By Steve Baltimore / April 27th, 2020
|Release Date||April 28th, 2020|
|Genre||Visual Novel / 3rd Person Action|
I was unsure what to expect when I decided to take on the new soft reboot of the Sakura Wars franchise. I had watched some of the anime and dabbled in it when Sakura Wars: So Long my Love released on the Wii a while ago. I was very curious how the new combat system would work since it moved away from the traditional Strategy RPG mechanics to a more action based third person view combat system. I was pretty impressed with what I had played when I wrote my preview, so let’s see how this all turned out.
The once noble Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division has fallen on hard times. It’s up to the newly appointed captain Seijuro Kamiyama to help the team recover its former glory. This will not be an easy task however, since the team is in danger of being disbanded. The best way to gain some of their notoriety back is to win the upcoming World Games. This is a contest among all the Imperial Combat Revue divisions to see which is the best. Can he pull his team together and achieve this goal? Time will tell!
While the story here gives plenty of nods to the previous entries in the franchise, new players can pick this up and not miss a single beat. Everything you need to know about the world and previous events is presented to you. Series fans will notice plenty of throwback fan service here as well. There are tons of bromides to collect throughout the game that will fill you with nostalgia, and some other Easter Eggs you will notice along the way as well.
I loved all the new members of the Flower Division just as much as I did the old the crew. Sakura is a very determined young woman that will let nothing stand in the way of her dreams. Claris seems like a hardcore realist bookworm when you first meet her. After you spend some time with her, you soon find out she is much different than you originally thought. The shrine maiden Hatsuho is a strong and very dependable member of the team. She is like a mentor to some of the other girls and usually keeps her composure even if things go south. Azami is a descendant of the Mochizuki ninja clan. She seems very eccentric when you first meet her. I mean, is she really a ninja? What are these 108 village rules she obeys? Last but not least is the star, Anastasia. She is a world class actress sent to help the division with their stage acting. She has been around the globe from one Revue to the next and her skills in both combat and on stage are unmatched.
The biggest change in this release of Sakura Wars is the new action based combat system. At first glance this will look like another simple Dynasty Warriors style hack ‘n slash affair, but that’s not accurate. You cannot rush into combat here pressing one button and have any hope of winning. Utilizing the combos and special moves of each character is a must to come out on top. Players can switch between two characters at any given time during sorties. It’s usually Kamiyama and a partner of your choosing.
Combos of course have various outcomes. Some will knock your foes back, while others will pop them up in the air for some awesome air combos! Using boost to jet around the battlefield helps a ton as well, especially when it comes to dodging. A perfectly timed dodge will slow down time for just a second, giving you the opening you need to inflect massive damage. Getting the timing down on these will help you greatly during boss battles. Working with your teammate is very important as well due to the morale system. The morale gauge will fill when you complete area missions, take down many enemies at once, take down foes in unison with your partner and more. As it fills and your morale level increases, players will gain attack and defense bonuses, and also access to some awesome anime style team up moves as well.
Most combat missions here are pretty straightforward. Do some platforming to get through each level and defeat the boss at the end. If you suck at platforming like me don’t worry, there is no penalty for falling. Other than the loss of your pride when you fall off for stupid reasons. The combat game missions do mix things up a bit. You compete again the other teams to see which of you can obtain the best score in a given amount of time. You will need to win two of the three rounds to advance the story, and once you figure out where the Gold Enemies spawn that are worth extra points, they are no problem at all. This was something I wasn’t expecting, but I had a lot of fun with these.
While the 3rd person combat found here is a lot of fun, a huge portion of Sakura Wars is getting to know your crew and the interactions you have with them. All of these gals are amazing in their own ways and I had a blast getting to know their back stories. The reactions they give to some of the dialogue choices is pure gold. The choices you will make here will have an effect on the ending and how some of the scenes play out. This gives the game a good bit of replay value, since you will want to know all you can about this wonderful cast.
The graphics engine used here is top tier and shows off characters expressions with a great amount of detail. I never knew I wanted characters in a Visual Novel style game rendered in full 3D until I saw Sakura blush! It’s just as adorable the tenth time as it is the first! Not only do the characters look amazing, the world itself is highly detailed. Sakura Wars franchise fans will notice a few Easter Eggs throughout the game, and even the mirrors give proper reflections. Mechs and enemies in combat look great as well. The demonic combat areas look like hell on Earth and really help you immerse yourself in the action. I’ve always loved the classic Steampunk style of the mechs in the series, and seeing them brought to life this way is a pure joy.
Sakura Wars has a history of amazing soundtracks. This entry does not disappoint in that area. The vocal tracks and the in-game OST are some of the best you will ever find in a video game. Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan is an iconic theme and once you hear it, the song never leaves your head again. The new cast does an amazing version of this for the opening theme and everything only gets better from there. Not only does this cast do a fantastic job with singing, their performances in general really bring these characters to life. I know some will complain there is no English dub, but personally I think the Japanese cast does such a wonderful job here it’s a non issue.
When SEGA first announced they were doing a soft reboot of the Sakura Wars franchise I was shocked. I had many questions on how they would handle it and if they would devote enough resources to make it something that truly stood out, and they did exactly that. The amount of love SEGA has put into this title shows with every aspect of it. From the amazing soundtrack to the character designs, they made the game feel very nostalgic for older fans while making it completely accessible to new players. This is not an easy feat to pull off and others should really look to this for an example of how this is done well. I put well over 30 hours in this and completed a couple of playthroughs. The $60 price tag is a very fair price for a title with this level of quality. I hope this spurs them to do more with this amazing franchise going forward. Sakura Wars is one of those rare titles that does everything right and is just a pure joy from start to finish.
Game was provided by the publisher for review.
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