Each year, there’s always that one game that I simply fall in love with that the general gaming community doesn’t care for. Strangely enough, for the past couple of years, it’s been one of those heavily Japanese influenced games that mix anime and some weird video game genre that super unique. In 2018, that game was Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles 4. In 2019, that honor goes to Atlus’ Catherine: Full Body.
These are criminally underrated games that deserve more attention than they received. I have no doubt that the same thing will happen in 2020. But now, I fully expect what that exact game will be.
That game will be the upcoming “soft reboot” of the Sakura Wars franchise for the PlayStation 4.
It’s rather strange that I’m looking forward to this new Sakura Wars, which is technically the sixth entry in this long-lived series by Sega. It’s strange because I only played one game in the mainline series, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, the fifth game which was finally ported for Western audiences for the PlayStation 2. Even so, my love for the franchise was already blooming before that because I so desperately wanted to play any game from this series way before the PlayStation 2 version.
Sakura Wars is a franchise that is actually very old. Well, it got its start on the Sega Saturn so it’s at least older than some of those reading this post, anyway. The first time I learned of the game was from an old video game magazine (can’t remember exactly which one) which described the premise of Sakura Wars. It was about an all-female troupe of actresses who have magic powers. When evil demons start attacking the city, they board these giant steam powered robots to combat them. You control the only male member and leader of the group, directing their actions in battle. Oh, and you can also talk to them and form a romance with any of the girls. Also, there were anime cutscenes as well.
My mind was blown. How did Sega manage to cram a strategy game with RPG elements and a dating sim into one game? Also, when was it going to be translated for Western markets? After all, what would be the point of informing us about an awesome idea if Sega wasn’t bringing it over and letting English only gamers play it?
Unfortunately for me, this was never going to be the case. It was just a preview section on what were the hottest games over in Japan. I don’t really think Sega had any plans to bring Sakura Wars over to Europe and the United States because of all the translation work needed for the dating sim part of the game. Oh, and also there was this strong standing that dating sims didn’t word in those markets. In retrospect, seeing that there were fans who who desperately wanted the original Sega Saturn game to be translated that they took it upon themselves to add a patch to it, it seems like a dumb move today.
I never did get to play the original Sakura Wars because of there wasn’t an English version. I’m not sure if I would’ve plucked the money down for a Sega Saturn if there was an English version but there’s a good chance I would’ve. As timed passed, Sega produced more and more Sakura Wars games and they were always successful in Japan, both critically and financially.
The series was so successful that it spawned into other forms of media. There was an annual live show featuring the voice actors of the game. A manga was also produced depicting the events of the series. But the thing that really got me hooked on the series was the anime series. While there was an OVA series produced, I didn’t watch that. The one that I watched was the broadcast anime series, which also featured the original voice cast. This was big for me as, even though I heard about the franchise for years, I never really got to experience anything about it until the anime was released on a cable channel.
In hindsight, the series itself wasn’t anything really special. I still did fall in love with the entire idea of magical girls piloting steam powered robots to fight demons. It’s a truly kooky concept in a video game but rather, well, tame by anime standards. I mean, it’s basically Sailor Moon with mecha, if you really think about it. Still, the art style is really pretty and the character designs are really well done. Best of all, it was just a really fun anime, with enough steam powered mecha action to hold fans who aren’t interested in the romance aspect of the series.
The sad thing is that the anime just made me want to play the games even more. I did eventually get to play a Sakura Wars game on a Sega console. It was Sakura Wars: Hanagumi Taisen Columns 2. It wasn’t a “real” Sakura Wars game so, no. This wasn’t my first “real” game I played from the series. I still had to get it because, well, I was rather desperate to finally play anything that had Sakura Wars on it. What I got was a surprisingly fun little game to play with my cousins, even though we didn’t understand a lick of Japanese!
I already wrote about how much I enjoyed this Hanagumi Taisen Columns 2 before during my Dreamcast retrospective post. I even said that, against all odds, it was my favorite game on the Sega Dreamcast. This weird and simple game was just fun to play with others. We also figured out a few things about the game, like which character had the strongest attack and how to select an option to make that character’s powered up attack virtually end her opponent. You can bet we kept on using that strategy until we found out the best way to counter it was to somehow beat her before she could unleash that ultimate attack. Those were the days!
Eventually, the amazing happened. Sega finally announced they were going to port over the fifth game, Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love, to Western shores. This was something I was waiting for! An actual English adaption of a Sakura Wars game! Although I long awaited for version I could finally understand, that didn’t mean that I played it with the English voice acting. No disrespect to the Western voice actors but I do wish they also included the Japanese voices. I guess they couldn’t fit both the English and Japanese voices in. Thankfully, the English voices were still really good.
I had a lot of fun playing Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love. I enjoyed my time with the game that I played it several times just to get the endings for most of the girls! I know that, by this time, YouTube was a thing and I could simply go to the website to see all of the endings from there. But this was something personal for me. This was something I had to experience for myself. I even printed out a walkthrough so I know what answers to give to get the best endings for each character.
I am extremely glad Sega is giving us another Sakura Wars, especially considering their first attempt in the West didn’t sell all that well. I still think the Sakura Wars franchise can be successful in English speaking territories, especially with more and more anime game getting a foothold. Even though it may be a niche genre, especially since it’s a mix of tactical combat, RPG mechanics and dating sims, Sakura Wars is one of those niche games I’m eagerly awaiting.
What is your favorite but rather unknown game series