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Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love - Wii Review

Game Info
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

Wii | SEGA / NIS America | 1 Player | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote and Nunchuk; Classic Controller
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30th May 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

The Wii hasn't exactly seen a lot of RPG's over the years, but NIS America has put forth great effort to add to the cause. They've taken a game that's been out in Japan for years, and localized it to deliver it into the hands of gamers in North America. 'Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love' doesn't exactly have the greatest ring to it when you say it out loud. But don't let the name or even the front cover scare you off. This is one heck of a game and I'm so happy I gave it a chance.

    You take the role of Shinjiro Taiga, a navy lieutenant who's been commissioned to help with the New York Combat Revue (Star Division), a special task force bent on saving the city from evil. Oh, and the team is comprised entirely of female fighters. Now before you start thinking this will be a great opportunity to pick up women, just hold your horses. When you start a 'New Game', you don't have a lot of respect, especially since you're just under 20 years old. So you'll need to prove yourselves worthy as entering among their ranks and over time, their true colours will come out.

    In this RPG/dating sim hybrid, you'll need to build trust with each member of the Star Division. Originally, the team only has three members: team leader Ratchet, the ever-forceful Cheirion and the mysterious Subaru. Over time, new members will join the team, including a little mexican girl named Rosita, and a dying doctor named Diana. Additional NPC's make various appearances throughout the game. You'll need to make wise choices over the course of the adventure because the bonds you can make are not only important for gratification. They actually carry a big role when you head into battle such as when you perform joint attacks, where two or more team members team up against one or more enemies. It's a really unique system and something I've never seen before. But more on that later.

    The story progresses in multiple segments. The main portion is the Adventure, where you interact with characters and explore the many locations in the city of Manhattan. It mostly transpires through animated dialog scenes which resemble something out of a visual novel. From time to time, you'll be able to make choices that will affect gameplay, and that's through the use of the LIPS system ('Live and Interactive Picture System'). There are various LIPS systems that will come up as you advance the storyline: Normal, Double, Stick and Analog.

You'll mostly deal with the 'Normal LIPS' function, which acts almost like a quick-time event at the bottom of the screen. This special dialog box shows up when Shinjiro must make a decision on what to say or how to respond based on the words that were just exchanged. You only have a few seconds to choose so there is definitely a sense of pressure when this comes up by surprise. Usually there are three triggers to choose from and depending on what you choose, the scene and the characters will act in turn. So if you be really snippy at someone when they're offering advice, it might not go over very well. You can even let time expire and not say or do anything at all. You'll need to use discernment to determine when this action is and isn't appropriate. For example, if you overhear a conversation and don't say anything to identify yourself, you'll reap the repurcussions later when they discover you eavesdropping. The odd suggestive option will come up here and there which can be selected mostly for humor purposes, but you do risk damaging the levels of trust you've worked hard to maintain.

'Double LIPS' is similar to 'Normal' except that there's an additional, longer time frame shown above it in the form of, what appears to be, a steel frame pipe. This usually is imposed when multiple decisions are required on the part of the player, or, when you're in the middle of completing an activity. You'll also encounter 'Stick LIPS' a lot. Two circular gauges will appear within this dialog box with a special meter in the middle. You'll need to follow the directions indicated on both of these gauges by pushing or rotating your controller in the right direction. When done successfully, you'll add to the meter in the middle. If the time runs out and the meter in the middle is above blue level, you'll advance to a different story branch. Same goes for when you fill it up completely or a quarter of the way. These events show up at random moments as well but the variety is very much welcome. Sometimes you'll take part in a training session, play a game of baseball, or even defend yourself from a dangerous foe.

    Finally, 'Analog LIPS' is something that corresponds to Shinjiro's voice or the amount of force he puts into an action. At the start of this event, the gauge will be in the middle. You'll need to evaluate the situation quickly and decide if he should be very forceful with his voice/actions or just mumble something quietly. As an example, at one point, you may be tailing a group of suspicious people. Then this gauge will pop up and you'll need to confirm to your partner what course of action you'll take. But if you fill the gauge to the top (which, in this case, is synonymous with shouting), you'll be in big trouble when you yell out, "Let's follow them!!!!", or something to that effect. Many times, the results are very humorous and other times, you'll kick yourself for making stupid decisions. But it's all part of the fun that comes with this very unique gameplay system.

Depending on the choices you make, you'll sometimes hear tunes in the background indicating whether or not the decision you made was a good one. A cheery sound effect will play when your decision has resulted in increased sense of trust from the person, an extended version will play when you've really boosted their trust levels, and a negative sound effect will play when a person's trust levels have decreased. You can't always please everyone and sometimes, you'll need to isolate one person in favor of another, depending on who you'd like to be closer with.

    At certain points during scenes, you'll be given more freedom to explore. Few moments in the game will you encounter 'Click Mode' whereby you can search the dialogue scene for clues or interact with the person in front of you. You point the cursor using the Wii Remote, and it'll change depending on where you aim. There are different icons for grabbing, knocking, touching or pushing. A heart cursor will even appear when you can search more "sensitive" areas as well, but be careful as these can be very risky! At other points in the game, you'll be able to explore the 3D space that is New York. You'll only be able to go to two or three locations at the start, but as you advance the storyline, more locations will open up. It's a pretty big space and there's plenty of possible scenes that you can encounter on your quest. But you can't go exploring to your heart's content. There's a clock in the top left-hand corner of the screen and sometimes, you'll need to kep an eye on the time for certain events. For example, you may need to travel to a certain spot before a certain time, otherwise you may get people irritated. 

When you can explore the city, you'll gain access to different features. One in particular is the Cameratron, which doubles as a clock, a communication device and a camera all in one! You can use the Cameratron to pull up the camera function and take pictures of the area or of people. Occasionally, you'll be able to enter photo contests and if your photography is good enough, you'll win gifts. You can also buy gifts at the Gift Shop, which consists of Bromides, or photos, of different characters in the game. They don't have an impact on gameplay or anything, but for completionists, they can make it their aim to collect them all if they so choose to. You can also listen to the Radio which will have news reports, updates on the latest photo contest, and other supplementary information.

    The entire game is played using either the Classic Controller or the combination of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. While the Classic Controller is the best way to play, there are some control inconsistencies in this game, which is a bit of a letdown. For one, when using the dual-controller combo, you'll have trouble during Stick LIPS since the gauges use the Nunchuk's analog and the D-Pad. This is fixed easily with the Classic Controller but at the same time, the game doesn't explain the controls terribly well with this control scheme. All of the buttons you see appearing on such things as the Cameratron are all with the Wii Remote/Nunchuk in mind so you need to figure out for yourself how to play with this controller. And even then, you still need to use the Wii Remote to point during 'Click Mode' segments. It's a bit odd to say the least, but it's just a matter of getting used to it.

Although the game follows a certain structure, it doesn't feel terribly linear. Having a huge amount of control over how the game plays out is a great feeling, and it's something that not all games can do well. You can access the Pause Menu when you're in the 3D space by pressing the Plus Button. Pressing 'Discontinue' will act as a save state that you can access once you access the Main Menu again via the 'Continue' option. After a series of events have played out, you'll transition to the 'Eyecatch' segment, a special menu that appears in between storyline scenes. Here you can Save your game, and access it later under 'Load Game' from the Main Menu. There are at least 8 different slots allowing for multiple people to give it a try. 

    The 'Condition' option will show your overall trust rank and how motivated each team member is depending on the actions you've performed over the course of the game/chapter. Each character will be ordered by the amount of trust they have in you. Their overall feeling is conveyed by one of three states: "Highly Motivated", "Fairly Motivated" and "Not Motivated". Each person has deeper stats that can be accessed to see how their Attack, Guard and Move abilities are affected by their morale. The 'Friendship' option will show you a chart that indicate everyone's level of trust in you via thin and thick lines, each of a different colour. By pressing the A Button, you can see the strength of bonds the characters have with one another (with Shinjiro excluded).

If you haven't already figured out, this game is very deep and there's a lot of different pathways you can take as you play. And this feeling of depth is also reflected in the game's second aspect: Battle segments. You'll need to defeat enemy robots and the boss unit in order to progress, but in some cases, additional conditions must be met. Battles end when you attain the victory requirement, or, when Shinjiro's unit reaches 0 HP. On that note, each member of the team has their own robot unit, or STAR, to defend the city with. Battles can occur in one of two phases: Land or Air. It's your job to learn the advantages and disadvantages of each character and lead your team to victory.

    The battle gauge on the bottom of the screen has a variety of functions that you can take advantage. You can perform Normal attacks, execute your special Super Move, team up for a Joint attack, Heal your unit, charge up your SP, or increase your defense. Toggling the different attack modes is as simple as moving the D-Pad up and down. The circle in the middle indicates the current strategem that the entire team is following, and this is something only Shinjiro can change. You can switch to a balanced strategy, manifest a more aggresive tactic (healing disabled, less required for SP charge), or lean more towards defending (Super Move disabled, less required for defense). You'll need to take a look at the state of affairs and choose what's best for the team.

Performing one of the aforementioned moves (with the exception of the Strategem change) will consume one or more bars on the Mobility Gauge in the middle. This gauge is not only tied to the attacks you use but also the distance you can travel on a given turn. It's a really cool system and it's something that players will need to experiment with to fully understand. In addition, Shinjiro also has additional functions that he can utilize later on. The 'Help Me!' option will call one of your teammates to your side, and the 'Protect' option will get Shinjiro to step in and take attacks target towards a given team member. In certain battles, you'll even be able to use the 'Area Move' function to travel to a different location not seen in the current battle area. As I said, it's a deep system but it all works wonderfully with plenty of room for strategy, and very little problems that get in the way of your experience.

    Despite being a port of a PS2 game, the live animations still look great on Wii, as do the character models. They may not be as booming as they could be but for what it is, it's pretty impressive. There are some occasions were the framerate dips a bit, especially during Battle segments. But it's nothing to worry about, really. The game also features a really good soundtrack, full of emotion and life. The songs in this game reflect certain scenarios really well. Emergencies, tranquility, silly moments, times when a person is in deep thought, all of these are represented very well with audio that fits, which is a pleasure to hear. I did have some personal issues with this game in terms of some of the messages it conveyed. There were some good morals in here but, at times, they were shrouded by negative ones. While the suggestivity of some of the dialog can be funny at times, the language use seemed a bit unnecessary. Thankfully it's not overdone but there are some moments where I felt they didn't have to try hard to use it just to appeal to older audiences. Additionally, it would've been preferred if the evil element in this game was less inspired by Japanese customs, and was mostly just enemy robots. This would've made the game more enjoyable for me, personally.

That being said, don't be surprised if the game gets you addicted. You'd be surprised how fast time flies as you play this game (provided you have the time for it)! There's a lot of reading in this game, so if you're not a fan of extended periods of looking at text, then you might not enjoy the game as much. Tons and tons of branching paths exist, in addition to multiple endings. The entire quest will take you lots of hours to complete, and that's just the story itself, extras excluded. There's also an additional mode called 'A Free Day in New York' which is mostly just for photo viewing and idle chit-chat. Even months down the road, the game is still very replayable. 

    Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is a strong RPG that's worth sinking your teeth into. Fans of games like Harvest Moon will enjoy the relationship aspect (especially males), while those who play mech-fighters will appreciate the RPG approach they took with the battle system. I've never played a game like this that's just so unique and surprisingly enjoyable. Mind you, it's not something that will be everyone's cup of tea, and there are some medium-scale issues such as the control setup. And although I personally didn't have any complaints with it, some may nag over the game's voice acting. Nevertheless, this game has left a lasting impression on my mind and I have no doubt that a good number of people will feel the same way after playing this game.

28/30 - Excellent

Gameplay 9/10 - Controls best with Classic Controller, decisions affect where the story takes you, a very unique game, battle robots and build relationships
Presentation 9/10 - Can hardly tell it's a PS2 game, occasional framerate drops, cutscenes are neat, really good soundtrack, visual story that comes to life
Enjoyment 5/5 - So much interaction over how the game plays out, lots of reading but it's not all about text, fun events and LIPS choices add to the variety
Extra Content 5/5 - So many branching paths, extra features, multiple endings, very replayable, even months later you can be motivated to beat it again

Equivalent to a score of 93% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
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