The Sakura Wars series is like nothing North America has seen before. While other games try to cross dating sim mechanics with RPG gameplay, nothing completes this merging like Sakura Wars. The only concern I have is the pacing could be too slow for the attention span of today's gamer, but time will tell as the release of Sakura Wars ~So Love, My Love~ nears.
" While other games try to cross dating sim mechanics with RPG gameplay, nothing completes this merging like Sakura Wars"
I spent nearly eleven hours in this game and managed to complete only three chapters. Each chapter consists of an exploration and a battle phase, each taking well over an hour to complete. During the exploration, I'm given a specific task and no direction on how to complete it. Need to get somewhere? I must pick one of the female teammates to show me the way. With a series of questions and controller gimmicks called LIPS, I interact with my companion, building a relationship with her and the others, for better or for worse. Discovering the personality of the girl in question is vital, and since they don't like me much at the beginning, things get off to a rocky start.
To begin, I jumped into the role of Lieutenant Shinjiro Taiga, fresh from the Japanese Navy, brought to the US to assist the New York Combat Revue. The only problem is that they requested my uncle, not me. They find my arrival as a mistake, or worse, some cruel joke from the higher ups in Japan. I need to prove that I can be part of the team before they can finish the paperwork to send me back to Japan. I cannot fail.
Once convinced, girls come around and even decide to follow me in battle. Battle is fairly simple. Each person is inside a mech. They have a specific amount of Mobility, which is used for movement, attack, special powers, and defending. There is no grid, allowing free-form movement. Exploration is also allowed, as the overall movement cost is based entirely on the end distance from the starting point, not how much the character moved around the map. This can be exploited sometimes, because it measures distance in three dimensions, so going up the side stairs and coming back close to where the turn started, but one floor up, uses very little movement at all. It has to measure in three dimensions because each mech transforms into flying mode, which is used for fighting bosses.
How much each girl likes Shinjiro affects how well they perform. While the game mentions this is only true for bonding attacks (a linked attack using more than one person's spirit energy), I've found that they perform drastically different with each level of devotion. Just one devotion level difference dramatically improved one girl's attack, defense, and energy on the field compared to the others. This is limiting, as some girls are just harder to figure out than others. Also, if they fall in battle, they dislike me even more, pushing the girl's devotion downward. I can't find a way to save them all, can I? It's the playboy way.
Despite its slow pace, the game has engrossed me. I passed the ten hour mark with ease, barely noticing the time I spent. The girls are all interesting in their own ways, though some of the LIPS systems I could live without. Since they are timed, I need to be quick with my reactions, which for an otherwise slow-paced, casual play style, caught me completely off guard at times. Even so, I look forward to this game's release next month. Finally, North America can enjoy the long overdue arrival of the Sakura Wars series.