Sakura Wars: So Long My Love Review (PS2, Wii)

Posted by Jim Cook, Apr 08, 2010 06:57

Version Differences and Non-Spoiler Notice: This review was done primarily using the PS2 version but the game is very similar on both systems. Nonetheless, a short chart at the end of the review will be provided to explain the differences since some of them are important. As this is a roughly 20-hour long RPG with a huge focus on plot and character development, basic story themes and tones will be discussed alongside the game mechanics; specific spoilers won’t be present, however.

Sakura Wars: So Long My Love is not the first game in the series; it’s actually the fifth main release (not counting spin-offs) but it’s the first one released in North America. Sakura Wars is hard to describe, but calling it a mix between mecha Tactical RPGs and a dating sim isn’t too far off. Wait, don’t run off shrieking in terror; this is actually a really good game! If you’re willing to invest yourself in a very character-driven RPG and go in with an open mind, you’ll be well rewarded.

Set in a ’steampunk’ version of 1928 New York, players control a Japanese late-teens male named Shinjiro Taiga as he takes command of an all-female theater group that also protects the city from a demon invasion by piloting "Super Telekinetic Assault Robots", or "STARs." Set over the course of eight chapters, Shinjiro’s story is one of exploring his new life in America, befriending the pilots under his command, and seeing that justice prevails; you’ll also be given plenty of reasons to laugh along the way.

Each chapter is about two hours long, though players can shorten or extend that somewhat by digging deeper into the plot or opting to ignore parts of it. Each one has about the same flow, spending about an hour and change on developing the plot and letting Shinjiro explore New York City, talk to people, and so on. After the story has reached a certain point, the remainder of the chapter is devoted to a fight where Shinjiro and his friends take the field in their STARs. Each character has their own unique talent, and teamwork will be necessary in order to win.

The plot follows a stock ’super robot show’ formula, a genre more known in Japan than it is in west. Each character fits a distinct personality archetype, and they tend to accomplish things with their hearts rather than detached logic or skill. In other words, if they fail to overcome a problem they’re quite likely to give an inspiring speech about love, justice, the value of friendship, and so on before trying again with lots of dramatic yelling, and then they’ll succeed. Sakura Wars is very aware it’s mostly treading in ’super robot campy’ territory (imagine Adam West Batman with giant robots), but mostly plays it as a loving tribute.

Thankfully it’s not all camp and comedy. While the game is genuinely hilarious at points, Sakura Wars takes care to portray its characters as people, not jokes. One of Shinjiro’s major tasks is to learn more about his new friends, understanding their fears and dreams while helping them stay safe and happy. You get a lot of leeway in how you go about this, and often have to choose how Shinjiro reacts to a situation. If you have him behave with kindness and devotion, most of the pilots will reward this by having their stats skyrocket for the next battle. Do poorly, mistreat them, or just have Shinjiro act like a moron and you’ll find everyone fights at reduced strength, so this can be an interesting way to add challenge to the game.

While the mix of comedy and excellent character writing is the main focus of Sakura Wars, it’s not the only reason to play. Each chapter’s battle tends to be rather in-depth and have some new way to challenge you. One stage may require you to split your forces to fight on multiple fronts, another to carefully manage your timing so that you safely pursue the enemy without over-extending (or being too cautious and letting them complete their mission), and so on. Sometimes the gimmick is subtle, other times it’s very obvious, but most of the time it’s interesting regardless. Even better, there is no level grinding; your characters’ stats are determined by how they were treated in the story segment leading up to the fight, and so long as you were even remotely competent you should be able to handle the battle.

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Our Rating for Sakura Wars: So Long My Love Review (PS2, Wii)
6.5 Replay
While somewhat linear in how you conclude the game, there is some room for getting there by different means; a second run through could be fun.
6.0 Graphics
This is a roughly five year old PS2 game, and frankly it looks it. Excellent use of color layout and character design save it from being an eyesore, though.
8.0 Sound
Fantastic music sets the mood in each story segment, backed by voice acting that runs the full range from usually great to unfortunately but infrequently terrible.
8.5 Gameplay
A very interesting story takes turns being inspiring, emotionally touching, silly, intelligent, and downright hilarious. It also becomes occasionally a tad creepy, but rarely goes too far. The tactical combat segments are basic but lengthy and fun.
0.0 Multiplayer/Online Content
N/A; Single-player game only.
8.5 Overall
It’s different from what we’re used to in the west, but that’s a good thing. Go into this character-driven Tactical RPG with an open mind and you’ll probably have a good time!

Rating: 0.0, votes: 0

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