Justin Potts of Level Forty Two wrote:
The battle system is by no means unplayable, or even unenjoyable for that matter, but there are a few ingredients which brew frustration, and having experienced the series in its classic, isometric perspective, grid-style format, it’s very clear that the system’s roots lie elsewhere. I won’t waste time outlining battle mechanics, as there are much better sources for such information, but it is worth noting the issues that the system suffers from as a result of the series’ move to 3D, particularly with regards to air battles.
Simply put, a 3D space just doesn’t offer an ideal vantage point for gauging character placement on the battlefield, which becomes very apparent once the mechs take to the sky and the player is then forced to manipulate the Z-axis as well. Given the scale of some of the battles and the necessity for pair and group attacks which require particular character alignments within the 3D space, having to constantly rotate cameras, move and re-move team members, and exit out of the battle screen in order to check non-3D grids for some sense of direction, slip-ups that are difficult to attribute to lack of skill are a bit too frequent, occasionally feeling like unavoidable antecedents of eventual failure. The pressure to transplant these segments into a 3D was likely strong and unavoidable, but it’s interesting to see how, in some cases, “archaic and simple” can often prove to also be ideal.
I should make it clear that Sakura Wars is not a dating sim. While the visual presentation and largely female cast may force the uninitiated to prematurely draw comparisons to the largely ostracized genre, the “goal” is never to date, unclothe, or have one’s way with any of the game’s characters. It is however a game where relationship building lies at its core, as the time that one commits to roaming the Littlelips Theatre (base of operations, and performances) and New York’s various neighborhoods (here is your chance to check out a brilliantly stereotyped version of Harlem) in order to interact with the game’s eclectic cast seems to be where the magic lies. These interactions and the player’s responses within conversations will directly impact how the characters feel about Taiga (the main character), and consequently those characters’ stats during battle sequences, giving decisions made by the player a level of permanence and a direct through-line between all elements of the gameplay.
Dialogue choices in video games are not new, and neither are quick-time events which force the player to think and react under pressure. Sakura Wars combines these and integrates them into nearly every instance of dialogue selection throughout the entire game, which is one of its flagship features. This is nothing revolutionary, but there is something very significant going on here that is worth mentioning: the realistic nature of time-pressured responses.
Recognizing this is part of what makes “conversing” in Sakura Wars so satisfying. Not only does the sound of a rising meter convey a clear sense of pressure and impatience, but the speed at which time runs out between dialogue selections changes depending on the situation. Better still, adding further believability to the nature of the differences between the characters’ disposition and personality, it is actually often quite difficult to determine the “best” response from the given list of choices. I’ve run into many situations where I was sure that I had offered the most sought after response, only to be left standing by my lonesome before I even had a chance to grasp the situation, and vice-versa, where I was sure that I was in for a smack in the face, only to be awarded with smiles and praise. Sure, dialogue trees may have arguably come a long way, but it doesn’t mean that something meaningful which was conjured up nearly a decade and a half ago is any less relevant today.
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