|System: Wii, PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SEGA||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: NIS America||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 30, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
As for sound, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that the soundtrack is very hit-or-miss. A handful of good tracks are weighed down by the fact that many combat scenes are framed by goofball music. When giant mechs go to war against demonic invaders, we shouldn't be listening to something out of Grampa's dusty "dance mix" record collection. Only the last few combat scenes are given appropriately dramatic music. However, these recurring moments of musical incompetence only stand out because of the many fine tracks, and great voice work, also available in Sakura Wars. There's a recurring theme that plays whenever the team cleans up their act and makes a stand against evil, and this theme hits hard emotionally, especially as you grow closer to your team and begin to care about their psychological issues.
The voice work shines. Sakura Wars would be nearly unplayable if it did not because most of the game is about interacting with your team. Not every interaction is voiced; there's a lot of text, which means a lot of reading, which means you need to be able to care about what you're reading rather than just blast through the text in order to get to the "real game", so anyone looking for the next God of War button-masher needs to put Sakura Wars down and run in the opposite direction. But interactions are often voiced, and they are voiced by talents perfect for each role. Mysterious Subaru sounds sometimes like an emotionally distant genius with occasional flashes of fanaticism; Cheiron is equal parts aggressive and overbearingly friendly; little Rosita is so cute and nonsensical that I had to assume she was brain damaged.
In short, once the characters grew on me, I couldn't get enough of them. (I especially miss hearing little Rosita, who was obsessed with food due to being starved before joining the team, announce at the beginning of her special attack, "STEAK! POTATOES! BURGERS!!!") Ironically enough, we are occasionally given glimpses of the team giving theatrical performances to packed houses, and these performances are laughably bad. Fortunately, it only happens often enough to be humorous rather than annoying!
Some gamers might take issue with the lip synching, or lack thereof, during character interaction. Sakura Wars does not have bad lip synching... it has no lip synching. Basically, when characters are voiced, their lips move completely at random. This is less a fault and more a creative choice on the part of the developers. This will be off-putting to anime purists who insist on listening only to Japanese audio tracks (but who do not necessarily speak Japanese themselves), which might be a problem because, let's face it, someone who doesn't like anime in the first place isn't going to see Sakura Wars on a store shelf and think, "This is the game for me."
Sakura Wars was brought to America with the hardcore otaku in mind. But, in terms of the lack of lip synching, believe me, you'll scoff for the first five minutes and then you won't even notice it at all. I promise: the lack of lip synching was a sound creative choice that helped bring Sakura Wars to America that much quicker, rather than adding another year of development spent fixing something that can't be described as broken in the first place.
And really, none of Sakura Wars' shortcomings are glaring flaws. I may have spent the first hour of gameplay twitching in my chair because of some of the more goofball moments, but the game won me over, and won me over completely. In fact, the worst part about So Long My Love is that awful feeling when you realize that there are at least four other Sakura Wars games that have never come to America. I desperately need to return to the warm and happy world of Sakura, but the best I can hope for is a second (or third) playthrough that takes advantage of Sakura's branching storyline.
If only there was a way to have the other Sakura Wars games brought to America...
Kyle B. Stiff
CCC Freelance Writer