Sakura Wars is a soft reboot of SEGA’s tactical-RPG franchise, though don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it before; it hasn’t seen too many Western releases (I think it’s actually just the one), with the only way to experience the majority of its titles in English coming via unofficial fan translations. I’ll admit, this is actually my first venture into Sakura Wars myself, though my lack of experience with the series didn’t dampen my excitement for it. I mean, who doesn’t want to run a quirky theatre troupe that partakes in epic mech battles on the side, right?
Sakura Wars takes place in a re-imagined 1940s Tokyo where demons exist and technology is at its peak, with players leading a theatre troupe known as the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division. Whilst they put on performances to try and wow the Tokyo crowd, they’re also expected to deal with the demon threat that always seems to be lurking in the background – despite them supposedly being vanquished in a war that took place ten years earlier.
However, whilst the group previously had a reputation of being a formidable unit, they’ve fallen on hard times and are considered lowly in both the theatre and demon fighting scene. Thus, players are thrust into the role of Seijuro, who takes over as captain of the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division and is given the job of reversing their fortunes by leading them to glory in the Combat Revue World Games. Of course, leading this group of charming (and quirky) ladies was never going to be easy, whilst the fact that something ominous is going on behind the scenes means that you can expect plenty of twists-and-turns during your time as captain.
Whilst the idea of battling demons with mechs may suggest that Sakura Wars is an action-orientated experience, it’s actually quite the opposite with the majority of your time being spent in conversation with other characters and exploring the game’s world. If you’re familiar with visual novels, you’ll know exactly what to expect; players progress the tale by interacting with the girls and other characters across various different scenes (some of which are optional), and then influence Seijuro’s relationship with them through the conversation choices that they make.
It’s worth noting that Sakura Wars is part dating-sim too, so some of these conversation choices you can make will sway your relationships in different ways. A lot of your success in establishing strong bonds with the girls will come down to understanding their personalities, with the player typically given three choices when responding to a character. It’s up to you to determine the response that they WANT to hear from you – a successful remark will see your relationship improve with a small musical jingle, though saying the wrong thing (which is often the more… well… perverted thing) can see it sour instead. There’s a fine balance to the system but it becomes easier to understand when you figure out what makes each girl tick.
It’s something that’s worth investing in though, with Sakura Wars’ characters full of charm and the game packed to the brim with fun and interesting scenarios to find yourself in. As I mentioned, a lot of these are actually optional, so you’ve got to take the time to find the girls around the theatre if you want to see them – it’s always worth it though, with each interaction not only fleshing out Suijuro’s relationship with them but also expanding upon the game’s lore. There’s a hell of a lot of depth to be found with each girl in the game and they’ll open up if you let them, and it really makes for one of Sakura War’s most charming (and often touching) aspects.
I’d be remiss not to mention Sakura Wars’ more lewd elements though, with it featuring an assortment of titillating moments that sees players doing the likes of watching the girls whilst they’re bathing, focusing on their chest instead of their faces when talking, or even randomly approaching them with your hands ready to grab at them – that’s just naming a few instances too, with them found in abundance throughout the entire game. Rest assured, it never dives into anything erotic or too revealing, but it definitely has moments where you won’t want your loved ones to see what you’re playing. Sometimes it could be a bit cringey, but in fairness there was never anything TOO offensive… just maybe a little bit creepy.
You’ll get to explore the world and partake in small side quests in-between all of this, with Seijuro given a multitude of tasks to complete to help out around the theatre. These consist of simple things such as gathering the audience’s feedback, taking on the role of a mascot, going on dates with the girls, playing the role of a detective, or even helping out in the restaurant, with small mini-games coming into the mix too. You might be captain of the troupe, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be expected to do even the most menial of tasks yourself. Fortunately, it’s all a lot of fun and the novelty of the tasks you find yourself performing keep the experience fresh… it’s good stuff.
Whilst the narrative and exploration are the priority in Sakura Wars, there’s still plenty of action to be found when battling with the mechs. The series previously adopted a tactical-RPG approach to its combat, but it’s more action-orientated now with the player able to unleash combos of light and strong attacks upon their enemies in a third-person action-adventure style. You’re able to pull off some slick dodges when enemies pounce your way with attacks too (that can slow down time to let you hit a swift counter attack if timed right), whilst some impressive special moves allow you to unleash some real hurt on your foes.
Admittedly, there’s nothing TOO in depth about the combat and a lot of it comes down to button-mashing, but it still manages to be fun. There are some neat mechanics in place that tie combat to the relationship-building side of the game too, with stat boosts and new attacks available as you build up a bond with each girl – there are some cool team attacks to pull off too, which all add to the stylish flow of battle. Still, gamers who were hoping for some depth with upgrades or more challenging foes might be a little underwhelmed; whilst Sakura Wars’ combat is neat, it is very, very, simple and rarely difficult.
I do need to give some extra praise to the game’s presentation, with the in-game action managing to look slick and stylish throughout. This is naturally at its best in instances of combat, but the character and environmental design when exploring the likes of the theatre is impressive too. There are also anime sequences that add an extra cinematic vibe to the experience, which is always appreciated in a game like this.
Sakura Wars is an undeniably quirky game, but its charming blend of stylish mech action and visual novel-style storytelling kept me completely invested in its adventure. Sure, the combat mechanics were a bit simple and some of the game’s lewder content felt a little cringey in places, but neither stopped me from having a blast whilst restoring the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division to its former glory.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4