Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love Wii Review

Publisher: NIS America  Developer: Idea Factory  Genre: RPG, Simulator  Players: 1  Age Rating: 12+

Other console/handheld formats: PS2, PS3

Despite being an old and beloved series in Japan, it’s easy to see why publishers haven’t exactly been queuing up to localize Sakura Wars for the west. It’s a curious mixture of strategy and character interaction, a concoction that doesn’t have the same appeal over here as it does in Japan. Thanks to NIS Europe, those with a Japanese taste in gaming are finally getting a mouthful with Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, and, god, does it taste funny.

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is the first game in the series to be set outside Japan and obviously is also the first game in the series to reach western shores – whether this is a deliberate choice on publisher NIS’s part or mere coincidence is a mystery. Whatever the case may be, its alternate 1920’s New York setting certainly hasn’t diluted the mental Japanese humour, or its far eastern feel.

The game centres on samurai Shinjiro Taiga, Captain of the New York Combat Revenue’s mech riding (well, I told you it was set in an alternate 1920’s, didn’t I?) Star Division. It’s split into eight chapters, each one of which usually focuses on the plights of a particular character and are largely self contained, with the only connection being a bigger, less personal story running in the background, of which comes to the forefront towards the conclusion of each chapter.

Anime cut-scenes are fairly rare, but are a treat when they do show up.

There are two very different sides to Sakura Wars: So Long, My love. But it’s the character interaction that, in terms of prevalence, is the domineering aspect. Here, you’ll chat and interact with your friends via various means, occasionally influencing their responses through your own choices and actions and having an effect – be it for better or for worse – on their performance during a battle. This is all carried out through the Live & Interactive Picture System (better known as LIPS, not only because it’s less of a mouthful, but also possibly because it doesn’t sound so stupid) which allows you to become directly involved in conversations and other interactions.

The Normal LIPS method gives you a time limit to choose your response, whilst Double LIPS gives you a limited, albeit, longer duration to choose your option, but also requires you to do multiple actions within that time frame. On occasion, the response choices can be vague and choosing the wrong one can have adverse effects on your relationships, though this is fairly rare so the problem is hardly a crippling one.

On the other hand, Stick LIPS (which is again time based) tasks you with using varying combinations of the control pad on the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk stick, doing well will raise the success gauge, whilst consistently missing will not. Analog LIPS allows you to choose the strength of an action: when you opt to push the gauge to its apex, for example, Shinjiro will bellow and if you do the opposite he’ll whisper. Finally there’s Click Mode, which functions like a point and click adventure, allowing you to explore your surroundings and such by clicking on things of interest.

There’s a strong cast of characters with diverse personalities and an excellent localization from NIS, containing many a memorable line of dialogue. Combine this with some well drawn art and the character interaction is a delight. A good thing since it’s by far the thing you’ll find yourself doing most in Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love.

Outside of LIPS, you’ll get the chance to directly explore New York. These sections most often have limited time and within these periods, it’s often up to you of where you want to go. Further character interaction is common; though it’s not always obvious of whom you’re going to meet and, there’s so many potential conversations, that you just couldn’t see them all within a single play through.

Lawyer and star division member, Cherion is just one of the colourful cast of characters featured.

There’s combat, too, but it’s not as regular of an occurrence that you may think it to be. Generally it doesn’t show up until the later stages of each chapter, but when it does it’s well executed, and such a statement isn’t really a shock, it is the Valkyria Chronicles team after all. With you having direct control over each Mech, and, at the same time, the action being turn based it shares the action and strategy nature of that game.

Each character has a mobility gauge, of which will decrease by moving around the battlefield or attacking, and once it’s empty you aren’t able to move any further until the next turn comes around. In combination with the SP gauge, the mobility gauge is also used to utilize various skills such as unity attacks, where two or more characters attack in tandem (the strength of the attack being determined by their relationships) and super moves: powerful and flashy individual skills.

The quirks and odd marriage of game styles leaves Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love as a game that is hardly going to have broad appeal. For many, despite its western setting, it’s still going to be too quintessentially Japanese for their more local tastes. But for a small percentage of people, Sakura Wars long overdue arrival in the West will be welcome, and such people will enjoy an experience that is unlike any other.