The very niche Sakura Wars franchise hasn't seen a western release in about a decade so let's see if this latest game will win our hearts.
As a westerner, I've had limited access to the Sakura Wars series and only ever played Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love on Wii when it first released. That was so long ago, my love, that my memory of it is hazy at best but I do recall the cast of characters being delightful and really, that's the main appeal of this latest game as well. That's right; it's a very story-driven experience with minimal gameplay so if you don't enjoy visual novels and getting wrapped up in relationships and such then this is not a game for you. On the other hand, if you do enjoy slowly getting to know characters, observing the plot gradually unfolding, and getting caught up in drama then you'll likely enjoy your time with Sakura Wars a great deal. It really is that simple so you can easily make the decision whether to play Sakura Wars or not right now or read on if you'd like to learn more about its ins and outs as well as what its gameplay specifically involves.
Sakura Wars has you control a generic guy named Seijuro Kamiyama who is assigned to be the captain of Tokyo's Flower Division; an all-female battalion of 5 capable mech (AKA Koubu) pilots. For the majority of the gameplay, you simply walk around a small imperial town with the central location being a theater while chatting with the cast of characters and watching cutscenes. From time to time, you'll be prompted to make a decision which changes the dialogue as well as possibly strengthens your relationship with a character. Sometimes, you'll be able to interact in other ways such as increasing a gauge for your tone or clicking around the screen to prompt various actions, dialogue, or thoughts. In the end, all of these elements make the characters and their relationships really come to life.
Speaking of which, Sakura Wars' story and game world seem quite stereotypical at first but as you dive deeper, it'll start to grow on you and you'll begin to get immersed in all of its layers. The main aspect that contributes to this is the likeable cast of characters. Each member of the Flower Division has a distinct personality and it's fun watching them interact with each other and Kamiyama as their insecurities sometimes show yet their personalities remain strong. Heck, even the NPCs have some depth to them and getting to know them through simply chatting with folks from time to time makes the game world impressively authentic. On top of all this, the visuals are fantastic with anime character models that have a unique design with close-together eyes and expressive features. The Japanese voice cast is great, too, and the soundtrack is so good that I wouldn't mind owning it so I could listen to it from time to time.
Outside the story elements which compose the majority of the campaign, you'll take part in beat 'em up segments as you control characters who ride around in their Koubus. I've seen this referred to as the action RPG portion but it really isn't; it's a beat 'em up. In fact, I've played loads of beat 'em ups that feature more RPG elements than Sakura Wars does. The only aspect that changes how these segments play out is your relationship with the characters which may grant you access to certain special moves and such. Besides that, there's a severe lack of character growth and customization which takes away a sense of fulfillment with the combat system as a whole. Plus, the combat is extremely simple and easy so as long as you mash those buttons, you'll likely succeed.
Finally, I just wanted to mention that although the game world and cast of characters become captivating and immersive, the story still drags at parts. Considering most of the time spent playing Sakura Wars is simply experiencing the story and characters, I found myself getting impatient at the more clichéd scenes that are usually filled with banal minutiae. In other words, I just wanted the story to keep forging ahead and these moments felt like they were jamming a stick in the plot's gears. That being said, there are tons of goofy segments where you can make Kamiyama look like a genuine pervert which made me crack up.
Sakura Wars is an easy title to recommend to anyone looking for a layered game world populated by a cast of memorable characters. However, those who prefer a more immediately rewarding adventure will likely get exhausted by its story-heavy setup.
- + Captivating story and game world that grow on you over time
- + Wide variety of likeable characters
- + Top-notch soundtrack and anime visuals
- - Lack of character progression and customization makes it less fulfilling
- - Beat 'em up segments are too simple
- - Story drags at parts