By Sarumarine 5 Comments
If you don't know about Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love and have some time to kill, then you're in luck! Today I wanted to talk about the dating sim / strategy game that came out on the PS2 and Wii last year because, while it's not the hottest thing around, it's still pretty entertaining in a lot of different ways. You'll get to know a bit about the wonderful world of steam powered mechanized combat. Also relationships. And theater productions. There's a lot of that too.
I originally didn't want to write so much about an PS2/Wii game but... I got carried away. Whoops.
Sakura Wars So long, My Love
| So, I know a bit about the Sakura Wars franchise. It started as a release on the Sega Dreamcast that spiraled outward into the kind of merchandise blitz you'd expect of a popular property... but only in Japan of course. This surprising (almost shocking) US release is actually the fifth game in the series that coincidentally takes place in New York, New York during the late 1920's. It follows an alternate time line where the world has been revolutionized by steam powered everything. Steam powered cars, clocks, cell phones, computers and (most importantly) mechanized suits built for fighting demons. Yes, there are plenty of demons that absolutely despise everything about humanity. Oddly enough, they also fight in steam powered machines. |
I should point out right up front that this game is pretty silly and very glass half full. It's more concerned about spectacle than it is rationalizing why Times Square can suddenly transform into a launch pad for a giant airship. Don't expect the story to explore what it means to be human or the complex relationships between man and women. However, this also makes it extremely awesome because it can get away with a lot of ridiculous stuff without losing face. It's also extremely colorful. I guess your mileage may vary, but I can dig it. I don't need every game to be as fucked up Silent Hill 2, or as dancing-with-chainsaws as Gears of War.
After all, turn based mech combat!
But the meat of this game is the dating sim element. It's kinda like Persona 4, only instead of unlocking more powerful persona you're encouraging your team of mech pilots to fight better in turn based combat. Instead of traditional RPG level building by slaughtering X number of monsters, you're building camaraderie to make your team a well oiled demon killing machine. That involves lots of dialogue. It's an interesting system that is mostly timed (make your choices fast) and sometimes NOT answering and keeping silent is the best choice. But this ain't no Mass Effect, sometimes choices aren't all that clear and you end up doing something you didn't intend. An unfortunate problem from translating Japanese to English, really.
| I guess I should mention that these pilots you're talking with? They're all women of varying age that you can make moves on at the appropriate (or inappropriate) time. Hand waved with an explanation that the vast majority of good steam powered mech pilots are all women. It requires spirit energy that most men don't have. Or something. The only man who fights in this game is also the player character, Shinjiro Taiga. Due to a Japanese gag of "theater troupe" and "combat troupe" sounding insanely similar when spoken but different when written out, this entire operation is hidden by a theater production on Broadway. That's right. By day they're live on stage, by night they fight demons in mechs. Of course, due to some elaborate launch sequences, it's not so much Black Ops and more like Superman disguising himself as Clark Kent with a pair of glasses and a nice suit. |
Let's meet the cast, shall we?
The Team (also known as Star Division)
You play as this guy. He's one of those plucky "never say die, never give up" types that fashions himself as a modern day Samurai. Really, this just means that he has a pair of insanely sharp swords he cuts stuff with. He's a new graduate of the Imperial Japanese Navy who gets sent to New York to captain the Star Division. It's one of those Anti-Demon World Coalition deals.
He has a million different names because everyone goes out their way to avoid saying Shinjiro. I think Shinjiro is a pretty badass name, but instead you get Shin, Shiny, Shinster, Shinmania, Shinmillion, etc.
Fujiyama Star: "Star" is the name of the mechs the heroes use in this game. They're kinda shaped like trashcans but it works because it seems like a plausible early robot design. Kinda. Shin's uses a pair of giant Katanas (one with a reverse grip) and it looks pretty cool for being the Mario of the game.
Looks like Gemini, sounds like Ge-mini (like Mini Cooper). She's from Texas doing the cowgirl thing and dreaming of becoming a Broadway star. Rides her horse around New York without violating any traffic laws or sanitation rules. She's one of the first girls you have a chance of befriending once hitting New York soil... but becomes playable insanely late in the story. You won't use her much. For a country mouse in the city, her personally isn't all that annoying... HOWEVER-
Her voice actor uses a very exaggerated Southern accent. It's really hard to listen to her for any length of time. It leads to a lot of "Skip Dialogue" A button mashing events.
Rodeo Star: Her fire themed orange-and-red mech has a gunblade. Yes, very Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. The revolver isn't built into the blade, but sits on top of it. No Guardian Forces though *rimshot*.
Looks like Chair-on, sounds like Karen. She's a lawyer from Harlem that has a short temper and a fiery personality. Her gimmick is justice and the law but in battle she's more judge, jury, and executioner to a worrying degree. Her character as a whole is completely crippled by her introductory chapter where she tries to sell out her neighborhood (Harlem), her friends, and her family to a corrupt corporation and THE MAN. They try to show it as a "blinded by mindless devotion to justice", and you do get plenty of opportunity to show her what's what in a mock trial...
But it's really unsatisfying. She's such a complete dick that you just want to punch her in the face. By the time she gets better it's really a case of "too little, too late." Not to mention she's fairly worthless in battle. Slow and short range movement. If this was a more traditional RPG she would be off the team.
Highway Star: Of course a character as bad this has to have an awesome Deep Purple reference (and one of my favorite songs). Plus, he mech's weapon is a chain whip Road Rash style. It's also painted jet black. That's kinda cool. Right?
Subaru is an eccentric genius who tries to transcend gender roles by talking in the third person. "Subaru is Subaru. Nothing more, nothing less." However, because of the limitations of translating Japanese to English, Subaru gets referred to as "she" by pretty much everyone. I'll even lapse into "she" just for simplicity sake of writing this damn thing. But really, her gender is supposed to be a complete mystery and you can spend the entire game trying to coax the truth out of her. However you roll, Subaru looks pretty good in a suit, or a dress, or a kimono. She also likes paper fans reinforced by steel razors.
As you can probably guess, being a perfectionist genius means Subaru has zero social skills and zero patience for other people. She will frequently trash talk you in the beginning of the game to a nauseating degree.
Random Star: Subaru probably has the coolest mech in the game. It uses giant weaponized paper fans for an area attack, stands at attention when not active, and moves around Flash Step style. Yeah, that's a TV Tropes link. I can't think of another way to describe it. Sorry.
Here's the token loli character. She's a ten year old bounty hunter that uses gold and silver revolvers. There's a black hole where her stomach should be so she's a big eater. In the event that she can't find any food, she has a backup plan to eat her pet ferret Niccolo. Loves Pancakes. Hates bad guys (which is a broad term for her). For the most part, she solves all her problems with a hail of lead and fires at the slightest provocation.
I guess she's not as annoying as you would think. Her voice actor puts on a tolerable Spanish accent (much better than Gemini's accent anyway). Has a weird phobia of failing others due to some family history involving her father and a raging river. At least her gold and silver revolvers are pretty cool. But Revolver Ocelot she is not. Don't expect any awesome gun tricks.
Shooting Star: HA! Get it? Shooting Star! Cause she uses guns! Yeah. Even with that terrible pun, her mech wields some pretty badass double barreled revolvers the size of bicycles. I'm not sure how it works, but long range is always nice in a fight.
Lady. Doctor. Doctor lady. Diana will be your healer for the game. She's kind of sickeningly nice when you first get to know her. She loves birds so offering up fried chicken is a bad way to break the ice. Vegetarian. Not to mention she's kind of a friend to all living things and birds crowd around her Disney style. This is explained in her introductory chapter and you can take it as you will. For the most part, Diana is a wallflower who is more into peace than war and would probably faint if someone sneezed on her. Also a big fan of dollhouses.
As nice as Diana is, her "sad" expression is one of the best in the game. Maybe I just find it cathartic since she comes off holier than thou.
Silent Star: Her blue mech uses magic water as weapons. Okay. It's more like water at such a high pressure it can cut steel. She's not into guns and swords so I guess it's the least she can do. Her armor is also about as durable as tissue paper so she's a
conscientious objector to the very core. Also, steam powered robotic birds!
Ratchet here is more of a guest star party member. You only see her in combat during the tutorial and one other time. She starts out as captain of Star Division before having some problems with her spirit energy and becomes mission control...
Okay, I can't stand it. Her last name is identical to Altair from Assassin's Creed. Do you know what her mech's weapon is? Throwing knives. Yeah. Throwing knives! The only thing missing is an option to stab a demon mech in the face with a wrist blade and it would be a blatant reference. Without it though... it's just a coincidence. A damn eerie coincidence.
She looks nice in a suit though.
Silver Star: Ratchet uses a silver-ish mech. Like I said before, it uses throwing knives. I guess all the other weapons were taken at that point.
If you're curious, I went with Subaru because I like mysteries and black hair. There's also other supporting characters like people who help run the theater and Michael Sunnyside. He manages Star Division from behind a desk. He's also way into Japan and has a house in the middle of Central Park. Because he's filthy stinking rich. He also has bottomless nicknames for Shinjiro.
Other Stuff (...like Combat)
| When you're not chatting it up with your pilots and other people, you do combat missions. It's turn based but moving and attacking is more like Valkyria Chronicles. Everyone has an action gauge they spend by moving, attacking, healing, and using special attacks. This gauge often changes in size depending on how your team is feeling. If someone isn't properly motivated, they'll have less of a gauge and won't get much done. If they're in the zone though, they can skip halfway across the battlefield and rip an enemy a new one. |
The gauge is separated into blocks and certain actions use more blocks than others. Defending, for instance, only works if you have two blocks in your gauge. If you only have one, you'll just have to leave your rear exposed until the next turn. Attacking only uses one block, and you can chain five in a row. The tutorial is pretty good about spelling this all out. Best of all, it's optional if you've already cut your teeth on this kind of thing.
Ground combat is what you would expect. But there's also flight combat. All the Stars can transform into a flying mode when taking on enemies that are the size of Godzilla or King Kong. Most of this takes place in cylindrical shaped battle areas (with the boss in the middle). So it's more like flying around a key target instead of free flight like All Range Mode from Star Fox 64 or straight up combat sim Ace Combat. There are a few variations on this cylinder style flight, but for the most part it handles like ground combat except it's a pain in the ass to target things in this mode. The game gets picky on deciding when you're in proper range of enemies. Battles are not very hard, but they're long. Not to mention, if Shinjiro gets killed it's game over regardless how well your other teammates are doing.
Combat gets more complicated with Command Styles that shift the emphasis on attack, defense, and balance. This often changes the amount of blocks it takes to do things like defend, charge, etc. Since you can shift this at any time as long as it's Shinjiro's turn, you can abuse it if you want to. It's not gamebreaking, but it helps.
Victory Pose!I said before that I'm kinda blown away this game was even released in the US (for two consoles no less). Mercifully the Wii version doesn't try to force any motion controls and it's all just good old buttons and analogue sticks. You do some screen pointing, but that's about it. The game does suffer from a criminally small soundtrack. Expect to hear the same handful of tunes over and over again until you develop Pavlovian reactions to them. There's also a lot of cinematics for special attacks and boss intros that might wear on you overtime. Good news is that you can kind of skip them (more like shorten them just a bit). The instruction manual mentions you can skip cut scenes.... after you beat the game once. So there's that too.
This is probably more text than the game deserves... but it's kinda charming in a weird way. Probably because I knew what to expect and wasn't disappointed. That doesn't keep a lot of it from being cringe worthy. But I don't know where else you'd find such an odd mix of theater productions and steam powered mechs.