alex9234’s Sunday Review
After a short hiatus, here’s another episode of Sunday Review from yours truly. This review is for Travis Touchdown, as I recall him being interested in checking out this series. This series was a major hit in Japan, and it helped put the Sega Saturn on the map in Japan as well, despite the fact that the Saturn never did well in the west. What game is this? This is Sakura Wars, a unique game that combines visual novel, dating sim and strategy RPG elements, which came out on the Sega Saturn in 1996.
Sakura Wars takes place in Japan during the early 1920s, and follows the story of Japanese Army Ensign Ichiro Ogami, as he is transferred to a secret combat unit called the Flower Division (Teikoku Kagekidan in Japanese), which is based in Tokyo. While on his way to his new job, he meets Sakura Shinguuji, the series’ primary main character. Sakura then leads Ogami to a theater in Tokyo, and he meets the three main actresses of the Imperial Theater Revue – Sumire Kanzaki, Maria Tachibana, and Iris Chateaubriand. After meeting the theater’s manager, Ikki Yoneda, Ogami’s excitement quickly turns into disappointment, as Yoneda assigns Ogami to be a ticket taker for the theater.
It eventually turns out to be a bluff to determine Ogami’s worth. Ogami eventually learns that the Imperial Theater Revue is actually a front for the Flower Division, and that the actresses possess spirit powers that defend Tokyo from demon attacks using steam-powered mechs called Koubu. Ogami and the girls eventually face off against a group of black magicians called the Kuronosukai (the “Hive of Darkness”), led by the powerful Kuroki Satan and his master Tenkai, who seek to end Japan’s westernization and restore the Tokugawa Shogunate. Tenkai, who sacrificed himself over 3 centuries ago to prevent Japan from falling to demons, begins launching attacks on Tokyo and eventually on the Flower Division’s base of operations…
Sakura Wars plays very much like a visual novel, but is more linear than most visual novels, and is episodic. The gameplay segments include dating sim, strategy RPG and visual novel elements. Gameplay is divided up into periods where Ogami explores the Imperial Theater and interacts with the main characters, and strategy RPG sections that are turn-based and happen on a grid-based battlefield.
In the social segments, Ogami can navigate the theater for a limited amount of time between battles. In these sequences, you usually talk with the main heroines (Sakura, Sumire, Maria, Kanna, Iris, Li), but sometimes with the other main characters (Ayame, Yoneda), and other supporting characters. When talking with the main heroines, conversations are based on the LIPS (Live & Interactive Picture System) system, as when one of the heroines asks you a question, the conversation options are displayed with a time limit for you to select a response. <u>Do keep in mind that time limits can be as short as 5-10 seconds!!</u> Depending on the type of response you select, the character you’re talking with may respond positively or negatively, or remain neutral, which will impact their relationship with Ogami and future interactions with them. Other actions include holding the cursor over parts of the characters’ portraits to trigger monologues and other responses from the character you’re with (yes, you can even do you-know-what!!! 😉 ). All of the main heroines have different personality traits that must be taken into consideration while talking with them.
When you’re patrolling the theater at night, you can explore the theater for a limited amount of time and talk with the other heroines. Plus, you can use this opportunity to get brownie points with a girl that you want to end up with at the end of the game. There are also various minigames that you can play with certain heroines, which is another way to improve your relationship with a certain girl. For example, in the early stages of the game, there is a minigame where you have to rescue Sumire from drowning in the pool, and if you manage to save her in time, your relationship will improve big time. That’s just one of the many minigames you’ll be able to play.
Lastly, is the battle section. It is strategy RPG based, it is also turn based, and is confined to a grid-based battlefield. Each unit has one turn, but during each turn, you can perform two actions. These actions include “Attack” (つうじょう), “Move” (いどう), “Defend”(ぼうぎょ), “Deathblow”(ひっさつ), and “Heal”(かいふく). Different units have a specialty in certain skills, such as support actions, melee attacks, and long distance attacks. Ogami has a special skill where he can defend (and not receive any damage) one of the heroines for up to 8 turns, and this is a very good way to win over a girl of your choice. Though your characters don’t level up, successful performances during the LIPS sections with the heroines and other supporting characters will raise their motivations, grant status increases, new skills, and improved combat skills. Thank god this game has a translation guide.
You can only save the game when you reach a checkpoint called an “Eyecatch”. During these segments, you can not only save your game, but check on how Ogami’s relationship with all the heroines.
And if you’re wondering, yes, this game is compatible with the Sega Saturn mouse.
Character artwork was done by Hidenori Matsubasa and, yes, Tales series artist Kosuke Fujishima.
Ichiro Ogami – Age: 19 – Ogami is the main character of the first 4 Sakura Wars games. As a graduate of the Imperial Naval Academy, Ogami was chosen to take over the top secret flower division when he proved himself capable during a test of a Koubu unit at sea. Ogami’s personality is shaped by the player’s actions throughout the game. He also appears as a playable character in both Project X Zone games on the 3DS.
Sakura Shinguuji – Age: 17 – Sakura is the lead heroine of the game, and is the lead heroine for the next 3 games in the series. She is also the newest member of the Flower Division. She is the daughter of famous warrior Kazuma Shinguuji and the wielder of his sword, and is a kind and gentle girl from the countryside who loves her fellow squad members. Though she is unmatched with a blade, she has a strong fear of lightning. Sakura also appears as a playable character in Project X Zone.
Sumire Kanzaki – Age: 16 – Sumire is another member of the Flower Division. She is the rich daughter of the head of a massive corporation, and proclaims herself to be the Flower Division’s “#1 Star”. She is very arrogant and entitled, probably because she had been spoiled ever since her childhood, what with her father and grandfather being total workaholics. Despite her attitude, she is a highly skilled Koubu pilot and is highly capable of wielding a naginata (lance). By the end of the game, she starts to act kinder around Ogami and the other heroines. However, she has a love-hate relationship with Kanna and the two of them often get into fights.
Maria Tachibana – Age: 19 – Maria is the vice-captain of the Flower Division. She was the squad’s leader before Ogami took over. She was born to a Russian diplomat (who is actually from Ukraine, as the Sakura Wars wiki lists Maria’s birthplace in Kiev) and a Japanese mother, but she was orphaned during the Russian Revolution and she joined the revolutionary forces at the age of 14. She was traumatized by the loss of her squad captain so much that she shut out her emotions and became a merciless sniper who earned the nickname “Kazuar” (Russian: Казуар, which means cassowary). She then moved to the United States in 1920, where she found work as a professional killer for the Russian Mafia, but thankfully, she ran into the Flower Division’s vice-commander, Ayame Fujieda, and was recruited into the division. Though she is very cold and distant at the beginning because of her traumatic past, she begins to lighten up later on in the game. She is good at cooking and loves reading books. She is also a skilled Koubu pilot, and she specializes in long-distance attacks with her Koubu’s machine gun. (I have a feeling that Pinkie-Dawn may like this character…)
Kohran Li – Age: 17 – Kohran is another member of the Flower Division. Hailing from China, Kohran is the Flower Division’s resident mechanic who loves experimenting with the Koubu and performs repairs on the Koubu units when necessary. She loves creating new inventions, though most of her inventions are failures and always seem to explode in everyone’s faces. She also speaks in the Kansai dialect, and has a very distinct voice. By the end of the first disc, she gives Ogami the option to add more offensive or defensive power to everyone’s Koubu.
Kanna Kirishima – Age: 19 – Kanna is another member of the Flower Division. Hailing from Okinawa, Kanna is the master of a Martial Arts style passed on by members of her family, and said style allows her to easily kill a bull with her bare hands. She also has a fear of snakes after being bitten by one while training in Okinawa as a child. She gets along well with everyone, though she has a love-hate relationship with Sumire and the two of them constantly get into fights.
Ikki Yoneda – Age: mid 40s? – Yoneda is the commanding officer of the Flower Division. He manages the theater as well as just about everything involved with the stage productions. He acts as a father figure for the squad, and is highly fond of all of them. He is also a major alcoholic, and is almost always drunk whenever Ogami tries to meet him.
Ayame Fujieda – Age: 23 – Ayame is the vice-commander of the Flower Division. She provides support to the squad members during battle, such as advice on how to counter the enemy and other various information on the enemy. Ayame is an old friend of Yoneda and is very dear to him. Like Sakura, Ayame is a kind and gentle woman who cares for all the squad members, though she is very flirty at times, especially with Ogami. She gives him advice on how to lead the squad members, how to resolve conflicts between them as well, and she always checks up on him to make sure he’s doing okay.
Well, before I started playing Sakura Wars, I was expecting it to be similar to the original Growlanser – a Chrono Trigger style RPG with dating sim elements. When I first played it though, I realized that this game was not what I was expecting it to be, as it turned out to be a visual novel with some RPG and dating sim elements. Still, I wasn’t disappointed at all. I had lots of fun playing Sakura Wars. The gameplay is great, the soundtrack is excellent, and the character artwork is beautiful. The anime cutscenes were also very well done and still hold up today after 21 long years. Though pretty much all of the text is in Japanese, I had no problem figuring out which options did what and was able to get used to it easily. Plus, having the translation guide really helped out too. All of the main characters are wonderful as well, even the supporting characters like Ayame are great too.
Though there are some problems. I feel that the game doesn’t give you enough time to answer certain questions during the LIPS sequences, the load times are bad, and I find the save system to be a bit inconvenient. Seriously, why can’t I just save whenever I want? I mean, a save system like that is inconvenient and if something happens when I’m near the end of a chapter, like someone turning off the system or my power going out, I would have to start the whole chapter all over again, and most of these chapters last OVER AN HOUR, if not more!
However, despite it’s flaws, Sakura Wars is an excellent game and one of the Sega Saturn’s signature games. Games like this would have helped the Saturn stand a better chance against the PS1 and N64. Unfortunately, Sega of America prevented many RPGs and Visual Novels from Japan from coming to the U.S., and the PS1 and N64 ultimately left the Saturn in the dust. DAMN YOU BERNIE STOLAR!!!!!!
My score: 8.5/10
<strong><u>For those who are interested in playing Sakura Wars, here are the translation guides for Discs 1 and 2:</u></strong>