The original Sakura Wars was one of the few SEGA Saturn games I never got a chance to play. It, alongside Shining Force III (also for the Saturn), was one of last few SEGA SRPGs during that time period.

It’s always been a massive regret since SEGA’s never translated the original to English, despite constant requests from fans over the years.

When Shin Sakura Taisen (Sakura Wars in English) was announced (and an English version was revealed), I couldn’t believe it. Apart from Sakura Wars: So Long My Love (the prequel to this game), this is only the second title in the series to get translated.

So, with so much hype behind it, does Sakura Wars live up to expectations?

What is Sakura Wars?

Sakura Wars is a soft reboot of the revered Sakura Wars series of games created in the late 90s. The original debuted for the SEGA Saturn and was one of the most popular games for the console. It spawned several sequels over the years, though only So Long My Love (2005) was translated to English.

Developed and published by SEGA, the new Sakura Wars is also an adventure game, as you control the Imperial Combat Revue’s Captain Seijuro Kamiyama as he handles the day to day aspects of running the group.

As the game’s a soft reboot to the series, it’s made for a whole new generation of gamers in mind. It eschews the traditional SRPG gameplay that made the series famous for an action oriented one, in the vein of Koei Tecmo’s Musou series.

During battles, you’re in control of a steam powered mech (called Spiricle Strikers) and tasked to eliminate demons. Like the Musou games, you can chain various attacks together in combat to unleash deadly moves. Once a certain meter’s filled, you can then use the character’s ultimate move, which does massive damage.

In the combat stages, you can freely change characters to whoever is available. Each character’s different enough that they offer a distinct enough experience, making it worth your while to play around instead of sticking to one character.

While I initially enjoyed these combat encounters, the more I played, the more I wished they were more complex.

Battles quickly devolve to mindless button mashing, as the enemies are mostly braindead. Dodging attacks isn’t even required most of the time, provided you keep moving. While the bosses are cool, they’re pushovers too, especially if you have your ultimate move meter filled.

On top of that, there’s no customization or RPG elements involved, which gives you no sense of progression at all. Your mech is essential the same at the end of the game as it was in the beginning.

I wished that SEGA implemented the original turn-based battles from past games instead of dumbing down the series to cater to the casual crowd. SEGA destroyed the Shining series when they switched to the series’ current action RPG style. From the looks of things, that’ll be the case for Sakura Wars too.

The plot in Sakura Wars picks up more than a decade after the events of So Long My Love. Although a reboot, the new game does continue plot points and has characters from previous games in the series, including the original heroines Sakura Shinguji and Sumire Kanzaki.

The story references past games quite substantially, which leaves most of us out in the cold since the majority of the games it’s referring to aren’t in English. Luckily, the game does provide some context and backstory to the events in previous games but it’s nowhere near as good as having played them yourself.

I really hope that SEGA releases a compilation of the older games just so English audiences (like myself) can catch up to what’s gone on previously.

Despite not knowing the series’ history, I have to admit I had a great time.

Errand boy.

During the adventure portions of the game, you get free rein to move around the locations available. Running around the Imperial Theatre and Ginza was fun…which is lucky considering these segments make up about two-thirds of the game, with the final part being the battles.

While you’re running around, you can also partake in Koi-Koi Wars, the game’s sole minigame. It’s a hanafuda card game, which means it’s REALLY hard to get the hang of. I wished SEGA had reworked this for a western audience and changed it to something more familiar; perhaps even to Shoji or Go.

The plot in Sakura Wars mainly involves the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division, a group tasked to protect Tokyo from demons. When Tokyo’s not under threat, the group works as a theatrical entertainment group. Initially, the story’s about keeping the revue from being disbanded though that blossoms into much more as you play.

The writing’s damn good and the plot’s filled with moments that made me laugh. It helps a ton that for most of the events, you can choose your responses via the game’s LIPS system.

They run the gamut from the serious, to the wacky, to the downright perverted. Almost always, the perverted ones are the most hilarious so you’re definitely going to want to pick them when you can.

The responses you pick does have an impact on the game, as it builds your trust meter with the person or persons you’re interacting with. The higher the meter gets, the more boosts you get in battles. These range from higher starting morale (which boosts your damage and defence), to having the ability to execute special team-up moves.

This does get in the way somewhat because sometimes you’re just going to want to pick an option that’s clearly wrong (but seems fun) but can’t because you’ll be penalized for it by losing trust.

I don’t know why, but the game really reminds me of Love Hina. Perhaps it’s the Shonen leanings, which has elements of fan service (with a drop of harem anime) and slice of life that goes along with the plot.

The art style’s definitely awesome too. I love the upbeat steampunk style for the mechs and the design of Ginza during Japan’s Taisho period gives the game a unique type of look. I’m reminded of Rurouni Kenshin (despite the different time periods), and that’s an awesome thing. The anime sequences are damn cool too, with smooth animation and some very impressive battle sequences.

The best part of the game has to be the music though. It’s heavily influenced by the era that the game’s based in, which again, gives it a unique feel. The tracks are mostly instrumental (apart from the main theme) and fit in with the game great. The J-pop main theme’s awesome too, especially when it kicks in during climatic battles. You get pumped up just hearing it and kicking ass while its playing in the background is just so damn awesome because you know the tide’s in your favour.

That, and the fact that the opening intro’s so damn awesome.

The Bottom Line.

While I love that Sakura Wars’ finally back, I really hate the fact that SEGA’s removed the SRPG battles.

It’s frankly an insult to longtime fans. On top of that, the new action based battles aren’t that interesting and the combat’s really shallow. The braindead AI only compounds matters. It’s gotten to the point that I dread combat (or even doing Battle Bot simulations) because it’s just a slog to get through.

However, the other aspects of the game are incredible.

The plot’s really good (though predictable), the humor cracks me up, the characters are likable, the music is near perfect and the art is awesome. I usually get bored with slice of life games (especially most visual novels) but I found myself engaged from the get go.

I hope that when SEGA makes the next game in the series, they’ll revert back to the original SRPG style. Otherwise, I totally see this franchise going down the drain, just like SEGA’s (formerly spectacular) Shining series.

TLDR:

Everything’s awesome…except for the boring battles.

The Good.

  • Great art style.
  • Atmospheric music.
  • Interesting plot and characters.
  • Choosing your responses is fun.

The Bad.

  • Boring battle system.
  • No RPG elements.
  • Not an SRPG.
  • Koi-Koi Wars minigame.

Sal's been in the industry since the early 2000s. He's written for a ton of gaming and tech publications including Playworks, Hardwarezone, HWM and GameAxis. Recently, Sal served as a juror for the Indie Game Awards at Taipei Game Show 2020. A geek and hardcore gamer, Sal will play everything, on any platform.