The Sakura Wars series began in 1996 and has since received many sequels and spin-offs across various consoles. While the series has a strong following, it isn’t wildly known in the west. This is why the developers have opted to release a soft-reboot of the series with Sakura Wars, coming to PlayStation 4 on April 28. However, even though the game was created for newcomers, it still contains characters and mechanics found in the previous entries that will provide a nostalgic experience for returning fans.
After playing the first three chapters of Sakura Wars, it’s easy to see that the developer has continued to put a significant focus on developing the characters, whether they play main or supporting roles. The new Combat Revue units each add a unique personality to the group, but more importantly, they create an excellent foundation for players to hit the ground running with this story. Players assume the role of Seijuro Kamiyama and must make choices in dialogue that will either improve or hinder the relationship with the other characters. This also opens the door to potential romance, but the story doesn’t make that come easy.
The team has also included Sumire Kanzaki, an original member of the Flower Division who runs the Combat Revue. Returning players will recognize her from previous entries, and the story does a great job of not overloading the player with backstory or complicated plot points. Still, it provides enough details to understand how she found herself in this position.
Early on, there are waves of emotionally charged scenarios and comedic interactions that are never too overbearing. Instead, we get a chance to learn what these characters’ likes and dislikes are, which should be taken into consideration when responding to them. However, it is also possible to give in to the natural urges of Seijuro, which will, more often than not, make the others despise him. Still, I am liking the range of possibilities that the story is allowing me to witness as every choice triggers a different response. It’s possible to make Seijuro a perverted mess or a charming Prince; his social standing is in your hands.
While most of the game revolves around interacting with characters and building your relationship with them, mechs make a return to break up the story bits with action. Throughout the story, players will have to fight against Demons that invade the city. However, there are also a handful of dungeons that players will need to get through to progress the narrative.
The battle system is fast and responsive, but it has its share of repetitive hacking and slashing. Thankfully, there seems to be a nice variety of enemies to fight against, as well as the ability to switch to other characters and utilize their specialized weapons. Each character also has a unique ability that can easily take out the more formidable foes.
Sakura Wars seems to take balancing its systems into consideration during each moment of gameplay. I never feel like I’m in one area for too long or stuck in a long, drawn-out conversation that I don’t want to be in. Most of the dialogue auto-plays, which gives it the presentation of anime. However, not all of the dialogue is voiced, but still, the characters move their mouths as if they are saying the words.
Sakura Wars uses its beginning chapters to give the player a decent understanding of the role that they play in saving the Combat Revue and taking on any other dangers that might appear. Getting to know the characters happens naturally through dialogue, and they seem to each play an essential role in the team’s formation. I’d like to see how this balance continues in the later parts of the game and if the cast of characters shows growth within the group. As it stands, I believe Sakura Wars shows an understanding of the series’ roots but goes the extra mile by making it accessible to new players.
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