Review : Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

Well, this is it: one of the last games we’re going to see on the PS2. And it’s almost fitting that this game pretty much defies description.

This game is, essentially, an interactive anime. It weds a dating/life simulator with a turn-based strategy game based on mech combat, and wraps all of that up in an episodic, anime-style plot and game. Heck, it even has commercial breaks (the save points leap right out of the game) and a “On the next episode” finale to every segment. It’s not only unapologetic about being an interactive anime, it seems to be trying really, really hard to make it clear that it is one.

The basic underlying story is that you play as Shinjiro Taiga, a young aspiring samurai who comes to New York from Japan to become the captain of S.T.A.R.S., a group of mech based heroes who save the city from many dangers. Since this is set in the 1920s, all the mechanical things are basically steam driven, and this carries on into the game. Oh, and S.T.A.R.S. is also based in the Little Lip Theater, a company that puts on Broadway musicals.

From that alone, you should be able to guess that this is not your typical game.

This game is, from what I’ve read, a prequel to other Sakura Wars games, but I haven’t played any of them. Thus, I have to start this completely new, as someone who has no idea what’s going on. If you’ve played the other games, your mileage may vary.

Gameplay:

The game play isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. Essentially, there are two main parts to the game: the real world/dating sim and the mech combat.

In the dating sim, you wander around New York doing things and encountering your fellow group members. Actions taken here will make them like you more or less, and this will carry over into the game. You work through this section by moving to places — that take time off the clock, and there’s a deadline for when you have to return home or to the theatre or to some other place — and encountering whatever and whoever happens to be there. So it’s kinda like the board game “Arkham Horror”, except without Elder Gods (at least at first).

When you encounter a person, you’ll generally just get a standard dialogue tree, where you select the right responses and see what happens. The game goes on no matter what you say, so there are no game-ending dialogue choices, as far as I can tell.

Sometimes, thought, some of the sections will trigger challenges. When you hit a challenge, there are a couple of types. One is that you have to decide what to reply, and you just do that by hitting up or down enough to select the response you want, but you do generally have to do it (there is a default answer, but often that’s not the one you want). In other cases, you have to move the analog sticks or the controller’s directional buttons the right way to succeed.

It’s all fairly standard, and there’s nothing really bad or good about it.

The one major issue with it, though, is with the fact that your real-world exploring is both timed and that the characters you want to talk to move around. This isn’t a big deal most of the time, but this even carries over to the big part of the plot where you choose the girl you want to be your partner and life-long love. I actually had to reload because I wanted to make Subaru my choice … but I couldn’t find her in time. This could ruin the game for you, and didn’t need to happen. Even just making it clear where each girl would be so you could seek them out would have made it all so much better.

The other side is the mech combat. This is a fairly standard system as well. You, as Shinjiro, control all characters in combat, one at a time in a turn-based strategy grid manner. You can move, attack, heal (yourself), defend, or use your supermove. All moves depend on a set amount of movement points, displayed as a set of blocks on the screen, and the amount required for any move varies. Supermoves and healing also depend on momentum and use it up when you activate them, and you get it back by being hit. There’s also a set of three "attitudes" that you can put your whole team into, which determines when you can defend, heal, or use your supermove. You can also engage in combination attacks with other teammates if you’re aligned properly, which will bump up their like of you.

If you get one of them killed, it reduces how much they like you, though, which means that you have to consider sacrifice tactics very carefully. Especially since, in general, your teammates get attack and move bonuses if they like you. So, if you tick them off in the world game, you’ll actually hurt your abilities in the strategy portion. This is both good and bad: what you do in the world portion matters, but it also limits what you can do in the world portion unless you want to risk gimping yourself.

The combat portion is usually divided up into a battle against random mooks, and then a boss fight at the end.

It’s all fairly standard, and it isn’t all that challenging. I didn’t need to use combinations until over halfway through,and then once I knew how it was only gimmicks that made me reload the game (or check a FAQ). Yes, this is an interactive anime, so of course the boss fights will use gimmicks.

Saving is only allowed at pre-determined commercial breaks, which are fairly regular but at times are lacking in the combat portion. However, dying in the combat portion always lets you restart from the start of the battle.

Graphics:

I liked the graphics. It uses still, drawn pictures on a background to do many of the story scenes, but they’re nicely drawn pictures. The look of the city areas as you walk around are fairly nice as well, the battle scenes look good, and there are anime-style cutscenes. All in all, it looks pretty good on the PS2.

Story:

There are two main portions to the story. One is the story underlying the entire anime, filled with goofy characters and goofy situations, mass battles, action, explosions, and Broadway musicals. As an anime story, it lacks the quality of a Record of Lodoss War and the amazingly in-depth characterization of a .hack: Sign. It’s mostly light with a serious backdrop, and a few good surprises that you’ll likely see coming a mile away, but that help ramp up the drama. Good, for an interactive anime.

The other part is the one that we must not forget: the dating sim. Each girl has an eccentricity as well as a problem. There will be an episode dedicated to each girl and then the final episodes involve choosing one, and then interacting with that to the big finale. The problem here is that in giving them unique personalities, they gave them too eccentric personalities, and you might end up not really liking any of the choices you’ll have. Or maybe one or two. In a dating sim, one would expect that in general you’d have the opposite problem, of liking too many. The eccentricities never go away, even after you solve their problems. So that’s a bit of a downside. The individual stories, though, are interesting enough, and the interactions between the characters are done well enough as well.

Combining the two, the story is fun and entertaining, but not the best in breed.

Controls:

Controls are nothing special. The gimmicks in the challenge sections are often too easy or too hard, but you can get decent results without actually caring, and things will move on no matter how badly you mess up something with the controls. In the battle side, they’re generally simple and straightforward.

Musical score :

The music works really well. The themes are all catchy and fit the game well. And since this game is based on people in a Broadway musical, pretty much every episode features a new set of music for the new musical the Little Lip Theater is putting on. And it’s good. The end theme is excellent; I can still remember it months after I’ve finished the game. I’d buy the soundtrack to this game if it was available.

Voice acting:

It’s good. The voices do carry the personalities of the characters they portray. They can be over the top at times, but then the characters have a tendency to be over the top as well, so it fits right in. There aren’t many noticeable translation errors or errors between the text and the voices (unlike in, say, Persona 4). So a fairly good job.

Sound:

The sound is good. It generally uses fairly standard sounds and an occasional musical lilt to tell you if you’ve made someone happy, but I don’t have any complaints about the sound. But it didn’t wow me as being the best you could have, either, but more than good enough.

Replayability:

Since this game is a dating sim that limits you to one girl that you can take all the way to the “true love” stage, you’d think it’d have more replayability as you want to return to it to see how it plays out with different girls. And the way the endings change to focus on that girl should make it more interesting. But the eccentricities of the girls make that hard to do; you may well only find one girl that you like in the whole game. Thus, replayability is not as strong as you might expect.

That being said, there are extra scenes to get on a second game and you might get to date the girl who seems the most normal and generally appealing: Ratchet. So that bumps it up a little. But only a little.

Production Value:
I’m always going to be bad at reviewing this category. This game uses a lot of still pictures to tell the story, but they’re very pretty ones. The music is done well, as is the sound and voices. For what they were going for, it seems to be done well.

Conclusion:

You’ll have the addition of all of the categories on the main display, but here I want to give my subjective opinion, ignoring what I said in all the categories, and a score based only on what I think of the total experience. This is an entertaining game. It has its warts, but it has its benefits. If you like the idea of an interactive anime — as I do — you’ll like this game. If you don’t, you might still find it entertaining. So my overall subjective score is: 7/10 (I use a 10 scale). A good game, worth getting and playing, but it won’t make the list of best games ever. But good enough that hopefully the interactive anime will be something that’s tried again.

Gameplay=6.0
Graphics=8.0
Story=7.0
Controls=7.0
Musical Score=10.0
Voice Acting=8.0
Sound Design=8.0
Replayability=6.0
Production Value=8.0

Overall: 7.0

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: