Sakura Wars is a Dating Sim/Visual Novel Action Game Hybrid developed and published by SEGA, and the newest entry in the Sakura Wars series that hasn’t had an entry in Japan for a full decade since Sakura Wars 5 that came out in 2005. Is this game worth it? I’ll be joining up with the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division and find out in our Sakura Wars review!
Disclaimer: This review will mostly use screenshots from the early game to keep the review spoiler-free as possible. Game reviewed on Base Playstation 4.
2020’s Sakura Wars is a soft-reboot of the franchise with a new gameplay-style from the previous entries, which had Turn-based Strategy RPG elements. As a newbie to this franchise who mainly knows the characters that made an appearance in Project X Zone for the 3DS, I wanted to check this game out as an entry point to the series for many new players.
Graphics, Performance, Sound and Presentation
This game looks absolutely gorgeous, from the character models, to the way the town looks and how the mechs are designed. As for performance, the game runs at a smooth 30FPS.
In terms of sound, the voice acting in Japanese is really well done, though I will note this game is not fully voiced, which in some cases can be really jarring at times. The music by Kohei Tanaka, who has been responsible for the OST for One Piece, and the music for the Sakura Wars franchise in general, is amazing. I also have to point out the presentation which is very anime – the game feels like an anime that you could watch on television in Japan including these short preview segments for each of the chapters in the story that mimic the preview segments of an anime or a tokusatsu series in Japan.
The character designs are also really well done. The main cast are designed by Tite Kubo, the Mangaka of Bleach and Burn The Witch, and have a similar style and charm to the designs from his prior work. However, there are also a few guest designers like Yukiko Horiguchi who has done the designs for the Shanghai Combat Revue (pictured above) who has worked on a lot of anime from KyoAni like Lucky Star, K-On and Kokoro Connect. She’s also joined by her brother Abec/BunBun of Sword Art Online fame, Shigenori Soejima who has designed characters for the Persona series from Persona 3 onwards, Ken Sugimori who has done the character designs for the Pokémon franchise, Noizi Ito who worked on the Suzumiya Haruhi series and Fumikane Shimada who has worked on Girls Und Panzer and Strike Witches. These are also well done and you can easily notice it’s their work because their characters and designs really stand out from the characters that Kubo worked on.
The story of Sakura Wars is set in a fictional steampunk version of Tokyo (also known as Teito), Japan during the 29th year of the Taisho Era. Ten years after a huge war that devastated a few of the combat revues. You take the role of Seijuro Kamiyama, a young naval captain who has been sent to Tokyo to become the captain of the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division. However, the Imperial Combat Revue hasn’t been performing well as of late and had seen better days with most of the recent demon attacks having been prevented by the Shanghai Combat Revue and the current Flower Division members being inexperienced in both performing in their stage shows and combat. It is up to Kamiyama and the members of the Flower Division to improve themselves in these aspects and compete in the Combat Revue World Games to keep the Imperial Combat Revue from being disbanded all while protecting Tokyo from a demon invasion!
The story follows a chapter-by-chapter structure and all of the main party members get a slight focus chapter to shed light on their backstory, as well as getting a slight bit of character development. However, a few characters get a little bit more development than others in the main story but there is the alternative of the various side-events and the intimate Tête-à-tête sequences that allow you to learn more about them. You will make choices throughout the important story scenes, as well as side-story scenes, to hopefully build up trust with the various members of the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division as it will affect combat.
These choices are done through the LIPS-System (short for Live & Interactive Picture System) which take the form of multiple-choice decisions or meter-like systems that affect the tone of how Kamiyama speaks out a certain phrase. Most of these are timed so you have to make your decisions as quickly as possible and depending on the choices you make you either gain trust amongst the various members of the Imperial Combat Revue or not. It also affects how most scenes will play out.
The story itself is well-told and fun to go through with the cast full of likeable characters that show a lot of charm and quirks. However, it also feels like an origin story for with potential that can lead to a possible sequel. There are also various endings you can get so the game will offer a lot of replay value on that front.
During the Dating Sim/Visual Novel segments of the game, you are allowed to explore the Imperial Theater as well as the various locations that Ginza has to offer you. You can talk with the various inhabitants and visitors, find clues and various items such as Bromides and engage in various main story events and side-events that while optional are still really important in my opinion – especially if you want to earn more trust with the various Flower Division members you take into combat. There is also a mini-game based on a card game known as Koi-Koi which is played with Hanafuda cards. The exploration segment is really well done.
When it comes to the action combat sequences the combat system reminds me lot of a Musou-style game where you combine normal and strong attacks to form combos and you also have special attacks that you perform when the Spirit Gauge is fully filled next to team-up attacks that boost your power and makes you invulnerable for a certain amount of time. In terms of movement, you can jump, dash and dodge and when the dodge is perfectly timed with an attack of the enemy, time slows down so you can counter.
You also need to keep up with the morale your party has as that will affect how much damage you do since your attack and defence power is tied to it. Morale can be increased in many ways such as perfectly dodging and taking down a lot of enemies at once and you can also start off with a lot of morale if you have built up a lot of trust with the partner you have on that mission.
Each character has their own mechs known as Spiricle fighters and specialise in a different weapon with their own move-list and special attacks. With most of them specialising in close-combat scenarios while some of them focus in ranged combat.
I had decent fun with the combat sequences of the game, whether those would take place in Raids that can come up during chapters, fights you have at the Combat Revue World Games that pit you up against the rivalling combat revues, or the missions that send you into the various realms the invading demons create in an attempt to take over Tokyo.
However, there are some oddities, like your characters not levelling up or having upgrades / customisation items whatsoever, or gaining new moves to use during these fights meaning you will have the same actions you have from the beginning until the end-game which takes a good bit of getting used to. I will also say that flying enemies are a real pain to deal with unless you have a character with you who specialises in ranged combat like Claris or Anastasia. The platforming in the missions can be hit or miss but it’s serviceable.
All of that makes for a combat system that is acceptable with a few flaws that could be ironed out in a possible sequel.
Looking for more JRPG’s? Check out our Trials of Mana review!
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Sakura Wars Review Summary
Sakura Wars is a Dating Sim with acceptable combat. I mean that as a huge compliment! Sure, there are some flaws and oddities about it in terms of combat, but I feel the game’s strengths are with the storytelling, the endearing and likeable characters, as well as the very anime-style presentation. There is a lot to like here as an anime fan and a fan of Dating Sims or Visual Novels. I really recommend fans of Sakura Wars or people who are into anime and visual novels to check this one out!
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