Sakura Wars is a Sega franchise that I’ve heard of over the years but never played myself. That’s something that I feel like most of the western audience has in common with myself. The original entry in the series released in 1996 for the Sega Saturn and sold very well in Japan but outside of that region most people aren’t too familiar with it. Enter Sakura Wars (2019) which is a soft reboot of the franchise that Sega is hoping will bring in a bigger audience. It’s the first one I’ve ever played but did I enjoy it and would you?
The latest entry technically released last year in Japan but is out tomorrow on PlayStation 4 for those in the west. To best describe the type of game Sakura Wars is is to say it is a mix of a visual novel, dating simulator, and action game all rolled into one. Story and characterization are two of the most important things to me in a game like this and Sakura Wars does both of these things very well. The game takes place in a 1940s steampunk Tokyo. The world dealt with demons in the past and the Imperial Combat Revue of Tokyo who protected the city was destroyed during those events. Because of that other Combat Revues have had to step in and protect the city while the Tokyo branch gets back up and running. A new younger team has been formed but because they lack experience and talent they need guidance.
Enter captain Seijuro Kamiyama who has found himself assigned to the Tokyo Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division squad to help them get going. This squad happens to just be made up of all female members so I’m sure you can guess where the dating simulator parts come from. The team operates out of a theater and they not only engage in combat but also act and perform on stage. The theater isn’t doing great at the start of the game though as they are at risk of being closed down which of course has affected the morale of the girls. Seijuro will have to help get these girls in order so that they stay operational, protect the city, and compete in the Combat Revue World Games.
If you are a fan of action more so than story Sakura Wars might not be for you. The combat sections don’t come frequently and instead you’ll be spending far more time with the cast of characters. Thankfully the game does a really good job of defining each character and making them feel unique. The Flower Division includes the leader, Sumire Kanzaki, and members Sakura Amamiya, Hatshuho Shinonome, Azami Mochizuki, Anastasia Palma, and Claris. I enjoyed getting to know each of these girls over the course of the game whether it be the things they enjoy or the things they feel down on themselves about. Over the course of the game you get to see them grow as characters which was really awesome and of course you can romance them as well.
Sakura Wars lets you basically romance every girl in the game which could be a good or bad thing depending on how you like your romance in games. If you’re someone who wants to see what another girl might think if you start romancing another one then you won’t find that here. You can have a relationship with all of them should you want to and that’s exactly what I did. Talking with the girls is handled really well too as you get to do so in a first-person perspective. During these parts you make dialog choices and you get to see the different facial expressions the character does based on what you are choosing to say. They are so well done in fact that paying attention to their expressions or body movements can actually give you a hint as to what dialog choice you should make. It’s a really well done system to say the least.
When you’re not spending time getting to know the cast you’ll be spending it in a demonic filled realm protecting the people from the demon threat. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the characters don’t fight themselves but rather they fight in huge mech suits. Obviously if you’ve played a Sakura Wars game before you’ll already know this but if you’re new like I was you might be surprised to hear this. When I looked back on some prior titles to learn more about the series I saw that the combat in those games was more tactical. This latest entry has instead switched to a more action heavy combat system which in my opinion is just OK. Most of the time you are just kind of hacking, slashing, and shooting your way through the demons and that’s OK but if you’re expecting a deep combat system you won’t find it here.
During these parts you play as Seijuro and can bring along one of the Flower team members who is usually determined based on where you are in the story. They will help you out and you can switch to them to play as well. At times some of the other characters will also show up to lend a hand but only if you are in good standings with them. Enemy variety dries up quick over the course of the game but there are different types so using your different team members abilities can be key to taking them down. Boss battles occur at times during the story but there are only a few of them which was a bit disappointing. Something I want to mention about the combat is that the game didn’t have a lock-on camera when it released in Japan and for my review I didn’t either. However, a patch released a couple days ago that added this along with some other improvements but I didn’t have a chance to test them out before writing this.
Visually it’s hard to find anything wrong with Sakura Wars. All of the characters are visually distinct and the environments all look great as well. The demon filled ones you get transported to are kind of bland and repetitive but because the game doesn’t focus on combat that much you won’t be seeing them very often. The soundtrack and voice acting are also excellent although sadly there is no English dub. I really liked that different characters had their own theme song in the game and pretty much all of them are bangers. Voice acting was great whether it was during the anime like cutscenes or the in-game scenes.
When I went in to review this game I didn’t know what to really expect out of it but I came out of it as a fan and as someone who hopes to see more Sakura Wars in the future. The combat is kind of mindless but I feel like the strong story and character development along with a great visual style and audio work makes up for it. There is room to improve but this Sakura Wars reboot left a great impression on me.
*Sakura Wars is available on PlayStation 4. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.