Sakura Wars: So Long My Love Review
Wii | PS2
Sakura Wars: So Long My Love box art
System: Wii, PS2 Review Rating Legend
Dev: SEGA 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: NIS America 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: March 30, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

Sakura Wars takes place in an alternate historical setting. In the West, most of our alternate historical fiction revolves around the concept of "What if Hitler had won World War II?", so we can dwell on the drama inherent in a world worse than our own, but Sakura Wars takes place in a better version of history that theorizes what the world would be like if Japan took a global approach to making the world a safer, friendlier place. This includes the formation of theatrical troupes in Tokyo, Paris, and New York City that double as mech pilot teams trained to fight giant demonic invaders.

Sakura Wars: So Long My Love screenshot

This is a far sight better than the real-life situation of nationalistic delusion that fostered unspeakable atrocities in China and Southeast Asia which strain Japan's diplomatic relations to this very day. At first, I found myself shaking my head at this revision of history, but there's something so sweet and sad about our young hero (a graduate of the Imperial Naval Academy) actually working to foster friendship and peace, that I could not help but buy in to the artistic vision of Sakura Wars.

So Long My Love is the fifth Sakura Wars game in Japan, but the first to see official release in America. The format is so unique that it warrants some discussion. Much of the game is based on character interaction. You work with a team of mech pilots and actors; you talk with them, they ask you questions, and you react to them according to the situation. How you respond to your teammates can either earn you points that increase the amount of trust between you, or cost you points which will stifle your relationship.

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For instance, Saburo is an intellectual who likes a straightforward manner, Cherry likes flirtation and flattery, and I have no idea what Gemini likes because I bungled every interaction I had with her. Now, this isn't as straightforward as it sounds, because a meter starts to count down as soon as a response is expected. As in real life, you need to be quick with your responses or people will assume you're a slow-witted buffoon. However, not giving a response is also a viable option: sometimes if you just let the response meter time out, a hard look or a pregnant silence will speak volumes on your behalf.

So there's a lot of character interaction. The character interaction doesn't occur in-between moments of real gameplay - the character interaction IS the main game itself. While I was annoyed at first, mostly because everyone despises or looks down on the hero at the beginning of the game, it is fun to win everyone over. The characters and their relationships came to mean so much to me that I was nearly weepy and blubbery by the game's end.

Sakura Wars: So Long My Love screenshot

Sakura Wars has been described as a "dating sim", but this is a bit of a misnomer, as you can only go on one actual date near the end of the game, if you choose to do so. It's more of a "girl interaction sim" than a "dating sim". In between the long stretches of gameplay that simulate what it might be like to talk to an actual girl, there are tactical battles in which you maneuver giant mechs through the city and battle against other giant mechs. At first these battles feel a little tacked-on, but eventually your abilities grow, and your team fills out, such that these battles become pretty epic. Strong relationships among teammates result in more powerful group attacks.

There are plenty of aspects for armchair generals to mull over: whether the leader should make the call for the team to focus on offense, defense, or a balanced stance, or how to divide up the team between areas in the larger stages, whether a character should blow through their volatile spirit points or focus on healing and defense, and so on. That's not to say that the tactical options are as deep as, say, Final Fantasy Tactics, but they are not meant to be. The battles in Sakura Wars are quick, they are varied throughout each chapter, and they help to punctuate long sections of gentle character interaction with a little spice of violence.

Sakura Wars: So Long My Love screenshot

The graphics are bright, cheery anime fare. Outside of a few nicely animated sequences, character interaction usually means you'll be looking at a non-animated two-dimensional figure that changes periodically. This is apparently the norm in "dating sim" type games, which we don't often see in America. While the character designs are interesting, the overall look does have a very "budget" feel to it. In fact, sometimes the camera pans across a wide shot of a building or street, but without any animation in the shot whatsoever, in a way that I've never seen outside of anime that has... well, a lot of tentacles and an "adults only" sticker on the cover, if you catch my drift. It's not really something that's done in quality animation.

Still, this format is not nearly as boring as it sounds. If anything, it's great to interact with a game that feels like it comes from a new genre. I always found myself looking forward to each new chapter, or the familiar scenery of New York City's various haunts, or the completely likeable characters either warming up to me or becoming incredibly enraged at my knee-jerk perverse responses to every situation. (Note: none of your teammates like it when you act like a pervert.)

Screenshots / Images
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