Buckle up. This is going to get weird. Like, everything about Senko no Ronde 2 is weird. And I’m not trying to say that in a disparaging way, but there is zero doubt in my mind that this is one of the oddest titles, from start to finish, that I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s not the unsettling weird of Plug and Play, or the confusing, terrifying weird of Lisa the First, but it’s odd, nonetheless.
Senko no Ronde 2 was originally released for the XBox360 way back in the day, and the developers decided to keep the original story mode intact as a separate option along with a more updated, fluid arcade mode. The story is captivating in both its length and premise. Essentially, the Earth was besieged by a calamity called the Great Disaster, and humanity moved to space, starting a new calendar and getting things situated being astronauts for a majority of their lives. Almost 1500 years later, after the events of the first game (terrorists stole a big laser to destroy Earth, heroes stopped it) you’re in the shoes of an amnesiac mech pilot, joining a strategic police force, ready to save the day and fix the air conditioner (not a joke, that’s a big argument at the beginning).
But, as you start to get your bearings on the primary story line, a second story, consisting of a whole crew of heretofore unmentioned characters, opens up, and you can follow along with what they’re doing. A third, TOTALLY UNCONNECTED story then opens, and you can basically follow along the whole thing, in linear but still optional order, to eventually reach the culmination, which, yes, all the storylines will intersect at some point. The story is mostly told through visual novel style cutscenes, followed by combat or, well, more cut scenes.
Story wise, Senko no Ronde 2’s DUO tale is fascinating, but you need to have a notebook handy to keep track of everything that’s happening. There are relationships, there are histories between characters, it takes place in different parts of space (a lot on Mars, but plenty in other areas) and you are never quite sure what’s important enough to remember and what will be revealed later on. There’s some kind of big *gasp* moment about 3/4s of the way through (no spoilers) that was initially lost on me because I totally had forgotten some smaller pieces of the character interactions.
Thankfully, the story can be replayed in segments multiple times and, if you’re just interested in playing the game, there’s an arcade mode that sort of has a story, but it’s more like the traditional “Let’s be the best fighter ever” kind of setup. Anime fans and anyone who played the original will want to go through the DUO story which, in all seriousness, isn’t terribly long and is still pretty interesting.
Hoo boy. Here we go. Senko no Ronde 2 is a fighter/shooter hybrid, with two “Boosters” (the mechs) going head-to-head in a space environment that allows lateral 2.5D movement, allowing you to circle each other but never gain or lower altitude. A majority of the fight will be ranged, with focus on shooting each other from afar and dodging/blocking as best you can. However, if you get close enough, you can initiate hand to hand(?) damage that does significantly more hurt to your opponent than just shooting. Most of my victories came from getting up close and personal, and it felt like it cut down on the timing a lot as a result. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of damage to be done from the ranged attacks, but every single one of the characters dealt significantly higher amounts once you got too close for comfort.
The fighters of Senko no Ronde 2 have three points of importance that are carefully balanced throughout the fighters: Range, Speed and BOSS. Every fighter who excels in one area tends to be quite a bit weaker in the others. For example, some of the fastest Boosters tended to hit quite lightly, as you would imagine from robots that focused on agility. The Ranged bots had some of the best laser damage, but then failed completely in the BOSS region, often being underpowered and, frankly, worthless. And the BOSS Boosters moved a bit slowly, which played out in some favors to active the Final BOSS transformation.
BOSS is where the game truly takes on a unique and bizarre perspective. Once a fight, you can change the entire battle for a brief few seconds and change this already loose interpretation of a fighter into a straight up bullet hell moment. The player who transforms into the BOSS has precious little time to occupy 50% or more of the screen and rain punishment down on the other player, all the while potentially recovering energy and dishing out severe pain. The receiving player has very little recourse other than dodge and pray they live through the onslaught, because a player coming out of BOSS tends to be vulnerable for a moment. Additionally, if you’ve taken massive damage prior to transforming and are on your last legs, you become a Final BOSS, which is the One Winged Angel version of a fair fight. Basically it’s a huge gamble that can pay off in a big way, but could also cost you everything.
Senko no Ronde 2 is spreading itself very thin in every direction with this approach, and I think it pays off on different levels. On easier levels, players don’t even need to consider the BOSS as something viable, because you can just brutalize your way through everyone through shots and punches. If you go hard or, God forbid, Maniac, you need to essentially work out a flowchart of the battle prior to it happening, because the CPU hits harder, has more life and can pull off better combinations than you, and you’re just along for the ride if you’re not prepared. In the DUO story mode and Arcade solo player, it’s actually fantastic.
One on one is a different story entirely. For players who are familiar with the game, it’s got that same Marvel Vs. Capcom feel where it’s whomever gets the combo started, not the better player, who’ll ultimately come out on top. And if you’re new at this, I hope your friend is green as well or at least a good person, because you can get buried in a matter of seconds. My fastest KO in the arcade mode was 5 seconds, so use that as a litmus for how quickly you might end up losing a friend because you decided to show your game prowess at the wrong damn time.
Despite the shortness of the Arcade mode (and the relative abrupt end to the DUO story), there is a ton of replay value from mastering and observing the strengths and ideas of each of the fighters. You really owe it to yourself to try everyone at least once, because you’d be surprised who has the best banter and the best BOSS transformation.
Senko no Ronde 2 was originally released in 2010, and the DUO story lets you see EXACTLY how that looked. On the one hand, I appreciate the developers preserving the classic look and feel for the story mode so that players can see how far they’ve come in the arcade version. On the other hand, a lot of the exposition characters look like a hybrid of a “how to draw manga” book from Borders and the original sprites from Higurashi. It’s rough. The talking heads in the arcade version have much less to say, but they actually look very good while saying it. This raises some strange questions of “If they made the better artwork, why not use it throughout?” Maybe it’s a coding thing, maybe it’s keeping the classic look alive, I’m not sure, but the DUO story art is not my favorite.
The fighting scenes, however, still look fantastic in both Arcade and the DUO version. There’s a strong CGI element going on in order to give versatility and individuality to each character, with some spare polygons hanging on to add to the roughness that somehow appeals to me. Each Booster has it’s own flair, with colors, shapes and accessories that are logical and streamlined with the core concept of the game. You’re not finding some ridiculous logo spray painted on the side or an unexplained robot that also has a handbag. Hongo, for example, has a Booster that looks like it wears a traditional Japanese straw hat, but it’s not outlandish or obviously something added; rather, it’s a part of the Booster’s head, and seems to flow well with the overall design.
Backgrounds are all different interpretations of in the sky. Some being far off in space, some being just above the human headquarters, others being on distant planets (mostly Mars) and all doing what they need to do best. It’s interesting, it’s colorful but it’s not distracting and it sets the stage.
Senko No Ronde 2 takes itself very seriously in the audio department. FIrst and foremost, the Japanese voice acting is dramatic and spot on. Every character delivers consistently, and it makes the DUO story mode worth playing in and of itself. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t imagine them trying to dub some of the subtleties and nuance into English, and I’m glad they didn’t try. I’m not an unflappable subtitle defender, but you can just tell when something works well in one language, and this is certainly one of those times.
Additionally, there is a broad, sweeping soundtrack in this game that ranges everything from quirky and upbeat to heavy, tense undernotes. Not only is there a huge variety of tracks (you won’t be hearing the same piece twice), but the game announces the name of the song in the lower right hand corner most of the time, so that you can find it later if you purchased the OST and relive the experience. I don’t necessarily know if this is going to end up in constant rotation for me, but Senko no Ronde 2 definitely commanded my attention on the music front and I applaud them for it.
I’m still confused about everything that’s happened. There were space terrorists, and explosions, and I think one character was trying to seduce me, and I guess my parents weren’t dead…? The plot of it all is convoluted. The fighting style swings wildly from intuitive and cohesive to berserk and flailing. I cannot stand how the characters look in DUO. But it’s such an interesting experience. I felt totally engaged and pumped for the next fights, and I wondered aloud if there were people who pushed to make Senko no Ronde tournaments, as it was a serious test of being able to understand danmaku and ranged combat in the same swing. And, moreover, I would recommend anyone with PC gaming tastes to give it a try simply because I can’t fit it into a single peg. Senko no Ronde 2 is a sight to behold, and, frankly, the more titles we see that push the bounds of traditional setups, the more we can see gaming evolve into the future.