Sakura Taisen V
The game takes place in New York in the late 1920s. You play Shinjiro Taiga, Sakura Taisen V's equivalent of Ohgami Ichiro from Sakura Taisen 1-4. The majority of the main character's time is spent off screen and without spoken lines. You are part of the New York Kagekidan. Kagekidan works out to mean fighting troupe or play troupe, as it's a word play. Shinjiro, thus you the player, are the commander (well, not in the beginning) of the Hoshigumi or Star Division. Your job is to protect New York City from the evils that ail it, while trying to win the affections of one of the 5 girls in the game. Six if you include Ratchet who can only be won over if you are playing the game through a second time.
The majority of the game takes place in the story mode as I call it. Story mode is almost the equivalent of a dating sim by all accounts. You walk around in the streets of New York, stopping by different locations and speaking with different people. When you meet a main character, sometimes during the dialog you are asked a question or are required to take an action. This is the heart of the game, the LIPS system. Depending on how you answer the questions, the character with whom you are speaking will have their friendship meter go up, down or stay the same. When the meter raises you hear a "happy" tone and when the meter goes down, a "sad" tone. You'll know them when you hear them.
Also during these conversations you are sometimes given an active role before you give your response. One such piece is the Analog LIPS reply. On an Analog LIPS reply, you press the analog control stick up or down according to how you wish to make your answer. Sometimes the top reply is the "right" answer (assuming you want the friendship meter for that person to raise) and sometimes it's the lowest point, and other times somewhere in between.
The other type of response is the Action LIPS. These responses require action to be taken on the player's part in a fashion not unlike Simon Says. Depending on how you perform, the friendship meter for the person you are with will raise, lower or stay the same, just as it does for the other LIPS replies. Action LIPS usually require the use of both analog sticks.
The other piece of the game is the Strategy/Battle mode. In this mode you take control of the Hoshigumi in their steam powered mecha called Stars and attack your enemies in a turn based RPG type system. There are many actions to choose from. You can walk, attack, perform a special attack, perform a combination attack, heal yourself or a partner, build up your Spirit Meter, guard yourself or stop your turn. Later in the game Shinjiro obtains the ability to protect Image 1 of 5. Click to enlarge
Image 1 of 5. Click to enlarge
The way the actions are performed is by using varying amounts of the action meter, the blue bar split into several individual pieces, to perform them. Depending on the mode you are in, each action costs a different amount of action meter. Each step is one bar from the meter. Attacking normally is one bar, though you can chain up to five hits together if you have the levels for it. Special attacks are one bar. Guarding yourself is 2 bars depending on the mode and charging your Spirit Meter requires up to 5.
The Spirit Meter is a very important part of battles. Without your Spirit Meter being high enough, you can't perform combination attacks or your character's special attack. Depending on the action taken, different levels of Spirit Meter are required. Combo attacks take on a bit of the meter, while Special Attacks eat and require the entire meter to be filled. The Spirit Meter is the red bar below the red bar, which is your health.
The combo attacks are also an integral part of the game if you wish to raise the friendship between the female members of the group. You can perform a combo attack between any of the characters, not just one of the female characters and Shinjiro. The more you attack with a particular set of characters, and the higher the friendship level between them, the more damage combo attacks can inflict. It is also possible to perform a combo attack where 3 people take part in the action. You see the typical combo attack animation, then the third person backs you up, jumping in on the combo animation and the attack. The triple combo attack all depends on character placement and Spirit Meter levels.
The Hoshigumi and the bad guys take turns until one side or the other is finished.
There are also occassionally things with which your characters can interact with on the battle field, be it to restore some health or hinder the enemy or, in the case of one level, stop the electricity so you can free your team members.
Something added to this game is the flight ability. Basically the Star (the Star is the ST V equivalent of the Koubu) transforms and take flight. The fighting options are the same, with the exception that you can freely move up and down on the field of battle.
Another addition is the ability, on some battle stages, to switch between two to Image 2 of 5. Click to enlarge
Image 2 of 5. Click to enlarge
During the main part of the game, the story mode, when speaking with a character you are looking at a static background with a character in the center (or at least on screen). The backgrounds are well drawn and detailed. The characters themselves are also well drawn and detailed.
While going from LIPS section to LIPS section, you take to the streets of New York City running from apartment to apartment to the theatre and so on, in glorious 3D. The world is rather detailed, though people on screen tend to be static to non-existent. What is there is beautifully drawn and nicely detailed.
The battle sequences take the cake in terms of graphics. The areas are highly detailed and the assorted mecha move smoothly and are also highly detailed. The Star designs work really well. Something missing is the tell tale PS2 look. There is NO texture crawling and little to no aliasing. Aliasing tends to show up in close ups of weapons (Shinjiro's sword on the final chapter during a story sequence comes to mind), but never on the Stars or the battle field.
One big part of all Sakura Taisen games is the in game video clips, and this game is no exception. The animation is done by Anime studio Madhouse. Each movie is finely crafted and smooth. There are some anamolies from time to time with the movement of 3D animated objects, but I lend this more to the methods used than a problem with the animation.
Perfect. When you first pop the game into the PS2, you are presented with the Hoshigumi in grand fashion. As with all other Sakura Taisen games, there is a well animated intro that plays to the different troupe's theme. Sakura Taisen V has this as well. The opening theme is catchy and highly addictive only a little less so than the themes from Sakura Taisen 1 and 3.
The in game music meshes perfectly with the on screen action. Tanaka Kouhei shines yet again.
The vocal tracks, given to each character for their ending movie, are, as wtih all Sakura Taisen vocal tracks, excellently performed and sound amazing. The vocal tracks fit perfectly with the character who sings it. The ending theme "Kiss Me Sweet" is somber yet refreshing, as a song playing to the finale should be.
In typical Sakura Taisen fashion, there were/are two options to obtain the game. You can purchase the limited edition version, the Show Time Box, or the regular edition that is just the game.
I personally purchased the Show Time Box through Red Entertainment. What is included in this package is:
The game Image 3 of 5. Click to enlarge
Hoshigumi t-shirt with a logo on the front and back
A Hoshigumi pin
A mouse pad
A sound controller (you can plug headphones into the controller and play the sound through that instead of your TV speakers/stereo system)
Image 3 of 5. Click to enlarge
Because I purchased the game through Red Entertainment, I received the Red/Sega Direct exclusive items which are:
Ticket book to hold fake play tickets
Set of 6 play tickets which look like a real ticket
Show Time Disc (DVD with interviews, commercials and so on)
Red Entertainment Exclusive- Gemini Sunrise poster
The Show Time Box is a great limited edition package and every piece of it is a quality product, not some cheap 3rd rate setup you'd likely expect.
The cover art of the game and the box matches what you'd expect with a Sakura game and looks nice. The back contains the game description and plenty of qualit screen shots. The instruction manual is full color and explores the different aspects of the game with good descriptions (if you can read Japanese). The last page contains the lyrics to the two vocal tracks in the game, Chijou no Senshi and Kiss Me Sweet. An expected, but welcome addition.
Conclusion/Final Score 5/5:
I've waited a long time to play a new "real" Sakura Taisen game and what Sega and Red Entertainment have provided is a great game that, while excruciating, was well worth the wait.
With character designs by Fujishima Kousuke (previous ST game character designer, author of Ah! My Goddess) and written by the amazing and imaginative mind of Hiroi Ouji, this game is a pure gem.
It takes a lot to get me excited about a game these days and this is one of the rarities that held my attention for months on end prior to it's release, anxiously awaiting any new tidbit of information as it became available. When I first popped the game in and saw the opening movie begin to play, I felt a stirring of emotions. This is what I wish every gaming experience was like for me, but alas, it is not. This game helped me recapture the feeling I used to get when I played or anticipated a new game as a child, something I lost quite a few years ago. It's a magical experience, and this feeling of amazement and wonderment stuck with me at the same high level from start to finish of the game, something I really didn't expect. I thought I'd grow tired of playing after a few hours and give it up, yet I spent most of my free time playing the game, and the rest of my time in anticipation of powering the game back up.
From start to finish this game shines like a well polished gem, from gameplay to storyline, everything about it screams out with the vast amounts of time, love and affection the magic workers at Red Entertainment put into every finely crafted detail. Brilliant.
For anyone with the ability to understand Japanese or a desire to play some interesting battle sequences, I can't recommend this one enough.
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