Review by xcredia

"Sakura Taisen, it is. New York, it is not."

INTRODUCTION

Sakura Taisen series is a very unique genre that unfailingly charm us with "good feeling" through & through from beginning to the end. Folks usually rely more on tawdry obscenity, violence & utter stupidity to please the gullible audience that are sadly so willingly & happily being fed on.

Set in 1928 of alternate universe, Sakura Taisen tell a story of battle between men and demons in a hybrid style of musical, sci-fi and fantasy. ST5 (Sakura Taisen 5) remains a hybrid of many good things done right. It has dating simulation that is tasteful, mech battle strategy that is challenging, great production values on art direction and pretty much becoming an icon in the gaming world since the Saturn day. This is all well retained and pretty much the same in Sakura Taisen 5.

STORY - 6 of 10

ST5 is an 'origin story' game & thus the plots are somewhat similar with ST. You are Oogami's nephew Taiga Shinjiro sent to New York kagekidan to help the Hoshigami & the game is set during the first 6 months of that period.

The game may have new setting & new casts (Except Ratchet) but most of the chapters are both formulaic & predictable albeit polished. There do exist a couple of chapters that are interesting mind you & they do add some freshness to the ST universe.

There's fewer chapters as well compared to the previous ones. It will still take a good 15+ hours or so for each ending (Assuming you don't skip the texts too much). Replayability of the game then mostly relies on one's curiousity on finishing the game with different girls or going through all the LIPS combination.

The soul of this game remains very Japanese and it shows a lot everywhere. We got "Paris" & "New York" probably because they both fits the 'theatrical' theme of the series (kagekidan). When they announced the 5th would be in New York back then, "Broadway" came to mind. Turns out there's barely "Broadway" in this game. I guess Ouji-sensei's Manhattan will have Tanaka-sensei's Broadway.

Holes start showing up when you bring things to foreign lands as well. If there can only be one kagekidan, why in New York? Imho Washington D.C. is a more strategical choice. Also Americans are patriotic bunch & certainly most of them wouldn't place foreign cultures on top of their own.

The richness of both American culture & history references is somewhat lacking. ST5 shows how Japanese views America. The accuracy is similar to the reverse. RED must have stopped their research too early. I'm sure there's a field study tour to NY some time during the development process (I bet they didn't go far beyond Manhattan). I'm sure someone googled the web for tourism, "US history & social development" or occasionally watched dubbed American sitcoms. Things are still stereotypical sadly. We end up having white guy baddies with pink mohawk, people hogging on steaks & hamburgers (there's some US food franchises spoof too), worst of all some folks just fail to represent their own racial heritage.

Notorious & inevitable, everything is in Japanlish. There's tons of misspellings, grammatical errors & sometimes just plainly off-keys English. Worst of all there's butchering on a well-known Shakespeare work as well.

They also pretty much 'import' all the baddies from Japan for some reason. There are tons of megalomaniac evildoers through out American history. Imho having them in the game probably will give it a more 'American' touch.

GAMEPLAY - 9 of 10

The game is divided into chapters as usual, and its chapters always start with interaction mode where the dating sims is the main thing, followed at the end with the emergence of some bad guys that will leads to the mech battle. As usual there's also some 3D roaming around Manhattan inbetween all these. Once a battle is won, we are treated with some closure and then move on to the next chapter.

The only added gameplay that is new would be the introduction of camera as part of Hoshigumi's kinematron. There's some interesting gameplay involved with this in which one would have to take pictures of things albeit limited to the 2D part of the game (You still can't take a snapshot of your 3D mechs).

The mech battle remains the best in the series. Period. Except for minor camera problems, the battle system is as slick as ever (Nippon Ichi should take note on this) in all 3D glory. Instead of the usual repetitive & easy battle stages, we got innovative, challenging & always interesting ones albeit short. The stages are taken place in some well known landmarks around Manhattan... somewhat. They may not be as fancy as ST3's Paris (Maybe Paris just has more famous places?) but definitely more FUN.

The dating sims is also more complex. All the girls have sophisticate personality & somewhat more humane compared to the previous others. There are also more variety in terms of the situation given during the interaction. What's new to me is that I find I can actually DISLIKE or HATE some of the girls completely. This is an improvement because it mimicks more accurately on the reality of relationship. Additionally there's a more dynamic way to interact with all of them beside the typical timed LIPS. Kudos for Ouji-sensei on this aspect.

If anything else though, hopefully these Hoshigumi members eventually start adopting their own country's qualities that the Hanagumi's won't: democracy, freedom, equality & openness. This would make things more interesting rather than the cookie-cutter overused "love & friendship beats everything" theme. Although... then it wont' be SAKURA wars anymore huh?

GRAPHICS - 9 out of 10

There are more and longer hi-res anime fmv througout the game compared to the previous ones which is neat. The quality of the animation however is a mixed bag where sometimes they can be incredibly detailed and fluid (The opening and ending scene) while others are rather rough.

Again typical to the previous installments the dating and story mode is in 2D anime sprite-based while the battle and roaming mode is in 3D. The 2D sprites are all hi-res as well, quality-wise it is the best yet in the series.

The Hoshigumi members may not be as neat-looking as those from the other branches (We all had that puzzling stare on them at first sight) but this could be intentional. Don't judge a book by it's cover right? Again all interactions with them are done with limited sprite-based still images which is getting rather old.

As for the 3D models, Manhattan & the mechs are finely detailed. Texture are crisps and overall they have that 'anime'ish theme that support the 2D counterparts. Similar to ST3 you will roam the world of ST5 in 3D and this time it's not in super deformed mode anymore. I'm a sucker of cutesy actually so this is quite a let down. What's more is that 'Manhattan' are so sparse of anything alive during roaming mode which is too bad. They might as well stick to the more simplified "map" presentation as before.

The ugliest aspect of ST5 would be the baddies. Most of them are a bunch of one-dimensional folks with uninspiring design (so sorry Kousuke-sensei). Totally pale compared to all the previous ones on the series. Some scenes have these characters so poorly drawn that they just felt like drafts. Even the usual 'boss introductory' or 'boss techniques' scenes are awkward. There's just something wrong in the direction. None of them possess the 'charisma' as we all see from the previous installments.

MUSICS & SOUNDS - 8 out of 10

Another reknown aspect of Sakura Taisen is its soundtracks which is very musical. The direction of style I guess is supposedly 'New York'-ish yet honestly to me they don't really go deep on this (There's only 1 notable Jazz piece). Fortunately what's left are still good and enjoyable.

As usual every character will have a theme song and considering they're more multi-racial now, we got a more variety on the music style. The opening and ending song is not as catchy but still quality pieces.

Voices quality are clear, crisp and absolutely beat the Dreamcast's. The seiyuus never fail to deliver each character's personalities and match their image perfectly. Everybody speaks either Japanese or Japanlish though....

Sound effects and the rest are passable. Nothing worth noting for but this is again hardly the highlight of the series. No fanboy really care on these as long as they're there right?

IMPORT FRIENDLINESS - 5 out of 10

You better know your Japanese well. Except for the menu interfaces, there hardly any English word here. Fortunately it is still playable through intelligent guessing and good FAQs you will finish the game. All is not at lost for us non-Japanese fans.

EXTRAS - 8 out of 10

They scrapped mini games which is quite a let down personally. It has been a tradition that ST series always has a load of extra gameplays. I guess they just don't have the time. Imho they should put more time on ST5 extras rather then Episode 0 which turns out to be both disappointing & no real contribution to the series as a whole.

Other than that, they have it all. The galleries, the 'one fine dan free day' mode, the 'Sakura Keitai' goodies, the linking to previous series, etc.

Sakura Taisen remains as SEGA's cash cow. Meaning it comes with tons of both useful and less usefull goodies. For the limited edition version of the game, you'll get art book, a t-shirt, a PS2 controller, a headphone, a mouse pad & also depending on your importer, a dvd (Show Time Disk). There's indication for gazillion posters, zippo, game guides, drama cds, ost cds, etc. to follow. Sadly most of these will remain as import goods.

FINAL RECOMMENDATION - absolutely

Though somewhat gimmicky, ST5 succeed in continuing the tradition where things can be fresh & entertaining in a fun & artistic way. It possesses all the great stuff that will assure a typical otaku happy. So yes. It is worth the money & time to appreciate this entertainment masterpiece.

Just set your mind to "Japanese-ST-fan-who's-never-been-to-America".

Works for me.

TOTAL SCORE - 8 out of 10

Story : 6
Gameplay : 9
Graphics : 9
Musics & Sounds : 8
Import Friendliness : 4
Extras : 8
Fan boy's tilt : 10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/30/05, Updated 08/31/05


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