Sakura Taisen - Reader Retroview  

In War, it is the Cherry Blossoms That Suffer
by JuMeSyn

35-40 hours


Rating definitions 

   The Saturn’s English RPG library was adversely affected by the system’s poor performance against the PlayStation. This unfortunate state was most obvious by 1998, for until that time the majority of worthy RPG’s had indeed been translated by either Sega of America or Working Designs. One glaring exception to prove this rule is Sakura Wars. Admittedly, Sega of Japan did not expect the fantastic success Sakura Wars turned out to be in the Land of the Rising Sun. Also admittedly, Sakura Wars is a departure from any game ever released on a console in English. It is not worth playing simply because it is different, however – it is worth playing because the experience is a lot of fun to partake of.

   Sakura Wars utilizes an interesting combination of PC adventure-game style textual interaction combined with Shining Force-reminiscent tactical battling. When its main elements are stated so baldly, the game most likely does not sound terribly appealing. Execution, as always, is the means of judging how successful the game is. The best analogy I can give for playing Sakura Wars is to be able to play through an anime – a GOOD anime. And for this reason, a walkthrough or Japanese knowledge is highly recommended. Playing through the game without this is easy enough to do, but when the majority of the time is spent reading or listening to characters speak and either advancing the story or just interacting, an incredible amount of the game’s potential is lost by not understanding what transpires onscreen.

Kohran does her best Jerry Lewis/Jim Carrey impersonation, but with only 2% of the manic behavior! Kohran does her best Jerry Lewis/Jim Carrey impersonation, but with only 2% of the manic behavior!

   Having stated that understanding what is occurring onscreen is vital to obtaining the best experience from Sakura Wars, it would be a true twist to announce that the story is terrible. As I am unpracticed at unveiling surprises of that nature, such a twist is absent. Sakura Wars possesses a very interesting narrative (with a walkthrough or Japanese knowledge…) that will keep the player involved. The earlier analogy of playing an anime series is furthered by the division of the game into episodes, each of which comes with a little trailer featuring events from the next installment at the end of the prior episode. As the climax approaches, the story becomes more and more absorbing, and the final episode is quite gripping.

   Characters form the basis of the Sakura Wars experience. The player assumes control of Ichirou Ohgami, recent graduate of the Japanese Naval Academy and newly assigned to a special assignment under Lieutenant General Yoneda Ikki in the Teigeki (Imperial Opera House, or thereabouts), located in the Ginza district of Tokyo. As a rather strait-laced fellow, Ohgami is rather nonplussed to learn that what he presumed to be a codename is in fact a theater and he is the errand boy – ticket taker when performance night comes around, doing the grunt work at other times. He comes to know the all-female members of the Teikokukagekidan (both Imperial Opera Troupe and Imperial Fighting Troupe, a pun that doesn’t quite translate). Shinguji Sakura is a relatively recent arrival from the countryside who is earnest and sweet, though prone to being clumsy at the worst moment onstage. Kanzaki Sumire is the self-proclaimed Top Star of the theater, quite capable of acting the part but with an ego to match. Maria Tachibana is another player in the theater, an immigrant from Russia, generally playing the male parts in plays and possessed of a very cool temperament. Iris Chateaubriand plays the child roles because she is a child from France, though oddly possessive of Ohgami and also endowed with psychic abilities. In the second episode Li Kohran returns from researching –something-, as she is definitely science-oriented. She has a distinctive Kansai accent and is interested in machines above all else, though she also takes on stage roles from time to time. In episode three Kirishima Kanna returns to the theater, another player of male roles usually thanks to her incredible karate-honed physique.

   Naturally the plot promptly thickens, and Ohgami learns of the Teikokukagekidan’s true purpose; protecting the peace with the aid of human-piloted steam robots called Koubu. For there is a menace threatening the peace of the imperial capital, and all the members of the Teikokukagekidan will be tried to their utmost in dealing with it. Also around the theater will be Fujieda Ayame, the second in command after Yoneda: and Kasumi, Yuri, and Tsubaki, who are not members of the Teikokukagekidan but perform essential support functions in the theater and in combat. As the majority of the game, quite probably, will be spent in character interaction, knowing who is who will prove very important.

Robot technology of 85 years ago was lacking in many of the amenities now taken for granted.  Air conditioning in a steam-powered vehicle is NOT optional Robot technology of 85 years ago was lacking in many of the amenities now taken for granted. Air conditioning in a steam-powered vehicle is NOT optional

   This character interaction takes place, as mentioned earlier, in a fashion similar to PC adventure games. Ohgami will encounter one or more people around the theater, and conversation will take place with text appearing at the bottom of the screen and the person(s) appearing in artwork at the top of the screen. Unlike PC games, however, time is frequently not a luxury during these conversations. Ohgami will be called upon to answer questions from the girls of the theater and other persons, and there is a time limit to his responses. If the player makes no choice when the time expires, the effect is Ohgami’s remaining silent – which is sometimes the best option available. When speaking with the girls of the theater, good answers will ingratiate Ohgami towards them, bad answers will achieve the opposite. Outside of battle the feelings of the girls towards Ohgami directly affect a number of scenes later in the game, for the member of the Teikokukagekidan with the best feelings towards Ohgami will appear with her own take on situations. The ending is also directly affected by the relationship of Ohgami to his subordinates. Aside from conversing, Ohgami will sometimes be given the run of the theater – this takes place via his figure being able to go from room to room within the building, sparking optional scenes with the other inhabitants of the structure. There are occasional items to pick up and/or buy, but Ohgami’s item menu only pops up when it is needed and cannot be accessed otherwise.

   At least once an episode the Teikokukagekidan will sally forth to do battle with the enemy. In battle the feelings of the members towards Ohgami directly translate into performance; stronger positive feelings towards Ohgami will mean higher attack, defense, and sometimes movement of the women. Battles look rather like an isometric version of Shining Force or Fire Emblem, and each member of the Teikokukagekidan has her own aptitude in battle: Sakura is a fine katana user; Maria is a distance attacker with her superior marksmanship. Every character also has a special attack that can be used once per battle; after use it must be recharged, and the only way to recharge is to receive enemy attacks. Ohgami has a special option of his own in battle, which allows him to intercept 8 attacks directed toward any member of the Teikokukagekidan other than himself and annul all damage. Each time he does this it increases the favor of the girl he protected. Challenge in the Tactical part of the game is not high, partly thanks to Ohgami’s special ability but also thanks to the enemy being weaker than the player’s forces. Bosses can pose a threat but rarely enter the fray until all of their minions have been dispatched. The major annoyance in battle arises from the Koubu moving rather slowly, but it can be adjusted to. There is no experience either; later in the game the Koubu will be upgraded automatically. Seekers of a bruising battle backdrop are hereby warned.

   Visually the game looks quite nice outside of battle, for after all still screens and artwork are the norm here – though some FMV pops up. Inside battle Sakura Wars looks nice but is not the high point of the Saturn’s prowess, though special attacks do look good. Music and sound effects are rather good, and do not become annoying quickly – the addition of new tunes as the game progresses is also most welcome. Voice acting is plentiful in Sakura Wars, and all of it is at the very least acceptable and usually exemplary. Ohgami never says anything audibly outside of battle and FMV, though he speaks in text constantly, which is slightly odd.

   Sakura Wars takes at least 30 hours to play through, more if one wants to properly interact with the cast. Incentive to replay is great considering the presence of multiple endings and the alteration of the majority of the final chapter substantially depending upon who is most in Ohgami’s favor by that point. There are also numerous optional scenes, and each girl has her own mini-game to play: it must be noted that some of the mini-games are very difficult to deal with absent Japanese knowledge.

   It is certainly possible to play through the game without Japanese knowledge, but most of the interest will be removed from a player slogging through the lengthy character interaction sequences without a clue what it being discussed. Katakana knowledge is not very useful for playing through Sakura Wars, because very little of the text onscreen is in that alphabet. To an RPGamer who wants to play a game more than watching its characters interact and its plot unfold, Sakura Wars will be unsatisfactory. To an RPGamer wanting the closest thing that exists to playing through an anime series and feels that this would be enjoyable, Sakura Wars will be superior.

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