Review by MJEmirzian
"For anime/dating sim fans only."
Sakura Wars main claim to fame is that its combat system is the precursor to Valkyria Chronicles. It features a very similar movement and attack system, although turn order is based on speed stats and enemies don't attack while your character takes their turn. Don't expect to spend much time fighting in this game - it's about 75% dating sim and 25% combat, and the game is only 20-25 hours long. The dating sim elements are technically well done, but the fact is that dating sims are an extremely niche genre that will appeal to very few players.
Aside from the VC precursors, this combat system is very basic and simple. There are very few differences between units, no customization, no buffs/debuffs, etc. The battle camera can be a pain to deal with when trying to line up joint attacks. This is especially true in aerial fights where the camera controls are even more restricted than on the ground. The battles overall are very easy especially if you win your female allies favor. There isn't any real scoring system aside from gaining your female allies trust. At one point mid-game you are rated based on allied units lost, but that's not nearly enough to be called a scoring system.
The 'area move' system where you are able to move between different rooms on the map is something that will be reappearing in Valkyria Chronicles 2. This adds some interesting dimensions to the battlefield, although the developers rarely make it a strategic choice about which area to be in. Most non-boss fights are against generic robot cannon fodder that can get pretty boring. Some of the large bosses with multiple body parts hold promise, but the strategy is all the same 'destroy the damage dealing parts then hit the weak point a couple times'. It's sometimes fun lining up Joint Attacks to kill multiple enemies.
Trudging through many hours of dating sim just to get to a short, boring and easy boss fight will not be pleasing to experienced SRPG fans. I never had to restart a single mission nor did I ever lose a single unit - the game is just that easy.
On to the dating sim portions of the game. The game plays in chapters like an anime episode, each chapter focusing on a different character. You're tasked with pampering a bunch of implausibly eccentric women, children, and transvestites all acting out anime's most worn out cliches about friendship, free will, and love. Your enemies (and allies) are walking cliches. Unless you're a serious anime fan and love dating sims, you just won't be enjoying the majority of the game. If you do poorly you'll find yourself and your allies with lower stats and weaker Joint Attacks.
The LIPS system is a mini-game presented frequently during the dating sim sections where you have to make choices under the pressure of a time limit, choose the 'loudness' of your voice, and perform rhythm game style input sequences. It's usually pretty well done, but I have to question why the developers kept randomly inserting precise analog quarter and half-circles that are far more difficult than anything else LIPS related. This provides an uneven level of difficulty that will have you destroying some easy Stick Lips and then running into a very difficult one full of half and quarter turns that feels like trying to pull out Street Fighter special moves on an analog stick.
Unless you're really interested in SRPG history, or really into anime and dating sims, there isn't much reason to play this game. But if you are really into anime and dating sims, you've probably already bought this game. I should also note that this series is dead - this game was released in Japan in 2005 and there are no plans for a new Sakura Wars game. For all intents and purposes, Valkyria Chronicles is its successor and replacement. For anyone wondering if the SRPG combat is worth a purchase? It isn't.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 04/09/10
Game Release: Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (Premium Pack) (US, 03/30/10)
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