Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love Hands-On Preview

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

Some games are supposedly "not meant" for American audiences, but that doesn’t stop us from clamoring for their release. In the case of the fifth (and final?) entry in the Sakura Wars series, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, we’re finally witnessing an attempt to bring the series Westward, despite its localization-unfriendly content. An indomitable franchise in Japan, the Sakura Taisen (as it’s known in its native country) saga is one that typically does not garner interest from the typical gamer outside of Japan. Now that it’s here and primed for release in a country that typically shuns the quirky, will it make the grade? After spending an extensive period of time with a preview build, I’d say yes, most certainly. NIS should have a hit on its hands if this outing finds the appropriate audience.

If not? Well, that could spell disaster, as the Sakura Wars series panders to a very unique niche of gamer outside of the "norm." Each prior game paired elements of graphic novels — or dating sims, whichever you prefer — with epic battles between the giant robots we typically attribute to that of Japanese animation.

As the male protagonist Shinjiro Taiga, you’ll be charged with entertaining and keeping the women in the game happy — a daunting task if you’re not accustomed to the way of the dating sim. Having had extensive experience myself, I found these interstitials to be the most entertaining, as every move you make when interacting with these ladies can change the course of the game. This visual novel-esque mode of play is known as Adventure mode, and Taiga can move around New York, the setting for this installment, via LIPS (Live and Interactive Picture System). Through four types of interaction in LIPS, you’re given a set amount of time to make your decisions as well as manipulate a central Action Gauge. These gameplay elements affect how your companions feel about you, and their stats, such as trust, will deplete or flourish accordingly. This works out extremely well — you’ll put much more thought behind your actions, almost as you would in real life, simply to influence these ladies enough to boost their stats later on.

When you’re not romancing a gaggle of lovely ladies, giant robot battles play out in a manner similar to previous Zone of the Enders endeavors, with stat bonuses based entirely on the choices you made during Adventure mode. In contrast, Battle mode is all business. Hop into a STAR and partake in traditional turn-based combat that implements the ARMS system first seen in the third installment of the Sakura Wars series. While a good portion of battles are ground-based, you will also spend a glut of your time in the air with smooth air combat. Rather than switching out from two-legged mechs, however, battle units can transform into jet mechs in the blink of an eye to seamlessly transition from one stage to the next. Each playable character possesses a special move and turns are governed by an action gauge. This is standard procedure. We’ve seen this many times before. If you’ve ever piloted a mech in a turn-based title before, you’ll find yourself feeling right at home here.

So Long, My Love isn’t an entirely alien departure from the norm when it comes to traditional JRPGs, at least when it comes to battling. The fear that it could not work well in America is due in part to its many Japanese puns that seem difficult to translate properly, but I found that the jokes worked quite well and the script fit the characters beautifully. All that should convince Western gamers not to pick this title up is the fact that the Adventure mode so closely resembles a dating sim and will turn plenty of prospective players off. That genre hasn’t experienced much success over here, and I highly doubt that So Long, My Love is going to turn that notion on its head, despite its slick and colorful presentation or the fact that it will be available for both Wii and PlayStation 2 upon its release.

The fifth installment of the epic series does not disappoint and resonates with me, though I am a prior fan of visual novels and games in the same vein that Adventure Mode follows. It should be interesting to see who takes a chance on this relatively unknown series in the West and if it makes the splash that I think it should. If not? We just may need to start a war.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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