Sakura Wars is perhaps the anime game that I’ve ever played. There are plenty of games based on popular anime, yes, but when it comes to being an active part of an ongoing, episodic adventure full of quirky characters, dramatic action, and satisfying melodrama, Sakura Wars has everything else. The structure, the charming cast, and the swirling story help set it apart from other colorful anime-inspired adventures. Like the character stories it tells, it manages to overcome many of its flaws and ultimately becomes a satisfying experience. This is our Sakura Wars Review.
Sakura Wars Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4
- Developer: Sega, Sonic Team
- Publisher: Sega
- Genres: Action role-playing game, Japanese role-playing game, Dating sim
- Release Date: December 12, 2019
Sakura Wars Review: Official Trailer Video
Sakura Wars Review: Gameplay
For the uninitiated, the whole concept of the Sakura Wars is quite unusual. This game is a semi-reboot of a long-running Japanese game series of the same name, set in an alternative 1940s Japan where steam technology quickly surpassed electricity, and history took a completely different path. The nations of the world, instead of fighting each other in the world wars, took up arms against demon invaders with armies of steam-powered combat robots called Spiricle Strikers. Oh yeah, and these armies also operate semi-secretly as theater companies whose members were mostly young women.
It’s a lot to include, and it’s made worse by the fact that only one other Sakura Wars game made the trip west, although some related media (such as anime and manga adaptations) have been released here. But if you become utterly blind to the Sakura Wars concept and the mythos, you may get quite confused, especially when references to previous titles crop up. Sakura Wars, however, finds a way to try to make things easier for you.
You play the role of Seijuro, a disgraced military veteran who has been taken to lead the Combat Revue of the Tokyo Imperial Theater, a crew made up of mostly inexperienced rookies who can’t act or make their way out of a wet paper bag. They are so bad that they cannot even protect Tokyo well against the demonic forces that are resuming attacks. Besides, there is an international tournament under the combat revues of other major cities, and all losing teams are forced to disband.
Sakura Wars presents its story in an episode format, complete with convenient “pauses” at critical points in each episode and “coming-up-next” style previews once one of the mini-days is done. Each of the game’s nine episodes features sequences that combine the story-character interaction with action parts – although, in most episodes, the former has significant precedence over the latter as you spend time connecting with the Imperial’s ragtag crew Theater and the Combat Revue.
It is in these story-heavy parts that the beauty and imagination of both the game’s unique setting – an anachronistic, steampunk early 20th century Tokyo – and its artistic vision manage to shine. While there aren’t several locations in Sakura Wars, they all feel different and vibrant, giving the impression of a popular yet strange place removed from time. The character designs also contribute to the distinct atmosphere of the game.
You spend most of your time with the women of the Imperial Theater, guiding them through the different challenges and situations throughout the story. The top five Combat Revue fighters are Amamiya Sakura, an optimistic girl next door and Seijuro’s childhood friend; Shinonome Hatsuho, a tomboyish shrine girl with a violent side. Clarissa Snowflake, a shy bookworm with many secrets; Mochizuki Azami, a girl with ninja training and a sweet tooth; and Anastasia Palma, a cold woman whose acting skills are known worldwide.
Each of these five women is different in looks and personality, and their visual designs are beautifully displayed and well animated throughout. However, the motion shot feels a bit exaggerated at times. The Japanese voice actor also brings out the expressiveness of Sakura Wars’ character dialogue. Seeing and hearing Clarissa confused for finding her embarrassing story sketches or Sakura finally opening up about some of her painful past experiences makes for amazing, memorable moments.
Once you reach a certain point of trust with the five main female fighters, you can start a more intimate relationship. You may get the chance to talk and interact one-on-one in a first-person, private environment where she will reveal more personal feelings and concerns, complete with sparkling auras, blushing cheeks, and faces that come at times very, very close to each other. It’s over-the-top in the best way.
You take control of one of the Spiricle Strikers, blast waves of enemies with preset attack combination variations, occasionally dodging with precise timing to enter a slow-motion counter-attack mode or a superpower starting skill when a unique gauge is full. It’s standard stuff when you’ve played 3D action games, and it controls and flows well enough, but there’s nothing remarkable about it either. It is also effortless if you have experience with action games; some of the encounters are a real threat apart from fights where you have to fight alone, and even those are not that challenging.
In the end, combat feels like some afterthought – less of a crucial game component and more of a way for the characters to get into situations where they can deliver compelling speeches about the power of friendship and believe in yourself to overcome enemies. Combat works well as part of the overall over-the-top melodrama that the game is about, but it’s not particularly fun playing these parts of the game.
The twists and turns of the story culminate in a great climax, and while there are plot holes and “surprises” coming from a mile away, it doesn’t matter because it’s just so entertaining to watch this crazy thing unfold. After about 15 to 20 hours for an initial playthrough, Sakura Wars is short. Still, there’s a fair amount of replayability to recreate certain scenes with different outcomes, find opportunities for interactions you may have missed initially, or try to connect with different characters. I enjoyed replaying the game to chase a new lover, although there are no more significant New Game + options, such as advanced combat sequence difficulty levels.
My time with the Sakura Wars review reflected how the Combat Revue grew and changed through the game. Just as Seijuro first saw his team, I was skeptical that Sakura Wars could do enough of what it intended to do. But as I continued to play and the women grew in their roles, I started to feel warm about it. By the time the curtain fell, I had cheered as hard for the team as everyone else in the game.
The flaws of Sakura Wars are apparent, although a strong focus on melodrama and spectacle makes it a lot easier to cover up the weaknesses of the game. There’s nothing like Sakura Wars, and if you stick with them, chances are this cast of eccentrics will make their way to your heart too.
The structure, the charming cast, and the swirling story help set it apart from other colorful anime-inspired adventures. Like the character stories it tells, it manages to overcome many of its flaws and ultimately becomes a satisfying experience.