If you missed Part 3 of the series overview, it is available here
Paris is one of the most beautiful and famous cities in the entire world. Originally inhabited by the Parisii tribe from which the city takes its name, Paris first became the capital of the region of France in the year 508, and had become a center for intellectuals by the end of the 11th century. A major center for the arts, Paris has been immortalized through its many romantic portrayals in film, literature, and music, gaining the title “the city of love”. The city has survived numerous catastrophes throughout its lifetime, including plague, siege, and occupation. Indeed, Paris is one of the world’s great cities, and it makes sense that it would be the setting for the first Sakura Wars game to break from the Tokyo cast.
After the release of the fantastic Sakura Wars 2, the popularity of the Sakura Wars franchise only continued to grow. The popular stage shows continued to be performed every summer, and an OVA was produced for the second game in 1999. 2000 saw the airing of the Sakura Wars anime in Japan, as well as the release of a number of spin-off titles, including the series’ first portable title, Sakura Wars GB ~Go Forth – Flower Division Enlist!~. Sakura Wars was on the rise, and a third installment was inevitable.
But that certainly wasn’t all. In November of 1998, Sega released the Dreamcast in Japan, bringing gaming into the sixth console generation. A highly innovative machine, the Dreamcast was unlike anything gamers had ever seen before. With its VMU memory cards, stunning 480p resolution (something that had never been seen on a console up to that point), online capabilities, and far greater power than anything else on the market, the Dreamcast marked the beginning of a new era of gaming and a new era for Sega. It also marked the beginning of a new era for one of Sega’s most beloved franchises.
In March 2001, Sakura Wars 3: Is Paris Burning? was released. The series’ Dreamcast debut managed to both adhere to the formula established by its predecessors and change it in a number of ways, giving rise to arguably the best and most original entry in the series, one that manages to feel fresh even to this day while still remaining respectful of the series’ history.
The plot of Sakura Wars 3 once again follows series protagonist Ichiro Ogami as he is sent to Paris, where he is to lead the newly formed Paris Kagekidan. Strange things have been happening in the city, and the inexperienced new Kagekidan soon finds itself facing off against the Kaiju (often translated as Beastmen), who are attempting to throw the city into chaos.
One of the most striking things about Sakura Wars 3 is the totally different feel of the game. Of course, the change in setting plays a major part in this. Paris is VERY different from Teito. The colors are brighter and lusher, and the game’s fantastic soundtrack, once again by series composer Kouhei Tanaka, has a very French feel to it, which helps to lend an air of romanticism to the proceedings. The game is filled with Parisian food, dress, culture, and landmarks (including a highly memorable appearance by the Arc de Triomphe). But it doesn’t stop there. The theater at which the members of the Paris Kagekidan perform, Les Chattes Noires, is a cabaret rather than a playhouse. It is also much smaller than the Great Imperial Theater, and, as a result, the Paris Kagekidan does not live at Chattes Noires. Furthermore, all the members of the Paris Kagekidan perform separate acts, enforcing a sense of individuality among them. All of these various trappings combine to create a unique atmosphere rarely seen in gaming, one that is both romantic and personal.
And Sakura Wars 3 is indeed an incredibly personal game. The previous two games are some of the most character-driven of all time, and Sakura Wars 3 manages to expand that focus. By reducing the number of primary characters down to five instead of eight without reducing the game’s length, Sakura Wars 3 has a lot more time to develop its incredible cast.
Erica Fontaine is the poster girl for the Paris Kagekidan, as evidenced by her appearance on pretty much anything related to the third game. Erica is a young French girl who lives as a nun at the local monastery. Erica has a massive heart and wants nothing more than to help others, but she’s an extreme klutz, which means her efforts to help people oftentimes end in disaster. Her tendency to carry around her cross-shaped gun gets her arrested on more than one occasion, and she acts very much like a child. But there’s a reason for that, as revealed fairly late in the game, and she’s capable of being serious on occasion. She’s always cheerful, and is a bright beacon of optimism for the group. Her relationship with Coquelicot is a hilarious inversion of the usual adult-child relationship.
Glycine Bleumer is a French noble with Viking blood. As such, she’s incredibly proud; she takes offense at pretty much everything, which usually entails her brandishing her giant axe. She is very interested in her family’s history and upholding her family’s honor. She also believes she is superior to others due to her ancestry. However, despite her immense pride, she reveals a softer side to Ogami that she is clearly very embarrassed about. Initially cold, Glycine reveals herself to be a kind and caring individual who can be relied upon in a crisis. She also can’t help herself around cute animals like kittens and baby foxes; she finds them unbearably adorable. A fierce warrior, Glycine also has a pirate ship on the grounds of her mansion (which is awesome). Her episode is one of the series’ funniest. She is a close friend of Hanabi’s.
Coquelicot is the token child character. A young orphan from Vietnam, Coquelicot works at the circus, where she takes care of the animals and performs as a magician. Her magic act is a huge hit with the patrons of Chattes Noires. Coquelicot loves making others happy, and her troubled past has given her a level of emotional maturity unheard of for a child her age. In fact, she’s probably the most mature member of the Paris Kagekidan. She’s incredibly tough, and is always encouraging the others when things are at their darkest. When sad, she would rather put on a brave face than let others know how she’s truly feeling. She regularly refers to Ogami as “Ichiro”. She paints a cat on her Koubu, and her attack is kitty missiles (greatest attack ever). She oftentimes acts as a parent to Erica despite their age difference.
Lobelia Carlini is a departure from other Sakura Wars characters in that she is, in fact, a hardened master criminal with a mean streak. Lobelia is initially recruited into the Paris Kagekidan straight out of prison, where she is kept in a massive special cell in a strait-jacket. Once she’s in the group, she is kept there by a combination of both bribery and death threats. However, she eventually develops an attachment to the other members of the Paris Kagekidan and to Ogami, and it becomes clear that, despite her best attempts to project apathy, she truly cares about the others. She is quite fond of alcohol and can oftentimes be found drinking at the local bar. She has a nasty habit of stealing from pretty much everyone, including Ogami. She hails from Romania, and has striking white hair and cracked glasses. She also has an attitude, and won’t take crap from anyone.
Finally, there’s Hanabi Kitaoji. Hanabi always wears dark colors and has a melancholy air about her, which is compounded by her soft manner of speaking and her tendency to sigh constantly. She is also shy and quiet. Hailing from Japan, she is the daughter of Count Kitaoji, who made brief appearances in the previous games and the anime. She was sent to Paris at a young age for schooling, where she lives with Glycine (the two are best friends). This means, however, that she has never really been to Japan. As such, she takes a great interest in Ogami and wants to become a “Yamato Nadeshiko”, the traditional ideal of the perfect Japanese woman. Hanabi is sweet and hates seeing the other members of the Paris Kagekidan fight (which happens often), and tries to break up conflicts. She is a master archer, a skill she puts to good use as a member of the Paris Kagekidan.
There’s also Grand-Mere, the older French woman who owns and operates Chattes Noires. She commands the Paris Kagekidan in a role similar to that filled by Yoneda in the Teikoku Kagekidan. She is a highly respected member of Parisian high society and has numerous connections, due both to her status as the widow of a count and the owner of one of the most popular establishments in all of Paris. Like Yoneda, she cares deeply about those under her command. She’s also a romantic and encourages Ogami in his pursuits. She has a cat, Napoleon, who is loved by all.
Mell Raison and Ci Caprice are the two members of the Paris Kagekidan support staff. They are inseparable, and act like sisters. Mell is the more serious of the two and is Grand-Mere’s secretary. She seems more regimented in her routines, and plays the role of the more mature older sister. She is also very easily embarassed. Ci, on the other hand, is more easygoing and runs the gift shop, selling Bromides. She plays the role of the fun-loving younger sister, and is always encouraging Mell to get out of her comfort zone. The two are a great pair, and their interactions are very entertaining to watch. They have some fantastic moments in game, including a trip to a dance hall with Ogami. Every night, they introduce the performances at Chattes Noires.
The cast is fantastic, and they all receive a large amount of development throughout the game. Once again, there is an episode focusing on each particular character, and the other episodes develop the Paris Kagekidan as a whole and their entertaining group dynamic. The character development has taken on an additional level of maturity. The second half of Hanabi’s episode is the most tragic and poignant moment of the entire series, and is one of the game’s best sequences. The game really isn’t about the Paris Kagekidan fighting to save Paris from the Kaiju. It’s about the characters maturing individually and as a group as they learn to accept themselves and fight alongside each other as a team.
Just about everything else has received an overhaul. The switch to a new console with greater processing power means the game looks much better than the previous two. Combat and free movement sections are now in full 3D. The Dreamcast’s improved resolution means colors are brighter, and the art is sharper and of higher quality than that of the previous titles. And best of all, free movement sections are no longer restricted to the theater; Ogami can explore the areas of Paris surrounding Chattes Noires. Being able to view different parts of Paris allows for a cast of entertaining secondary characters (including the priest of Erica’s monastery and the owner of the local flower shop), and really helps to bring the setting to life. All this helps to build on the game’s fantastic atmosphere, and it makes an already strong setting even stronger.
The game also is able to spend more time on romance due to its increased character focus. On this front, not much has changed gameplay-wise, although there is a new type of LIPS event involving the position of the analog stick. The personality bar is gone, but it’s not particularly noticeable.
Combat, though, is where Sakura Wars 3 experiences its largest gameplay changes. Like the previous games, each episode contains one or more battles, and your relationships with the characters affect their combat ability. However, the game introduces an entirely new battle system known as ARMS. This system, which acted as a precursor to Sega’s later title Valkyria Chronicles, gives each character a number of action points. Attacks, Special Attacks, Defense, and Healing all take a certain number of points, and the number of points remaining determines the radius in which a unit can move. It’s a system that still manages to feel fresh to this day, and it makes for some incredibly engaging battles. Once again, Ogami can cover characters up to three times in any given battle, but now characters positioned near each other have a random chance to block enemy attacks.
The music is, once again, amazing. Kouhei Tanaka pulled out all the stops for the Sakura Wars 3 soundtrack. The opening and ending themes are both incredible, as are the character themes. Hanabi’s theme, “Parasol of My Heart”, is a highlight, and perfectly captures her personality. The strong soundtrack is entertaining, and plays a key part in crafting the game’s atmosphere.
Overall, Sakura Wars 3 is a fantastic game, and is this author’s personal favorite. The switch to a new setting and characters helps the game feel fresh, and the game places a strong focus on its great cast. It crafts an amazing world with a romantic atmosphere, and contains both a great combat system and strong writing, on which it places its primary focus. The game is available on both Dreamcast and PC, and, like the previous games, is fairly cheap to import. Kayama once again has a translation guide available over at Gamefaqs, and it’s arguably his best work; it’s incredibly in-depth, and while it doesn’t go into every single free-movement event, it is compatible with each and every one of the game’s endings.
If you’d like to see Sakura Wars 3 in the West, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, and show your support by contacting publishers and expressing your interest in a localized version of the PC ports of the first four games. And stay tuned for the next part of this series, a discussion of Sakura Wars 4: Fall In Love, Maidens!