RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Dec 28th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under Samurai Cowgirl, playstation 2, ps2, wii, rpg, visual novel

Sakura Wars is a long running series of tactical role playing games that was created by Red Entertainment, who has shared most development credit with Sega. Its first release was in 1996 on Sega's Saturn, however this series would remain in Japan. Sega would release four games on its own consoles, two each on the Saturn and Dreamcast. Its fifth entry would release on Sony's PlayStation 2 in 2005, long after Sega finally called it quits on their own hardware. This would be the first game in the series to release outside of Japan, with its original PS2 release localized by NIS America for North America in 2010. The game's later Wii port would be released in North America and Europe at the same time as the PS2 localization. Its design history and mixed reception seemed to have lead Red and Sega to both give up on the series, until a recent announcement of a game called Shin Sakura Taisen in 2018, or New Sakura Wars in English.

The game has an interesting setting, being set in a spoof of New York City in 1928. Players take on the role of Shinjiro Taiga, who seems to join a theatre troupe at first glance. Soon, the Statue of Liberty is attacked, where giant mechs are added into the formula. It turns out, the Little Lip Theatre is a front for a secret organization called Star Division. The mechs they pilot are called STARs, and each one is quite unique in its design. These were designed to be representations of the pilot, so they have weapons to match their pilot's skills or personality. For example, Diana is the healer of the group, but she is physically frail as well, so her STAR takes more damage but is a much better healer than the others while also wielding a long range weapon.

Sakura Wars V is a full mixture of various genre. Cutscenes are presented mostly in visual novel style, with more expensive animated cutscenes sprinkled throughout the story. The actual narrative presentation is like a show, with each 'chapter' of the visual novel being called an 'Episode' instead. There are a total of 7 episodes in the game. Players can also explore free form environments around New York City at certain points in the story. Extra scenes can be found by exploring certain places at certain times. This exploration system ends up being quite complex, as time factors into when and where characters and therefore scenes can be found. Time tends to be quite limited in these scenes, with each scene taking 5 minutes off the clock. Most of the exploration segments are between 30 minutes and an hour, so Shinjiro can generally explore 6 to twelve locations. The game eventually has five unique areas to explore, adding many choices to the mix. Combat is where the role playing labels come into play. It is a turn based tactical style, with a free roaming radius. Each character has their own number of points, they can use these points to move, defend, heal, and attack. STARs also have their own special attack and can combine attacks with another member. These group attacks can be used to damage or kill groups of enemies. Turns last until the STAR is out of points, so you can move and attack, heal and move, attack and heal, all kinds of combinations.

This variety of systems and mechanics is tied together fairly well. As players advance through the main story there will be dialogue choices, these choices can help or hinder Shinjiro's blossoming relationships with the actresses and workers of the Little Lip Theatre. The main girls also have their own relationship strengths with each other. As these bonds grow stronger there are benefits in other systems, mostly the combat system. Group attacks can do extra damage, they get greater healing from each other, and some more minor effects. There are other benefits outside of battle, some events may be locked away until a relationship milestone is reached, and romance is entirely blocked off until its own threshold is reached. The various side events found through exploration helps to provide extra points to build upon. Shinjiro can buy pictures of the main girls from the theatre's gift shop, and can later earn a secret photo by building their relationship up high enough.

Visually, the game incorporates a variety of styles as well. Combat and exploration are fully three dimensional, with 2D art being used for cutscenes and events. The architecture and background art is extremely well done. It fits the style of architecture you see in older photos of New York City and helps the game to feel a bit more authentic, even with all the characters and technology being woefully out of place. The graphical highlight might be the 3D models used in combat. The STARs are all highly detailed, in fact, the 3D is so good that it feels too good for the PS2 and Wii to be able to run. Limiting its use likely helped Red and Sega squeeze all the power they could out of the hardware. To top it off, the fully animated cutscenes are mostly well done, with the scenes of various musicals performed at Little Lip being rewards for the player to beat episodes.

Sakura Wars: So Long My Love is an interesting game, and is quite unique for its time. For fans of RPGs, forgotten and unknown games, or the Sega fan, Sakura Wars V may have some appeal. Its quite short at around 20 to 30 hours for a single play through. Its design of branching decisions is meant to encourage replays. One girl cannot even be courted without beating the game once, so its a bit more than encouraged. The music is quite enjoyable, with a fairly heavy jazz influence. The score also drives the game, since its so linear and narrative focused then the designers made sure to use a combination of music and environmental design to set the mood. There are not too many songs, but their use is spread out enough that it never becomes a chore to hear in the background. Since battles are scripted there is also not the effect of having battle music stuck in your head for days after a grind session. Overall the music is just pleasant. Its not groundbreaking or even great, but its a fun and entertaining score. Fun and entertaining may be the best ways to describe the game, nothing it tries is really revolutionary. The story is rather weak, characters are quite one dimensional, and the quick pacing means that any real depth of narrative or character is almost impossible. It all comes together enough to be a fun time, and sometimes that's all that matters.

Sega has long been known as a pioneer in game design, and their partnership with Red has produced a rather forward thinking series of role playing games. In the Saturn years, finding a role playing game that mixed genre was quite rare, but Sega's own Phantasy Star IV and Sakura Wars likely helped plenty of smaller studios realize they could do some of this genre-mixing to save money, increase their visual quality, and have some niche market overlap. Plenty of other companies have experimented with similar design in the years since, and even mixed social advancement elements on top of it. Sega and Red made a series that was so unique and special that they had no confidence in international success, and that may have been the right read. Sakura Wars V was the worst selling Sakura Wars game in Japan, and NIS America also commented that the localized releases were both financial disappointments, but Sega was in a much worse place in 2005 than they are going to be in 2019. Japanese Sega fans did not forget Sakura Wars, as Sega sent out a survey about which mostly dormant IP fans would like a new entry in, and Sakura Wars won in a total landslide. The question is going to be whether this old, pioneering series can stand up against those that have grown up while Sakura Wars went dormant. New Sakura Wars is going to need to be more than a simple revival, it needs to be a revolution.

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Very interesting! I had no idea there was even a Sakura Wars game that came to the US, nor that it was a Sega developed series. This actually looks like it could be a fun game. I'll have to keep my eyes open for a copy.
I've had this on my backlog for a while and my only real insight into it was the characters from the game that appeared in Project X Zone. Really loved this write up to give me more of an idea about the game. I'm quite intrigued now and am going to have to move it upy back log after reading this. Thanks Psycho!!
@MetalFRO: This was something that surprised me when I first learned about it. I also learned that people tried to speculate the game and failed miserably. I was able to buy a brand new, factory sealed copy of the Premium Box for $50 online, so if some people tried to sit on the game for a few years they ate a big mud sandwich.
@SirPsycho: I was one of those people lol. I don't believe I really lost any money on it - I believe I purchased it for $30 and sold it for around the same. I remember there being a feeling that it would be the last PS2 game (or at least non-sports/mass produced port). I don't collect for PS2, so outside of sports games I'm not sure what was released afterwards of any note...

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