My love-affair with all the wacky stuff NIS releases in America continues with their latest title that will soon be gracing our shores. Sakura Wars: So Long My Love is a melting pot of game types. Much like its setting, New York City, the ultimate melting pot in terms of culture, food, and people. Sakura Wars strikes up a similar comparison, but instead you've got gaming conventions, like the Role Playing Game, the Dating Sim, and oddly enough, a Musical aspect as well. I recently got my hands on the latest preview build and so far, I can see why this series runs deep in Japan. But I've got to ask, why sit on a title for five years before releasing it here?! As the fifth title in the franchise, a few tropes of the series may be lost on American audiences, but in spite of that the game holds up quite well despite being left to age overseas.
Sakura Wars takes us back a time that is definitely different than what your parents or grandparents would remember about America. The time is 1928, the place is New York City, and you, are Lieutenant Shinjiro Taiga (nephew of series mainstay Ichiro Ogami), recently assigned to the Star Division of the Imperial Assault Force, a group of singing and dancing sirens who are out to put an end to all evil and chaos that would dare to harm their precious city using their giant robots and dancing and singing skills. As their newest member, Shinjiro, lovingly nicknamed Shin, Shiny, and any other term of endearment with Shin as the prefix, he's out to prove that he belongs after being informed that he was not quite who the Star Division was expecting.
After some initial friction, Shinjiro gets himself in good with the team and from there the dating-sim aspect of the game kicks in. But every action prior to his acceptance has some pull on the characters and their relationships, and in this game, relationships can be the difference between life and death on the battlefield.
There are a number of members of the female persuasion that you can interact with, and if you've played any of the Persona titles on the PS2 then you'll find that things aren't too different despite being a different series. There's Subaru (who's third person prose makes me never want to interact with her at all), who's cold, but probably has a soft side that will take forever to reach. Gemini (pronounced Gem-eny?), who's a Texas native, full of energy, and has a horse living in her apartment. And a few more members of the opposite sex who all have their foibles you'll have plenty of time to explore.
Combat is an interesting mix of tactical ground and aerial sorties where you pilot giant robots (side note: can't get enough of that!) to take out other giant robots. You are granted a set amount of energy to make your moves and attack enemies. Each robot in your arsenal has a different style of attacks, so the ranged team member might not have to move much, and is able to just hang back and fire off attacks and set up for tandem attacks. These tandem attacks are a side effect of your relationships with your team members, where the stronger your relationship, the stronger the attack. When it comes to aerial combat the battlefield takes a more circular shape, where you fly around your opponent, trying to take out as much of their ship/mech as possible.
Graphically this game definitely looks like a late generation PS2 title, with some lower than expected resolution backgrounds, but high-res character sprites provided by Kousuke Fujishima who also has quite a bit of work in the Tales series by Namco. Outside of battle, in the game's “Adventure Mode,” much of the game feels similar to a visual novel type title, with floods of text, and voice acting. Current prognosis on that front is positive, with many mainstays of the voice-acting world lending their talents to the title. For those that just have to have that extra little Japanese flavor with their acting, the PS2 title will come with a second disc containing the Japanese voice track. Wii owners are sadly left out to dry in that regard, but I doubt it would be missed.
With that many different genre titles to attempt to explain the game you'd have to think Sakura Wars: So Long My Love would be one of the most off-beat titles to head to the PS2/Wii. Well, yeah it definitely is carving the niche as deeply as it possibly can, and surprisingly it does a good job so far. For those who've been waiting for the day when they could say that a Sakura Wars title has been released in America, you won't have to wait much longer as the release is currently pegged for late March.