Initial Release Date: December 12, 2019
Worldwide Release: April 28, 2020
Director(s): Tetsuya Ootsubo
Genres: Action role-playing game, Japanese role-playing game, Dating sim
Platform: PlayStation 4
Link to Purchase: https://amzn.to/2YSziPZ
The Sakura Wars series, known in Japan as Sakura Taisen, has been around for 25 years and originally released on the Sega Saturn created by Oji Hiroi and developed mutually between Sega and Red Entertainment. To say that this series is easy to keep up with is a massive understatement as it has spanned various media from video games, drama CD’s, manga, anime, stage shows, and more expanded the world and lore of the Sakura Taisen series as giving fans more ways to enjoy it all……unless you lived in the west as with the exception of “Sakura Wars V So Long, My Love” we never received any of the previous entries and have generally had to rely on either fan translation guides or the exceptionally rare to find fan translated copies of previous entries since the series never caught on in the west which is a incredibly common yet sad that so many franchises never catch on or get proper translations for the west (Mother 3 I’m STILL Looking at you).
Does Sakura Wars have what it takes to bring this monumental franchise to the west and finally catch on to the mainstream or does it continue to be a niche dating-sim hybrid RPG that the East loves and the west is still trying to figure out the hype? Let’s find out!
Set 12 years after the events of Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love in the Taisho Era 29 (1940), Sakura Wars starts a new arc in the series following the new protagonists Seijuro Kamayama and Sakura Amamiya and their quest to bring glory and prestige to the Floral Division’s theater and combat sides of the Combat Revue and fight the against the emerging threat of the Kouma.
So you may be wondering if Sakura Wars is an action adventure game or a dating sim or a mech fighter or a visual novel: well its all of the above and is in the category of being a “cross-genre” video game as it compiles aspects of each of these genres into a full on experience. It also has the honor of being the first Sakura Wars games not made by RED Entertainment who, in combination with Sega, created the franchise.
So I have to be honest here and admit that I have never in my life played a dating simulation style game unless you count Mass Effect’s romancing options so for me going into Sakura Wars I had no idea what to expect or if I would even enjoy the game, BOY WAS I IN FOR A SURPRISE!!
To say that I have come to love the game play here is an understatement because I was expecting a lot of mech battles and occasional relationship building but I never thought or knew the game would be 99% relationship building and 1% mech battles.
Yes. You read that correctly.
Your time is spent as Kamiyama running around initially only in the theater doing various errands for Sumire and the Flower Division girls that range from delivering various items to becoming a giant elephant and raising morale and promoting the theater and more. As you progress through the game you will end up in situations of having to make decisions that are times which when it comes to many of the characters will either make them grow closer to you, remain neutral, or grow to detest you based on what you decide to do and or say.
I will admit that a lot of the decision making will feel very abrupt and will catch you off guard at times. If you are like me and hate making bad decisions in the games that give you dialogue trees then you’ll want to save before talking to any of the characters as you never know what will happen and if you mess up with certain characters you’ll probably lock yourself out of the better endings.
There will be times where you will have one on one situations with any of the main female cast and those situations can either make or break your chances of romancing them. These situations will turn the gameplay from a traditional 3rd person exploration-based game similar to Persona into a first person point and click style where you hover the cursor over the girl that you currently with and or the items in the environment you’re in to continue on the dialogue and pray you do not mess up.
These sections are so good because while Kamiyama gives you subtle hints in the form of thoughts, it is good because over the course of the game you ultimately come to legitimally care about these characters and their motivations and more. They are so well written and brought to life that situations like Sakura’s moments of self-doubt when it comes to her dreams and ambitions to Claris’ fear of her potential and insecurities are things that I can definitely relate to on many levels.
There will be times when you get to go on dates with the girls and during these dates you have to remember things about the girls to know what they like and how to respond to them just as you would if you went on a real life date with a girl or guy. These moments will include limited timed sections to make selections for responses as well which will affect the flow of the date and either make the girl become closer to falling I love with you or friend zoning you and the way that you know that the girl either likes or dislikes your responses is based on the pitch of the chime sound that will be made.
When it comes to combat, you will be in mechs that will allow you to fight demons and machines in what I can best describe as a mish mash of a Muso or Warriors style combat mixed with the combat seen in Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana. It plays similar to the musou games because you run around a map with enemies that well blockade you in a section and put you in a situation that has you versus 50 or more enemies at times. You have buttons for jumping, swap characters, jet boosting, light attacks, heavy attacks, lock-on, evade, and limit breaker style ultimate attack with Ys/Kiseki style cut ins before the devastating attack occurs.
You’re able to dodge and activate what looks like flash guard from Ys 8 or witch time as in Bayonetta which will slow down time for a brief moment allowing you to get in and cause some major damage to your enemies when you perform the dodge right as the enemies attack is about to hit you. You can do double jumps and also lock on to enemies to better aim your attacks during combat and more; honestly the combat is very easy to grasp giving you very little challenge until later on in the game, but it is fun none the less.
There are many side games and quests you can do to deepen relationships, but one that I found interesting (and admittedly still don’t fully understand but find fun) is the card game KOI KOI WARS. After you unlock this game in the main story you can access this from the main menu to play at any time. The game is hard to explain but addicting in nature as it’s mainly about stacking cards of similar themes and getting your opponent to a number of 0. You can pick from any of the main cast to play against.
Graphically, the game looks good and can at first look like it’s a Persona game with similar visuals and animations however the differences are that the characters in Sakura Wars are more animated in the 3D models and are made for the current platform unlike Persona 5 which was originally made for the PS3 which while still looking good do look dated when compared to Sakura Wars side by side.
The designs of characters are done by Bleach’s mangaka, Tite Kubo, and all look awesome if not as if they were pulled straight from the world of Bleach. From the Imperial Combat Revue's Flower Division in Tokyo such as Kamiyama, Sakura, Claris, Hatsuho, Anastasia, Ninja Baby (Azami), and more all look amazing and are well animated with their facial expressions, body language, and clothing. It’s incredibly detailed in an anime aesthetics not so much in a realistic level of detail. The backgrounds look incredibly vibrant and brought to life with the pallet of colors used. The screen transitions between areas from the theater to the market and more use the same transitions that are in Persona 5/5R and looks really cool here.
There is TONS of fan service and I am ALL FOR IT! My favorite girl is Anastasia with her voluptuous figure and sultry seductive and elegant personality. She is my ideal woman and following her is Hatsuho with her brash and rumble personality with Claris is the girl next door and Sakura as you all a rounder.
The designs of the mechs and enemies are either hit or miss as the mechs all look incredible and very shonen style but the enemies…….. well that’s more often a miss than a hit with some enemies looking amazing and others looking like they were pulled from the PS2 era. I could dive into how good and how rough some enemies look but I’ll just say some look really bad…
The OST……SLAPS!!! The main theme of this game is so energetic and gets your blood pumping that I can listen to it over and over and over and never get tired of it. Gekt Teikoku Kagekidan – Shinshou is so majestic of a theme that I find myself breaking out into song whenever I hear it even when I don’t know what they are saying as it just comes off as so iconic! The soundtrack is always so great with even the mellow OST of common areas you traverse really sound thematic of where you are. When situations are tense in cutscenes or in battle; the music ramps up significantly!
The voice acting is all in Japanese with subtitles so if you are someone who enjoys Dub then you will be disappointed. I personally have 0 issues with as the voice actors do a bang up job in their roles and from the inflections, delivery, tone, and cadence all come together very well. The voice actress for Anastasia does so-well bringing her character to life with sensuality and sultriness whereas the voice actress of Hatsuho does well with showcasing her hotheaded overreacting demeanor. This may not seem like much but in reality, it brings the characters to life and makes them seem a lot more tangible and I like that.
As far as downsides go the only thing I can honestly say, and this goes towards Sega and the series as a whole, is that giving this entry the title of just Sakura Wars in the west with no subtitle or additional context that this is not a reboot of the franchise or a remake of the original entry has caused some confusion as many content creators and journalist have incorrectly reviewed this entry as a reboot or remake and it’s not as it’s a continuation following Sakura Taisen V.
This is an issue when it comes to the gaming industry as a whole that localize games to the west as we’ve seen with Final Fantasy in the early 90s and even the Persona series that has since removed the Shin Megami Tensei naming as of Persona 4 Golden which I understand is done to not confuse the western audience but it ultimately does the opposite of its intended purpose. Stop changing the names and also BRING MORE SAKURA TAISEN TO THE WEST!
Lastly, I’d say that the lack of an English voice over option can be considered a letdown to some who prefer listening to characters in English instead of reading the dialogue, but this is overall personal preference of the gamer and not an actual complaint
With an incredibly engaging story, decades of lore to dive into, lovable characters, relationship building, mech combat, multiple endings and more; Sakura Wars is a game with so much replay value that I can’t help but recommend it to anyone who has a love for narrative based games and want to be immersed into a rich world of characters and lore. If you are not a person who enjoys reading, relationship building, or lack of combat; then this game won’t be for you, however, if someone like me who’s never gotten into the franchise can absolutely fall in love with this entry and desire to go back and play the earlier entries then I think that this game is a game YOU NEED in your collection!
Review Copy Provided by Sega