Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

So Long, My PlayStation 2

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is a perfect send-off for what may well be remembered as the greatest console in gaming history.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 3, 2010
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For what seems like months now, I've been saying that this is the last PS2 review we'll likely write here at TotalPlayStation, and for months, something else has appeared on the horizon. To be honest, it's been one hell of a retirement for the PS2. Excused from the heavy lifting of being the primary console for a generation for a few years now, a slow trickle of interesting, engaging RPGs have helped keep the system on life support.

Perhaps that's why it's somewhat ironic that the final review we're likely to see will come from a game that already shipped in Japan during the height of the system's reign. Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is actually the fifth game in the series, but the first one that's made its way across the pond in anything but an import fashion. NIS America has lovingly localized it and given voice to the characters in an effort that must have been absolutely nightmarish to process with their new standards set after a handful of bad ports introduced some serious (even game-breaking) bugs and spelling/grammar mistakes fairly recently.

Rest assured, this is one of the most impressive efforts the small publisher has worked on, free of nearly all text quirks and bugs that would bog down what took almost a decade and a half to finally cross the Pacific. Sakura Wars is a fantastic game, one that shows SEGA's now-absorbed Overworks team's roots before they took the lessons here and applied it to games like Valkyria Chronicles to create something that is one part dating sim and one part strategy game.

Like peanut butter and chocolate, those two great tastes now taste great together -- and it's likely you would never have known them to meld like this had someone not done so with such aplomb. Through hundreds of interactions across more than a half-dozen chapters, you'll end up conversing and, eventually, wooing one of a handful of girls that make up the New York Combat Revue, a stage troupe by day and mecha-driving, crime-fighting team by night in a steampunk-infused alternate version of 1920s New York City.

Yes, it's absurd, but that's precisely why the game is so entertaining. One minute you're handing out leaflets about a show and the next you're fighting of a bunch of enemy walkers chilling at the base of the Statue of Liberty. But reducing Sakura Wars' merits into a simple dating sim + turn-based strategy game is really selling the whole mix short. It's the way the two intertwine, with your responses to a dizzying number of questions and analog stick-manipulating challenges while dealing with the girls that eventually make up your team, thus earning your trust (or each other's) and strengthening attacks when charging into the battle that makes it all so rewarding.

In short, if you play nice, talking to each of the girls (and often multiple ones at the same time), while carefully choosing your words to best appease their personal tastes, your silver tongue will be rewarded. Hell, even if you screw up (and you will, as much of the interaction with your lady friends is based on a bit of trial and error until you understand their personalities) there are so many chances to re-earn their favor and trust that the pressure slowly ebbs away and just becomes a very clever way of getting to know them -- to the point where it seemed to me like when their responses changed, mine did as well and I just got a natural "feel" for what kinds of answers to questions or actions they were looking for -- even if that meant no action at all.

I'll be honest, though: I'd already spilled so much digital ink in describing the ins and outs of Sakura Wars' gameplay on another site (yes, that big three-letter one) that I completely forgot to finish one for my true home. Having played no shortage of RPGs as of late, I decided to fire up the game and play for a bit, and instantly I was sucked back in. There's a kind of intangible charm to the whole process of going on little play dates, tussling with battles that seem wildly different with each chapter yet never fully break out of the simple rules laid out at the beginning of the game that I fell in love all over again. No, my scores for the game elsewhere weren't a fluke; I love this game, and though it's a shame it took half a decade to get here (and thus seems a bit dated even by PS2 standards), I'm glad it actually arrived at all. There's obviously a kind of timeless draw to the game's not-so-simple conversations and battles that no delay could keep it from making the same impact here (at least for some) that caused the series to do so well overseas.
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