Segalization and Sakura Taisen Week

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Segalization heard that SEGAbits was running a Sakura Taisen-themed week, and we were happy to help commemorate the week by contributing something of our own. Sakura Taisen, or Sakura Wars as it’s known over here, is easily one of the most prominent SEGA franchises to never make it stateside. It is the poster child for what Segalization wants to correct. So please, read on as we go into Sakura Wars’ history, what it means to the Segalization mission and my own personal experience with the only game in the franchise that has been localized.

The Genesis of a Franchise

I recently bought Funimation’s re-relase of Sakura Wars: The Movie and was treated to some great insights into the origins of the franchise. Ouji Hiroi, founder of Red Company, had built a reputation for himself as a writer and was approached by SEGA to create an adventure game. Hiroi and the team he assembled let their ambitions guide them, and created a unique strategy/adventure game hybrid called Sakura Wars.

It might not be apparent, but Sakura Wars is a deeply personal work for Hiroi. When he was young he used to listen to his mother talk of the prominence of theater groups in her own youth. Hiroi’s grandmother was a performer in the Shochiku Revue, the second most prominent musical theater troupe after the Takarazuka Revue, which served as a direct inspiration for the troupe in the original game. He believes that the surge in theater groups during his mother’s time came from Japan’s infatuation with American jazz music during and after the United States’ occupation of Japan following WWII.

Takarazuka Revue

The Takarazuka Revue is an all-female performance troupe. The theaters at which they perform house shrines to which actresses offer prayers and the gods bestow their grace in the form of fortune and power. This is a reference to the ritual of kamiori, where maidens called down the gods by dancing and received their power. It’s also the inspiration for the mostly-women Sakura Wars teams, their cover story as a theater troupe, and the concept of using spiritual power to fuel mechanical suits and fight demons.

The Takarazuka Revue came into being during the Taisho era of Japan. When creating Sakura Wars and in particular the world of Tokyo, RED Entertainment’s commitment to detail and research prompted them to visit live musical performances and scout for talented singers to serve as voice actors for the games. They also researched steam locomotives to aid their understanding of designing steam-powered machines and animating their movements. Kousuke Fujishima, the original character designer, was apparently six months late in submitting a design for lead character Sakura Shinguji because he struggled to find just the right look for her. When Hiroi finally saw the final design on New Year’s Eve, he says he almost cried with happiness.

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Sakura Wars and the Segalization Mission

Sakura Wars hasn’t had much luck in reaching the West until recently, unfortunately. It wasn’t until 2010 that America and Europe finally recieved a five year late localization of Sakura Wars 5: So Long My Love by NISAmerica. Besides that, there have actually been some opportunities for the franchise’s titles to see localization over time. A NISAmerica interview with Siliconera mentions that a few years ago another publisher attempted to secure the rights for the PSP remakes of Sakura Wars 1 and 2, but they were ultimately turned down by Sony at the time. Were a localization group to consider the PSP remakes, it may be worth thinking of distribution via PSN. The localization of the first Trails in the Sky game on PSP was a success and a pleasant surprise. There are also PC versions of every game in the franchise which would be perfect for Steam. SEGA has been enjoying commercial success on PC as of late, and between the thriving Steam community and the momentum of the PC Ports campaign, there exists a great opportunity for the franchise.

Segalization really believes in Sakura Wars as a part of our mission. In its prime it was a franchise juggernaut in Japan, with live musical performances, a movie, four OVA’s and a TV anime series, various spinoff games, and enviable sales. There was even a Sakura Wars cafe that ran until 2008. But beyond its success, it’s a very unique franchise. Sakura Wars blends SRPG and dating simulation elements, and is a fiercely optimistic series. It unabashedly champions belief in teamwork, an idea built into the collection of colorful personalities that work together to accomplish their goals. Each team even protects a romanticized vision of the city that acts as their home base.

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My Experience with Sakura Wars 5

I recently completed Sakura Wars 5: So Long, My Love. When I first heard about the series, I was put off by the concept of playing a dating simulator and worried that the game would be too pandering or unbelievable to be able to genuinely relate to the characters.  Thankfully, I was wrong, as there’s an earnest quality to the games that I appreciate. Romance and idealism are strong parts of the game’s identity. It helps that Sakura Wars features amazing music from Kohei Tanaka, and that the gameplay itself is great, especially in the form that it finally took with Sakura Wars 3. The move away from the isometric grid to a set amount of free movement was a great idea, and was a boon to the strategic aspects of the game.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of Sakura Wars 5 are the dialogue choices. It’s particularly fun to see how the characters you’re talking to react, and sometimes even funny to see them become irritated, but the dialogue choices can be genuinely interesting too. I remember at one point trying to convince Gemini not to be discouraged by being rejected by a snooty high class shop (Gemini is a character who struggles to reconcile all the facets of her personality, including wanting to be ladylike) and being met with skepticism because she thought my response was too enthusiastic to be believable. It was a great moment. It was the sort of moment that I hope everyone has a chance to experience by both playing Sakura Wars 5 and hopefully being able to play the other games some day.

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