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Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PlayStation 2) artwork

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PlayStation 2) review

"One definitely has to give credit to the Japanese for their ability to appeal to a wide range of sexual tastes. Thereís a female here for everyone. Thereís the plucky and inexplicably clumsy redhead, the big-breasted and flirtatious blonde maid, the fiery black-skinned beauty, and a ten year-old. These, and other women, will team up with the Japanese hero to form the Combat Theater Revue to promote justice through the art of song and dance... and occasionally through dedicated missile strikes."

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is a role playing game in both the slimmest and fullest sense of the word. There arenít dungeons to explore or characters to customize and the battles are a thin slice of the full package. You do, however, take on the role of an easily-identifiable character and actively lead him through his interactions with a group of female mech pilots, steering his relations with them as you struggle to save 1920's New York from invading demons led by Oda Nobunaga.

Sakura Wars leans heavily towards the dating simulation side of things, sometimes so heavily that itís hard to find the actual game. Granted, an effort has been made to mix things up a bit. Conversation choices, as usual in a dating simulation, affect who likes you and how much. Sakura Wars takes this one step further, though.

Quick quiz. Answer in five seconds. A busty girl is feeling depressed and is debating whether to share her thoughts with you. Do you...

  • a: encourage her strongly to tell you whatís wrong?
  • b: tell her sheís beautiful to try and cheer her up?
  • c: use the chance to hold her hand?

Tough, right? Hard to tell which of these might advance the situation in your favor. These kind of choices pop up all the time in Sakura Wars and (here's the clincher) they are timed. This makes conversations feel much more realistic as you quickly try to pick which of the conversation choices is the best one. In a nice twist, sometimes youíll actually gain more favor with a girl if you stay silent, though other times it will just make you look weak and pathetic. The obligatory free-roam sections also benefit from a time limit that forces you to pick who youíre going to try and please within the confines of a scene. Much of this involves quicktime events that change the flow of the scene based on how you do. Approximating doing dishes or engaging in a rousing sparring match with quicktime events might not be innovative, but it does feel appropriate.

While these are all welcome additions to the usual dating system, they do little to disguise the fact that thereís an exorbitant amount of text in Sakura Wars. Itís not rare to find yourself flipping through twenty minutes of dialogue, wondering when youíll get the option to say something. As a dating simulation, Sakura Wars is more Love Hina than it is Bible Black. The main character spends more time explaining his way out of awkward situations and being made the brunt of the female castís pranks than he does actually flirting and bettering his position with them. Bashfully-expressed love is about as far as you can push things in Sakura Wars and it will take the entire game just to get there. Players looking for a little more, uh, return on their investment will want to look elsewhere.

Thatís not to say there isnít plenty of animations of nubile (if clothed) young women. One definitely has to give credit to the Japanese for their ability to appeal to a wide range of sexual tastes. Thereís a female here for everyone. Thereís the plucky and inexplicably clumsy redhead, the big-breasted and flirtatious blonde maid, the fiery black-skinned beauty, and a ten year-old. These, and other women, will team up with the Japanese hero to form the Combat Theater Revue to promote justice through the art of song and dance... and occasionally through dedicated missile strikes.

If you couldnít tell from that last sentence, Sakura Wars has got some major personality. Brightly-colored panels fill each moment of your adventures in New York. Catchy music bounces you from scene to vibrant scene, each one more ridiculous than the next. You never know what to expect. One minute youíll be cross-dressing to take someoneís place in a play, the next you'll be suiting up in mechs to fight demonic robbers in front of Wall Street.

As the main character so eloquently puts it: ďThieves?! In the middle of the day?! Only in New York!Ē

Yes, itís silly, but thatís part of the fun. Thereís no substitute for personality, and Sakura Wars exudes personality, from every conversation choice and anime cutscene down to the background music and peppy character names (ďMy name is Gemini Sunrise! Iím from Texas!Ē). More than the quicktime events and the timed conversation choices, it is the humorous writing and exuberant characters which keep the text-reading from becoming stale.

Sakura Wars is well aware that it is a glorified dating simulation without the reward of gratuitous hentai at the end. Rather than apologize for being what it is, it revels in poking fun at the genre. At the same time, Sakura Wars seems to know when to take itself seriously and spends enough time developing its characters that itís hard not to feel attached to them. The effort, unfortunately, is somewhat hampered by the fact that the underlying themes of the game are so clichť. A young man finds an inner strength he didnít know he had and, with the help of his friends, learns the power of hope against all odds... itís not like we havenít seen this story before. While the chapters themselves each focus on a different character and introduce diverse (though always humorous) situations, the ultimate conclusion to each one is the same: friends are good; always have faith. Itís too bad, because the approaches things with such exuberance that itís easy to expect a fresher perspective.

Similarly, those looking for a deep combative experience should not seek it in Sakura Wars. Combat always feels like it should be incredible. Youíll feel an excited shiver run up your spine the first time the characters take a break from their sexually-charged shenanigans to jump into the cockpits of their mechs. Tactical Mech Combat is cool just on basic principle. Sakura Warís take on the system boasts both ground and aerial combat, various stances that change how many action points maneuvers cost, and an area-of-attack system that reminds one of Chrono Triggerís tech moves. Where you move your characters on the map can be very important because of this. Joint attacks, for instance, draw a line connecting two mechs, with damage being dealt to everything in-between. Furthermore, the damage done by these attacks is decided based on how much the two mech pilots like each other, which is something you affect with your choices in the dating simulation part of the game. This should make for an interesting blend of strategy and favoritism reflecting your actual feelings towards the characters. Unfortunately, due to a shockingly restricted enemy AI, such deep planning ends up being unnecessary most of the time. Enemies in Sakura Wars simply donít have much going for them. They have ridiculously low stats compared to the player-controlled characters and their AI is limited to rushing the nearest mech and spending whatever action points they have left attacking it. Itís pretty easy to take advantage of such simplistic tactics, especially when you add in the fact that you often out-number the enemy.

Bosses are even worse, since most of the mechanical monstrosities canít move or turn. The enterprising player will make short work of the weapons on one side of a boss and then just hang out on that side of the screen, chipping away at the health bar until it finally dies. It might feel clever the first time you do this but after a while it gets repetitive. Nowhere is this more evident than at the end of the game, which consists of a series of battles that will take most gamers five hours or more to trudge through. By the time I was through with that mess I barely had the energy left to enjoy the ending. Long battles are great if they require skill, precision timing, or something else a victorious player can be proud of. But thereís never a sense of accomplishment after a battle in Sakura Wars. Instead, combat ends up hurting the overall experience. Rather than being an exciting break from the text-reading it ends up being an obligatory break from the things that Sakura Wars does really well: the character interactions and dialogue.

Had the combat been removed, it may have been easier to delve into the replayability Sakura Wars offers in the form of multiple endings and scenes that, because of the timed wandering sections, you're sure to miss on the first time through. As it stands, Sakura Wars still manages to sell itself with characters that are actually interesting and writing that is genuinely clever. For those looking for a dating simulation which focuses on story over sex, you canít do much better than Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. Just keep in mind that, though thereís plenty of chances to one-up the characters, thereís only one actual date in the entire twenty hour game. Thatís a lot of foreplay for a very little orgasm.

But then, some people like it like that.


zippdementia's avatar
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (April 22, 2010)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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