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.
And just as easily as it’s brought up, it’s resolved.  Homura gives it to her for winning their last battle, but also takes one last shot at beating her.  Because Homura killed one of Hebijo’s major backers, it’s only a matter of time before she’s marked for death and banned from the academy.  It’s just like how she lost her chance to become a good shinobi when she brutally injured a teacher in self-defense. This means this battle would be the last one she could have as a Hebijo student and she wants it to be with her strongest rival, Asuka.  That is a fighter’s spirit if I ever saw one.

This lets Senran Kagura 2 introduce an element cut from the retelling in the first chapter.  As the battle goes on, Homura gets fired up enough to pull her seventh sword Engetsuka from its scabbard, turning her into her super powered form, Crimson Homura!  Instead of using it to enhance the first chapter’s finale and make a tougher act to follow, it opens up the second chapter with it to start it off with a bang!

Players are given a taste of Homura’s super form and its alternate moveset, but it’s still not an easy fight.  Homura visibly struggles even with her extra power, but like with Asuka when she was fighting Orochi, Homura’s friends are there to cheer her on and keep her motivated.  She appears to win, but it turns out Asuka is still struggling with an injury from her previous battles.

Homura is an honorable and prideful fighter.  She isn’t the type to beat someone when they’re down and if Asuka isn’t at her best, it’s not a true victory and doesn’t prove anything.  Homura wants them both to be in top condition if they’re going to have a rematch, so they promise to have it another time.  Again, they’re rivals.  They push each other to be stronger, and since Homura struggled to beat an injured opponent even while in her super form, she really feels that push.

Cut to a few months later and the Hebijo elites have been renamed the “Homura Crimson Squad”, have been given little Crimson Squad insignia accessories and are living in a secret cave hideout to hide from Hebijo assassins.  Homura’s friends couldn’t just abandon her so they all risked everything to become renegades (“nuke-nin”) with her.  That is some deep friendship.


Shinovi Versus goes into a lot more detail as to what their renegade lives are like, but Senran Kagura 2 at least shows they barely get by from low-paying part-time jobs.  Luckily Yomi is used to living in poverty so she makes the most out of the little money they have.  Despite their poverty Haruka apparently can afford to continue her experiments and Mirai has a computer setup.  I guess they’re geniuses like that.

This is what can be called the “slice of life” part of a Senran Kagura story.  Outside of all the battle and fighting, the games have moments of respite and hijinks to let the characters interact.  For this game, that doubles as training. With the first chapter having the player try out all the Hanzo girls, the second gives the Hebijo girls a turn.

Haruka uses her inexplicable resources to create a simulation device called the False Dimension Device.  With it they project a virtual recreation of the Old Capital in Kyoto so that the team can train with the new aspect of Senran Kagura 2’s gameplay: tag teaming.

In Senran Kagura 2, two characters can fight together and the player can swap between them on the fly.  Certain combinations of characters get a special introduction as well as a screen-wiping tag attack.  The dialogue for both changes as the characters fight together and raise their affinity level, which also increases tag attack damage.  Even if they don’t use character-specific tag attacks, there are a few neat attacks for miscellaneous pairs.  It’s an good way to better implement the story’s friendship and teamwork into the gameplay and it allows for co-op fun online.


Homura is at first unconvinced with the benefits of teaming up, believing that they should all get stronger individually, but after witnessing firsthand Hikage and Yomi’s combined power, she gets all too eager to try it out.

To decide on pair-ups for the next round of training, Hikage proposes they all play rock paper scissors, but only choose rock or paper and have the ones who choose the same pair up.  Homura…




Demonstrates that she is very impulsive and it makes her do stupid things sometimes.  Her fiery personality is both her biggest strength and character flaw.  When everyone stops training and splits up to go about their daily lives before Homura gets a turn, she is so riled up she takes it as a sign that nobody wants to train with her.  It’s not sad to see so much as it is silly and relatable.  Emotional people can get very upset about the smallest things sometimes.


After they give a Homura a shot at tag teaming with Mirai, the worst thing they feared happens: their hideout is discovered and raided by Hebijo assassins led by their former teacher Suzune.  After dealing with the assassins they get ready to fight her (no small feat given she was a bonus boss), but it turns out it was only a test to make sure they kept up their training.  Suzune doesn’t want to fight at all.  She came to ask for help.

Suzune explains to them that in the time since the fight with Orochi, Hebijo was rebuilt (with ninja speed, I’m sure), but Dougen has been using the students to summon more youma like Orochi so that he can sell them off as weapons.  Presumably Suzune can’t simply stop him herself since defiance against the school’s top investor would put her in the same situation as Homura.  That or she can’t do it alone.

Meanwhile at Ubisoft HQ...
So in addition to all the similarities to Rugal Bernstein I pointed out in the first post, Dougen’s apparently now arms dealing.

As for what youma are, that highlights my single biggest gripe in the entirety of Senran Kagura 2’s story.  After the first chapter the word youma appears in the game’s glossary and everyone suddenly knows what they are and that Orochi was one even though the very word isn’t even mentioned until this point.

They get a proper explanation in Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, where Hanzo explains to Homura that they’re powerful monsters that spawn off of a giant extradimensional creature called Shin.


The youma are summoned from the blood spilled between shinobi.  Defeating these pieces of Shin is an important secondary objective that has a secret shinobi rank called Kagura solely dedicated to killing them.

This plot point is not once even alluded to in Senran Kagura 2.  I could assume that Shinovi Versus’ storyline takes place between the first and second chapters of 2, but that doesn’t add up because Shinovi Versus follows the Burst storyline where Yomi and Ikaruga are friends!
Shin and the role of Kagura isn’t even brought up at any point in the glossary or game!  I suppose one could argue that it’s because they’re not relevant, but knowing the origins of these things is pretty relevant to me!

Just one little aside line or acknowledgement of how any character would know any of this would have been fine instead of acting like they shifted their minds into another timeline to pick up knowledge they shouldn’t have in this one!
I guess the game just wants players to accept they exist and move along.  It should have more to it than that, but whatever.

Even though they’re renegades from their school, Homura’s team wants to help the academy.  Hebijo made them into who they are.  It’s a place of refuge for people who still want to become shinobi and they owe a lot to it, especially to Suzune for being such a great teacher to them.  Even when the school is against them, Homura’s team likes what Hebijo stands for.

They even let Hibari in for a time.
It’s a return to the battleground of the first chapter, but this time things take a turn for the strange.  After fighting through the rooftops again (explicitly stated to be non-lethal to the current students), the sky turns red and the ground turns moist, as if they were suddenly inside the belly of a giant beast.  Orochi, specifically, as seen at the end of the Hebijo storyline of Senran Kagura Burst.  Once again Kitajima takes a plot element from the previous game and tries to do it better by utilizing the scarlet girls.

In Senran Kagura Burst, Orochi corrupted the Hebijo girls into evil, nihilistic, blood-red versions of themselves to feed off their negativity.  Homura had to fight them all as the final enemies of the Hebijo storyline while Asuka fought Orochi from the outside.  It was a pretty hard marathon level that showcased Homura’s dedication to her friends, but it kind of undermined their effectiveness in the story when Homura did all the work, so Kitajima tried something new.

Instead of being possessed, the scarlet girls in Senran Kagura 2 are mind-reading youma acting more like shadows in Persona 4, giving each character a chance to fight their personal issues and further develop their character.


Each scarlet girl tries to convince their human counterpart to stay true to their pasts and that they used to be better.  Mirai’s scarlet enemy tells her to use her power to kill the people who bullied her, like she wanted to. Haruka’s tells her she’ll always be controlled by people like her mother and Dougen and that she should just accept it.  Hikage’s tells her not to let emotions motivate her and Yomi’s calls her a hypocrite for considering being friends with Ikaruga and a failure to the poor for no longer being able to donate to them.

Fighting the scarlet girls is a confrontation with each character’s pasts and reaffirms their character development.  If you compare who they are now to what they were like when they were introduced in the original game, they’re very different.



Mirai is less insecure and doesn’t want to kill the people who made her life miserable like she originally did.  Haruka is less possessive and controlling.  Hikage is more open to acting on how she feels and Yomi’s response shows that she’s been thinking about how people from financial classes have the same potential for good and evil, showing that she’s not as vindictive as she first came off.  As much as she is biased against rich people, Yomi understands individualism.

Get used to the word “individualism” because it’s the central theme of the entire story.



None of the scarlet girls’ torment works beyond initial shock, which is a nice change from most stories that use the idea.  Homura’s friends are all confident in the choices they’ve made.  They follow her lead and move forward to be better people.


Once again I also love the music used through the whole ordeal.  When fighting off scarlet shinobi students in the creepy and blood-red school the music is a blood-pumping yet ominous beat.


And when a threat like the scarlet girls show up in a cutscene the music used anticipates the action.  This is the music you use when you want some buildup.


While the rest of the team pair up to fight their doppelgangers, Homura is alone when she’s confronted by an unfamiliar face in the rebuilt homeroom.  Remember how the Persona 4 anime added a shadow of the main character that wasn’t in the game it’s based on?  Homura gets one here.


Scarlet Homura has more to use against her human counterpart than the others.  Homura keeps her family heirloom Engetsuka even though her family abandoned her, she can’t use it whenever she wants and she lost to Asuka twice, if you count the chapter’s opening.  Of course, that’s even less effective on her because Homura is the one that motivated everyone else to fight their own pasts.  She keeps moving forward, determined to work her way up no matter how far she may be.  That motivation and drive is what inspires the others and makes her such a good leader to the rest of her team.  She doesn’t dwell on the past.  She gets things done.

You’d think the mission would be over after you kill Scarlet Homura and her large swarm of scarlet ninjas, but one more opponent unexpectedly comes in.  In order to make sure Homura is truly ready for what lies ahead of her, Suzune gives her a little test and starts fighting her right there in the homeroom.


That’s not only a common plot point in shonen stories, but it’s also a reinforcement of Hebijo’s cutthroat viewpoints.  At Hebijo academy, Homura was attacked by students as soon as she entered and she had to fight her way to being one of the school’s elites.  Might makes right and you have to be the best to get anywhere.  Even if Suzune goes easy on her, Homura besting her in battle while wounded from the previous one shows she has the skill to confront Dougen and the youma.  Once Suzune is satisfied with that, she shows Homura the way to the castle’s stronghold where Dougen is.  That’s where the real fun happens, as if all of this wasn’t action-packed enough!

In the castle stronghold is Dougen’s Blood Chamber, a lab lined with stasis tanks containing what appear to be humans, youma or some hybrid, no doubt a result of experimentation.  Dougen’s a deliciously evil braggart, so he reveals to Homura his true plan for the youma.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one.





I don’t like it when a villain says they’re going to take over the world and underestimate the massive militias every country has, but if you think about it, dominating the world with youma could work.  They’re called to the world through bloodshed and could cause more for a chain reaction effect.  A lot of youma fought in this game are lesser ones, but in the story they’re portrayed as extremely powerful, some capable of taking out entire squads of shinobi.  With enough monsters like that and perhaps some places dedicated to making them, like what he’s trying to do here, it’s not implausible to make a powerful army.  All he has to do is control them Sarah Kerrigan-style, which is also plausible considering control is Dougen's specialty.

After Homura is worn down by a swarm of spider youma, Dougen gets the opportunity to use his mind control jutsu on her just like he did with Haruka.  Since she’s alone, there’s no one to break his focus as he takes apart her mind apart.  If only she had her friends with her!  You need the power of friendship!

I know this is random, but I love the cheery expression Dougen makes once Homura is under his control.  It’s the only time in the game he makes it.  I don’t know, it just looks cute and it’s quite telling that he only looks that way when he’s tearing someone’s mind apart.


Thankfully Dougen is stopped when, of all people, Suzune intervenes.


In a show of how much she’s willing to risk, she actively defies Dougen’s orders, much to his shock.  Her reasoning is the perfect summation of why Dougen is such a great antithetical villain.



Dougen doesn’t champion individuality like the school does.  He sees ninjas as tools to get what he wants and could care less about who they are as long as he pays for them.  He mind controls them if he has to and would rather have mindless killing machines instead of people who think for themselves.  This is in direct contrast to the school’s views, where no matter what a student’s past is, the school lets them be themselves and they have loose control over them.

I could make a Trump reference, but fuck even Dougen isn’t that fuckin' shitty.

With Suzune now teaming up with Homura, the player gets a sneak preview of her, as it were.  Like Crimson Homura, you don’t unlock her until you beat the game so giving players a taste of her power is quite a treat.  Two Hebijo shinobi of different generations combine forces for a synchronized display of slashing skill and seeing the purple and red streaks go everywhere is beautiful to watch, especially their tag attack.

It looks like victory is theirs after they take out Dougen’s swarm, but he has one more trick up his sleeve.  He summons a small grub-looking youma in his hand and immediately eats it.

If you look at it as a DLC accessory it actually has a human baby's face.



As it turns out, ingesting youma doesn’t give you irritable bowel syndrome or poison you, it turns you into a part-youma!  In Dougen’s case, a big, hulking one ready to tear shit up.  I can’t help but wonder if he knew it was going to do that.  If not, that’s a really daring move, certainly not one I saw coming.


The way his missing eye flashes red once he’s in super mode sure seems awfully familiar, by the way.

It was nice enough for fans to see Dougen for the first time in the first chapter, but it’s even better now that they got to fight him!  And not just him, but a super Dougen, a form that makes his bestial features I mentioned stand out so much more.

Those Hulk pants aren't invincible.
That he didn’t know what eating a youma would do is subtly implied by the way Dougen fights.  The boss fight makes it apparent that Dougen isn’t used to his brand new youma body.  His fighting style is nothing but wild punches, an uppercut and slams, which is a good way of portraying his lack of finesse.  He still does a lot of damage, so it tests the player to know when to strike and when to get out of the way.  They have to outmatch his power with their speed and he’s not totally slow in the first place.  His flurry of punches gets some distance.

The music is the ultimate representation of his destructive, one-track focus on bringing the pain above all else with its use of heavy power metal.  No traditional Japanese instruments to be found in this one.  According to the composer, it's wild, unpredictable melody is meant to simulate the unpredictability of Dougen fighting, as he normally has youma do it.  It's kind of like the music for a cornered beast going wild, which is exactly what he is here.


It’s so exciting and epic that you’d be forgiven for expecting the chapter to end on it, but no!  This chapter takes the action up to 11!  Even after losing, Dougen uses the blood from all the fighting to summon a giant youma!  The school gets demolished again to make way for a gigantic blue demon woman in the sky who drops down the two giant ball youma known as Jura as one last stand to crush Dougen’s enemies!


Once again I love the visual design.  According to the enemy bio, they’re supposed to look like a kemari ball, a Japanese game where participants try to keep the ball in the air without using their arms (so kind of like hackey sack).  But these aren’t the playful, colorful balls you kick around.  They’re actually shells made of what appear to be corpses that hold hideous, grotesque, twisting, human-like youma heads that are kind of (likely intentionally) distracting when you break them as part of the stripping mechanics.  True to the red and blue dichotomy in Japanese storytelling, the red Jura head has a more cheerful expression while the blue one leans more toward gloomy.

Also according to their bio they’re supposed to be something like newborn babies, which is creepy as hell on its own, but even moreso with the music used.  It’s a tribal-sounding chant based on a Japanese children’s game called “Kagome Kagome”.  In it, players walk in a circle around a player chosen to be blindfolded while chanting the song.  When the players finish, the chosen player tries to guess who’s standing directly behind them.  It’s an aspect that probably works better with the Japanese audience that actually recognizes it, but even for Americans, chanting children is always creepy.  Even the Jura themselves sing some of the song in their creepy, Orochi-like voice!  It’s a total contrast to the previous boss’s, where there was nothing but speed metal.


The song’s origin resonates with their designs as bosses because their tactics involve coming from all sides.  Throughout the stage there are stalagmites in the ground acting kind of like pinball bumpers the Jura ricochet all over.  They both have the same moves, but the red one focuses more on slamming all around the stage at extremely high speeds to ram you while the blue one mainly does that to get away so it can shoot demon fireballs from a distance.  Dodging takes even more precedence than when fighting Dougen.  Fortunately the size of the stage isn’t an issue no matter where they go.  The fight is the ultimate reminder to use the grappling hook that propels the player to their locked-on enemy.  You can be on the other side of the stage and still zip over there.  Figure that out and it’s all a matter of finding an opening.

Once the two balls are defeated, the giant woman in the sky falls right on top of her children and Dougen, crushing his lower body.  After a few final words with Homura, the youma’s crumbling body sinks into the earth along with Dougen.  It’s a harsh sendoff to a truly evil villain and I’m sure he will never bother anyone ever again.  Nope.  Never.
And don’t get used to seeing giant youma either.

Ded.

The day is saved, Hebijo keeps its integrity (even if it has to be rebuilt again) and Suzune formally offers Homura and her friends back into the academy.  In a lot of stories you would expect her to take the offer and go back to a familiar setting she’s always loved, but Homura doesn’t feel she deserves it yet.  She believes that she’s learned a lot from her time outside of the academy.  She wants to make sure she’s strong enough for it first, believing there to be truth in Asuka’s concept of the katana and shield.  After all, Homura used her power to save Hebijo this time because she wanted to protect it.  Until Homura fully understands what it means to have that power, she does not feel ready to be one of Hebijo’s top students again.  She needs to go on a journey of self-discovery before she can go back to her old school life.

And of course her friends are still going to be with her on that journey.  Awwwww.  Group hug.

There are a lot of group hug equivalents in this franchise.
Senran Kagura always knows how to follow up its intensity on an uplifting note that never feels out of place with the rest of the game’s positive themes.

Like the first chapter, the second chapter is introductory.  It shows the Hebijo girls in their new lives, uses concepts from the other game in a more interesting way to reaffirm their character development and establishes Dougen and youma as antagonists (more the former than the latter).  All of it is done with story gravity, subtle underlying themes, excellent quotable dialogue and a series of badass boss battles!  Up to this point I’d already say I got my money’s worth, but this isn’t even halfway through the game yet!  Senran Kagura 2 has two stories with beginnings, middles and ends before the main plot even begins, which makes it feel much larger than the average game’s story.  Next time is when the real meat of the game starts as we are introduced to the story’s most pivotal, and titular, character.

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