LIPS – that’s Live Interactive Picture System as far as the first game’s manual’s concerned – dialogue box choices are a defining and frequently encountered part of the Sakura Wars experience, timed choices designed to not only give players a say in the outcome of major and minor events but also help to convey the same urgency or immediacy the scene playing out on-screen has; the fire spreading right now, the character standing ahead waiting for Ogami’s response within a natural timeframe rather than after you’ve gone and flipped through a guide book.
There’s a lot of different kinds of LIPS, so let’s take a look at how they work before getting into why they’re so great:
Most LIPS choices are this sort. You’re given a short period of time to choose between a maximum of four responses – one of which is letting the timer run out. Exactly how much time you’re given to think about things and how many choices you’ve got to choose between varies depending on the event in question. As you can see below, Standard LIPS are not restricted to the adventure side of Sakura Wars’ing and under certain circumstances can pop up during battles too.
These are very similar to Standard LIPS, except that once the timer reaches the halfway mark either a new choice will revealed or a currently available one will be taken away. Depending on the context this can either mean Ogami thoughtfully considered all his options and came up with a clever new idea just in time, he dithered and missed a golden opportunity to say the right thing at the right moment, or Ogami.exe has stopped working and he can now say something incredibly stupid.
These were introduced in Sakura Wars 2. During these you have a set period of time to click a context-sensitive cursor around a unique event graphic or on specific member of the cast. In the example image below Saki is claiming to have hurt her ankle, and Ogami is supposed to investigate the affected area and make sure she’s alright.
Another fresh idea created for Sakura Wars 2, these are LIPS within LIPS; players given an overall task (such as getting Ogami changed into his ticket clipping uniform) that must be completed by getting a series of Standard/Timing LIPS correct (such as making sure Ogami puts his trousers on before opening his bedroom door, shown below) before the longer timer surrounding the image runs out.
These debuted in Sakura Wars 3, and were then backported exclusively to the PlayStation 2 remake of the first game, Sakura Wars: Atsuki Chishio Ni. Unlike all other LIPS these technically only offer one response, with the tilt you apply to the analogue stick determining the strength of Ogami’s reaction. In the example below you have to decide how much restraint Ogami’s going to use while dealing with a cheeky kid during his first ticket clipping experience.
Unless I’m forgetting something – and I might be – these are all-new Atsuki Chishio Ni exclusive LIPS. The idea is to correctly copy the button sequence on-screen before the timer runs out; these mini events tend to be used to express physical activity or exertion.
Sakura Wars 2 also introduced something else: A thin gauge neatly tucked away on the bottom-right of the screen, just below the dialogue box. This tracks Ogami’s general temperament on a serious/soft scale (see the screenshot below: The gauge there is about 2/3rds “serious”), and is mainly affected by obvious questions like [paraphrased]:
“What’s the best thing about being back, Ogami?”
>Protecting the peace
>Seeing you again
(Being punctual also makes you a little serious, apparently)
This has a minor impact on the sort of interactions Ogami can have with the rest of the cast, but doesn’t change the overall flow of the story or any important events.
We’ve got one last thing to talk about! Atsuki Chishio Ni adds a gauge around Ogami’s portrait that fills up with three colours – red, blue, and yellow – as he answers LIPS questions and goes about his Ogami-life. The colour added to depends on the type of response given regardless of whether it’s considered a positive or negative for the person he’s talking to (for example: Is his reply submissive? Angry? Fluffy?), and these in turn have a direct impact on Ogami’s abilities in battle, giving you a more aggressive, fiery, Ogami, a more cautious, defensive, Ogami, and so on.
So, what makes LIPS more than just regular choices with a bit of something different on top?
Not a lot, really – it’s a timer slapped on top of an A/B/C/ choice after all – but that “bit of something different” is all that’s needed to turn otherwise standard options into something new and compelling. Knowing you only have a few short moments to reply adds a real sense of pressure as you try to recall exactly how to pronounce Reni’s surname when they’re sitting nearby, makes those split-second decisions truly depend on your immediate gut instinct, and can also memorably draw out some excruciating decisions: There’s a scene late in the first game where Ayame, under the influence of Aoi Satan (who turns out to be Satan Satan… and also Shinnosuke Yamazaki, friend and former colleague of both her and Chief Yoneda), is about to hand over three magical artifacts The Adversary should never get his hands on. She’s begging Ogami to kill her before she is completely engulfed by Satan’s evil influence. A LIPS window pops up with just one option in it: Shoot. Only unlike the majority of other LIPS events the timer here is agonisingly slow, reflecting the weight of the choice Ogami has to make and his natural reluctance to fire on his friend. Not reacting is always a choice, and not always a bad option either – it’s all about context.
Which I suppose brings us to the other secret ingredient that makes Sakura Wars LIPS so brilliant: The choices themselves. In any game where you’re given a few responses and the chance to make people happy the natural urge is to find out which choice is the “right” one and leave it at that. However Sakura Wars rarely gives you a single best answer, and there are many times where irritating someone might give you a chance to have a more meaningful interaction with them a little further down the line, or simply be the choice you know you really should make – like during the incident at the beginning of Sakura Wars, when Sumire rudely demands Ogami fetch her a new fork after dropping hers, assuming he’s a nobody who would be happy to serve the theatre’s “Top Star”. It’s even possible for a good choice for one person to disappoint another (something that pleases playful Iris might not go down so well with the more stoic Maria, for example), and also for helping one person out to cheer up another, a small gesture that reminds you these characters have relationships beyond the one they share with you – and that a single perfect run is a complete impossibility.
Of course being bombarded with choices that actually do something isn’t as much fun in practise as it sounds on paper – What if you annoy the one person you were trying to please? What if in a LIPS-induced panic you pick the one option you wanted to avoid? What if any of these lead to an early bad ending? – and Sakura Wars avoids this by ensuring the consequences of your actions never extend any further than a game-continuing one-off event within a larger tale, and more often than that never go further than the immediate reaction to Ogami’s most recent reply – in fact even if you try to behave like the most obnoxious, lazy, antisocial, Ogami of them all you can’t do any permanent damage to the plot or to the relationships forged by the characters within them. Far from make your decisions meaningless this safety net gives you the chance to play (In games! Imagine that), to be a bit more cheeky or disrespectful than you would have been if you had to worry about falling out with Orihime forever. It also gives the story the room to allow Ogami to be a more interesting character, to force him into situations where there is no happy option or to humorously have Sumire stand before him and demand she tell him, as Sakura stands to the side, which of the two of them is more Ogami’s type.
🌸Sakura Wars 1 and 2
🌸Fan Discs and related frippery
Sakura Wars Hanagumi Tsushin (Saturn)
Sakura Wars Steam Radio Show (Saturn)
Teigeki Graph in Sakura Wars (Saturn)
Sakura Wars Denmaku Club 1 & 2 (Windows)
Ogami Ichiro Funtouki (Dreamcast)
Sakura Wars Online (Dreamcast)
Sakura Wars Kinematron Hanagumi Mail (Dreamcast)
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