It has been a long journey and Sakura Wars is now available for a worldwide audience with a brand new cast of characters, a new story, and the charm of the original series that debuted on the SEGA Saturn back in 1996. But does it meet expectations for newcomers and older fans alike? Take a look at my review of Sakura Wars for PlayStation 4!
Fans old and new can jump into Sakura Wars aesthetic gameplay
Sakura Wars takes place ten years after the Great Demon War that occurred in Tokyo. With the effort of the original Imperial Combat Revue along with Paris and New York, the original team was able to stop the war but at a cost. Years later, we are introduced to Seijuro Kamiyama, who had been transferred from the Imperial Navy to lead the new Imperial Combat Revue in Tokyo as captain under the command of Sumire Kanzaki (the previous heroine of the earlier Sakura Wars games). Not only does Kamiyama have to lead a team of young women to defend Tokyo from demon attacks as their captain, but he must also honor the legacy of the Imperial Combat Revue by encouraging his group through hardships and win the Combat Revue World Games to earn funds for the Imperial Theater or risk having the group disbanded.
You take control of Kamiyama in Sakura Wars unique world with the objective to earn trust from your team members and the citizens of Tokyo through the franchise’s iconic gameplay mechanic, LIPS (Live Interactive Picture System). You will have to decide what you want to say to the characters. Depending on what you say and how you say it will determine how well your team member will perform on the battlefield. You as the player can make choices as Kamiyama to either act as the leader of the Imperial Combat Revue or a silly perverted goofball. Each girl you will meet on your squad has their own unique personalities you will be able to interact within the main story as character development plays a key role in the game.
Unlike the original games which used a 2-D art style when interacting with characters, this soft reboot focuses more on 3D interactive environments and voice narrative similar to the Yakuza games, and I must say that I am very impressed with how this game handles expressions and movement during cutscenes. During my first time meeting Claris as she reads a book, for example, I had a few choices to choose from during the LIPS sequence with specific outcomes to try to get her attention. I’ve done this multiple times in my playthroughs, and my favorite would have to be when Kamiyama couldn’t control his perverted urges when he realizes how “cute” Claris was, only to be scolded by Sakura.
As you explore around the game’s Adventure mode, you will experience a lot of impressive character development with the main cast as the story progress. There are side quests you can do with exclamation marks on the maps as well involving Kamiyama performing task with the Flower Division or the people of Tokyo which are optional from the main story but can help you earn trust points and unlock bromides located around the Imperial Theater and Tokyo along the way.
You can also increase your trust with teammates during Tete-a-Tete mode where you can find them on the map with shaped hearts and I can tell you all that this is where the dating sim action happens. During these one on one events, you will be in a conversation with one Flower Division member where you can interact with them by moving your cursor. For example, during your conversation with Sakura, you can interact around her room to find something to spark conversation and click on the character’s attire such as her ribbon. Making the right interaction will boost the girls’ relationship with Kamiyama to a new level.
Imperial Combat Revue, Engaging!
Once completing a portion of a chapter towards the end of Adventure mode you will be entered into the game’s battle mode with fighting mechs called Spiricle Strikers to defeat every demonic creature in your wake while progressing through demonic worlds or raids. While the original games were focused on turned based tactical strategy, Sakura Wars takes notes on the hack and slash genre by giving players and for the first time, you have full control over the mechs without limitations. I was able to perform unique combos, dodging enemy attacks, switching in between characters during battle. You can also build up your special attack meter from enemy droppings and purple crystals to unleash a devastating attack to destroy a wave of enemies in your surroundings, big and small.
Each character has unique stats and abilities of their own. Sakura, for example, can launch her enemies into an air combo and perform a homing sword slash around nearby enemies while someone like Claris can attack from a long-range with her libromancy spell projectiles and bringing the house down with aerial storm spell on multiple enemies. With enough trust you’ve earned from your team member after finishing a section in Adventure Mode, you can perform a combination attack that triggers a cutscene and powers up your attacks. Each battlefield area also includes platforming elements involving players to jump on moving platforms and performing wall dashing to pass through various obstacles. Luckily from the feedback from Japanese players, SEGA managed to include an update patch with lock-on features, making combat a lot easier when it comes to taking down airborne enemies.
Later in the game, you will be taking part in the Combat Revue World Games with the objective to win three rounds by eliminating more enemies than the other teams and face them in a boss battle. I think the inclusion of the Combat Revue World Games was a nice addition to the series and would love to see SEGA expand upon it in future Sakura Wars titles. Maybe an inclusion of vs multiplayer or mission mode feature.
The only gripe I have with the battle mode portion of the game is the lack of challenge it has to offer. You barely get punished for falling off edges, the bosses can be defeated in a very quick fashion with enough trust from your team members. In the future, I would love to see the battle mode revamped into something more challenging and involving more strategy like the classic games (completing a mission on time or defeat waves of enemies from destroying The Imperial Theater are good examples).
Hedgehog Engine 2 takes the game to a new level with beautiful anime and lifelike visuals
The character design models from the famous artists in Japan transition from 2D to 3D looks amazing and illustrated beautifully in 3D with the use of Sonic the Hedgehog series, Hedgehog Engine 2. Not only that, the game features 3D cutscenes, but animated cut scenes will also pop in-between gameplay and cut-outs after each completed chapter as if you are watching an actual anime. As for the soundtrack, Kohei Tanaka, known for his work on musical scores on the anime television shows such as One Piece, returns to compose music for Sakura Wars. Each tone of the soundtrack he produces fits the mood during certain situations in cutscenes and character introductions. Let’s not forget that iconic theme song (updated and revamped), which is heard by watching the opening of the game before it starts.
Sakura Wars offers great replay value but needs a bit more
In every iteration of Sakura Wars, the series offers high replay value to keep players occupied from the main campaign. As you progress through the story mode, you will be able to unlock two mini-games, Koi Koi Wars and Battle Bot Simulator. Koi Koi Wars is a hanafuda (flower) card game that pits you against the cast of Sakura Wars with the objective to form special card combinations called “yaku” from cards accumulated in a point pile. Defeating each opponent will earn you “mons” to unlock more opponents and BGM. Battle Bot Simulator, on the other hand, is a battle mode that allows you to replay past battles with all characters from every chapter from story mode for earning better rank, unlock bromides and, to further earn trust with your team members. While these mini-games are fun to play for great replay value, but I feel that Sakura Wars is lacking mini-games that series was known for. It was missing character-specific mini-games based on the hobbies of the Imperial Combat Revue. Let’s use a mini-game from the original Sakura Wars game had for example. In that game, you had to save Sumire from drowning by swimming to her as fast as you can against time while avoiding mines. It would have been totally cool to see these types of mini-games make a return if the game was given more time on development.
A Continuation for a New Generation
Sakura Wars took me at least 20 hours of game time with 8 chapters to complete with multiple endings to earn from several playthroughs. If you are either a newcomer who wants to learn more about Sakura Wars in general or a long time fan of the series, Sakura Wars is a gateway for anyone to pick up and play as it is a soft reboot of a classic franchise with ton callbacks I won’t spoil too much in this review. I also highly recommend it if you like a good dramatic story with character development and action-based combat similar to the Valkyria Chronicles series. Sakura Wars is now available for purchase on PlayStation 4 with Launch and Digital Deluxe editions featuring a ton of DLC outfits and PS4 Themes.
- Expressive character interaction
- Fun combat system
- Amazing visuals and music
- Needs more challenge
- Lack of character-specific mini-games