Sakura Wars is a series that started with games and expanded to anime. The only way to have experience these games what either to import a Japanese PS2 and one of the games, or to install a mod chip on the PS2 and import the game. Thanks to Nippon Ichi Software and NIS America we can experience the latest game in this series, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love.
The story of Sakura Wars takes place in an alternate 1920’s New York City. Players take control of Shinjiro Taiga a naval ensign for the Imperial Assault Force in Japan, who has just been transferred to New York. He had just been promoted to commander of the Star Division, a branch of the IAF. Once he arrives to New York, and after being mistaken for a criminal, he finally meet up with the members of his new division: Gemini Sunrise, a Texas samurai; Cheiron Archer, a lawyer and former gang member; Rosritia Aries, a 11 year old sharpshooter and bounty hunter; Diana Caprice a birdwatcher and nurse; and Subaru Kujo, an enigmatic man/woman (the game goes out of its way to keep the gender ambiguous). Despite looking like just a popular acting troupe on the outside, they are actually the Star division, an elite group of soldiers. Their mission: to protect citizens of New York from an invading demon force. If this sounds more like a plot to an anime or a manga, you wouldn’t too far off. Fans of the series will love the story and will notice references to previous games and the anime/manga. For the rest of us who have never hear of Sakura Wars until now, the developers do a good job of telling the story that we can follow and not be left out.
Sakura Wars has some interesting gameplay as it takes elements from strategy, sim and RPG games and combined them into one. The back of the box and the official web site describe it as a “Strategy RPG that features a unique sim-based story system.” Gameplay is divided into two parts: Adventure Mode and Battle Mode. In Adventure Mode, you will be able to travel around New York accompanied by some of the other members of the Star Division. While traveling and interacting with the world, events will occur when Shinjiro will have to talk to the other division members using a system called LIPS (Live & Interactive Picture System). When these conversation events happen you will be able to choose how to respond to them. In other words, Adventure Mode is more-or-less a dating sim. The mode is still important however, as the skills sets, trust and over all performance of the girls will change based on how you interact with them during the adventure mode.
Battle Mode is a bit different from other JRPGs that I have played. Sakura Wars uses a battle system call ARMS (Active & Real-time Machine System). It’s a mix of the Active Time Battle system and real time strategy tactics. During Battle Mode, up to six of the characters can be used and are able to to be placed in formations to deal additional damage. The system has a bit of a learning curve but the in game tutorial helps out and help hints within the game help out considerably.
Graphics of the game uses a mix of 3-D and 2-D designs. All the battles and encounters occur in 3-D while cutscenes and interactions with the other characters are two-dimensional. The cutscenes made me feel like I was watching an anime rather than playing a game. The character models are really well drawn and animated. However, the character interaction scenes (where you're just chatting with the girls) are static, with only their eyes and lips being animated. Voice actors for the English dub did a really good job of bring the characters to life, even if some were stereotypical (such as the Texan Samurai). One thing that I was disappointed in was a lack of a Japanese voice track.
The game does clock in about 20 hours, and is even longer with side quests and other events. This is one of the few JRPGs that I have come across that does have replay value and not just extra missions to lengthen the game. As said earlier, part of the game play is a dating sim and depending on which girl you end up with, you get her specific ending. Since there are six girls, there are six different ends that can be seen, so the replay value is very high in this game.
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is the fifth game in the series and the first to come to the US. With its anime looks and unique battle system, Sakura Wars shows that there are still many great games from Japan that need to be brought over to the US. Although not the greatest game in the world, it was very enjoyable and fun. It appealed to me both as a video game and anime fan so if you're one or the other or even both give this game a try.
- Mike V.