Winning a love object’s affections can be complicated, but thanks to Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, it’s now as simple as playing a tedious mini-game involving syncing up the movements of your controller’s joystick and the onscreen arrows. Do it right, and you’ll impress ladies with your skills at lifting heavy objects and fixing electronics. Mess up and be emasculated as they mock you for your incompetence.
Sakura Wars’ goofy premise isn’t enough to save the hybrid dating sim and role-playing game from feeling like an interminable slog. Players take on the role of Shinjiro Taiga, a young samurai sent to join a special New York City defense squad that alternates between performing musical theater and using mechs to fight evil robots. Like the protagonist of Tenchi Muyo! and other harem anime series, Shinjiro is soon surrounded by attractive, available ladies, including a Texan cowgirl, a tough lawyer, and an androgynous woman who refers to herself in the third person. Wooing the characters through dialogue and mini-games improves their fighting skills when Shinjiro commands them in battle. The long, formulaic battles start with your team dispatching swarms of robots until a giant robot shows up. Then it’s time for your mechs to turn into planes and fight in the skies, systematically dismantling the boss until it blows up.
The game is divided into chapters that take hours to play though, requiring players to filter through long scenes of dialogue before an end-of-level battle. Only some of the dialogue features voice acting, and there are often awkward pauses where the character you’re talking to stands still and blinks, and you can do nothing but listen to music or background sound effects until she starts talking again. The game was released in Japan in 2005, and its age shows, most notably when players navigate Shinjiro around the city. He’s a fuzzy, ugly avatar running past flat backgrounds with barely illustrated people. The poor graphics for battle cutscenes don’t get any more appealing after the fifth time you’re forced to watch them.
Each character is limited to a certain number of actions that can be divided between movement, healing, and attacking, with an energy bar that can be used to execute special moves or joint attacks with allies. There’s basically no distinction between the characters under your command besides what weapon they use. After spending so much time getting to know your teammates outside of battle, it doesn’t feel worth the effort when it comes to the crunch of the game.