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    dkirschner's Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PS2)

    [June 19, 2012 11:58:55 PM]
    This is a very interesting game. And that was a very vague statement.

    As I find happens often, I had no idea what to expect from this when I began. It's some obscure 2010 NA PS2 update of a 2005 Japanese game that's in a long line of Sakura Wars games and has an anime and the rest of a full on media franchise. I've never heard of any of it.

    It's categorized as a strategy RPG/dating sim, but I'm not sure how I feel about either label. There's definitely some strategy RPG, but it's really simple, and there's the tiniest bit of 'dating,' but it's 99% following conversations that don't have to do with romance, and of the 1% that do have to do with romance, 99% of those are silly, sometimes questionably inappropriate, things a 12-year-old would say or do. I don't know what I'd call it. It's about the "New York Combat Revue," a theater troupe/New York defense force, and it's the main character's story of how he gets recruited by the organization, moves to New York, meets everyone, learns a lot about them all and friendship, helps with their problems, some of which involve surprisingly mature discussions of life and death, law and justice, self-acceptance, pity, etc., they put on plays that the people of the city love, and they fight evil that constantly tries to destroy the city. And like I said, 99% of the game is dialogue. It's a weird premise and a weird presentation and a weird game, but I liked it.

    I have played games sort of like this. It reminded me of 3 games in particular: Disgaea because it plays out in chapters and has the same kind of chapter scenes and dialogue presentation, Shadow Hearts because it's anachronistic New York, and mostly the Persona series because there's this emphasis on forming relationships with characters in the game. I guess the difference is that in Sakura Wars all your relationships are with girls and there are tons of different branching bits of the story depending on who you win over or piss off, and in Persona you're supposed to form relationships with all kinds of different people who don't necessarily have connecting stories. I'll always remember the dying man on the bench in the park, the little girl on the playground who wanted to run away from home, the old Japanese guy in the bar who left his family...that game seriously had some cool stories. Anyway, so however weird Sakura Wars is, at least I had a little exposure to things kinda like it before.

    The dialogue is pretty good. Most of the characters are interesting and I actually enjoyed playing (reading) this game. You just follow them around their daily life. And the game is set in New York City, and I actually feel like I learned something about the place. There's a bit of a free roaming aspect when the game lets you explore the city and check out what's happening in all the places you can go to. Harlem is one area, and otherwise you can go to Central Park and Wall St. and see the Statue of Liberty. Whoever wrote this game really loves New York. There's tons in there about how great America and New York are, which, as an American playing this Japanese game, was pretty amusing. One of the characters is a black lawyer from Harlem who is super litigious. There's a lot of talk about soul food and jazz and community and fat Americans and it's funny because, since I've never been to Harlem and don't know anything about it, I don't know what's a stereotype and what's not. Like do they really like soul food in Harlem? I dunno.

    This is the New York of the 1920s, roaring and full of life. There are a lot of immigrants, and I remember one point the game making a pretty strong statement about immigrants and diversity with a racially-charged scene of a white guy yelling at a Japanese, and then of course realizing later that he's wrong and they're all New Yorkers. But it's not just 1920's New York. There's a Demon Lord that's trying to invade the city, and the good guys all fight in giant mech suits, so that's the setting.

    Each character (the 5 girls) has an excellent story, except Rosita, the annoying child with twin pistols who is obsessed with food. Hers is lame because she's the token annoying character in every RPG ever. Her story got really sugary sweet about teamwork and blah blah that other characters expressed in better ways. Then Diana, who has some fatal disease, she was annoying at first because she never responds like you think she will. So in dialogue, every so often you'll get a choice for what to say. You can piss them off, agree, hit on them, any one of various responses, and all these responses affect how you get along with that person and how they act toward you and perform in battle. Right so most of the characters I could read, but Diana, like in my opinion as a human trying to talk to another human, was irrational and would lash out when I was sure I was saying something she'd respond positively to. "I'm hungry Shin, what should I eat?" "Chicken." "What?! I hate chicken and you're a terrible person!" "Okay..." There was a scene not far removed from that...because she really likes birds.

    The stories all follow the girls through some personal transformation, like Diana decides she has free will after all because you spend that chapter rehabilitating an injured bird. Cherion, the lawyer, remembers why she became a lawyer in the first place, not to attack people, but to defend the innocent in Harlem. And so on. Some of the writing was very good, like Subaru's story in particular there's a running theme of Polaris, the North Star, that guides people, and she relates it to you, the leader. Then crossword puzzles become a thing in the game, and especially with Subaru. Also Gemini, when it comes time for her story, you think you know what's what, but then the game throws an awesome twist at you and you're like OF COURSE and it's really clever. Then on the other hand, sometimes the writing is really juvenile (see Rosita) and at times just sexually awkward. There's no sex in the game. As far as I got you can make a move to kiss someone, but most of the flirtatious/sexual stuff is so dumb. Like Gemini had an old sword master who trained her to rub her boobs when she felt stressed. Then in some conversation there you can misinterpret what she says so your character thinks that she wants you to rub her boobs. I tried of course and she gets upset and smacks you. That's pretty much the rule here. If there is any flirting and you try to do anything toward the girls, they get upset, even if they straight up hit on you, they still get mad if you reciprocate, which to me doesn't make any sense, and is annoying because I can't figure out the rules of interaction. I could see this being REALLY confusing for like adolescent boys with real-world girl troubles playing this game. And with Gemini again, her master leaves her this scroll before he dies saying that her butt is her best feature, and there's a little running joke about her butt through her story. But actually they turn that one into meaningful story because it turns out she has some secret mark on her butt, which is what her master meant...i think...because he apparently liked her breasts too. Lecher. Anyway, by the end, you basically get with one of them.

    I chose Subaru, who is an interesting character because her gender is uncertain through most of the game. Everyone calls her she and you figure she's a girl, but she rejects gender! It's very cool to see this happening in a game. And like in real life, some of the other characters are so confused and driven crazy because they can't tell whether it's a boy or a girl. I remember my step-dad in Thailand being so obsessed over how to tell whether the girls were real girls or ladyboys. It really really bothered him that he couldn't tell. So it's funny to see it here. I figured I would try to woo Subaru then to push her story further. Now, she turns out to be a heterosexual female, which is fine but too bad considering she was so provocative at the beginning, and turned out to be normal and everyone was like yay, now we know and things can go on as usual, reinforcing the dominance of gender in relationships and in understanding one another.

    So the way you choose dialogue was cool. There are simple selection menus. There are 'simon says' type joystick movements you make to cook or do other things. Then the coolest one was this intensity meter. So say you're saying something like "We should spare the enemy's life." You can say it more or less strongly by moving the joystick up or down to fill up this gauge, then pressing OK. So say you say it very strongly, it might mean you have a lot of conviction behind it, or you are incredibly forgiving. So then a couple of your characters might really like that and agree with you and some story bit will happen. Now imagine you say it really quietly, like you don't really mean it. Now maybe Cherion, the girl all about justice, might override you because you didn't say it strongly. She might assert herself and say "No, the enemy is responsible for his crimes!" and then a different story bit happens. It's really interesting because you don't know what the different intensities mean or will cause to happen in any given case! Like you just know that you're making some statement with more or less intensity, but you don't know exactly what that means! It's really freaking cool and makes each one of those types of decisions exciting.

    Finally, I guess just to mention, there is fighting in the game, and it's very straightforward SRPG stuff, no grids. Characters move and attack, everyone can heal, and everyone has a super move. Each character has X number of action points and it just ticks down depending on what actions you take. Each battle is basically a gang-up-and-kill-everything affair. There's not much thought involved and they're pretty easy until right at the end. The battle UI could use some real improvement. It's very tough to just check out an enemy's stats. The one neat thing about the battles is 'area move.' This means some battles take place over more than one area and you have to spend some move points to move to other areas to complete objectives. So say there are two areas and you need to destroy generators in one and defend a building in another. You can split your team up, have half move to the second area and you're basically fighting on two fronts. It's pretty neat. Also each boss battle has a flying portion. One later in the game I died on a couple times, then thought of a trick that made it ridiculously easy. You had three areas and had to defend an engine in one, another engine in another, and a steam valve in the middle. I tried to defend all three and was having trouble. Turns out you only need one engine to win. So I ended up just abandoning one engine from the beginning and practically doubling my strength in the other two locations and it was simple after that. Then the very last battle I couldn't bring myself to keep trying. In my opinion, the last boss (who you FINALLY fight the final battle after SIX previous battles...yes there are SEVEN parts to the final encounter, waaaay too long. It took me like 3 nights to do it) the last boss is super cheap. He attacks 2-3 three times in a row and just kills your characters when they can't do anything about it. So lame. I figure I've had my fun with the game. The dialogue was more entertaining than the fighting anyway, so I just turned it off and watched someone on YouTube beat it. Doesn't look like I missed anything.

    So yes, overall pretty interesting game. Would probably never play another like it because though interesting, it's a lot of dialogue and it could get pretty tedious if it wasn't on the top of its game. But I'm glad I sat through this one. At least now when I see a 'dating sim' I won't automatically think it's stupid. Unless it's Leisure Suit Larry.
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    dkirschner's Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PS2)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Saturday 9 June, 2012

    GameLog closed on: Tuesday 19 June, 2012

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Really enjoying it so far! Quite unique presentation, simple/fun tactical battle system, good writing, funny, interesting characters. ------------------ Fun game, definitely something different for me.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstar

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