By The Sakura Wars Localization Project / August 17th, 2013
NOTE: This article is from the oprainfall Campaign Hub, written by an independent campaign, and hosted on the oprainfall website. The opinions herein may not represent the opinions of the oprainfall website.
If you missed Part 4 of the series overview, it is available here.
Life is brief
Fall in love, maidens
Before the crimson bloom
Fades from your lips
Before the tides of passion
Cool within you,
For those of you
Who know no tomorrow
–Isamu Yoshii, Gondola no Uta
The Dreamcast had been the beginning of a new era for gaming. The first of the sixth generation of consoles, it was an innovative powerhouse of a machine that was far ahead of its time. But perhaps it was too far ahead. While sales started strong, the announcement of the Playstation 2 dealt a massive blow to Sega’s fortunes, and sales of the Dreamcast dropped off. Sega knew that something had to change, and in January of 2001, less than two months before the release of Sakura Wars 3, Sega announced that they were ceasing production of the Dreamcast and leaving the console business for good.
What did this mean for Sakura Wars? While it continued to remain immensely popular, Sakura Wars was a series that had always lived on Sega hardware. It was born on the Saturn, and reached maturity on the Dreamcast. Sega hardware was its home, and now that home was disappearing.
As a result, Sega and Overworks decided to make one final Sakura Wars game. It would bring to a close the arc begun on the Sega Saturn with Sakura Wars. It would respect the series’ long history while both tying everything together and giving the series a strong sense of closure, acting as a swan song for both the Sakura Wars series and Sega hardware. It was time to bring the adventures of Ichiro Ogami, the Teikoku Kagekidan, and the Paris Kagekidan to a close.
In 2002, Japan saw the release of Sakura Wars 4: Fall In Love, Maidens. While not the final game in the Sakura Wars series, it certainly feels like it. Taking its name from the lyrics of the song Gondola no Uta (used most famously and to great effect in Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant 1952 masterpiece, Ikiru, which everyone should see), Sakura Wars 4 acts as a swan song for the franchise, bringing to a close the arc that begun six years earlier with Ogami’s arrival in Ueno Park. It is a beautifully crafted work of closure that does a fantastic job of wrapping up the series.
Sakura Wars 4 details Ichiro Ogami’s triumphant return to Tokyo and the Teikoku Kagekidan after his stay in Paris during Sakura Wars 3. The Teikoku Kagekidan is set to put on a performance of Victor Hugo’s famous Les Miserables, and Yoneda wants Ogami to lead the production of the play. However, a string of strange incidents involving rampaging machines soon reveals a new threat to the sanctity of Teito, and the Teikoku Kagekidan is thrust back into action.
Like previous games, Sakura Wars 4 begins with a striking opening sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the game. The sequence immediately strikes a nostalgia chord with a beautiful music-box rendition of Blooming Maidens, the ending theme for the original Sakura Wars, which plays as lyrics from Gondola no Uta appear on a black background. It’s an incredibly effective opening shot that helps to conjure memories of the rest of the series. The sequence then launches into full-on action mode, as the Teikoku Kagekidan races to stop a pair of runaway streetcars. It’s action-packed and exciting, featuring all the members of the Teikoku Kagekidan as they work in tandem to stop an imminent threat. And while that threat is on a small scale, it helps to reassure us that yes, the Teikoku Kagekidan is back, and in fine form too.
The cast of Sakura Wars 4 should be familiar to anyone who played the previous titles. You see, Sakura Wars 4 is the only Sakura Wars game not to introduce any new characters (aside from the villain, more on him later). However, what it does feature is pretty much every major character in the series’ history. As it is Ogami’s triumphant return to Tokyo, the game, of course, features the Teikoku Kagekidan and its associated support staff. Kayama and the Bara-gumi make appearances too, and they’re all as uncomfortable as ever. Best of all, though, the game adds in the Paris Kagekidan and its associated support staff (although Grand-Mere, Mell, and Ci are relegated to bit parts).
It’s absolutely fantastic to see all the characters together, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them interact. The Teikoku Kagekidan and the Paris Kagekidan both have great group dynamics, and this is definitely enhanced when the two groups are together. The game handles its character interactions brilliantly, with the strong Sakura Wars trademark brand of humor running throughout. Ogami’s planning of the Teikoku Kagekidan’s production of Les Miserables is a highlight; Ogami, unsure of how to stage the play’s wedding sequence, goes around asking every member of both the Paris and Teikoku Kagekidans how they feel about marriage. This, predictably, ends in complete and utter disaster.
Another interesting feature of putting both casts together is love triangles. At the beginning of Sakura Wars 4, you get to choose who you ended up with in Sakura Wars 2 and Sakura Wars 3. The two you have chosen both expect Ogami to remain faithful to them, and hijinks ensue.
The game’s villain (there’s only one this time) is also strong. Inspired by Kabuki theater, he manages to be both menacing and fascinating. While he is the only new addition to the cast, he’s a strong villain for the series to end on. The main plot is, as usual, exciting, featuring some action packed battles, as well as some of the series’ most badass moments (the end of the second battle is AWESOME). And the arrival of the Paris Kagekidan is pretty much the most ridiculously over-the-top moment in the entire series. And, to top it all off, in the final mission, you get to choose members from both Kagekidans to form the Ogami Kagekidan.
Sakura Wars 4 does have one fairly major flaw that must be mentioned, and that is its length. Due to the Dreamcast’s demise, Sakura Wars 4 only spent a year in development, far shorter than that spent by previous games in the series. As a result, there are a number of re-used art assets from Sakura Wars 3, and the game is only about 10 hours long (compare that to the 40+ hours of Sakura Wars 3). As such, the plot moves at a brisk pace, there are no episodes, there are only three battles, and the game can’t really stand on its own.
But that’s fine, because it doesn’t need to. Sakura Wars 4 does exactly what it tries to do: it sends the series off in style. It builds on the previous entries to craft an emotional conclusion to one of the greatest game series of all time. Throughout the entire game, there’s a sad sense of finality, and Ogami must make a final decision on who to spend his life with (which, for me, was a difficult and painful decision to make). The game’s ending is one of the best ever, and is packed to the brim with feels. So while it may not stand on its own, and while it would have been nice for the game to be longer, Sakura Wars 4 still manages to be one of the best endings fans could have asked for. And there’s plenty of replay value, too; the large cast means there’s 13 different endings and 40 different possibilities for love triangles. So while the game isn’t very long, there’s still plenty of content.
Overall, despite its issues, Sakura Wars 4 manages to be a fantastic ending to the Sakura Wars series. It successfully unites two amazing casts of characters for one final, emotional adventure. It successfully ties up and respects what came before, and features all the trademark humor and brilliant character interactions that have characterized the Sakura Wars series.
Sakura Wars 4 is available on Dreamcast and PC. For those interested in playing the Japanese version, there are, as always, translations available from Kayama over at Gamefaqs. Unfortunately, Kayama decided to give up his translation of the Sakura Wars series partway through his translation of Sakura Wars 4. As a result, while the game is translated through to the end, most dialogue options and free movement events are not, and the always great free-movement section at the end of the game isn’t translated either. Furthermore, the guide only translates the Sakura-Erica love triangle, and only provides an ending for Sakura. The game is fully playable and still immensely enjoyable, however.
If you want to see Sakura Wars 4 released in the West, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Tumblr, and contact any publishers you feel would be interested in publishing the series. Also, join our letter writing campaign to XSEED!
Scenes from next episode:
The tale of Ichiro Ogami has ended,
But the Sakura Wars series isn’t over yet!
Shinjiro Taiga, go forth
Into New York and the Sakura Taisen world project!
It’s Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love!
Bang! To the rooftops!
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