Let me begin by saying that this review only applies if you are:
1. An Anime fan.
2. A Sakura Wars fan.
3. Understand a little Japanese.
Sakura Wars was a surprise hit when it first came out in Japan in 1996. Due to it's extreme popularity, it has spawned an Anime series, a puzzle game, another 'game' for hard-core fans (the Steam Radio Show or something like that...), resin model kits, action-figures, CD soundtracks, etc...
And now we have part 2. Amen.
This game is basically a digital comic with a bit more interaction than usual. Several improvements have been made to this game over the first one. It's been (if I remember correctly) 2 years since Oogami (the captain of the Hanagumi Branch of the 'Anti-Demon' origination) met the rest of the Hanagumi members. He returns to his post as the captain only to find that they've got a new enemy...
The first thing you'll notice when you start the game is the quality of the Anime cutscenes / FMV. It's now crystal clear with really rich colours!!! How is this possible??? Well, Sega dumped the Cinepack technology for the ADX video technology which is almost on par with MPEG video!!! The anime cutscenes now blend CG with traditional cell-based animation and looks miles better than in the original. There's a bit more of it too.
This time, Kosuke Fujishima (of 'Ah! My Goddess' fame)worked overtime to give us a whole bunch of cool new villains as well as main characters. The artwork (especially the backgrounds) are greatly improved over part one. The characters and BGs now have more detail and the characters themselves are drawn bigger and their body positions change more frequently (and look more natural). Basically, everything looks more polished, more high-budget. Sakura looks prettier too :)... she's not so skinny anymore...
The Battle sequences now feature POLYGONS!!! Whenever a character uses a special attack, a full-screen cutscene comes in showing his / her Koubu (robot) doing a whole bunch of actions while screaming away... You have to see this to believe it, it just looks really amazing (especially in the later parts of the game). Other than that, it's the same old isometric view of a landscape with your team members and enemies on it. Only this time, the characters on screen are coloured better (it's hard to explain).
The Music is again, really good (and again, the in-game tunes are all Yamaha generated). There are lots of new tunes and a few returning ones (sadly, some of the better tunes from part 1 are now gone...). The battle music isn't as good as in the first one, though; it doesn't get you all excited. The opening tunes (sung by Sakura, Sumire and Maria on disc 1, 2 & 3 respectively) sound a bit off with the new lyrics (and Maria sounds plain awful) Other than these little complaints, all I can say is when the CD Soundtrack is released, you'd better get it!!!
Pretty good. There's a lot of speech and all of it is very clear (not a bit scratchy). Once again, the talented 'dream-team' combination of voices actors and actresses (especially Chisa Yokoyama; the voice of Sakura) give life to the characters (Something missing from most RPGs other than those by Game Arts... are you listening, SQUARE????) Their voices fit their respective characters like a glove. My only complaint is the voice of Solieta Orihime (the Italian girl); she sounds (at times) like a pig! Other than that, it sure would have been nice if Oogami had more voice samples... Sound effects are minimal except during battle sequences. They do they job pretty well though...
Not much 'game' here except for the battle sequences which are your standard turn-based isometric battles. What set the first Sakura Wars apart from other digital-comics / girlfriend sims was that you are given a limited time to make choices and decisions (called 'LIPS' choices) with a timer counting down at frantic speeds. Needless to say, this made things quite exciting at times! New to part 2 are LIPS choices which vary depending on when you answer (with new options popping up and old ones disappearing after a certain amount of time) AND a Stern/Soft-hearted bar at the bottom of the screen. If the bar is more red (soft-hearted), you will play a more comical game. If it's more blue (stern), you'll end up playing a more serious game. For some reason, most people seem to prefer to have a blue bar! The nature of the bar depends on your decisions during the LIPS choices. Throughout the 'digital-comic' section of the game, where you interact with the other members of your team, you can build up the confidence levels and 'love-index' levels of your team members which would enhance their performances during the battle sequences. Frankly, after playing Azel: PD and Grandia, I find that the battle system here is a bit on the primitive side. It's better than about 80% of other RPGs around but... it's TURN-BASED. I think it would have been much better to have it pseudo real time ala Grandia; that would have added a ton of strategy to the game. While they can be exciting at times (especially the last boss) it can become boring during long fights...
First of all, I'm not going to pretend that I understand 100% of the game... My Japanese (reading and listening skills) has improved slightly since I first played part 1... but it's still pretty crap. The Storyline is very...... fragmented. It's a lot like the Eva tv series. It's a whole bunch of episodes with different themes (certain episodes like the trip to the sea-side are really cool) and little bits and pieces which gradually add up to a pretty impressive scenario. Questions asked by gamers such as, "Why does Orihime dislike Japanese men???", "Why does Leni have little / no emotions?", "Who's the ugly guy with a skeleton mask in the intro?", all these are eventually answered. The characters themselves have been injected with more personalities. Yoneda (Oogami's boss) as well as the 3 sisters (Kasumi, Tsubaki and .... err...*whoops!*) now seem more human. Also, being post-Evangelion, some of the story (and characters) were without a doubt, inspired by that Anime... ie: It's really good. Sure wish it was in English, though....
BELLS and WHISTLES
Multiple endings, loads of save-game slots, really fun mini-games (to be uncovered during the game), reasonably quick loading times, nice background 'wallpaper', simple controls, Japanese text... what more could you want??? Loads of replay value for a game of this genre... (I still play part 1 once in a while)
What can I say... It's Sakura Wars 2. The best series of games by Sega of Japan never to be played in English... Still, if you meet the requirements stated at the beginning of this review, I strongly recommend playing this game. Heck, you MUST play it!!!
BTW... for more info regarding this game, go to 'Ming's Sakura Wars Page'. Forgot the address so look it up yourself... sorry!
Review By: Christopher Chong