I’m probably going to sound like a hypocrite in this review. Why? Well, for those that haven’t kept up with my articles, I wrote one detailing whether or not a story was vital to a game on the same side of gameplay. While I do think gameplay is more important, story and character all hold it together for me, so if a game goes out of its way to not make me care or hate the characters, I’m not going to play it, save for reviewing purposes. And while I do enjoy stories most in games, Sakura Wars, known for having more story than gameplay, well…it failed to really get me invested like other video games, such as Mass Effect or Devil Survivor 2, or even Super Robot Wars. Moreover, I did want more gameplay for this, and played the game more for that until I wanted to finish it.
One thing that should be noted is that Sakura Wars is part tactical RPG, and part dating sim, with the latter taking up most of the game. By talking to characters, you can either raise or decrease their affinity for you. Doing so raises their stats and makes them far better in combat. Fail to do so, and their stats will decrease, making battles much harder. There are a number of ways to do this, through conversations and timed mini-games that usually involve you clicking around the screen for objects, or timing mini-games with the analog sticks/d-pad (which is harder to do than expected). Moreover, they are all timed, so you have to think and act quickly before you screw up. In some cases though, doing nothing still earns points, though rarely. And each choice does have a different reaction from the characters you talk to. The game heavily relies on this system for all eight chapters, so you have to really choose wisely.
Now the game’s story is pretty mixed, mainly cliche as well. The best way I can describe the situation as a comparison would be think of Power Rangers and Gundam mixed into one, and turned into a kinda light-hearted anime, sort of. The basic summary is that you control Shinjiro Taiga, a young naval officer who is selected to be the new captain of the New York Combat Revue’s Star Division, which is not only a group of theater people who perform shows and with only female performers, but they are also pilots of Stars. Stars are basically bulky robots that while mostly shaped the same way, have different forms of attack and such. There is some conflict when he first arrives, but over the course of the game, he must prove himself to his comrades, recruit more to aid him, and defend New York from the scions of darkness.
And here’s where the first problem is encountered: the villains. Now when I said Power Rangers, for those that do watch the show or have seen it, do you recall the one-note bad guys that appeared for one episode at best? That’s essentially the villains. While yes, there is a recurring one, that one is also pretty minor in the grand scheme of things when compared to the real big bad. They have personality, sort of, but it’s not entertaining enough. They are just super strong, that’s all. While yes, they create conflict, but not enough to really get me invested, to see why they fight. The closest we get to a reason is towards the end of the game, and it would have been awesome had the game been revolved mainly around the main conflict. But as it stands, they are just there to be killed, nothing more. And that’s really sad, as I have seen well-developed villains in the past, even one-shot villains too.
As for the rest of the characters, they tend to fill out stereotypes, like Texas accents and etc. Depends on how you like, but personally, it got on my nerves, especially with the voice acting. It ranges from good, to average, to passable. At worst, Rosita’s voice might have been the worse, with a few extras, but overall, the acting was pretty solid. Johnny Yong Bosch, who voices Shinjiro Taiga, does do a good performance, though rarely is it used, saved mostly for battle and certain cut-scenes. For whatever reason, while Shin does talk, the VA’s voice doesn’t talk over it. Kinda sad. And as far characterization goes for characters, it is done pretty well, as there are many scenes that help develop every one of your comrades, and they each have a chapter dedicated to their part in the game. My only complaint really is the lack of male characters to interact with, have maybe a buddy/rival thing going on, something I enjoy very much in anime.
The best thing I can say for the game is the atmosphere. Set in 1928, it does do a fairly good job of handling things, lacking some of the darker moments in history, yes, that’s probably for the best, maybe. It depends on how you look at it. And the anime style works, with beautifully drawn artwork and great cut-scenes. However, there is a limit to even that, as there aren’t many cut-scenes. Moreover, the lip-synching can be dreadful at times. Those that have pet-peeves with this might find themselves a bit distracted. And there are a number of location to visit, granted those are limited as well. In Free Movement mode, that is when you can travel and talk to people, earning or losing more points, and doing events, though you do have a limited amount of time to do all of them, so that’s another factor to be wary of.
The music however, while good, lacks quantity. If Super Robot Wars has taught me anything, it’s that character themes, as well team themes, work wonders. For example, in Super Robot Wars, you can often find yourself with the back against the wall, and then through a cut-scene, or through battle, you can hear that one theme that overrides the enemy, making the battle turn quite positive with that one theme, because you know that character is there, and they are going to tear the battlefield up. Here? There is the one title song, but that’s it, and it quickly gets old despite it being pretty good. And sound really takes a toll for the worse in battles during special attacks, as the sound cuts out nearly every single time, and the frame-rate also gets in the way, just making it all the more awkward. It kinda loses its flare with stuff like that in battle.
Speaking of combat, it is one of the more interesting aspects of the game. Each character has a limited number of movements, and they can spend those points either through moving their Star unit, attacking enemies with a five-combo limit for maximum damage, defend, or gain SP for special attacks and healing. Each unit is also capable of performing unique attack functions and such. For example, Subaru can attack multiple enemies with her normal attacks, while Diana has a wider healing range than any other character. By using each of these, you face enemies and take them down, often with the objective of protecting something, or just wiping them all out. It comes more into play with bosses, where you have to destroy parts of the boss to prevent them from performing certain attacks, or damaging the core itself.
Battles can also be fought in the air in certain sections as well, but these sections tend to be annoying and require a correct way of hitting the target, no matter how close the Star unit is, and this makes things frustrating. And battles do have a tendency to drag on, and with the numerous problems mentioned earlier, combat, while fun, can be annoying as well. Moreover, the game lacks what I love most about mecha games: customization. You will never get a chance to do sidequest battles either, or ever try to pimp out your robot with the finest gear. It’s really depressing. And while battles and conversations can drag, there is a discontinue option for it all, so you can make a quicksave file and get back to it whenever you feel up for more of this game.
And yet despite all of that, the game should take about 20 hours to beat, maybe more or less depending on how fast you can complete it. There are only eight chapters in total, and there is a bit more replayability as you can get six different endings, granted, the only difference is the girl you manage to romance. The only ones you can romance are the pilots, and the second playthrough helps unlock Ratchet to be romanced as well. But given what I have seen of the game, me replaying it is a bit long stretch.
Overall, I don’t find this to be a bad game. But it is kinda poorly done in terms of the villains. Characterization of the other pilots is pretty good, with some characters missing some, like Ratchet, and I am disappointed in having to play with someone like Shinjiro, which are basically the type of characters I hate playing the most. If you are an anime fan and can tolerate the things I just stated, especially the slow frame-rate in battle, then this might be the game for you. If you value gameplay and hate stories, avoid this game, because most of it is story. And that’s not a bad thing; I love Phoenix Wright, and that is mostly story with some exceptions, and even then, it’s not like shooting someone in the face. Though now that I think about it, I do want a Phoenix Wright and Marvel or DC crossover. Well, almost want; it would no doubt end up in Japan, and I swore myself off of Capcom games.
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love gets a 3 out of 5! Also, this game is available on the Playstation 2, for those interested.