaming-up mechanic creates for some interesting dialogue.
For those who played the original, the controls in Deep Crimson will feel very familiar. Each girl has her own unique weapon and fighting style, but the base controls are shared among all of them. Y is a light attack, X is a heavy attack, R allows you to dash (with the speed and distance based on how long it's pressed), and X jumps. There's also special attacks that can be used by combining the L and X/Y buttons if you have enough scrolls available (which are obtained by item pickups or dealing enough attacks to the opponent).
The general idea, which is the same as it was in Burst, is to fire off a heavy attack to launch your opponent into the air, where you press the A button to dash in the air towards them and can deal a series of attacks before they hit the ground. The key difference in Deep Crimson is that the developers modified things significantly so you can't keep an enemy/boss permanently locked in the air until they die, as generally bosses will break out of that loop at some point.
One big change that Deep Crimson carries over from the more recent titles is that the environments are now somewhat 3D in nature. In most areas this isn't an issue, but there's a few locations during my playthrough that were almost too open. Even with the option to use the Circle Pad Pro (or the C-Stick on the New Nintendo 3DS models), you don't have the full 360 degrees of control that Shinovi Versus had outside of a few key locales. It's a bit unfair when the enemy can combo you into low health just because you couldn't see where they were coming from. One major improvement, however, is that the frame rate is much, much more stable this time around, so at least you won't get caught in a combo from the opponent because the game was lagging badly.
The main new mechanic in Deep Crimson is the pair-up mechanic, where the player controls two Shinobi in battle. The AI takes control of the Shinobi you're not currently controlling, but the player can switch between either with a simple button press. This becomes particularly useful when you launch an opponent into the air, as you can swap the girls to keep your combo going even longer. But if you're a fan of one of the Shinobi in particular, the AI is generally competent enough that you aren't required to hand-hold them. In addition, their health and clothing states are separate, so there isn't the issue of failing the mission because they were shared and the AI caused your failure.
Of course, this wouldn't be a Senran Kagura game without its clothing, in particular what happens when said clothing gets damaged. Each girl's shirt and pants/skirt individually can take two shreddings before they're reduced to just their underwear. This also applies to the opponent, as there's a bonus to doing this as they'll take more damage and the game will rank you on how many characters you stripped during the mission as well. This damage increase also applies to your character(s) as well, however. Both the Shinobi transformation mechanic and Frantic mechanics from Burst return in this entry. The former gives you access to secret Shinobi arts that can be utilized in battle, while the latter strips your clothing down to your underwear but also gives access to attacks which deal more damage and more easily strip down your opponent.
Like Burst, the levels themselves are short affairs, with dialogue spruced between each of them in a visual novel format. There's five chapters each in the main game, with several levels each included in them, along with three extra paid DLC chapters that extend the gameplay. After completing the mission once with the required character, the player can later retry the stage with either a different character and/or at a higher difficulty level. The developers also included a pretty through training stage, special missions that are unlocked by fulfilling certain requirements, a pyramid-style gauntlet known as the Yoma Missions, as well as an online mode that you can play either with friends or someone online. One of the main issues I had with the original is that there wasn't enough variety outside the main mission mode, which Deep Crimson fixes with these new options.
And of course, the infamous dressing room option returns again in Deep Crimson. You have a wide variety of different costumes to choose from for each character's normal, Shinobi, and Frantic states, along with a plethora of different accessories which can be moved and tweaked with to a surprisingly large degree. There's also the photo-shoot mode where you can essentially take pin-up style shots if you wish, but there's also less risquÃ© shots if you don't prefer the former.
The Senran Kagura series knows it makes liberal use of the girl's "life" and "hometown", as the creator would put it, but it wraps that around a package that has a surprisingly deep combat system and a storyline that is anything but the fluff one might expect. If you haven't played the original but were interested in the concept, I'd easily suggest this title over the original as there's a major improvement to almost everything here. Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is a game that is aware it's over-the-top in some aspects and runs with it, but backs that up with a surprisingly deep foundation. If you reconcile with the fan service bits, this is a worthwhile game for beat-em-up fans.
|Frame rate is much more stable this time around than it was in Senran Kagura Burst.|
|Takes more skill to win matches as you can't infinite combo bosses anymore.|
|The localization played a good balance between being serious and having its gag moments.|
|Due to the more open locales in this entry, there's times when you'll be combo'd by a boss because you couldn't see them.|
|There was some minor loading times issues occasionally.|
|If you disliked the original's premise, it's more of what you'd expect from the series.|