Sakura Taisen has had an interesting history in the West. Though the first four games that make up the core of the franchise were never localized, the series’ anime and manga adaptions were. As a result, Sakura Taisen was able to establish a cult following in the West, one strong enough to spawn continued interest in the franchise from both fans and corporations years later.
Thanks to the efforts of these companies and fans, there are now several ways for western audiences to get a taste of the franchise. Though they are not all complete and they are not all convenient, these are the five ways you can experience the biggest SEGA franchise to never officially make it West.
This is the Westerner’s guide to Sakura Wars.
(Special Note: the information from this list is derived from Kori Maru’s extensive knowledge of the franchise. He was gracious enough to help us out with the research for this article)
The Sakura Wars Anime
In the early 2000s, the American anime industry was exploding. Series like Dragon Ball, Cowboy Bebop, and Gundam Wing were certified hits, and anime was beginning to pop up on a variety of children’s and late night television blocks. In these days, demand for new anime was high, and dubbing companies like Funimation, Geneon and Viz began snapping up every anime under the sun to fill out their release schedules and take advantage of the boom. This boom is likely the only reason that the Sakura Wars anime managed to make the leap West, thanks to ADV Films and Funimation.
It’s a good thing too, because these anime are easily the most convenient way to experience the series! The 25 episode Sakura Wars TV series adapts the entire first game, giving newcomers a good place to start. The dubbing is pretty typical of the era, so expect decent performances but nothing spectacular. Sub lovers can, of course, switch over to Japanese audio. The first OVA series acts as a prequel to the original game, revealing how Flower Division came to be. Together, these series provide a good jumping on point for experiencing Sakura Wars: The Movie, a beautifully animated movie from Production I.G. Though this was created to be a bridge between Sakura Wars 3 and 4, the movie also acts as a good compliment to the television series and OVA.
Of course, it’s after this that things get a little disappointing. I wrote about the state of the anime industry earlier so that you’d understand why these other OVAs were dubbed. Since dubbing companies were bringing over everything they could regardless of quality, ADV Film and Funimation made the strange decision to localize several OVAs that require context from the games to understand. These other OVA range from character studies to prequels that leave off just as the game’s storyline gets started. These other OVAs are best ignored, unless you’re willing to go through the trouble of doing some of the other options in this article. The decision to localize content like this, content that didn’t really have a market to appeal to and thus wouldn’t sell well, played a role in the anime crash of the late 2000s.
The TV series is currently in print thanks to Sentai Filmworks and can easily be purchased on Amazon. Sakura Wars: The Movie was recently re-released as a Blu-ray through Funimation, and can easily be bought in most places were anime is sold. The Sakura Wars OVAs are currently out of print, but can be found used on Amazon’s marketplace.
Sakura Taisen Manga
Sakura Taisen had many mangas in its heyday, but only one was ever translated into English. This manga series was written by series writer Oji Hiroi and was based off of the first game. Unfortunately, Tokyopop only translated 7 of the 9 volumes, leaving the series incomplete. To make matters worse, the manga is now out of print. People who want to sample the manga series can now check out some fan translations here, but unfortunately they only go as far as volume 4.
Not necessarily the best option, but it’s there. The entire series was translated into Spanish though, making this the best option for Spanish speakers. Hopefully, one day some fan will translate the last two volumes. Anyone interested in buying copies of the manga can find all of the volumes on Amazon. Be sure not to buy the Japanese imports!
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love was originally released for the PS2 in 2005, and currently stands as the final release in the core franchise, and the only release to not appear on a SEGA console. In 2010 NIS America decided it was finally time to bring the game series west, and brought the game over on not just the PS2, but also the Wii. Oddly, the Wii version of Sakura Wars 5 is the only entry in the franchise to never receive a Japanese release.
Sakura Wars 5 is by all accounts a great game, though I confess I haven’t gotten very far into it myself as of this writing (something I hope to rectify soon). This game is easily the most convenient way to experience a Sakura Wars game, and best of all it’s still readily available on the two most commonly owned consoles of the last decade, PS2 and Wii. Wii U owners who have found themselves with very little to play should really consider giving this game a go!
Sakura Wars: So Long My Love can be found on most gaming sites, but here’s an Amazon link just for the heck of it. The PS2 version comes with an additional disc that contains the Japanese voice cast with English subs.
Hanagumi Taisen Columns
Sakura Taisen has had a few video game spin offs, but this is easily the most import friendly. A Columns game with Sakura Taisen trappings and game play additions, this game doesn’t require any understanding of the Japanese language to play. That isn’t to say there isn’t a language barrier, though.
In addition to an import friendly arcade mode, Hanagumi Taisen also has a story mode that sees series protagonist Ichiro Ogami and one of the girls from Flower Division challenging other members of Flower Division to games of Columns. This mode is similar to the adventure mode of traditional Sakura Taisen games and comes complete with its own “LIPS” system, where Ichiro must choose what to say during a conversation, affecting his relationship with the girl he is talking to. There is a way to play this mode, though. A guide exists which translates the story mode and allows English speakers to understand what is going on. You can find the guides for the Saturn original and Dreamcast sequel here and here respectively .
In order to play the game on your SEGA console, you will need some additional accessories. For the SEGA Saturn version of the game you’ll need an Action Replay. This awesome little cartridge not only allows you to bypass the region lock, but it also acts as a cheat device, a RAM cart and a memory card. For the Dreamcast sequel, you’ll need a boot disc. I personally use the DC-X disc, but these days it’s easier to just burn an ISO off the internet. I can’t link to ISOs here, but you should be able to find it on Google easily enough. Alternatively, you can also mod your consoles to play imports, something you can either do yourself, or through eStarland’s Saturn conversion service. You can find affordable copies of both of these games, both new and pre-owned, here.
(Special Note: This is not a translated version of the game. This is a let’s play with English text placed over the Japanese text)
Sakura Taisen Fan-Made Translation Guides
Between Action Replay, boot discs and translation guides, an entire new world of games can be opened up to the hardcore SEGA gamer. Many Dreamcast and Saturn games never made it west, including a variety of RPGs. Sakura Taisen thankfully has an extensive collection of translation guides available for the first four games, most of them done by GameFAQs user Kayama. You can find the guides for all four games at the bottom of this article.
So, how good are these guides? Good enough that our own Kori Maru has used them to play through all four games. In fact, he’s gone so far as to use the guides to translate his Sakura Taisen Let’s Play. If you want to get a taste of the first game without going through all the trouble of importation and guides, you can check his video series out here.
These guides easily require the most work and dedication out of all the options I’ve listed here, but given the quality of the franchise, I think it might be worth it. As someone who is always looking for new Saturn and Dreamcast games to play, the idea of finally playing these games is very appealing to me, and something I plan to attempt later this year.
In addition to the translation guides, there was also a fan project that sought to release a translation patch for the PC version of the first game. This project unfortunately never released a patch and now appears to be dead, but hopefully the import gaming community will one day finally give the Sakura Taisen series a proper translation.
Unless, of course, SEGA were to. You’ve got four stellar strategy games just itching for a digital re-release, SEGA. Isn’t it finally time America got the chance to experience this series properly?
Sakura Taisen 1 and 2 were released on both the Saturn and the Dreamcast, and can be played through the methods I described earlier. The Dreamcast versions features improved graphics and real time movement similar to Valkyria Chronicles, while the Saturn version utilizes a grid based system . Sakura Wars 3 and 4 are both Dreamcast games. You can find all of these games at GameBaz for both the Saturn and the Dreamcast.
Translation Guide Links
Sakura Taisen 1: Kayama’s guide is superior, but only covers the first disc. Use Lando’s guide to play the rest of the game.
Sakura Taisen 2-4: Kayama’s guides for these games are complete.
I hope this Weekly Five was informative and will help you decide how you want to experience the Sakura Taisen franchise. Happy gaming!Ad: