For gamers who love characters, story, and anime, has there ever been a series as great as Sakura Wars? Essentially a character-driven anime series in video-game form, and a precursor to games like Persona 4, each Sakura Wars game uses strong characters and fantastic gameplay to drive entertaining stories that have helped the series achieve massive popularity in Japan. This popularity has given rise to a number of spin-off games, six OVAs, a 25-episode anime series and a theatrical film, as well as a theme café (that unfortunately closed in March 2008) and a series of live stage shows. Each of the first four Sakura Wars games appeared on Famitsu’s reader-polled list of the greatest games of all time (placing at 13, 36, 18, and 91, respectively); in 2009, Sakura Wars scored the top spot in Famitsu’s reader-polled list of most-wanted sequels; and in 2010, another Famitsu reader poll placed Sakura Shinguji (one of the series’ main characters) as the 17th greatest videogame character of all time. Unfortunately, while we received the anime, the film, and the majority of the OVAs, the majority of the Sakura Wars games have remained exclusively in Japan.
All hope is not lost, however. In 2010, five years after its initial release, Sakura Wars V was released in Europe and North America, bringing the series to fans around the world. Furthermore, digital distribution has made it easier than ever for a publisher to distribute games. Each of the first four Sakura Wars titles was released for the PC; our goal is to get these versions of the games localized and released through a digital distribution channel.
However, we are aware that many people in the West are unfamiliar with Sakura Wars; as a result, this series of articles is being written to give a comprehensive overview of the series and familiarize people with it.
Sakura Wars is a series of high-concept tactical RPG/visual novel hybrids with dating-sim elements, which has been classified in Japan as “dramatic adventure”. Set in an alternate version of the 1920s, the series follows Navy Ensign Ichiro Ogami (and later his nephew, Shinjiro Taiga) as he is sent to lead various troupes of all-female actresses (who are also talented at both singing and dancing). These actresses are secretly warriors who fight against evil with the help of giant mecha-robots known as Koubu. Clearly this is a concept that could only have come from Japan.
Each game contains an anime-style intro complete with catchy theme song and is divided into a number of episodes. The games are laid out like anime series, with eyecatches (the title cards you always see immediately before and after a commercial break in most anime) acting as save points, and next episode previews appearing at the end of every episode. Each episode is further divided into two major portions: the adventure portions and the battle portions.
The battle portions of the Sakura Wars series consist of awesome SRPG battles. The first two games follow a typical grid-based system; the third game introduced the ARMS system, which acted as a precursor to the battle system seen in Valkyria Chronicles. Battles involve the characters facing off against the series’ colorful bad guys, and each battle concludes with the characters doing “the usual thing” (which involves striking oftentimes hilarious victory poses). The rub here is that Sakura Wars is an SRPG without experience points; the power of your party members is based off of how strong your relationship with them is. The more a character likes you, the further they can move in battle and the more damage they do while attacking. Add in flashy special attacks for each character, combo moves, a cover system that can help you gain points with your squad members, and a “battle stance” system that raises and lowers stats based on the stance chosen, and you have combat that is both unique and engaging.
As awesome as the battle portions are, the real meat of the game lies in its adventure sections. These sequences consist of story sections, dialogue prompts that can cause you to gain or lose favor with characters, strong character development, and free movement sections in which the protagonist can visit various locations to interact with the game’s characters. Each Sakura Wars game has an exciting, action-packed plot filled with epic moments as the characters fight demons and monsters in their giant mecha-robots. The story of a Sakura Wars game is always entertaining, pulling the player in and refusing to let go until the end.
The true draw to the series, however, is its amazing characters. The Sakura Wars series has a highly memorable cast. While each character definitely fits certain anime tropes, the way the characters interact with each other and develop throughout the series causes them to go beyond typical stereotypes. Despite the wealth of exciting moments present, it is the slow-paced character moments that are the highlight of any Sakura Wars game. Furthermore, the main character eventually develops a romantic relationship with one of the characters. The series’ innocent portrayal of romance makes the characters even more likeable and deepens their characterizations further.
Throw in a strong series of soundtracks by anime composer Kohei Tanaka, great voice acting by actors who have become inextricably tied to their characters, and a fundamentally optimistic view of the world and you get Sakura Wars, one of the most unique gaming experiences you will ever have. Sakura Wars has something to offer to any fan of JRPGs or anime, with both strong characters and exciting stories.
But we can’t bring this wonderful series of games to our shores without your help! Please let Sega and any other publishers know of your interest in having these titles localized, and make sure to like us on Facebook and follow our Twitter feed. For those interested in the series, the fifth game is available in English on the PS2 and the Wii. For those interested in the first four games, be sure to check out our English playthrough of the first game (thanks to our dedicated community for this massive undertaking!). For those interested, the first four games are very cheap to import, and translation guides are available over at Gamefaqs.
Scenes from Next Episode:
The original game that took Japan by storm,
It’s a discussion of the first Sakura Wars!
A storm of romance in Taisho Cherry Blossoms!