Review: Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
Platform: PS2
Genre: SRPG/Visual Novel
Playtime: 21:03, Subaru’s ending, English VOs

A review of a game that changed my opinion on an entire series…


Gameplay: 8/10 If you couldn’t tell by the genre above, it’s really hard to pin what this game is. The adventure scenarios play much like a visual novel, where you’re automatically brought between locations/scenes and given choices to advance the story. But here, your choices are what the character is saying, and not just a “I should go here or do this”, and therefore make Shinjiro more involved in the story. Plus you’ve got at least 4 choices per LIPS (the option picking system) to pick, which really mold out a personality.
Ah, the LIPS system. The game falls flat here at the beginning since you HAVE to read the manual to understand how to work them. The game expects you to have played other games in the series (remember, this is Sakura Taisen V), and doesn’t give any sort of tutorial on how to work the system. However, they’re easy to learn, and the different types are scattered about making each choice pretty fun to do. I hate the QTE-like Stick LIPS, but that’s me.
At least once a chapter, you get to go into free roaming mode, where you’re able to control Shin and go to different locations for scenes, each scene taking up 5 minutes on your clock. Other than the walking around, there’s not much difference between this and the adventure scenes.
Where it does get different are the battles. Again, at least once a chapter, you’ll be thrown into battle against the…evil demon people things. The battle system is a lot like Valkyria Chronicles (by the same dev team) except it’s turn based instead of real time. Also, your movement bar drains for every action, be it healing, charging SP, moving, or attacking. Your movement is also removed by how far you move from your starting point, creating a more Chaos Wars-like circular movement system instead of grid based like Disgaea.
Battles are pretty strategic, with three “stratagems” or battle styles to pick from that can lock out your super moves or healing, joint attacks between members, and kickass super moves.

Story: 8/10 Shinjiro Taiga, relative to the usual hero Ogami, is sent to glorious America to lead the Star Division in the New York Combat Revue (or Kagekidan if you want to go with original terms). Though the team was expecting Ogami himself, they learn to accept Shin’s leadership throughout the battles he leads them in and the personal problems he helps them solve.
Yeah, that’s about it. The story is very anime, even going down the cliche road of shadow selves and resolve making miracles at the end, but that’s what made it pretty awesome, in my opinion.

Characters: 9/10 There’s quite a large and diverse cast of characters, so I’ll be listing them out here.

Shinjiro: The main character, so he’s a bit of blank slate in the sense that you can make him a silent doormat, a nice guy, or a total bastard to the girls, but outside of the choices you make, he ends up really developing as a character from the start to the end. Though like most harem leads, he can be a bit clueless about women…

Gemini: The character I said I wanted to DIAF in my early opinion ended up being my third favorite girl. The accent still bothers me, but I really ended up feeling for her fish-out-of-water state during the course of the game, and the plot twist in her chapter was interesting, though totally obvious. She’s also hella cute.

Cheiron: Another character I really didn’t like at first, she ended up being the “cool big sis” character. The Phoenix Wright-like court battle in her chapter was awesome. There’s…not much more to say about her, she has her funny moments which are great since she’s normally so strict.

Subaru: Ah, mai waifu. I had pretty much decided on her ending before starting, and DAMN it was amazing. Her chapter was one of the shorter ones, sadly, but her Christmas date and ending made up for that, especially the hilarity in the final cutscene. I’m always defrosting the ice queens.

Rosita: Ugh, loli. I had no opinion on her, and she’s definitely my least favorite because she’s an annoying loli. Her chapter had some conflicts with her disappeared (dead) dad, but that was never brought up again after her chapter was over.

Diana: The character I thought I’d like more probably had THE most annoying chapter plot in the game. I seriously wanted to punch her at times. She turns out okay in the end, but she’s really pretty boring for being so pretty…

Ratchet: The character I totally missed on the box art. I’m tempted to do a second playthrough just for her ending, but I’m not 100% sure if I want to spend the time going through all the battles again (thank god for R2 text skip). She doesn’t get much development in the game at all, since she’s a minor character, and the Sakura Wars movie that she’s featured in gave even less information on her. But…but she’s really pretty, and I really felt for her when she ran out of spirit power and couldn’t fight anymore. Also, the way she teases Shin is adorable~

Everyone else: Sunnyside was a loveable bastard, Anri is delicious tsundere, Cherry has vast tracts of land, I didn’t pay any attention to Kayama or Wong, and I’m struggling to remember any other characters.

Overall the way the game goes gives lots of development to the characters in their chapters, but doesn’t do too much for the non-focused ones in other chapters, However, it all comes together and you can tell they’ve really become friends in the end.

Graphics: 7/10 Most of the game is 2D portraits on 2D backgrounds with text boxes. Nothing special, but the characters have a LOT of poses, and even *shock* change clothes sometimes. There’s a good number of CGs and animated cutscenes in the game as well.
The 3D graphics…are okay. The people in the free time mode are pretty meh looking, but the STARs in the battle sequences are nice and shiny looking. But this is a 5 year old PS2 game, so I wasn’t expecting anything awesome.

Music: 8/10 The opening theme, while not as good as GekiTei, is pretty awesome. Everything else is good and fits the mood/setting of the scenes and the game. I especially like the theme songs/motifs for each character.

Localization: 9/10 What? 9/10 on an NISA game? One that isn’t Disgaea? This is DEFINITELY NISA’s best work so far, and an amazing improvement from last year’s Ar tonelico II. There’s some slip ups (wood instead of would is an example in one part, and a “message too long” in a textbox in a gallery somewhere), and people who know Japanese were bitching about localized lines as usual. But I loved it, and I loved the casting they used for the characters, and the nicknames everyone used for Shin. I believe the English disc has less voicing than the Japanese disc, but at least all the IMPORTANT scenes are voiced this time. It just felt like a polished game, and definitely over the line of what I normally give NISA localizations.

Overall Rating: 8/10, but I 5 starred it anyway on the BL
Recommendation: Everyone’s been saying this since Persona 3, but I really think this is going to be the PS2’s RPG swan song. I’m now waiting for something to hit me out of left field now, but anyway. If you like visual novel/dating sim type games, get this. If you liked Valkyria Chronicles, give this one a try. And of course, if you’re a Sakura Wars fan and haven’t played this, get it.

I said above that it changed my opinion on the series, which is true. Back in 2004 or so, I bought the first DVD for the Sakura Wars TV series. It is one of the few shows I can say that I hated. The plot jumped around and made no sense, I didn’t like the characters, and…I just didn’t get it. And THAT’s a standalone retelling of the first game! Playing this made me start reading the 3-years-old-and-still-going Sakura Wars LP on SA, download all the OVAs and the movie, and I’m even considering importing Sakura Wars 1+2 for the PSP. I went from being very lukewarm to the series to loving it, because of one game. And I think that says something.

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