Sakura Wars V Episode 0: Arano no Samurai Musume

The latest installment of the Sakura Wars series takes a different direction from the turn based strategy style of the first four installments, and rides head-long into the wild wild west!

The Game
Fans of the Sakura Wars series of games are familiar with how the original series was an original combination of turn-based startegy and anime where each mission was an episode with a plot for you to interact with the female cast, then battle enemies in a board-game type setting. This latest installment is a complete change from that. The interaction with characters where you decide what should be said in certain situations is still there, but gone is the turn based strategy element. Now it's an all out action slasher where you ride on horseback (no Kobous!) and hack and slash your way through steam powered robotic enemies.

You play as the red headed cowgirl, Gemini Sunrise and her noble stead, Larry (???). Gemini wields a samurai sword (I'm not sure who it was that gave it to her since My Japanese isn't that good). From what I could gather from playing the game, Gemini is travelling cross country trying to get to New York when she runs into a girl by the name of Juanita being chased by a bunch of bad guys. Gemini rescues her and that's where real adventure begins as you figure out why they are after her.

The in game controls are simple enough. Run around the area and destroy anything that gets in your way with a variety of attacks. Other than slashing with your sword, Larry can kick enemies, and Gemini can also pull off special attacks.
As you clear missions, you get points, and you can use these points to upgrade Gemini and Larry's stats to make them more powerful. You also can pick up new weapons and abilities as the missions progress.
It can be a bit hard to control at times. Bear in mind your riding a horse, so don't expect to be pulling off quick 180-degree turns. The camera also takes some getting used too as you'll constantly be adjusting the camera to it's default level behind you just so you can keep up with everything around you. It can also be a bit of a chore spinning around and around just to get your enemies in sight when they are spinning circles around you. I don't know if there's one in the game, but a target lock would have been welcome.

Graphics and Sound
The 2D CG pictures look great, just like a cartoon, though I would have preffered more full motion anime video than just looking at still pictures with moving lips.

The 3D graphics and environments are very well done and detailed, though there are itmes in the background that can be broken open to unveil goodies to pick up like health-ups, the sorrounding environments does look rather plain and empty at times.
I also noticed so far there hasn't been much variety in the enemies, but some of the huge bosses are impressive since you battle them and their cronies without any slowdown on screen.
With all the action going on in the game, you don't really notice the background music. It's standard Sakura Wars orchestra fare music, but with a little southern flair added. And needless to say the voice acting is superb.

OK, so with only one character in game as compared to the cast of girls from previous games, what's the replay factor here? Here's the deal, once you beat the game, you can unlock HIDDEN characters from the previous games! Sakura & Ohgami (SW 1 & 2) and Erica (SW3) both on either horseback (in this case, Erica rides a zebra!)or in Kobou versions are available for unlocking. Some easier than others though.
For example, to get Sakura, you must have a save file from the original Sakura Wars game that came out on PS2 last year, and to get Erica's Kobou, you need a have a save file from the Sakura Wars 3: Mysterious Paris game that also came out last year! Talk about interactive! There's also a special cell-phone club in Japan that will notify subscribers of new codes and other hidden stuff in the game at alloted time intervals. Lucky Japs!

This would probably appeal to Sakura Wars fans in general who don't mind a change of pace. Fans of action games with cute anime chicks might also want to give it a spin. Just remember there's an abundance of text to get through in between battles. This will be good to tide you over till the REAL Sakura Wars 5 game comes out though.

Game Ratings
Graphics - 7
Sound - 7
Gameplay - 7
Lifespan - 7
Overall - 7

Right now I'm really hoping they release Sakura Wars 4 on PS2. This was the Sega DreamCast only Sakura Wars game that came out several years back and combined all the characters from the Sakura Wars 3 & 4 games. A PS2 version would really be cool, and even if that doesn't happen, I just hope Sakura Wars 5 will be as good and will see the light of day here.

Credit: Sakura-Taisen.com for the pictures


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