Sakura Wars ~So Long, My Love~ - Staff Review  

So Long My Dreams
by Mikel Tidwell

Sakura Wars ~So Long, My Love~
40-60 Hours
+ Gorgeous anime cutscenes
+ Strong personalities
+ Enjoyable story
- Not enough "free time"
- Slow battle system
- Not enough save points
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   I've dreamed of the playing the Sakura Wars series in English for over a decade. When NIS America announced it would bring over the fifth game in the series, Sakura Wars ~So Long, My Love~, I leapt for joy. Finally, the series was escaping Japan and everyone worldwide would get to see what it was about. What I discovered has left me in an awkward place, as the game is not the perfect playing experience I expected. Though this isn't to say Sakura Wars isn't enjoyable, because it definitely is.

   Sakura Wars ~So Long, My Love~ focuses on a fresh recruit from Japan, Shinjiro Taiga. He heads to the United States to assist the New York Combat Revue's Star Division. It's 1928 and New York City has been infested with demons. The Revue contacts Japan for help, requesting the very best they can offer. Shinjiro doesn't quite meet the team's expectations, so much so that they are ready to send him back to Japan. If it wasn't for the timely rescue of one of the members of the revue, they probably would have. Instead, Shinjiro is unexpectedly promoted to lead those who don't want him around, making for an awkward premise of continually proving his self-worth to the team.

   Each chapter starts with an adventure phase, where Shinjiro is given a specific problem and no direction on how to proceed. He then has to explore a limited view of New York City, asking other team members about the issue. Each conversation with a female team member is an opportunity to raise their trust in Shinjiro. Using the LIPS mechanics detailed below, Shinjiro can help or hurt his goal to becoming accepted by each member of the team. The more the team member likes Shinjiro, the better they perform in the battle phases. Even one level of trust makes a dramatic difference during combat. Each adventure phase takes well over an hour.

saxophone! Not as hard as playing a real saxophone

   The Live & Interactive Picture System, or LIPS, is the catalyst for all interactions with the team. LIPS allows four types of interactions: answering a single multiple-choice question; answering multiple questions within a short time frame; choosing the volume or intensity of the response; or mimicking certain on-screen actions using the analog sticks. Every action during a LIPS mechanic is responded to with a positive, neutral, or negative sound for each participating member. The nuances of the more complex LIPS interactions will never become apparent to the causal gamer without the use of a guide or multiple playthroughs. This becomes brutally apparent when trying to get a specific teammate as a partner.

   Once the adventure phase has reached its conclusion, the team is forced into action dealing with a crisis in the battle phase of the chapter. Each member of the team jumps into a mech, with the same cutscene each time, and the fight begins. The team must usually face a few weaker mechanical monsters before they can focus on the level's boss. Each character uses a Mobility gauge from which all actions drain. Attacks can be linked as a single action where each consecutive hit does increasing damage, and only costs one unit of mobility per attack. Defending and using special powers, such at link attacks, also burn units off the Mobility gauge. Initially, these amounts are set, but later on, Shinjiro can focus the team with a Strategem, giving priority to attack or defense. As each team member's trust grows, more joint attacks become available to the team, allowing for even greater damage.

   The anime style graphics of the adventure phase are well drawn, smoothly animated, well voiced, and altogether pleasant to watch. The quality of the presentation is important when trying to learn as much about the team as possible. Failing to understand the team will mean disaster during the adventure phases. The localization team and the voice actors deserve kudos for bringing out the emotions and interactions of the characters. The battle phase isn't as overwhelmingly appealing, and the flashy graphics used for even basic animations just add to the length of the phase. Animations for the joint and super attacks, which are the most effective way to win, also become repetitive quickly. Only the bosses have much imagination in their design, leaving the rest as a feeling of clearing out trash to reach the goal.

grey mechs of doom Bring on the grey mechs of doom.

   Most of the character expansion happens in the adventure phase. There are various chances to become lost exploring a character, or doing something completely unrelated to the chapter's goal. While this sounds fun, it can also hurt the overall strength of the team. More balance between time spent with exploration versus the mission would have been a welcome thing. While there is a "Free Day" eventually, it would have been nice to have more events like this spread out through the game.

   The length of the game is truly the prohibiting factor in enjoying it. While there is something to be said for having so much content, the way it's presented makes it more of a chore of finding the right answers than a fun experience. With save points only being available about once in every hour or so of gameplay, the choices made are done and final, though players can abuse the suspend save. Most of the time, there's no going back unless it's to go all the way back. If the end result of a chapter is that the girl hates you, the choices are: simply struggle through the battle where she'll be the focus, or replay an hour or more of adventure. Since LIPS provides such a wide variety of possibilities, it might not even be obvious what should be changed to affect the outcome. There are even times when perfect completion of an analog LIPS action is more harmful than just above average completion. These obscured unknowns can lead to anguish and frustration. The game is designed to be played multiple times, but since it is such a long experience, the chances of that actually happening dwindle with each passing hour.

   Years spent anticipating Sakura Wars ~So Long My Love~ left me with heightened expectations which remained sadly unmet throughout the game. While witty, gorgeous, and enjoyable (much like some of its characters), the game continues on for hours, with the end allowing for only one partner. At least another playthrough is required to explore a new partner, leaving me sad that I don't have more time to dedicate to this game. Perhaps if this game had come out in 2005, when it was originally created, when the industry was slower and the game releases were more spread out, it might have been more appealing to more players. In today's more competitive market, many people no longer have the luxury of time and patience to devote to a single game. Sometimes a game simply can't keep up with the gamer.

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