Review by Heatmiser
"So Long, My Cash"
Since you're currently reading this review, I think it's fair to say that if I suggested to you a video game that was a hybrid dating sim/strategy role-playing title, you'd probably give it a chance, right?
What if that very same person, this reviewer, told you the video game in question came with a free poster, a free deluxe art pamphlet, and one game disc that contained English dubbed voice acting along with a second game disc with the original Japanese voices? You'd probably be chomping at the bit to get your hands on said game.
Now what if I were to add, along with all that other stuff, that this game we're discussing featured beautiful anime artwork, absolutely adorable main characters (seriously, now I know why Japanese people fall in love with comic book characters; they're utterly charming in this game), a US$39.99 price tag, and was probably the last major release for the late, great system, that good ol' PS2? You would probably just trip over yourself to buy a copy ASAP, am I right? Most of you certainly would, I'd envision. However, there's that group of pessimistic customers in the back that're all saying the same thing:
There's gotta be a catch. There's always a catch.
Well... what if I were to tell you that this game was utterly and wholly unfulfilling, written by what I can only imagine was an orangutan who somehow figured out how to utilize a keyboard, devoid of any dialogue or action sequence that wasn't a triflingly silly cliche, and, oh by the way, roughly 15-20 hours long on your first (and, god willing, only) playthrough? Ah yes, I see most of you are walking away ashamed now, pretending you never wanted to buy a dating sim role-playing game in the first place. If only, my friends. If only.
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is the first and only of the immensely-popular-in-Japan Sakura Taisen series to make it across the Pacific, and after having played it I can see why they never brought one over before. I've left ten minute play sessions with a Pokemon game feeling more manly and self-respecting than I did playing through the entirety of SW:SLML... but that's not the worst part. Let's delve a bit deeper into these shallow waters.
The storyline is the following: Based out of a disguised Broadway theater in 1920s New York City, you play as a Japanese expat charged with leading a bevy of hot babes from around the world as a group of secret global crime-fighters, piloting your steampunk giant robot battle suits by day, and... disguising yourselves as starlets in various musicals by night. Japan, oh you.
The storyline, as you should have guessed by now, doesn't get much deeper than that, and though I'm not expecting Descartes or anything, you'd probably find more thought-provoking writing by cracking open a book with "Nancy Drew and" in the title. A series of occasionally dopishly enjoyably but usually painfully awkward vignettes (and I mean possibly hundreds of them) are played out via lovely 2D anime-style artwork, and you as the lead character/hunk have to make sure you give each and every lady the exact right answer she wants. If you do, you earn invisible admiration "points" that not only make them love you more, but make them more effective in battle. If you make 'em mad, well, you probably already know what happens when you aggravate a woman, whether anime or real. Bad things. Bad, bad things. This conversational back-and-forth is the crux of the game, and is handled in a fun, carefree, sweet, and ultimately fairly enjoyable manner, with the cute ladies and fun conversations cropping up all over flapper-era New York. However, this gameplay component is also the source of So Long, My Love's biggest, most damaging flaws.
Remember how I mentioned that the ladies get stronger in battle the better you treat them in the myriad conversational vignettes during non-battle play? Well, that's the ONLY way they can get stronger. There is no leveling up in this supposed SRPG, only very mild statistical upgrades via dozens and dozens of conversations that HAVE to go well, or else. Making it worse- and more tedious- is that you only get those mild statistical upgrades if you ace dozens of vignettes for each girl, which grows more and more tiresome as the game goes on-- especially if you start selecting wrong answers, forcing you to go back to earlier savepoints. Worse yet (yes, it gets worse), there's only enough vignettes to get you and your girls a moderate amount of leveling up- then no more! Ever! This amounts to a very, very hard level cap in SW:SLML, and becomes quite encumbering as the game wears on, particularly in later battles when the baddies can reproduce ad infinitum, giving you a very difficult road to hoe against a the 3- or 4-enemy-to-1-hero odds. Not to proselytize too much, but one of the reasons I play role-playing games is so I can level up if a certain boss or stage proves too difficult or taxing. Not that this game is tough by any stretch of the imagination, but by the end of the game I just wanted to mow through the enemies as befitting my maxed out statistics. Instead, I was still struggling with respawning baddie after respawning baddie, especially annoying during siege battles. Joystick-breakingly annoying during siege battles. (Remind me to pick one up at the mall later when I trade this game in. For... a friend. Yes.)
It's kind of a shame really; the battles are very retro, very old school fun, reminiscent of Shining Force 3 in both form and function (I don't mind the Saturn/Dreamcast graphics in the game personally, since they lent it a delightfully nostalgic charm). Sakura Wars goes light on the amount of skills and abilities you have to use in battle, but heavy on quick pacing and smaller skirmishes, something definitely needed in the all too lugubrious SRPG genre currently. Then again, the occasionally-fun battles are a double edged sword as well. While you'll probably enjoy battling through most of them, the entirety of this game offers you, oh... a dozen battles or so. I'll wait for you to get back up from the floor and onto your chairs again. Ready? Alright then, I'll reiterate. Ten or twelve or so battles in total await you in So Long, My Love, which is why I took the time out of my busy nerd-ing schedule to bust out a bold font a few paragraphs ago in telling you that the game is, at most, yup, 20 hours long. Seriously. Even if you double that amount for replays, save game loading, etc, that's patently unacceptable in today's era of 100+ hour role-playing experiences. Heck, I think I have cell phone games that've lasted longer! Press "Z" to make your wishes come true!
Sakura Wars, oh Sakura Wars. You had so much promise. Years of being kept in the dark from your average western gamer provided you a certain kind of clandestine, Bond-like secrecy. After generations of games and systems went by without seeing so much as a single one of you published over here, the frenzied wait among nerdy- er, ahem, otaku gamers outside Japan built this game series up to an almost unreachable height. I'm no architect, but I think it's safe to say that building one's hopes for a video game franchise on the shaky foundation that is Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is not the most prudent way to go about erecting any structure, even one made of something as ephemeral as fanboy dreams. A building so precariously wrought can only crumble and tumble down, as this title has done so swiftly, dashing hopes in as embarrassingly little time as it takes to successfully complete a single playthrough.
Even more disappointing is that this title is almost certain to be most gamers' final hurrah with the once magnificent video gaming giant, that beautiful black monolith, the Sony Playstation 2-- this reviewer's pick for the greatest video game system of all time. It's akin to eating the finest meal you've ever wrapped your lips around at the most luxurious, posh restaurant on the planet, only to finish it all by eating a lint-covered shaving cream pie for dessert. But you know what? The heck with it. I'm just gonna pretend that the last PS2 game I played was Persona 4 or Mana Khemia 2. I'm good at repressing terrible memories now, thanks to a stay at that one unlicensed fat camp when I was a toddler.
So Long, My Love? No, probably more like So Long, terrible video game. So Long, gaming series I once thought was going to be so awesome. So Long, My Love? Perhaps you could go so far as to say so long, Playstation 2. You deserved a better coda than this, but you'll always have my loving memories.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 04/19/10
Game Release: Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (Premium Pack) (US, 03/30/10)
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