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Sakura Wars ~So Long, My Love~
Platform: Wii, PlayStation 2
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: RED Entertaiment, Overworks, Idea Factory (Wii)
Genre: Graphic Adventure, Strategy RPG
Format: Wii Optical Disc, DVD-ROM
Release: US 03/23/10
Japan 07/07/05



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Lt. Shinjiro Taiga's special attacks all involve "Tigers." See, some of the puns can still be discerned in an English version!
 
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Two parts graphic adventure, one part giant robot turn-based strategy.
 
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Did I mention that your giant robots also turn into fighter jets?
 
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Shiny, this ain't gonna end well for anyone. You made the wrong move.
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Patrick Gann
Hands-On Preview
12/30/09
Patrick Gann

I never thought it would happen. The holy grail of localization-unfriendly JRPGs is coming to the US. The Sakura Wars series (or, if you prefer, Sakura Taisen). Over the last decade, there have been many rumors about American publishers trying to get the rights to publish games in this series, some of whom made legitimate attempts to localize, only for the process to fall apart at one step or another.

The most recent, and possibly final, entry in the Sakura Wars series was Sakura Wars V. It was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2005, and it featured an entirely new cast of characters. For those that don't know their Sakura history, the first two games feature one cast of characters and take place primarily in Japan; the third game takes place in Paris and introduces a second cast of characters; the fourth game merges the Paris and Tokyo groups for one ridiculously large game. And then, in Sakura Wars V, a third group, led by someone other than the earlier games' male protagonist, Ogami, is formed in New York City.

In each Sakura Wars game, there's a mix of gameplay types. The Japanese even had an acronym for this genre: SLG (presumably, Simulation Life Game, though there are varying explanations for what SLG stands for). For the most part, you play through a graphic adventure with something of a dating sim element: every action you perform as the male lead may either impress or trouble one or more of the females in your group. At various intervals in the game, you and the ladies pilot giant robots and fight evil beings. The characters' stats and stat bonuses are based almost entirely on the actions you took in the graphic adventure portion of the game. It may sound, for lack of a better word, "foreign" to you. But it's actually a wonderfully new and balanced kind of game.

Having minimal experience with, and only cursory knowledge of, previous entries in the series, playing Sakura Wars V has been a strange and beautiful experience. And I feel that way even though I'm only five hours into an early, unfinished build of the localized product.

NIS America, the company known for localizing all sorts of niche RPGs and other quirky titles (Badman! et al), are the chosen ones. They are extremely fortunate to be able to handle this IP. Of course, with great games comes great responsibility, and I'm hoping for the best. Thus far, what I can tell you is that I'm impressed with how well the voice actors chosen for the English version have fit their characters. Early trailers have already revealed female lead Gemini Sunrise to have a thick southern drawl. She is voiced by Laura Bailey for the English version, and while her performance as Ulrika in Mana Khemia 2 didn't quite fit, it's perfect for Gemini.

There has been some worry among savvy import gamers that the Sakura Wars series simply cannot work in English. My hope is that NIS America's localization will bring this sort of criticism to rest for good. Sakura Wars ~So Long, My Love~ (as they've chosen to name it, cutting the sequential number) already shows a lot of potential. The script is strong, and the characters are so well-written in the Japanese version that it really isn't too much of a stretch to make it work in English.

Now, I've only had a chance to get my hands on the PlayStation 2 version. Many of the dialogue and action choices are quicktime events that involve using specific buttons on the PS2 controller. These work very well in this version. How this will translate to the new Wii version, whose port was partially handled in Japan by Idea Factory, I cannot say for sure.

Whether you're hoping to pick this game up for PS2 or Wii, what you should know is that the standard game will retail for $30, whereas a limited edition set from NIS America will cost more, but will come as a two disc set. In the past, disc space limitations have forced NIS America to make difficult decisions with voice acting and their usual dual-language policy. The greatest offense to date was the significant amount of voice work cut in Japanese and English for Ar tonelico II. NIS America heard the fan's complaints, and have decided that the only way to remedy this is to offer two full versions. In my hands I have the preview builds of the English and Japanese voice discs, and doing a quick scan reveals that nearly all the space on a DVD-ROM is used to fit the tracks. So, while some may argue it's still not the ideal solution, with the space limitations the way they are, this limited edition set allows people who want "original" VA to get what they want, and those who want English-language voice to have their way as well.

Sakura Wars V (in Japan) was an extremely polished and successful title. Heck, our own Chris Winkler even awarded the import version an editor's choice award in 2005. We have high hopes for NISA's localization, and I myself am stoked that this series is even getting a chance outside of Japan. Keep your fingers crossed, and expect a full review of the game from RPGFan on or before its March 2010 release.



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© 2009-2010 SEGA, RED Entertainment. Licensed to and Published by NIS America, Inc. All rights reserved.


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