Sakura Wars: Final Thoughts.

After having finished the game, here are my final thoughts on it.

The game, as I’ve said ad infinitum already, is an interactive anime.  That’s what it is.  It’s structured like an anime, the battles play out like anime battles, the issues that come up and how you address them are exactly like anime issues and situations.  It’s not a particularly deep anime, either story or character wise, but it is an anime, and is generally entertaining in that vein.  It’s more a wacky anime with potentially serious issues than it is a serious anime.

One thing that works against it as a dating simulator is probably a side effect of the fact that it is a not particularly deep or serious anime: all the dateable characters — and, in fact, almost all of the characters — are deeply, deeply eccentric.  In the Persona games, you have characters with deep-seated emotional problems that you have to solve.  In Sakura Wars, you have that … and a deep-seated eccentricity that is somewhat related to that emotional issue.  The saner ones are an obsession with the law or with eating, and it can lead right up to being a flower child, having multiple personalities, or rejecting any form of gender or personality identification.  This leads to a problem with dating one of them; while you can (mostly) eliminate the underlying emotional problem, you can’t eliminate the eccentricity.  For example, I couldn’t find Diana appealing because while the general personality was interesting, her eccentricity was irritating.  Fitting them into separate roles — like Persona did — worked okay, but the eccentricities meant that if you liked the personality but hated the eccentricity, you couldn’t find the character appealing.  And I think it pretty reasonable to say that in anything that includes a dating sim, you’re supposed to want to date at least one of the characters.  Especially since in Sakura Wars you actually have to date someone, unlike in the Persona games where if you didn’t want to you wouldn’t have to date anyone at all.

The other issue is that in the RPG elements you don’t get to be yourself, like you can in the Persona games.  You are, in fact, playing Shinjiro Taiga.  And he, like almost all of the other characters, is eccentric himself.  In fact, he’s also a huge dork at times.  That can be amusing, but it limits you and causes major issues when it only gives you a one sentence reply to set the tone and then runs with it.  For example, in the end I had a chance — when looking at the stars — to say “Not as beautiful as …” and decided that I wanted to run with it and make the cool, suave, and cheesy line of “Not as beautiful as you”.  Well, he stops short — which makes sense, I guess, given the trailing off above — but no matter how much she badgers him into finishing the sentence he won’t do it.   But I would have.

(Oh, and if you want to see him being a total dork,  just do the ending where you choose Subaru.)

Another problem is one that comes up in these games:  your actions in the world have an impact on it, but in too strong a way.  Knights of the Old Republic had the same issue, but the Personas (mostly) avoided it.  In all three cases, there are mechanical advantages to building up relations with people or acting in certain ways.  In KotOR, it was mostly that you’d get light or dark side shifts that affected how much Force points your powers cost (and so affected which ones you used)  and eventually gave you extra bonuses if you got all the way to the highest levels of light or dark side powers.  Which meant that, at times, you had a desire to choose a light side or dark side option not because your character would, but because you wanted the mechanical bonuses of being more light or more dark.  In the Personas, building up S-links means that when you fuse a Persona it gets an experience boost based on your rank in the associated S-link and it also — if I recall correctly — generally let you fuse the top form of that Arcana.  However, as long as you did some S-links, you’d be able to build a pretty good stable of pretty good Personas that would let you do well in the game, at least on Easy (and probably Normal) mode.  So you didn’t have to max out every Arcana, and so you could easily decide to only hang around or date people you liked.  You could tick off most of your party and still do okay.

Sakura Wars takes the S-link idea and imports the mechanical advantages into the game.  The better you get along with your team members, the more bonuses they get in combat.  Tick them off, and they get no bonuses (and might get penalities).   So treating the members of your team like you’d react as your character risks hurting your chances in the upcoming fight, possibly enormously.  So you have to try to keep them all happy with you.  I suppose that’s what might happen if you were in that situation really, but it does limit your interactions since you generally have to spend your time trying to please them as much as possible to get the best bonuses.  Essentially, you can feel like your character has to lie to them and tell them only what they want to hear.

Fortunately, it isn’t that bad, since a small loss of happiness on their part doesn’t have that much of an impact, and you can make it up with later good choices.  But it’s a limitation on your character that I found a bit annoying.

The combats are anime-style combats, which generally means that they’re all gimmicky; once you know how to approach it, they’re generally easy, but if you don’t you generally won’t win, either.  This can lead to easy combats if you see the gimmick early, and impossible ones if you don’t.  I didn’t use Joint attacks at all — and had no idea how to use them — until one of the last battles.  Then I had to learn to use them to get multiple hits and kills in one attack.  And then I used them constantly.  I should have had more incentive to use them earlier in the game, I think.  That’s not really the fault of the game tutorial itself — since I’m pretty sure it did explain them to me at some point — but is more of the game; at some point before then, I should have wanted to use them.

That being said, for that the problem might be more with me than with the game, since I have a tendency to do just that: ignore one really good ability for most of the game because the simpler methods work for me.

Also, the time limitations don’t work well.  You may be looking for a particular character to interact with — at one point, I was looking for Subaru to make her my official “date” — but any place you stop costs time.   But there aren’t a lot of hints about where you have to or want to go.  You might be able to figure it out, but it changes over the course of the game.  It’s not generally a big deal, but it’s too easy to miss things you really want to do because you don’t know where the things that are interesting are.  Having that potentially happen at the “big date” part is just unacceptable; you shouldn’t miss out on the girl you want because you don’t know where she is.  (I missed Subaru the first time, and had to redo from the previous save point to get it).

So, these are a lot of negatives, or at least potential negatives.  What’s good about the game?

Well, the way it shifts everything when you make your choice of who to date is done really well.  Images change, order of discussions changes, and it seems to be a lot of work.  Or, at least, having played through it once it looks that way.  I think that you’re supposed to choose Gemini (from how some of the images and pictures and conversations go) but you have to really look closely to see that.  I chose Subaru, and she becomes very prominent in the rest of the game, with dialogue choices and images changing to show that she really is the destined girl.  It looks really, really good, at least to my possibly less discerning eye.  So you have to give kudos for the effort to, in fact, make the choice of who to date relevant to the story, and consistent with it.

It’s also fairly interesting story wise.  While it isn’t deep, it’s entertaining and worth watching.  It fits somewhere in between — in my opinion — utter fluff and something with really deep characterization and story.  Some of the resolutions are just cheesy if you were really taking it seriously — especially the ending — but there’s stuff going on and a clear (at least at the end) goal to accomplish and clear consequences if you fail.  And the goal is big enough that, yeah, you do care about it.  It’s worth paying attention to, in at least some ways.

The anime cutscenes, the wandering around, and the battles all flow fairly seamlessly into one another.   You don’t get taken out of suspension of disbelief as you move from one to the other.  This is really nice.

While it uses save points, the save points are generally well-done and mean that you wouldn’t have to reply all that much if you mess something up.  You can also rematch any fight that you’ve lost, so it only causes an issue if you wanted to stop for the night.

And, finally, this is the only game that I’ve ever played where the MC can tell a female team member to massage her breasts and not only have that not offend her, and not only have that actually improve her opinion of you, but if you chose a specific option/attitude earlier you can have that be a crowning moment of inspiration.  That’s gotta count for something [grin].

Overall, it was worth playing and might be worth playing again.

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