Sakura Wars: So Long My Love
If you’ve never played a Sakura Wars game before, and you need just one good reason to do so, look no further than the screenshot that depicts a cowgirl on horseback, slicing a robot in half with her katana. Surely any game that features such absurdity must be worthy of some consideration at least.
If you require more substantial persuasion, then the series’ thirteen-year history in Japan should be sufficient. Since its first appearance in 1996 on the Sega Saturn, Sakura Wars has evolved and expanded to become something of a merchandising juggernaut. One which straddles various forms of media, including live-action musical stage shows, and even boasting its own themed café for over a decade.
To put it simply, Sakura Wars is big in Japan, usually appearing in the upper echelons of top-100 lists in revered publications such as Famitsu. Sakura Wars: So Long My Love is the fifth entry into the series, and more significantly, it is the first to reach from Japan and into PAL and NTSC territories.
Once again taking place in a fictional TaishÅ period coloured with steampunk influences, So Long My Love transports the player to New York circa 1928 and into the shoes of Shinjiro Taiga, a nineteen-year-old who finds himself assigned to lead the New York Combat Revue – named due to the fact the combat team is largely made up of carousing theatre performers. The team splits its time between fending off demon invasions by piloting giant, transformative mechs, and putting on light-hearted Broadway theatre productions.
You can’t fault Idea Factory when it comes to creative new concepts, at least. But the Tokyo-based developer has a lot of experience when it comes to strategy RPGs; experience which it has established, refined and evolved over the years and certainly breeds confidence in its abilities. So Long My Love once again divides the game into adventure and battle modes, fleshing out each with the series’ unique blend of tactical RPG and dating sim.
The dating sim elements occur during the portions of the game that allow you to explore New York, where you shop, research, visit friends – most of whom are, unsurprisingly, female – and unlock side quests. The Live Interactive Picture System (LIPS) returns, allowing you to interact with characters and make decisions that can affect the ending of the game. This interaction and decision-making will either help or hinder your fellow teammates, with their level of trust in you affecting their performance during battle.
Combat itself is fought in a gridless 3D environment, eploying the Active and Real-time Machine System (another clever acronym) that first featured in Sakura Wars 3. The mechs in which you fight are able to transform into jet fighters at any moment, meaning action occurs across both airborne and ground-based battlefronts. The segmented action gauge allows the player to select up to six actions in one turn, with multiple bars spent on the same action increasing the effectiveness of that move. It’s a simple yet deep system that requires careful thought and prioritisation, given that you usually won’t be able to do everything you intend in a single turn.
The effect of So Long My Love’s dating sim elements on combat are most apparent when using Team Combos, which see the player perform a joint attack with another team member. The strength of this attack will depend on your relationship between characters: if you’re on bad enough terms with them, they may even refuse to follow your commands.
The Japanese populace has been enjoying So Long My Love for well over four years now, and it looks like very little will change when the game makes its way onto British and American soil. It’s a staunchly Japanese game made for a Japanese audience, and rooted in the country’s popular gaming traditions.