Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reflections on year’s end – and a Sakura Wars V review

Probably my last blog entry for this year, I talk about our everyone’s pile of uncompleted games, plus random gubbins, but mainly I talk about Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love, for PS2.

GamesTM issues 116 had a feature on the most anticipated of 2012, starting off by saying that if you haven’t got a massive backlog of unplayed games you’re not doing it right. Sadly this is true, since with the majority of games aiming for the 40-100 hours mark, buying one game every two months will require you to invest many, many hours into them.
My own backlog stands at 17 PS3 games (including Disgaea 3, which is still sealed and I intend to sell), 12 PS2 games, around 15 PS1 games (most on PSN), half a dozen PSN exclusive titles, and a few PC games (if it arrives before New Year I hope to write an HG101 article on Boiling Point: Road to Hell). Plus I’m not even counting the countless Saturn games I downloaded for my modded system. They say piracy harms sales? Bullshit. I’m going to be reselling most of these games unplayed and in some cases still sealed, flooding the market with cheap second titles which will stop people from buying new. On the other hand if I had pirated my PS3 games and allowed my gluttony to run rampant, I wouldn’t have any games to resell. Piracy doesn’t usually increase sales of new games, but it’s naïve to think that every pirated game = loss of a sale.
Long story short: I was determined to complete Sakura Wars V in a couple of weekends, since CJ Iwakura on HG101's forums said it was great, and I had bought a US PS2 specifically to play it. Plus my brother was going to visit soon, and I knew he had bought me Dark Souls to play over the holidays (in return my gift is an alarm clock and expensive Navy Rum – which if you think about it, kind of compliments each other). If I waited until next year it would just languish on the shelf.

It took around 28 hours to finish, and it’s actually quite a nice visual novel/strategy hybrid. It’s kind of like a poor-man’s Valkyria Chronicles almost, with a visual novel tacked on. The best thing though is that there’s no need to grind. Each battle is its own standalone segment, with no time limit or ranks or EXP gain and other associated nonsense. Which is good, because I prefer having the time to play a strategy title slow and carefully.

If you like visual novels then it should definitely appeal. There’s plenty of divergence points based on your decisions, plus a few free-roaming sections. I actually didn’t like these, because these are timed and if I’m in the mood for linear visual novels then I like it to stay that way. But it’s not a deal breaker.

The characterisation of the good guys is pretty fun. You have the bespectacled Japanophile; the hard line bossy lawyer; the creepy and mysterious Japanese woman; schizophrenic country hick; moe girl in wheelchair; and chirpy kid who duel-wields revolvers. Just your average bunch. But they have charm, as strange as they are. It’s also kinda racy in places, as one female character openly fondles another’s breasts in the bath house, but ultimately it’s all tongue-in-cheek and played for laughs. And there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The bad guys in contrast are terribly written, one-dimensional and universally awful – which is a shame.
It’s a great game for Sunday afternoon, like a good lazy book, which you can page through. My only gripe is that while it allows quick-saving, it forces you to quit back to the title screen afterwards. I would have preferred a more lenient system to allow easy checking of different dialogue choices.

This is not the game you hold up as proof of videogames’ validity, but it’s definitely an esoteric (and probably guilty) pleasure to indulge in, and probably the PS2’s swansong. And if the rest of the hip world thinks you’re weird because you chose the Subaru ending, to heck with them all – leave them to their GoW games on 360/PS3.

For those curious, Hardcore Gaming 101 is working on some proper Sakura Wars coverage – but there’s a lot to cover. And no, I’m not the one doing it.

Also, because it's so awkward, here's some racist dialogue encountered towards the end. Given people's sensitivities to such things, I'm surprised it was left in.


  1. This game is best played with the following.

    A group of three people (at least) and a tray of brownies. Then have your group actively voice act each character and do commentary on the game as you play it while wuffing down brownies.

    My brothers and I played through the entire game this way. BEST PARTY GAME EVER!

  2. I bought this game two days ago on a whim. Guess I made a good choice. Good luck with your backlog. I have my own to deal with too.

  3. was gonna get that on Wii but it's so hard to find!

  4. "It’s kind of like a poor-man’s Valkyria Chronicles almost"

    More like Valkyria is the spiritual successor to Sakura.
    Valkyria Chronicles director/producer Shuntaro Tanaka was one of the key persons behind the original Sakura Taisen games. And he also co-created Skies of Arcadia, because he's just that awesome.

  5. Ahh, thanks for the clarification. That makes a lot of sense now. This is the first Sakura Taisen game I've played, though I obviously knew about the series. I was unaware of the already-existing VC connection!