Review by GUTB
"This game will NEVER make it to the West. Here is why."
Sakura Taisen V: ~Saraba, Itoshiki Hito yo~ (Farewell, My Love) is the latest release in the ST franchise which started on the Saturn 10 years ago. The sad fact is, however, that even back then when the Japanese video game market was booming, the game was only ever played by otaku. Granted the series has been a phenomena amongst otaku, it remains strictly a otaku phenomena, and recent years has seen the series decline dramatically, and V only managed to sell about 144,000 copies in 2005, down from its heights of 3-400k.
The games are only a part of the phenomena -- besides these, there is a mountain of merchandise, anime, and other tie-ins to be gobbled up by otaku buyers, including live concerts and plays by the voice actresses dressed up in character. And THAT is the reason why ST will never come to the West; in Japan, you are a part of an otaku culture that will get hyped up for the new artbook or CD, jump on a train and go buy it from Sega's store and stop buy for some overpriced food at the Sakura Cafe, etc. When the VAs put on a musical, concert or re-enactment, again, just jump in a train and go watch with everyone else. In the West, that can't happen. In Japan, it's a matter of hours to get to the action, but what's an American living in Arizona going to do about a live show in New York? The population density in the US won't support that form of highly developed otakuism. And on top of that VAs aren't big in the US, and you have to be hardcore otaku yourself to even care about seiyuu. American VAs are not even worthy of comment.
The other reason being, of course, that the games themselves just aren't very good by mainstream standards. Even by the low standards of modern dating sims and erogames, ST appears to be dated in many respects of its' core gameplay -- the dateing/relationship "sim" which takes up the vast majority of the gameplay. Therefore, only hardcore anime fans and otakus need apply, and these players don't really need an Western version as they already know of them and will seek them out.
STORY - (6/10)
The story revolves around the New York Kagekidan and takes place in an alternate reality steampunk New York -- or at least some wierd approximation of it. There are some visual and musical style queues that is supposed to say "New York" to the player, but they fail. If you weren't presented with a map with the Big Apple when moving between areas, I doubt anyone would play this game thinking, postively, that they were playing in New York and not some fictional comic-book like city such as Metropolis or Gotham.
The members of the Hoshigumi are equally messed up, like an Engrish version of characters. Such as a Mexican loli named "Rika Aries", who is actually a model of character study and research effort compared to a black former motorcycle-gangster from Harlem turned lawyer named "Sagiitta Weinberg"...in 1928. Yeah. Chew on that for a while. The blonde, business-like captain of the troop, with the ingenius name of "Ratchet", is probably the least mangled female member of the main cast -- too bad she leaves the team in the middle of your first mission. Then there's the androginous genius Subaru Kujou, there apparantly for the player to explore their bi-curious side. A generic bed-ridden princess type complete with caged bird refrences all over the place, completely cardboard cut-out from the Japanese arch-type definition of the characer and not worthy of further comment. This gang is topped off by Gemini Sunrise, star of the 2004 game STV EPISODE 0: ~Kouya no Samurai Musume~ (Samurai Girl of the Wilderness), a prequel to STV, a horse-riding, 10-gallon hat wearing cowgirl wielding a katanna, and about 50-60 years out of place but oh well. Actually the best character design in recent memory. Too bad she is completely sidelined for most of the game, and when she finally does join the Hoshigumi, the event is not as important as it ought to be.
Of the three Kagekidans so far introduced in the series, the Hoshigumi are definately the least appealing in my opinion.
The bad guys are uninspired and completely forgettable. Although, funny, they went with Japanese villians for some reason. Probably for the best considering EPISODE 0's villians were supposed to be ressurrected patriots of the South from the Civil War period -- a fact which NO ONE will even suspect unless it was directly spelled out to you as they didn't even loosley resemble browncoats or really even Americans of any period. But oh well.
The game is devided up into chapters, each typically with a linear story part, a free movement part, and then finished off with an action phase. The story phase is basically your typical graphic novel fare, free movement is the same thing except you move around a 3D sections of New York inbetween locations, each of which have different events. The action phase is basically a 3D tactical RPG sort of system in which you engage enemy forces in battle.
The story parts, which take up the large majority of the game, are uninspired and almost identical to the earlier games. A glaring flaw is that most of the story is just plain text -- only some dialogue is voice-acted, and this is very damaging from a narrative standpoint, and actually pretty inexcusable in this day and age.
The action phase is the part of STV which shows the most clear improvement over the earlier iterations, which greatly improved speal attack cut-scenes. This part of the game genuinely looks like something produced in 2005, and enjoys a few other gameplay improvements over earlier versions. This is tempered by the fact that the boss battles tend to be slow, tedius affairs.
Text can be skipped quickly by holding the right shoulder button, but there are these brief, annoying pauses as the game is constantly loading off the disc for practially everything -- when LIPS engages, it loads. When there is a change graphics, it loads. When the someone else is saying something, it loads. I don't think such a simple, basic design which consists of just staic background pictures and a few animated sprites needs to be constantly loaded from the disc.
There really is nothing to this game, almost no challenge. If you play it, you are basically playing for the story. Likewise, the only reply value is finishing the game with a different girl.
The background images and animated character art remains virtually unchanged, and these represent the vast majority of the game. The best part of any ST game are the character designs, which are iconic within the industry. But your milleage may vary greatly...remember which group of people this game appeals to. The 3D representation of New York are very limited, and not very good. Average for an RPG.
As mentioned earlier, the greatest imrpovement comes with the action phase. Poly levels are decent, textures are okay, and characters' special attacks get animated FMVs and much more energetic special effects.
Another hallmark of the ST series has been the great soundtracks. Unfortunately, this famous reputation for delivery great compositions goes completely missing in this game. I can't say that any of them are particularily memorable. Some of the VAs are great -- too bad you don't get to hear from them most of the time.
If you're an otaku, check this out, it's a game made for you. But then you are probably already inclined to in that case regardless of what I say. If you aren't a hardcore anime fan, then there is probably nothing for you here.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/06
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