Last year was an amazing year for games, and 2020 looks to be no different! (And thank goodness for that too, because this pandemic has been… quite the time, huh?) Between Animal Crossing New Horizons, Final Fantasy VII: Remake, Resident Evil 3, Persona 5 Royal, the Yakuza Remastered Collection, and more… there’s plenty of games to be played! Or being added to an endless backlog. 🤣
Another game to add to that list of must-plays is the much-anticipated Sakura Wars, which I still can’t believe got released in the West!
Remember when “Project Sakura Wars” got announced online, and everyone lost their shit, to then SEGA announcing that it’ll also be released in the West, and everyone lost their shit EVEN MORE? When that iconic theme song played, I couldn’t stop myself from screaming “AHHHHH OHMYGOD!!!!”, which made my concerned partner run over to me to see if something needed to be taken care of… only to also join in with the shouts of joy and jubilation. What a magical time that was!
Alright, alright, enough gushing! What’s this new Sakura Wars game all about? Check out the info below from SEGA to learn all about it:
The stage is set in a steampunk version of 1940s Imperial Tokyo. Only a short while ago, a cataclysmic event destroyed the Imperial Combat Revue of Tokyo, the capital’s global defense force stationed at the Imperial Theater. Now home to the Flower Division, an inept rookie squad who also strives to impart hope on the citizenry with their theatrical talents, the theater has fallen on hard times and risks closure. It’s up to Seijuro Kamiyama as the captain of the new Tokyo revue to lead his squad and restore the Imperial Combat Revue and the theater back to their former glory! With the help of the revue’s five colorful performers, he must rise to the challenge of competing in the Combat Revue World Games, protecting the inhabitants of Tokyo and getting the theater back on track.
Will the Imperial Combat Revue come together to triumph over the challenges set in their path to avoid getting disbanded? That’s up to you, my dear reader! “But Elly,” you might ask, “what makes Sakura Wars worth playing?” Not to worry, I’ve got the deets right here for you! 🌸
The Setting Is Captivating!
Sakura Wars‘ semi-steampunk setting has always made it stand out, especially because of the way it uses Taisho Japanese aesthetics. Taisho Era Japan is unusual to see in a lot of games or anime, and whenever it shows up, it always looks really striking and interesting! Games like Raidou Kuzunoha or anime like Demon Slayer really take advantage of the short-lived period of Taisho aesthetics to create a wholly unique flavor. With Sakura Wars, the Taisho era designs mesh really well with the “steampunk” stuff, and honestly while I’m not that big of a steampunk fan myself, I really find the combo fun and exciting here! Maybe because it isn’t quite as “old-fashioned” as Victorian Steampunk, Sakura Wars’ having big steam pipes running all over the theater felt charming. This might also be due to the updated graphics of the game, but the world also feels really alive and realized too. The Taisho mixture of Western and Japanese really stood out too, and I think that’s something I came to appreciate about the game as I kept playing it and seeing the way characters dressed.
While this game is certainly a “new” Sakura Wars, it builds off of the previous games in a way that makes the transition pretty interesting. It calls back to previous games in a lot of ways: returning characters, bromides featuring characters everyone knows and love, items displayed that call back to previous events, and more! Even though these exist to remind you of the rich history of Sakura Wars as a series, the game itself establishes a new world and future pretty severely: all of the previous teams are disbanded or dead (NO!! 😭) after an event 10 years before the game starts.
Tite Kubo’s Designs Are Top-Notch!
Is this a controversial take? Maybe! But honestly, I love the designs Kubo brought to Sakura Wars. I know that the previous games all had their iconic designs from Kosuke Fujishima, and he’s certainly a generational artist (I mean really, he’s gotta be one of the most iconic 90s artists, right?!), but something about Kubo’s designs just click for me in this game. Even when he’s touching up previous characters, the slick designs that he makes stand out. Although I’m not the biggest Bleach fan, I did like a lot of characters in the series, and I think it’s probably impossible to say that Kubo isn’t a great character designer; no character looks generic, really!
My favorite design has to be Hatsuho’s! She’s a no-nonsense kinda gal who will jump in the fray to protect everything dear to her. A true reliable ally to have by your side! AND she’s a shrine maiden too. A badass one at that! 💖 Sakura’s design is pretty interesting too; it feels like she’s designed to evoke the idea of the original, while also being slightly different (as if she’s dressing like her favorite hero). In some ways, I kind of got a Sentai-ish feeling from the game, as if this were the new generation of heroes that was coming to take the place of the previous team. Kubo has a great handle on this idea (and some of the costumes are… really telling!), and it visually makes it so that the various girls in the game feel like a callback to older cast members, while also being their own person with their own special looks. Also, the girls are all REALLY cute, and aside from good visual designs, I think it is fair to say Kubo is really good at drawing cute girls, and it shows!
The Charming Characters Reel You In!
With Sakura Wars being a mixture of a dating sim, visual novel, and a bit of action, it goes without saying that the characters really needed to be good, and boy, they are indeed GOOD! The main cast all feel really remarkable and lovable. All of the girls feel fairly specific to the role they play in terms of the “type” of character they are, but since this is something of a reboot of the series, I actually started to notice some interesting things about the characters that stood out to me. I won’t say a lot since I don’t want to spoil things, but at times it felt like these were versions of the original game characters, but all slightly different, as if this were an alternate universe, especially after seeing mentions of previous characters along with little bits of decoration meshed with the new generation theme.
Sakura feels like someone inspired by the original Sakura, instead of being a copy or replacement, and that felt fairly similar for some of the other characters. Even Sumire, making her return, is “similar but different”, and it felt really rewarding to me as a fan of the series to notice the little nods to previous games, while seeing the new directions the world of Sakura Wars is heading toward. Kamiyama’s different responses he can give in LIPS (what a name for a system!) choices helps flesh out what was traditionally a pretty mute type of character in the other games. Kamiyama’s fear of failure also helps make him relatable, and keeps him from seeming like he’s the prince that’s going to just solve all of the women’s problems and save the day.
Pucker up for LIPS!
I think the LIPS system is the true star of the Sakura Wars series. It’s been in the series about as long as everything else, but since it is more mechanical than anything else, it gets kind of ignored. Sure, at the end of the day LIPS is just a dialogue selection tool, but what I really like about it in this version is the various ways you can interact with characters. There are big and significant dialogue choices, minor conversations, and even “intensity” based reactions. You can even choose to just… do nothing! They’re timed, too, which means you have to think fast (I didn’t do too hot with some of the choices because of that! Oops! Sorry, Kaoru!) about what really is the best thing to say.
In a lot of visual novel/dating sims, you get unlimited time to choose what to say; hell, in most games you can even save right before and just see how things go when you make a choice. Here, you get a sense of an actual conversation occurring, with Kamiyama trying to think of the best response, if there even is one, and dealing with the consequences afterwards. None of them are world-ending or game breaking, but LIPS made it seem less like I was fishing for the “best” response and more like I was talking to the characters; that said, I am tempted to redo it for the times where I kinda messed up (sorry again, Kaoru!).
Of course, there’s plenty of more reasons to give Sakura Wars some lovin’, but you’ll have to find those for yourself! “But Elly,” you might say, “I don’t have Sakura Wars, but I really, REALLY want to play it… What do I do?” Worry not, my dear reader, for I have the answer to your ever-important question!
Thanks to the fine folks at SEGA, I have TWO Sakura Wars Digital Deluxe Edition bundles to give away! The bundle includes the game, a Dynamic Theme, 2 Static Themes, the Legacy of Love DLC, Charming Accessories DLC, Swimsuit DLC, and Neko Ears DLC. Want to try your luck? Click the link below to enter for a chance to win your very own digital copy of Sakura Wars:
The giveaway will run from today, May 20th through May 27th at 11:59 pm EST. The giveaway is now OVER. Thank you for participating! Keep in mind that the prizes for the digital bundle are NA codes ONLY! Click through on the giveaway page and enter today! Sakura-chan is waiting for you~
Until next time! ✨
Which character design is your favorite? Which character are you eager to get to know more about? Let me know down in the comments!