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access_time April 27, 2020 at 6:00 AM in Sony by David Poole

Review | Sakura Wars

After a decade-long hiatus, Sega has brought back their Sakura Wars franchise. With the hope of finding a new audience in this new generation of games, this entry, simply titled Sakura Wars, is a soft reboot to the series. While the game is a new beginning, it doesn’t alienate the original fans, all while still providing an accessible entry for newcomers. Also with this new title comes a lot of updates and features, so is it deserving of your attention? We’d like to think so.

Sakura Wars provides an interesting setting, taking place in a 1940s Tokyo of an alternate world where steam provides power, demons exist, and technology is far more advanced. I mean, they have smartphones, which is absolutely bonkers. It’s not too different than Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles franchise, but Sakura Wars provides a unique world just the same. You play as Seijuro Kamiyama, a former Navy captain that takes the position as the new Captain of the Imperial Combat Revue’s all female Flower Division. The Combat Revue’s main purpose is to defend the people of Tokyo from the demon menace and maintain a positive morale. To do this, they use Spiricle Armor, weaponized combat mechs that are powered by one’s own spirit to fight demons. They also happen to put on theatrical performances at their base of operations.

The team starts out pitiful, but as their leader, it’s up to you to boost their spirits and improve both their combat and performances. It’s a crazy concept, but it surprisingly works in this colorful world. Of course, with a threat as dangerous as demons, greater forces are at play, including powerful enemies that oppose the Flower Division. The story has a few twists and turns, and even includes a couple of plot holes, but it’s still pretty engaging. Honestly, the characters give the game a lot of charm that kept me enthralled throughout my experience. There are plenty of hilarious scenes, and even a couple emotional moments where I may have had something in my eye. This is all thanks to the many dialogue options that help to make the story your own.

For those that are unaware, Sakura Wars combines elements of a visual novel with that of a dating sim. This gives players the chance to live out their ultimate harem anime fantasies. Each of the five members of the Flower Division are available as a romance option, but players must use the various dialogue options to earn trust points. Using the LIPS system, players will have several opportunities to exercise their silver tongues, choosing the right thing to say for each situation. Of course, this means there are consequences for saying or doing the wrong thing, and the game will definitely try to tempt you. Seijuro, as kind-hearted as he is, can also be quite the pervert, adding a lot of humor to the game. Even if you can keep his own urges under control, his inner thoughts will still display some impurities.

While building trust will get you closer to each member of the team, it also benefits the combat gameplay. As the sixth main entry, the soft reboot status also brings a change to the combat. Previous games were turn-based strategy games, but the new Sakura Wars takes more of a real-time action approach. During each chapter, there’s at least one major combat scenario that will provide a nice change of pace. It will play a lot like Dynasty Warriors, though oddly, the circle button is used for attacks instead of square. Thankfully, each member of the team feels unique, offering up different combos and strengths to make them viable members in battle. It admittedly feels a little generic, but it makes for an accessible option for newcomers to jump right in.

While combat will mainly focus on stringing normal and heavy attacks for combos, it does have a little extra depth. Thanks to an update, players will be able to lock-on to enemies to help them focus on individual enemies. They’ll also be able to dodge attacks to enter a special bullet-time sequence, allowing for extra attacks and finishers. Throughout fights, players will collect energy, which builds a gauge to help them unleash a flashy super attack. If they perform well, they’ll also build morale, powering up attacks. Having a lot of trust with your allies also allows for team attacks. While these add fun cinematics, they basically boil down to a temporary buff. I didn’t really start using them until halfway through the game, though this was mostly because the team attack indicator wasn’t very noticeable at first.

Even though most chapters only really offer one major battle, players will still experience combat in occasional raids. Raids are short fights, breaking up the visual novel segments to allow players to fight alongside certain team members. Eventually, players will even unlock the Battle Bot simulator. This not only allows for the ability to replay major battles, but it even lets players partner up with different team members. Not only will this help earn trust points with your team, but it also earns in-game collectibles. These collectibles won’t do anything from a gameplay perspective, but it adds fun artwork from throughout the series.

When not fighting or chatting up the ladies, players will also explore town and help those in need. This again relies mostly on the dialogue choices the player makes, but there will be occasional puzzles too. Sometimes this boils down to a timed mission where players will have to search for clues. Other times, it might even involve promoting the theater as a lovable mascot. And if you’re really looking for a distraction, you could always play the addicting Koi-Koi Wars. Whatever the case, the genres blend together with a solid pace, making sure no element overstays its welcome.

Perhaps the best part of Sakura Wars is the stellar presentation. The stars really align for this one, bringing veterans in the anime industry together for one big project. Fans of the anime Bleach may like the main character designs, as Tite Kubo was the artist behind them. The game also adds talent from Shigenori Soejima, Noizi Ito, Yukiko Horiguchi, and more for other characters. Being the first 3D installment to the series, these designs translate really well, truly standing out in every scene they appear in. The visuals are crisp and add just the right amount of detail to work into the style. The anime cutscenes really add a lot to the production value as well.

Of course, the visuals are just one part of it. The way the game presents the story makes it feel like an anime, complete with eye catch intermissions and episode previews. Even the music, especially the theme song composed by One Piece’s Kohei Tanaka, is nothing short of amazing. Every character has a unique theme that works for their personality, which really adds to each moment. It’s fun, energetic, and in some cases, relaxing and serene. There’s a great variety that really showcases the wonderful music quality of the game.

Finally, we can’t forget about the vocal performances. While it would’ve been nice to have an English voice cast like Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, the Japanese cast does a stellar job. Yohei Azakami makes for a charming protagonist as Seijuro, providing the right level of emotion in his delivery. Fans of My Hero Academia may recognize the voice of Sakura, as Ayane Sakura also plays Ochaco Uraraka in the popular anime. The overall voice cast includes many veterans from Japanese anime and games, so those that watch anime with subtitles will likely recognize some voices. All these different presentation quirks make for a full package that screams “this is anime” at the top of its lungs.

Sakura Wars has everything an anime fan could want: action, romance, drama, humor, and lots of really cool robot fights. The amazing presentation and fun dialogue give it charm that you don’t see in a lot of games these days. Even if the story is a little out there, it’s a world I couldn’t help but feel invested in. While the combat is simple, it still offers enough depth and style to make it worthwhile. If this is how the franchise continues, I really hope to see it gain more popularity in the West. Even though this is my first foray into the series, I now feel the need to explore previous entries. Sega found a great way to bring Sakura Wars back into the world, and it deserves to stay. If you like anime, this one deserves to be on your radar.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

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