Thursday, March 23, 2017

Senran Kagura 2 Story Analysis: Chapter 5, Part 1

We now arrive at the final chapter.  After a rollercoaster of character development and vague hints at the bigger picture, everything starts to come together and work toward the conclusion.  Nowhere is that more prominent than the opening.  Chapter 3 opened by introducing us to Kagura, chapter 4 opened with some insight into her character and chapter 5 starts with the full story from an unlikely source: Kiriya.  After harshly telling his students that he can’t tell them more than necessary, this opening shows a change of heart from his perspective.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Senran Kagura 2 Story Analysis: Chapter 4

In a parallel to the previous chapter, chapter 4 opens with another glimpse to the origins of Kagura.  Since by this point we have a better idea of who she is, there’s no need for a cryptic scroll to tell us.  The game lets us see for ourselves as Kagura looks into a river and vague memories from her past go through her head.

For over 900 years Kagura has been reincarnated several times and has known many people that have traveled with her on her youma-slaying quest, but she only vaguely remembers them in bits and pieces.  She can’t even remember their names.  She has had to say goodbye to many people she’s cared for and can only grasp fleeting memories of them, a fate that will apparently happen with Naraku as well.

The only particularly consistent memory she has is of someone smiling at her in total darkness, but she doesn’t let any of it get to her and interfere with her mission.  She knows what she was born into the world to do.  Supposedly, at least.  Without even knowing, Kagura sheds a tear as she thinks about her friends, showing that no matter how dedicated to her cause or how detached she looks, she’s still a person and can feel lonely.  Her immortality is ultimately a curse, accelerated further for her because of this mission she must do.  It is a very well-done visual novel segment that establishes the kind of life this tragic figure has had to live.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Senran Kagura 2 Story Analysis: Chapter 3

This is it people.  The true beginning.  After two chapters to set things up, chapter 3 is where the primary plot of Senran Kagura 2 begins, and the game lets you know it.  Just like the first chapter, chapter 3 opens with a poetic scroll reading, except this time it’s not about the shinobi, but rather some sort of powerful entity known only as Kagura.



That is very clearly Ikaruga!

What Kagura is in exact terms isn’t fully explained, but the scroll does give some of the basic ideas.  Kagura is the the bane of all youma and all shinobi look up to her power, which I assume is the game’s way of implying the Kagura rank in the versus games without going into technicalities.  She is “a flower with a fleeting lifespan and with the blood of youma it will bloom.”  I think the flower they’re supposed to be referring to and the one the game keeps showing is the red “tsubaki” flower, also known as the camellia flower. In Japan the tsubaki represents divinity as well as perishing with grace, both of which play into Kagura’s character.
And, if you’re actually paying attention, the scroll also says that Kagura is a “Senran Kagura.”

The word “Senran” isn’t a real word.  It’s a combination of the kanji for “brandish” and “war”.  Kagura is of course a type of traditional Japanese dance.  In this instance, XSEED translated Senran Kagura as “Shining Revolution”, which works because she is a “moment of light that flashes in battle”, much like how shinobi shine their brightest before their lives come to an end in battle.

So now that we know what Senran is supposed to mean, let’s stop misusing the fucking word like it refers to the characters.

The poetic dialogue explains what Kagura is without actually explaining what Kagura is.  That doesn’t happen until later.  It’s not so much for some kind of twist, but for a replay bonus.  Once you know what Kagura is (or at least have a general guess as the game goes on), the opening scroll makes more sense.  Not knowing is also part of the player engagement, as we’ll see later.

To start off with some suspense, the scroll is followed-up by a cutscene in which a girl named Naraku is carrying a little girl in her arms, running from a pack of armored figures known only as the youma generals.  If Naraku knew what to call them, she must’ve been running from them for some time.

Right away the cutscene shows there’s something unique about the youma generals.  All of them attack Naraku in formation with ninja speed, even visibly injuring her and drawing the only bit on onscreen blood ever in the entire franchise.  Youma are supposed to be mindless, raging monsters, so seeing them synchronize like that tells us that they’re not ordinary youma.  It also shows that Naraku is one hell of a protector.  There are 10 of them and she has been fending them all off with her hands full!

 But that’s only a glimpse.  Before that plot can begin, the rest of the characters need to meet her.  It’s road trip time!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Senran Kagura 2 Story Analysis: Chapter 2

Before it really begins, chapter 2 ties up some loose ends with its opening mission specifically titled “Hebijo’s Loose Ends.”  Asuka sneaks into the Hebijo training ground to find Homura.  Remember the Super Hidden Ninpo scroll?

That is hilarious in a meta sense because I don’t think anyone remembered.  This is the first time in the entire franchise the scrolls are mentioned after the big battle with Hebijo.  Players and perhaps even Kitajima got so invested in the characters, epic battles and curveballs that the plot device that made it happen became nearly irrelevant.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Senran Kagura 2 Story Analysis: Chapter 1

In my review of Senran Kagura 2 back in 2015, I praised its story, but I don’t think I detailed just how good it is.  Every Senran Kagura game has at least a decent story, but as much as I might nitpick, I would go as far as to say Senran Kagura 2 is Yukinori Kitajima’s magnum opus.  It is a How To guide on writing a good story and I refer to it a lot when it comes to character development, atmosphere, genuine cuteness, drama, consistent themes and character dichotomy, among other things.  The same can be said about the original game too, but Senran Kagura 2 has the addition of being a sequel and thus has an even more extensive list to refer to, like how to build on series establishments, how to please longtime fans without pandering and how to address previous shortcomings.  It takes everything that has made Senran Kagura so good and polished it into one of my favorite stories of all time and my 2015 game of the year.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way.  Some people brush off the story entirely or call it decent at best.  Some people are even stupid enough to play it before Senran Kagura Burst as if the big 2 on the box isn’t there.  Others simply say that it is written around a mundane part of the human anatomy.

These people are idiots.

I think the story deserves a closer look than that.  As a journalism graduate and story buff, I have a lot to sing praises about.  I've played a lot of games with different stories and settings, but few have satisfied me quite as much as the Senran Kagura games.  Instead of simply summarizing what makes Senran Kagura 2’s story so good, I think it's best to analyze each individual story element of the game’s five chapters and why they all come together so well.