Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love Review

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (Available on Wii, and PlayStation 2)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Dating Sim
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: RED/Idea Factory
Release Date: March 30th, 2010

Parent Talk: At its heart, Sakura Wars is a dating sim.  If you’re uncomfortable with that, then don’t let your children or teenagers play the game.  The ESRB has rated SW T for Teen, and that might be appropriate depending on your child’s maturity.  The suggestive themes are very mild.  There’s no sex or anything even remotely close to it.  I think if you have a mature enough 12 year old, he or she can play without problem.  Technologically, there’s nothing to talk about, the game supports a basic audio/visual experience.  You can use the Wii’s EDTV mode, and it supports Pro Logic II, but that’s as much as you get.

It’s odd that Sakura Wars is just now making its presence known in North America.  The series is 14 years old, yet we’re just receiving the first iteration now.  Talk about times changing.  The truth is that Sega never wanted to bring it here because of the high risk involved.  This is a niche Japanese property, and localizations have only recently been extremely accurate.  We thought SW would forever be Japan-exclusive.  Given the state of the economy, developers are trying to recoup their costs any way possible.  Thanks to NIS America’s efforts, we can finally play Sakura Wars in English.

The Great: It’s here!  The very idea that this great series is in North America is amazing, and by far the best circumstance. I can’t leave it there though; what else makes this series a cut above the rest?  Sakura Taisen, as it’s known in Japan, features a ton of endings thanks to the way characters interact, develop relationships, etc.  Upon finishing, you can start a new file, be someone completely different, and enjoy a completely different experience.  There are hours upon hours of dialogue between all the various personas.  The conversations build each character up into a unique and interesting personality.  Doesn’t that sound great to you?

The Good:

+The free-moving, turn-based battle system.  When you’re not conversing, you’re up to your eyeballs in mech battles, which occur at the end of chapters.  These are extremely fun, but long.   Sakura Wars was developed by the same internal SEGA team known for Skies of Arcadia and Valkyria Chronicles.  That should tell you everything, so I won’t bore with details…unless you really want me to.  What’s unique about this series is how battle directly connects to the relationship system.  If you form strong bonds with the other characters, you become increasingly powerful.  You don’t grind; you flirt.  How awesome is that?  If this were the case in real life, I’d be about 4,000 pounds of muscle, but I digress.

+Relationships.  Gee, I wonder why this is here…  I really love how many characters you interact with as things move.  It sure beats the pants off grinding.  Just be aware that ribbing too many people results in a lack of assistance on the battlefield.  Only five seconds are allotted to answer a given question.  Let me make this crystal clear: you can drastically change the game answering incorrectly.  Well, incorrectly isn’t exactly the right word since you can’t be right or wrong.  I should say to make sure you answer exactly according to who you wish to befriend.  Entire relationships can be lost with too much insensitivity, or turning the other cheek when asked for help.  Your choices directly impact characters’ perception of you.

+Style.  I have to hand it to the visual team; the art style is fantastic.  While the influences won’t appeal to everyone, there’s no denying that love and care went into the creation of this game.

+Translation.  Props to NIS America for surely knowing know how to please the hardcore fans.  Instead of renaming the characters some fluffy American names like James, John or Sue, the original Japanese tags are kept and literally translated to English.  When you meet Gemini Sunrise, don’t be surprised.  I love this, as it shows NIS America’s wicked sense of humor.

+Heavy Japanese influence.  If you love anime, you’d to adore Sakura Wars.  Everything you love is featured: ridiculous characters, wild storylines, and bizarre twists and turns.  This can also be a negative though…

The Bad:

– The concept.  Unfortunately, 14 years is just way too long to have waited for this to come to NA.  Gamers have changed.  The classic nerdo style has been replaced with Halo t-shirt wearing “studs.”  These mainstream gamers aren’t enticed to date scantily-clad anime babes; they’re out for blood.  Storylines are also far more mature now.  We’re used to heavy sexual themes and encounters handled with finesse, a la Mass Effect.  14 years ago, this series would have had a much better shot at success.  Ironic, given SEGA never brought it over.  We’re thankful for NIS taking a chance here, but they’ll be lucky if I’m wrong and everyone actually is open-minded to give the game the same treatment.

– Heavy Japanese influence.  Wait, how can this be a negative?  Well if you were paying attention, I said so when discussing your unrelenting love of anime.  What if you dislike that culture?  If that’s the case, stay clear of this game.  Despite the addictive nature and great fun, there’s no way around the Japanese-centric result.  If this just isn’t your cup of tea, have a Coke instead.

The Ugly:

Some of the anime characters are…woof!

The Lowdown:

After all these years it’s great to finally review Sakura Wars.  While some elements are off-putting, you can easily play this a hundred times.  If you enjoy Japanese anime, prepare for an absolute blast.  Just make sure you don’t try to date the feisty redhead; they’re never what they appear to be.

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