Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love Wii
The Sakura Wars franchise is a series that I’d heard plenty about, but have never been able to play because the entire series was exclusive to Japan. It’s a strange predicament because the franchise is developed and published by Sega, but it’s Nippon Ichi Software USA who are bringing the latest game to the English market for the Nintendo Wii. It has taken over 13 years and five main games in the series for a chance to be able to play a Sakura Wars game in English. Another amusing fact is that Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love has actually been out in Japan since 2005… That’s a hell of a time difference, but in the end we should just be glad it’s actually made it over here.
I guess it is understandable why Sega didn’t want to publish the game outside of Japan. Sakura Wars is a unique combination of strategy RPG mixed up with dating simulation elements. The latter takes up a lot of the time before each battle that commences. We’re not talking 10-15 minutes here; more like 1-2 hours.
Set in a strange alternate 1920s, where people use giant robots to fight off enemies, players are put into the role of Shinjiro Taiga. Shinjiro is a young male who at the start of the game is being transferred from Tokyo to New York to help the New York Combat Revue, which is a new defence division that has just been set up. Arriving to a crowd of displeased people (The New York Combat Revue were expecting Shinjiro’s famous uncle, and they let it show) Shinjiro has to prove himself he’s just as capable as his uncle and he gets to prove this when he becomes Captain of the New York Combat Revue at the start of the game, which puts you in control of the five main girls you’ll be trying to chat up.
All the characters have a very distinct personality. Such as Gemini, who is the clumsy redhead girl that I guess is the mascot for the game. She always seems to be the focus when you look at artwork. Then you have your typical hard-to-crack girl who goes by the name of Cheiron. She’s a lawyer who follows everything by the law. Subaru is a bit of weird person who dresses like a boy to confuse people, as she believes sex shouldn’t affect judgement on someone. She’s also a bit of a hard one to crack. Lastly you have crazy hyper little girl Rosarita and ex-captain Ratchet Altair, who is your main girl you go to for advice in your newly promoted position.
Each chapter of the game’s eight usually follows a certain pathway. A crisis happens, you talk to people, explore town, talk to more people, try make girls happy, and then at the end fight things with your huge mechanical robots. Making girls happy is something you’ll need to concentrate on. Sakura Wars doesn’t follow traditional strategy RPGs. Normally you fight to gain experience, level up and repeat to get stronger. Instead the power of your characters depends on how your relationship is with the girl. If a girl is happy and has a good affinity for you then she will gain stat boosts for the fight. If she’s unhappy then it works the opposite way and that character will have downgraded stats as she has a hissy fit that you don’t understand her. The best way to get through battles is by making all of the five girls happy rather than focusing on your favourite girl, so the team is balanced.
“So how do I make them happy?” I hear you shout out, well the adventure mechanics work in the same vain as something like the Ace Attorney series. As the story progresses you’ll be in situations where you are prompted to answer someone’s question or do an action. There’s a time limit of five seconds to give your answer and your choice will affect the characters involved. So that you aren’t always selecting an answer from a list, some take the form of quick-time events. Using the analogue sticks on a classic pad (or nunchuck) you set a percentage of an answer through a scale system. For example you’re in a library in one scene and you have to get someone’s attention, so you select 10% so your voice is quiet, 100% would be shouting. Some also require you to use the pointer and click things on the screen to examine.
Outcomes of the events effect dialogue further into the game, even going as far to open secret dialogue options that you wouldn’t normally get. The feature adds quite a substantial amount of replay value because you aren’t going to see all the possible outcomes unless you play the game through at least 3-4 times. The game also has multiple endings, so even if you didn’t get your favourite girl the first time round, you can always try again with a difference experience on the next play through.
Onto the other main feature of the game: the battle system. The same team also developed Valkyria Chronicles and what you see in Sakura Wars (remember this game is 5 years old) is the building blocks for what the Sega studio used in the battle system in Valkyria Chronicles. Battles are turn-based on a character basis, but you can move freely when it’s your turn to move. The units have a blue metre that is split into sections, and is used for moving and attacking enemies. When you make a unit attack or defend, it will cost one section of the metre. Moving a certain distance will reduce the metre by one section as well. Special moves use a special metre but still require the usage of your action metre if you want to recharge the special metre. Team moves are also available and are buffed up if you have good relationships with characters.
Fighting on land isn’t the only ability the robots have. Reaching the last battle of the chapter makes your robots transform into flying planes and battles become about moving vertically and horizontally allowing you to find the enemy’s weak spots to attack with a barrage of missiles. This is done in crazy anime cut scenes which make up for some fantastic, if over the top, attack animations. If there’s a downside to the battles it’s that you have to normally wait till the end of a chapter to get to them. Because of this you usually have all the fights bundled together, and this can last for an hour or two. Thankfully a save feature is included so you can save and return any time you like.
Sakura Wars features a stupid amount of text and Nippon Ichi has done a first-rate job of translating the game. They’ve tried to keep the quirky Japanese intact which gives the player some highly amusing dialogue scenes. It probably helps if you like anime and are used to the melodrama that comes with it. Voice-over work is mostly good, but there is no lip syncing. As a game that is five years old you know that you aren’t going to get something that looks stellar. But one thing Sakura Wars really has going for it is its distinctive presentation.
Sure enough this game isn’t going to appeal to many people who haven’t read into it. They probably just saw the box art and didn’t give it a second look. It’s not the deepest strategy RPG on the market; but makes this up though by having a way to incorporate a dating simulation that doesn’t feel cheap, tacky or bordering on being a stalker. Instead it comes off as a worthwhile investment with style, charm and so much random story situations thrown in that you’ll be in for some giggles.
If you like strategy RPGs then you owe it to yourself to check this 20+ hour game out. Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love will be one of the freshest experiences you’ve had in the genre for a while and shouldn’t be avoided because of the word “dating sim.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised.