|Review By: Bradley Beeck
Shinjiro Taiga is sent to New York to lead the New York Combat Revue, a team of mecha pilots come actresses who fight against demons. He doesn't receive the warmest of welcomes from the team, as they were expecting his Uncle. Never the less Shinjiro buckles down and works hard to prove his worth to the team of beautiful girls.
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is the first title in the Sakura Wars (Sakura Taisen) series to be released outside of Japan. It's in a similar vein to the Persona series being an RPG with dating sim elements. Although Sakura Wars takes this concept further by removing the standard leveling up found in RPGs, replacing it with player driven dialogue interactions which ultimately result in characters increasing in strength.
The game is broken into two distinct parts: the adventure section where players walk around town talking to characters, and the battle section where players fight bosses or complete objectives. Each of it's 8 episodes are constructed this way, with most of the play time taken up by the adventure sections. In essence it plays out like a TV series (which exists for the franchise), and it even has an animated episode preview and title card.
The adventure sections are kind of linear in that, focusing on one of the girls each time, the story unfolds in one direction. However players are given the choice of one of three dialogue options at regular intervals, and some events are only triggered when players visit certain areas. There are also Quick Time Events or Stick LIPS (Live & Interactive Picture System) as the game calls them, where players have to follow on screen prompts. How successfully these are performed will change character reactions, but there's a problem with this on the Wii version (Sakura Wars was also released on the PS2). Sometimes it requires rotating two analogue sticks but the standard Wiimote and Nunchuk only have one, so you have to use the D-Pad which is tricky. The Wii's controls aren't utilized beyond using it to point at objects occasionally, although that might be a good thing depending on your point of view. There's also often a time limit on how many places players can visit in adventure mode so some aspects of the character's stories will be missed. I like being able to experience everything but multiple playthroughs are absolutely necessary here; some of Ratchet's (one of the girls) scenes aren't even available until a second playthrough.
The battle system is generally fun and my only real complaint is they made the battles too hard. They stack the odds against the player too much, like having infinite monster spawning on top of a boss attacking you, and there isn't much breathing space. You have to know what you're doing, and sometimes you're going to stuff a boss battle up. They can take a while to finish, and the likelihood of failure is increased because the game doesn't fully explain itself. For instance the battles play out in turn based fashion with each of the girls having a separate turn plus the main character, but you can only guess who's turn it's going to be next. There are also things that only the main character can do on his turn, such as casting Protect or Summoning one of the girl's to his side. Both of which can make the difference in battle, but neither was given importance in a tutorial or perhaps even mentioned at all.
The general story may be linear but the game has multiple endings, depending on which girl you choose to pursue. That's really the point of the game, pursuing a relationship with either Ratchet, Gemini, Cheiron, Diana, Subaru or Rosarita (a child but it's pure a relationship). Each girl has a Trust level, which increases as you say things they like and decreases when you don't. Get it high enough by a certain point in the game and they'll go on a date with the player. It also has the benefit of increasing their battle strength, as I mentioned at the start of the review. Most of the characters start out as basically bitches and through each of their respective Episodes the player wins them over, although this happens regardless of which girl the player pursues. Apart from the unfriendly beginning it's a pretty enjoyable story, and the interplay between the characters is fun to watch. Gemini was the most appealing character being cheerful, energetic and playful. The game is rated PG/12+ so there's no full frontal nudity, although it does have a bit of Japanese weirdness. Neither of my picks, Gemini and Ratchet, even involved a kiss so it's pretty weak stuff and the way their story lines ended wasn't satisfying.
Like the gameplay the graphics are split into two sections: 2D graphics for the characters and 3D graphics for the battles and moving between areas. The 2D graphics are great, although minimally animated, and the character designs are appealing. I'm a fan of Kosuke Fujishima's work, who is the character designer for the franchise and who anime fans would know from You're Under Arrest and Ah My Goddess. The 3D graphics look like PS2 graphics, which they are being a PS2 game, but I don't expect great graphics from the Wii in the first place so they're decent. Each of the girl's has their own catchy theme song, and I particularly like Ratchet's. The general background music is also good. The voice acting has been replaced in the Wii version by an English dub and is performed by people who anime fans are very familiar with. I was little annoyed to hear some of them, it just felt jarring to be reminded of anime when I'm playing a game. Interestingly Ratchet's Voice Actress is the same one who played her in the Sakura Wars movie. There's also a problem with the mixing of the dub; the music is occasionally so loud or the dub so quiet you can't hear what they're saying.
Sakura Wars is a blend of an adventure game and a turn based RPG, with both aspects being generally fun. The storyline is enjoyable, and the girls are appealing once you get past the beginning. The battles are much the same, but a bit unfair in that the odds are stacked against you. In terms of story driven games, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is excellent.