Sakura Wars is the latest entry in the long running Sakura Wars franchise and the sixth mainline game in the series. The game is a soft-reboot of the franchise and developed internally by SEGA’s CS2 R&D team, instead of Red Entertainment who developed the previous Sakura Wars games. With the release of the latest Sakura Wars title SEGA is aiming to push the franchise more strongly internationally as previous games in the series except for 2005’s Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love weren’t released in English. Read on to find out how the mix-genre game fares in our review below.
Sakura Wars is best described as a cross-genre game with Action RPG mixed Hack & Slash gameplay coupled with Dating Sim and Visual Novel segments. Although the series isn’t very popular internationally, in Japan the games have sold over 4.5 million copies and received positive reviews across the board. Due to the mix of genres, there aren’t many games like Sakura Wars in the market.
Development of the game started in 2016 after fans showed huge anticipation for a potential new title in the series after there had been no mainline game in the series since 2005. The game’s development staff was made up of new and returning staff members which include Tetsu Katano of the Sonic Team as the game’s producer and Tetsuya Otsubo who previously worked on the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva games as the director.
The game is set in a fictionalized version of 1940s Japan with steampunk and futuristic elements. The setting of the game is certainly noteworthy as its such a weird combination of traditional and new-age components that are fun to explore. The game takes place around 10-12 years (depending on the canon) after the events of Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love which resulted in several losses for the various Combat Revue’s from across the world in the Great Demon War. Combat Revue’s are humanity shield and sword against the forces of darkness. The game tells the story from the perspective of ex-Imperial Japan Navy Captain Seijuro Kamiyama, who is tasked to take over the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division as a new danger is on the horizon. The Flower Division had been dormant for several years after the events of the previous games, with Kamiyama focused on bringing the division to its former glory.
Sakura Wars’ setting, premise and story are the highlights of the game but greatly let down by the horrible pacing. As I was playing other recently released JRPGs like Final Fantasy VII Remake and Persona 5 Royal alongside Sakura Wars, I couldn’t help but notice how the game drags itself in certain sections. The first two hours especially I feel could be a huge turn off for players getting into the series for the first time as its filled with overused Japanese tropes and dialogue. It does get better towards the second half of the game, however by that point you’re almost at the end as the main story isn’t more than 16-17 hours. The game does have multiple endings so players may be enticed to replay it.
The dating sim system in Sakura Wars is integral as the path you take centers around the girl of the Flower Division you choose to romance. Romancing your girl of choices includes hanging out with during designated times and succeeding in conversations where you have to choose between three dialogue options. Only thing I don’t like about the dialogue choices is that the options presented to you are vague and the choice you make may lead to Kamiyama saying completely different. After a few frustrating and honestly cringe exchanges, I gave up and decided to use a guide. Overall I wouldn’t say I had the best dating sim experience with Sakura Wars and its mostly down to the girls. The Flower Divisions’ girls are very trophy and scream out their annoying personalities. I feel they could’ve spent more time developing their characters as they’re simply too shallow from what I could gauge from my playthrough.
Sakura Wars’ gameplay forgoes the turn based strategy mechanics of its predecessors and is instead focused on Hack & Slash gameplay similar to that seen in Musou games. The battles involves you controlling the Flower Division in their huge mechs against the demon forces. The presentation of battles in particular is something that I found to be really noteworthy with flashy animations and colorful backdrops. Unfortunately due to the weird choice of progression most of the battles play the same. Sakura Wars doesn’t have a traditional upgrade or level up system so there’s not a lot things to look forward to as you progress through the game in terms of the battles other than new enemies.
Sakura Wars does a lot of stuff right but at the same time could do without many aspects that the gaming industry has moved away from. Sakura Wars was my first foray into the series and I could tell the potential the series has however the next entry, and I hope there’s a sequel, gets rid of the tropes and fixed the glaring pacing issues.
Sakura Wars Review (PS4)
Game title: Sakura Wars (2020)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Latest entry and soft-reboot of the long running steampunk JRPG franchise.
Sakura Wars as a franchise holds huge potential but is let down by slow pacing and annoying tropes amongst other small annoyances.