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 oprainfall.
New York City is, without a doubt, one of the great American cities, as well as a world landmark. Initially a trading post founded by Dutch Colonists in 1624, the city and the territory in which it was contained were acquired by the British in 1664, who renamed the territory New York. In 1785, the city became the capital of the United States, a title which it held until 1790. In 1790, the city officially became the largest in the United States, and it has been ever since. With famous landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, New York is a symbol of America and the American dream. It is this city that would set the stage for the newest installment of the Sakura Wars franchise.
The end of the Dreamcast was a bittersweet time for the Sakura Wars series; the series grew up on Sega hardware, and now it was disappearing. The main arc of the series was brought to an emotional conclusion in Sakura Wars 4, and the Ogami storyline was clearly over. Despite this, however, it was an exciting time for the Sakura Wars series and for Sega. Sega was shifting over to a software company, and they were now able to publish games on a wider variety of consoles. It was a new beginning, filled with opportunities for Sega.
And with new opportunities for Sega came new opportunities for Sakura Wars. With the move to a software-only model, Sega decided it was finally time to bring Sakura Wars to the rest of the world.
With this mindset, they launched the “Sakura Wars World Project”, a planned series of Sakura Wars games for the PS2 that would propel the series onto the world stage. It was an ambitious project, one that was to breathe new life into the series by branching into a number of new gameplay styles. A number of games were planned: Sakura Taisen: ~Atsuki Chisio Ni~, a remake; Sakura Wars Monogatari Teito-hen Pari-hen, a digital-comic spinoff of the main series that was speculated to have multiple installments; KOUMA, which was to be an action-adventure title set during the Kouma war; and Sakura Himenishiki Emaki, which was to be a “Psycho Trip Action” game set during the Sengokujidai period of Japanese history. And, of course, there were two other games announced as well: Sakura Wars 5, the next main entry in the Sakura Wars series, and its prequel, Sakura Wars 5 Action. Sakura Wars 5 was to be the capstone of the entire project, the game that would tie everything together and bring the main series back into the spotlight after the conclusion reached in Sakura Wars 4.
In 2005, Sega released the most recent main title in the Sakura Wars franchise, Sakura Wars V: ~So Long, My Love~, in Japan after three years of development. Taking its title from the 1940 Raymond Chandler novel Farewell My Lovely, Sakura Wars V is a brilliant continuation of the Sakura Wars series that keeps the gameplay formula intact but takes the series into some new directions. It feels like the polar opposite of Sakura Wars 4; whereas that game was a swan song for the series, Sakura Wars V feels like a fresh start to the series after Ogami’s storyline was concluded in the previous title.
Sakura Wars V, instead of continuing the story of Ichiro Ogami, follows his nephew, Shinjiro Taiga. Despite the familial connection between the two, Shinjiro is a very different character from Ogami. He’s younger, pluckier, and seems less sure of himself, and while he has to struggle through many of the same things that Ogami did, he still comes off as a fresh and interesting new face for the Sakura Wars series.
Sakura Wars V follows young Shinjiro as he is sent to America to head up the New York Kagekidan. The New York Kagekidan, like the Teikoku and Paris Kagekidans, is a group of all-female performers who also pilot giant mecha robots to protect their city from evil. Unfortunately, it seems the New York Kagekidan was expecting Ogami to lead them, and Shinjiro is faced with skepticism and doubt from the rest of the team. Shinjiro quickly proves himself to be a capable leader and earns the New York Kagekidan’s trust. But the New York Kagekidan must defend New York against the servants of Nobunaga, an Ancient Japanese warlord, who are attempting to resurrect their master, destroy New York, and rule the world.
The overarching plot follows the same formula seen many times before in the series, but there are some new elements here, especially the doubt Shinjiro must initially face. He’s not just given the position as commander of the New York Kagekidan; he has to work for it. It’s very much in line with the theme of the American Dream that runs throughout Sakura Wars V, giving the game a unique flavor suited to its setting.
And, like Sakura Wars 3, Sakura Wars V manages to feel totally different from the other games in the series. Individuality plays a large role in Sakura Wars V, with many of the characters working hard to fulfill their individual dreams and all of them living apart from the theater, but there’s also a sense of cooperation more in line with that shown by the Teikoku Kagekidan, as all members of the New York Kagekidan perform on stage together. The game’s atmosphere and soundtrack are very Broadway, and help the setting really feel like New York. And, of course, the game is filled with ridiculous stereotypes about America, and it contains the most ridiculous portrayal of the Statue of Liberty since Ghostbusters 2.
Of course, like the previous games, the heart and soul of Sakura Wars V is its new cast of characters. These characters meet the high standards set by previous games in the series, and can stand proudly alongside those introduced in the Ogami storyline as some of the best characters in gaming history.
Shinjiro Taiga is the series’ new protagonist, the nephew of previous protagonist Ichiro Ogami. As stated above, Shinjiro is young, plucky, and inexperienced, but he’s also enthusiastic about doing his best. He has to work to prove himself worthy as the leader of the New York Kagekidan, and he passes with flying colors. He’s similar to Ogami in a number of ways, but also faces his own unique struggles; he must adjust to a new culture while simultaneously working to prove himself as a leader. He’s relatively inexperienced and a bit of a pretty-boy, to the point where he makes a surprisingly pretty girl when forced to appear onstage in the New York Kagekidan’s plays in drag. He’s very kind, and cares deeply about the members of the New York Kagekidan. He pilots a white and red STAR with twin katanas.
Gemini Sunrise is the “poster girl” for Sakura Wars V (and even starred in her own game, Sakura Wars V Episode 0). A cowgirl from Texas, Gemini is also a skilled samurai, having learned the art of the blade from her Japanese master. As a result, she loves anything Japanese, and takes an interest in Shinjiro and his Japanese heritage. Gemini is sweet and hard-working, and has come to New York to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. Like Sakura and Erica, she’s a bit clumsy, although her clumsiness is nowhere near the level of Erica’s. She works hard as the Little Lip Theater’s janitor in the hope that she will one day be able to perform on the theater’s stage. She rides a horse named Rally (Larry in the English dub), and she makes a mean steak. She pilots a red STAR that wields a katana in battle.
Sagitta Weinberg (Cheiron Archer in the English dub) is a crack lawyer. She is deadly serious and oftentimes cold when she is first introduced, but she lightens up significantly after her episode. She hails from Harlem, and she grew up as a member of an honorable gang. She loves Harlem, and will do anything to help it. She’s a tough character, and is sort of like a cross between Kanna and Lobelia. She forges a strong friendship with Shinjiro throughout the course of the game. In battle, she pilots a black STAR that wields a whip.
Rikaritta Aries (Rosita Aries in the English dub) is a crack bounty hunter from across the border. She’s also a child, and may very well be insane (she clearly has not had a normal childhood). She is a master at catching criminals, and she is packed to the brim with energy. She’s almost always deliriously happy, and she helps to keep up the group’s spirits. She’s actually nothing like the previous child characters in the series. The maturity of Coquelicot and the stubbornness of Iris are replaced with sheer unbridled energy and a desire to be everyone’s friend. She is obsessed with eating mountains upon mountains of food, with her absolute favorite being pancakes. She has a little weasel friend named Niccolo, and she is a crack shot with her two pistols. She pilots a green STAR that wields dual pistols.
Subaru Kujo is an enigma; everyone thinks she’s a woman, but nobody is really quite sure. She hails from Japan and has an air of superiority about her, meaning she will occasionally look down on Shinjiro and the other members of the New York Kagekidan. This is due to her noble blood and her status as a member of the Japanese upper class. She is, without a doubt, the most mysterious member of the New York Kagekidan, and her personality is such that she oftentimes seems cold and detached in conversation. She was a member of the experimental Star division along with Reni, Orihime, and Ratchet. She pilots a purple STAR that wields Japanese fans.
Diana Caprice is a young doctor-in-training. She is incredibly sweet and kind, and is possessed of wisdom beyond her years. She is confined to a wheelchair due to a terminal illness, and she only has a short time to live. As a result, she is fairly fatalistic, and believes that one’s fate cannot be changed. She eventually overcomes this fatalism and joins the New York Kagekidan. She is the niece of Michael Sunnyside, and has a tendency to fall asleep in any situation. She pilots a blue STAR that fires Bird missiles, and she functions as the group’s primary healer.
Michael Sunnyside is the New York Kagekidan’s commander, and fulfills the role of Yoneda and Grand-Mere in the previous games. He is incredibly rich and is Diana’s uncle. In the grand tradition of Kayama and the Bara-gumi, Sunnyside is absurdly awkward and uncomfortable, referring to Shinjiro by a number of weird nicknames, including “Shinster” and “Shinmillions”. Despite this, he knows what he’s doing, and is a very good commander. His resources help to keep the New York Kagekidan afloat, and he cares deeply for all of its members.
Ratchet Altair is another support character, fulfilling the same role as Ayame and Kaede. Originally introduced in the Sakura Wars movie, Ratchet is the former commander of the Star division, the experimental group that Reni, Orihime, and Subaru were a part of before its eventual disbandment. She is the leader of the New York Kagekidan until Shinjiro’s arrival, at which point she steps down into a support role. She is kind and mature, and has a strong sense of duty. She takes her responsibilities to the New York Kagekidan seriously, and she has mellowed considerably since her previous appearance in the franchise. She is, to date, the only support member in the series who has an ending.
Finally, there’s Plum Spaniel (Cherry Cocker in the English dub) and Anri. Anri runs the gift shop and has a fairly prickly personality; she is constantly yelling at Shinjiro for being a pervert even when he’s done absolutely nothing wrong. Plum runs the concession stand, and she acts as the flirty older woman type character. Like Mell, Ci, Tsubaki, Yuri, and Kasumi, the two perform information management during battles.
While Sakura Wars V is a reboot and a break from the other titles in the series, it contains some nods to the series’ past. As previously mentioned, Shinjiro is Ogami’s nephew, and Ogami makes a brief appearance at the beginning of the game along with Sakura (both of whom Shinjiro seems to idolize as heroes). Furthermore, series favorite Kayama appears, and plays a rather large role. He is just as awkward as always, and it’s tough to decide whether Kayama or Sunnyside is more uncomfortable.
In terms of gameplay, not much has changed. Battles utilize the ARMS system used in the previous two games, although aerial combat has been added (which is almost the same as ground combat). There is a new LIPS event that requires the user to push both analog sticks in the directions displayed on screen (similar to a Quick-Time event). Unfortunately, minigames have been totally removed. However, free-movement sections have been expanded; not only do the graphics look great during these segments, the city has also been expanded into multiple districts that the player can move between, each containing a number of locations that can be visited. The player can also collect Bromides of the Teikoku and Pari Kagekidan members in the Free Play mode.
The music is also fantastic, as per series tradition. Kouhei Tanaka returns, and all the songs have a very Broadway quality that helps to differentiate the sound from that seen in the previous titles. Highlights include the ending theme, “Kiss Me Sweet”, and Diana’s theme, “Watching the Sky One Day”.
Unfortunately, the “Sakura Wars World Project” was not the success Sega envisioned. KOUMA and Sakura Himenishiki Emaki were never released. Sakura Wars Monogatari Teito-hen Pari-hen became the Sakura Wars 3 spinoff Sakura Wars Monogatari: Mysterious Paris. Sakura Wars 5 Action became Sakura Wars V Episode 0, which received a lukewarm reception. Atsuki Chisio Ni was released as well, but none of these titles were ever localized. The release of all the various titles came and went, and it looked like Sakura Wars would never see a western released. Sega’s dream of an international Sakura Wars fan community seemed like it would never come to pass.
But good news came for international Sakura Wars fans hoping to see Sakura Wars exported from Japan. In 2009, four years after its release in Japan, NIS America announced a North American release of Sakura Wars V. In 2010, the game was finally released in both Europe and North America. Finally, Sega’s dream was on the verge of reality.
But sales of Sakura Wars V were poor. Very few people bought it, possibly due to poor exposure. As a result, NIS America failed to recoup the costs of localizing the game (which purportedly took longer than the actual development of the title due to the massive amounts of in-game text).
But it’s not too late! We can still show NIS America, Sega, and other various publishers that there is a healthy interest in Sakura Wars in the West. We can do this by purchasing copies of Sakura Wars V and writing to publishers expressing our interest in the series.
For those interested in playing Sakura Wars V, the game is available on PS2 and Wii in North America, and on the Wii in Europe. If possible, it’s best to pick up the PS2 version. The PS2 version contains far less bugs than the Wii version (as the title was developed specifically for the PS2), and the PS2 version contains some nice extras: not only does it come with the Japanese voice track, it also comes with a poster of Gemini and an artbook.
As previously stated, those interested in the series should purchase a copy of Sakura Wars V to boost the title’s sales and show NIS America that there is interest in the series. Be sure to email any publishers you think would be interested about the series, and join our letter writing campaign to XSEED. Also, be sure tofollow us on Twitter and Tumblr, and like us on Facebook!