The Sakura Wars franchise has been a popular series in Japan since the mid-90s, though the series hasn’t seen many releases outside the Land of the Rising Sun. Aside from 2005’s Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, the majority of the series was represented by anime. My own experience with the franchise has only been with the Project X Zone games on the 3DS, which featured characters from the series. When Sega announced they were localizing the new Sakura Wars game, I was instantly compelled to play it. Now that I’ve had some time with it, I can see why people are into the series.
Sakura Wars is a combination of action RPG, visual novel and the dating simulation genre. Unlike previous entries, which were turn-based during combat, this new entry takes a real-time hack and slash approach. Working as a soft reboot of the franchise, this new Sakura Wars intends to be accessible to newcomers. Despite this, there’s plenty for veterans of the franchise to appreciate, including cameos and references to previous titles. Using an anime style episodic presentation, the game will include recaps, eyecatches, and next episode previews. Unlike the last localized title, the game will also utilize an all Japanese voice cast.
Players will assume the role of Seijuro Kamiyama, a former Imperial Navy captain who now leads the Flower Division of the Imperial Combat Revue. Taking place in an alternate 1940s Tokyo, Sakura Wars adds a bit of steampunk, sci-fi, and fantasy to its setting. You’ll see mechanical combat mechs, demons, magic and more, which make for an interesting world. As the captain of the Flower Division, your main job is to protect the city from demons and other threats. On top of this, your secondary job is to lead your all-female into being the best theatrical performers that they can be. It sounds a bit unusual out of context, but it does makes sense as you experience the story. After playing Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE Encore, it’s really not that strange.
Seijuro will first meet with his childhood friend Sakura Amamiya, who’s also part of the Imperial Combat Revue. Having history together, it helps to give a natural bond right from the start. Along the way, players will also meet Hatsuho Shinonome, Clarissa Snowflake, Azami Mochizuki, and Anastasia Palma. All of these characters have their own charms and traits, and as the protagonist, you have the option of dating each one. This of course depends on how you respond to them during your interactions with them. Using LIPS (Live & Interactive Picture System), players will earn or lose trust points for how they talk to these characters. This trust will not only improve your chance of dating, but it’ll also improve your combat proficiency as well.
Combat is simple, but also pretty easy to pick up and play. You can take control of each member of your active team individually, piloting spiricle armor in battle. These spiricle armors offer the chance to fight against demonic forces, and are pretty capable. There’s normal and heavy attack buttons, which players can mix to form unique combos. The player will also be able to jump, dash, and dodge enemy attacks. Finally, after collecting energy on the battlefield, players can unleash a special attack, dealing devastating damage to enemies in a flashy display. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a bit of platforming when progressing through missions. This includes jumping over gaps, dashing along walls, and reaching higher areas.
Aside from combat, players will roam around various locations to perform side-quests and collect bromides. The bromides will often feature characters throughout the franchise and offer fun artwork. Characters will often have tasks for Seijuro, and in some cases, this will give opportunity to increase trust. The theatrical performances also offer a fun look into this world. Despite being cute and charming, the girls of Flower Division are not very great performers. This leads to some comical situations, but as their leader, it’s up to you to help them improve.
One of the things that simply blew me away with Sakura Wars is the presentation. The anime cutscenes and visuals are gorgeous and the music is incredibly catchy, especially the main theme. This makes sense, given the amazing talent that worked on the game. Not only did Bleach’s Tite Kubo design the main cast, but the remaining characters have all-star designers as well. Names like Yukiko Horiguchi (K-On!, Lucky Star), BUNBUN (Sword Art Online), Fumikane Shimada (Girls und Panzer, Strike Witches), Shigenori Soejima (Persona), Noizi Ito (Meloncholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), and Ken Sugimori (Pokémon) all have a hand in the art of the game. You’ll also hear music from One Piece composer Kohei Tanaka, who composed the main theme.
Fans of visual novels and dating sims may appreciate the extra action to spice up the game. Honestly, it’s a splendid mix of the genres, and I can’t wait to play more. So far, I’m really enjoying it, and I can see how it would be the perfect entry point for the series. This new Sakura Wars seems like the perfect chance to revive the franchise in the West. With tons of anime flavor and a fantastic presentation, be sure to keep this one on your radar. Sakura Wars releases for the PlayStation 4 on April 28th, 2020. We’ll have our review ready just before it releases, so be sure to be on the lookout for it.