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Battle sequence graphics are equally fantastic, featuring intros at the start of each character's turn and terrific extended sequences for the special attacks of both characters and enemies (though any of these can be skipped with a simple button press if desired.) Boss battles in particular are a real tour de force with massive attacks and big special effects.
The animated sequences look like they came out of a film and the entire game is given the feel of an episodic series; each chapter ending with a preview of the next in a montage of audio and video clips concluding with the tagline "Bang! " It's great kitsch and is a capper on the charm of the whole experience.
The stronger the relationship between members, the stronger the joint attack they can pull off against multiple foes, which will become essential to success in defending critical targets in the final chapters.
Better still, these "joint" attacks only use one movement point (same with special attacks), providing a variety of strategic choices in how to dispatch the enemy.
Normal attacks can be chained together in combos of up to five simply by repeatedly pressing – assuming you have the movement to pay for it – for maximum offensive flexibility.
The battles are played out in two stages, with the first requiring the protection or elimination of specific targets, and the second being a boss battle.
The Japanese script has been translated with aplomb, without any dumbing-down of references to Japanese culture between the handful of Japanese characters present.
Character dialogue and interactive adventure sequences will continue into the battles and characters that get eliminated will have their trust in Shinjiro negatively impacted, giving you an incentive to get everyone through intact (don't worry, they'll be back in the next battle sequence and only Shinjiro's loss will prompt a replay.) Whilst the gameplay is excellent it's the visual and audio presentation that elevates it to the next level.
The character intros that play out prior to every battle are so wonderfully over-the-top that you won't mind the fact that they're unskippable.
Thankfully NIS America decided to take a chance on introducing this series to folk outside of Japan, gambling that the combination of a compelling adventure game-style narrative and excellent tactical combat game would be appealing, and they were right.
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love is the fifth game in the series, but don't let this be a barrier because it features a new main character and a new team in a new city.