Title: Sakura Wars
Release Date: April 28, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
The Sakura Wars series could be seen as daunting to some gamers, especially in the west. The series has more than a few entries, many of which never released outside of Japan, and yet, it still has it’s loyal worldwide followers. Now, developer Sega is hoping to bridge the gap by releasing a game simply titled “Sakura Wars.” The idea here is that this will jump-start the series by focusing on a new group of characters for a new generation of fans. Thankfully, the team’s dedication to modernizing the series while holding onto what makes it special pays off significantly as a result.
Sakura Wars introduces us to captain Seijuro Kamiyama, who has just been instructed to assist Tokyo’s Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division squad, which is stationed at the Great Imperial Theater. This assignment definitely confuses him at first, even more so after he meets the all-female staff, but he is up for the task. The New Flower Division is managed by Sumire Kanzaki, who some fans might remember from previous entries as she was a member of the previous Flower Division.
Sadly, times aren’t good for the group as outside powers aim to disband them. At the time of Seijuro joining, the theater lacks funds, moral, skill, and support, all of which he’ll need to lend his aid too. I should note that Seijuro isn’t the fire that keeps the entire group going; he is more of the spark that kicks the girls into gear. Each of the girls is fully capable of holding their own, but a little bit of guidance puts them on the right track to success.
Sakura Wars is perhaps 80% story 20% gameplay, with the gameplay portions including adventure and battle elements. When it comes to the story, players get the chance to meet with each member of the Flower Division and get to know them on a personal level. Upon Seijuro’s arrival, he learns that his childhood friend, Sakura, is a member, and they end up strengthening their bond through catching up and keeping old promises.
With Seijuro being tasked with saving the Flower Division, the only way to do it seems to be by winning what is known as the Combat Revue World Games. This is a tournament between the other Combat Revue units from around the world. As you can imagine, no one has hope for them, not even some of their members. Yet, they are still up for the challenge.
Besides Sakura, there are four other members of the Flower Division, each with their own personality and preferences. The story casts a wide net on personality types for the player as the girls vary in age, maturity, and, most definitely, bust size. This ultimately made each interaction different as the writers took advantage of the small cast to expand on these characters throughout the entire story.
I really liked the range of emotions that each character has. During the dialogue, you get to see Seijuro and the girls at their best, but also their worst. Nothing is left untouched here as everything is put on display, which includes insecurities and hidden secrets. However, the way that they resolve these inner struggles is tied into the game’s main arc, which manages to never overshadow it.
My only issue with the main cast of characters is the inclusion of Azami Mochizuki, who is the youngest member and also a ninja. I’m not sure if this was to sway you away from her route, but she is just overall pretty dull and unmemorable. If you completely removed Azami from the story, I don’t feel as though she would be missed.
Players make many choices while interesting with characters. These choices often weigh heavily on the relationship that Seijuro has with the other members. The game really tries to put the player in the role of Seijuro by switching to a first-person view during the more intimate scenes. It’s a nice touch to clearly see the impact of your choices on the character’s face, and it really sells the romance scenes.
Romance is handled interestingly in Sakura Wars. Visual novels generally lock you into one route after a few choices and won’t allow you to spend personal time with other characters, but this game opens the door for you to express romantic feelings for each of the girls. However, I don’t think this always works. For example, one day, Seijuro is allowed a free day where each of the girls asks to do something with him, giving you a choice to say yes or no. I chose yes to all of them in hopes that it would create some drama, but nothing happened. Instead, Seijuro just went on all the dates and magically had the perfect schedule to make it to them on time.
The sad part about this romance choice system is that Seijuro is more or less given free rein to do and say whatever he wants with these girls without any real consequences. Sure, you have the option to make some character’s hate you, but why do that when there’s a chance for a harem ending, there’s not. The choices all amount to getting far enough romantically with a character until you reach the max relationship status with them. Following the conclusion of the game, you can then witness each of the character’s unique ending.
Outside of dialogue, players will participate in mech action battles. Yea, after 1000 words, we finally get to the action. I was surprised by the feature as it takes the tactical mech battles from the series and makes it more action-focused. Surprisingly, it works out quite well, and I had a lot of fun playing as each of the characters and utilizing their skills and abilities.
What also surprised me was the dungeons that players can traverse as they take down enemies. These dungeons aren’t anything special, but after hours of dialogue, they are fun just to explore and get lost in. The developers also did their best to mix things up with different enemy types and level gimmicks. Each dungeon typically ends with a boss battle. The encounters aren’t tough, but they do provide a layer of challenge.
My thoughts on the battle system are that it doesn’t add or take away from the Sakura Wars’ qualities. Instead, it enhances the experience by breaking up the constant flow of character development, while acting as a way to show how the characters work under pressure. Like the character growth, these fights are woven into the narrative, which makes it feel more like a natural extension of it.
Visually, Sakura Wars is a beautiful game. Throughout the game, it’s tough not to fall in love with the charm and quirkiness of these characters as they express themselves during dialogue. As you spend more time with them, it becomes easier to interact with them and understand their subtle shifts in attitude from how they express themselves. The supporting cast has also been given similar treatment, without the option to date them, which is sad because I had my eyes on a few of them.
Furthermore, the environments are also well designed and offer a layer of exploration as you make your way through town and interact with NPCs. Dungeons, on the other hand, are more or less copy and paste layouts. However, you don’t spend enough time in them to really care about this. If you really like the battles, you can participate in them at any time to get a higher rank or play as an alternate character. Completing these missions unlocks special character cards, which can also be found lying around the environment.
The voice cast for the main and supporting characters is phenomenal. The voice acting here really delivers on the character’s personalities and moods. Interestingly, this is the first visual novel that I played as if I was watching an anime as I let the scenes auto-play for most of the game. Sadly, not all the scenes are voiced, but it doesn’t really affect the delivery of the story for the most part.
Sakura Wars is an excellent reboot of the series and does right by the fans by subtly tieing in mentions of its predecessors without overburdening new players. The game is fueled by its strong narrative and passionate cast of characters who fight against-all-odds for what they believe in. Sure, some of the arcs don’t totally stick, and the romance can get a little messy, but it accomplishes the goal of giving fans a modernized Sakura Wars experience, without sacrificing what makes it unique.
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