ZERO :: the Fool (annwyd) wrote,
ZERO :: the Fool
annwyd

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love

So, tonight I finished Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (called Sakura Taisen V in Japan, and the only game in the series to be exported). My verdict: I loved it to pieces.

Now, this game gets a lot of bad press in the nerdy gamer corners of the internet. It's supposedly inferior to previous Sakura Wars games that never got exported to North America, but I suspect that's "grass is always greener" thinking. The game is pretty much perfect at what it wants to be: a cheesy, campy, upbeat story about the spirit of New York, couched as a combination dating sim/mecha combat game.

The short of it is that it's aimed at a niche market. If you hate dating sims or mecha in and of themselves¹, you won't like it, so don't bother. If you prefer your games serious and dark, you'll hate this one, so steer clear (as someone who enjoyed both Bioshock and Katamari Damacy, I'd like to think I can handle all parts of the spectrum). If you have a soft spot for ridiculously cheesy dialogue and over-the-top optimism in your video games, you'll want to consider Sakura Wars.

What it does is a very specific thing, but it's sufficiently good at that to make me forget that much of it is in visual novel format, which I normally hate. The localization is excellent--the characters all have distinct, sensible speech patterns, and there's a lot of character to the dialogue.

As for the characters, I found that I couldn't actually hate any of them. Rosita and Diana are eminently hateable--the former being an annoying loli and the latter being the incarnation of the Purity Sue--but they're just so over-the-top and enthusiastic about it that I found myself laughing at them instead of wanting to throw things at the screen most of the time. Cheiron is a black woman whose story arc incorporates her race (she's from Harlem and this influences her character a lot) without revolving around it. Gemini might be annoying to some, but to me she's adorable, and in her own chapter she gets some genuinely interesting development. And then there's Subaru.

Okay, so I am biased, but and then there's Subaru.

So many games and anime have female characters who fans desperately want to be genderqueer or trans, because those minorities are so underrepresented in fiction, but who are pretty clearly not actually either. Naoto from Persona 4 (who presents as male because she believes she has to in order to be taken seriously) and Akira from My-HiME (who presents as male in order to hide her HiME nature) are two prime examples (and while I can understand the urge to interpret them as male, it makes me twitch like mad when it's played out in RP, especially in Naoto's case). But, and I am not relying on the usual wishful thinking here, Subaru Kujou from Sakura Wars is genuinely genderqueer--maybe even intersexed, as she staunchly refuses to reveal her actual physical sex, even in the ending where the hero hooks up with her. She identifies fully as neither male nor female, and this is stressed repeatedly throughout the game, even in her ending. While all the main characters have Issues that the hero fixes in their chapters, because it's that kind of game, Subaru's Issue is that she considers herself perfect and refuses to change, not that she refuses to embrace her feminine side. She learns to humble herself and grow and change without sacrificing her androgynous nature.

There are not a whole lot of characters like that. Every one is valuable.

But Subaru is kind of out of place in this game--she's more complex than most of the characters, who are generally cheerfully cartoonish. This would bother me if the game seemed like it was trying to be something deep and meaningful, but it isn't. It just has typical "yay nakama!" themes, mixed generously with an almost fetishistic and definitely anachronistic view of the American dream as applied to New York City.

Basically, if you don't want to think too much, but want to enjoy some pretty animation, engaging mecha battles, fun over-the-top characters, and cheerful upbeat camp, this is the game for you. Especially if you like dating sims or mecha.

Which isn't to say it's perfect! As you might have guessed by now, it's a pretty shallow game, and most of its characters aren't anything special. It's also occasionally tedious, as there can be long stretches that are essentially nothing but visual novel. Still, so long as you enjoy the genres and can put up with camp and cheese, you should have a good time with this game.

¹ On the other hand, if you hate dating sims or mecha because both genres tend to treat female characters like pieces of meat, then you might be able to tolerate this game, as while it's nothing spectacular, its mostly-female cast has a decent amount of agency and badassitude despite the dating sim angle.
Tags: sakura wars, video games
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