It’s Showtime!

Title: Sakura Wars
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Developer: SEGA
Publisher: SEGA
Release date: Out now.
Tl;dr: Sakura Wars is an incredible game that blends a dating sim with a hack ‘n’ slash action game and an engrossing story about demons and theater.
Price: £50/$60
Family Focus?: Click here for more information

Sakura Wars is a franchise that started back in the mid-90s as a tactics/dating simulator that never really made it over here in the Western territories. However, it seems Sega wants to rectify that with the new Sakura Wars, which is a soft reboot of the series, although they’ve dropped the tactics gameplay and replaced it with action.

Sakura Wars follows Seijuro Kamiyama, a former captain of a naval ship that got attacked by a bunch of demons. The game opens with Seijuro arriving at the Imperial Theater, the base of operations for what is known as the Flower Division, the same division from the original games; however, ten years have passed since the Great Demon War and a brand-new team have moved in to the Imperial Theater. Anyway, Seijuro Kamiyama arrives and is greeted by his childhood friend/sweetheart, Sakura Amamiya, but their reunion is cut short when Sumire Kanzaki, the manager of the Imperial Theater, butts in to award him the title of Captain of the Flower Division. What follows in the opening chapters is an introduction to the rest of your Flower Division teammates: Hatsuho Shinonome, a shrine maiden; Clarissa ‘Claris’ Snowflake, a noblewoman from Luxembourg; Azami Mochizuki, a ninja from the Mochizuki clan; and Anastasia Palma, a world famous actress from Greece.

Throughout the game you are given numerous chances to romance these women by choosing various dialogue options to appeal to their personalities. For example, Sakura basically enjoys any time with Kamiyama, but you can’t be too lewd with her, however, Anastasia likes lewd and suggestive comments. If you reach a certain level of trust with the girls in certain chapters, you can enter scenes known as tête-à-tête, or face-to-face, where the game switches to a first-person perspective and you get close to the girl. In this mode you’ll notice the women blush, you’re able to stroke their hair, gaze into their eyes or, if you’re feeling a little lewd, you can ogle them, though this will likely decrease the girl’s trust in Kamiyama. I tried to be a good Kamiyama on my first playthrough and avoided being a douche but I’m definitely going to do a second playthrough as a sleazebag to see how and if it plays out differently.

As mentioned previously, the gameplay of Sakura Wars has moved on now from the tactics gameplay from the previous entries and now has a focus on action hack ‘n’ slash akin to a Dynasty Warriors game, with mechs, a simplistic button masher with simple combos, but it is still incredibly fun. Kamiyama and the girls have different gameplay styles; Kamiyama is a dual sword user, Sakura uses a just a single sword, Hatsuho uses a massive hammer, Azami is a ninja who uses hand-to-hand combat, and Anastasia is a gun user. Each character is able to use a special move after filling enough meter, once again much like Dynasty Warriors’ Musou gauge, that unleashes a devastating, high damage attack. In addition, with a high level of trust you gain a power-up that with a press of the touchpad will unleash invulnerability and boosted attack power!

There is also an adventure mode, where you can wander around various locations such as the department store, where you’ll find a Ferris wheel atop the roof, or for a relaxing time maybe you’d prefer Mikasa Park, located by the sea. Throughout the story, you can interact with different characters, including those from the different divisions once you get to that part of the game. In these areas, you can find items known as Bromides, collectable cards that showcase the various characters in Sakura Wars, old and new, which is a nice little easter egg for those who have played all the Sakura Wars titles. There is also a mini-game called, Koi Koi, where play a hanafuda card game against the characters of Sakura Wars, I don’t get it and can’t beat it but I have a similar problem with certain games in Yakuza like mahjong.

Sakura Wars has a bunch of different character designers from across the world who helped to design the different divisions but the lead character designer is Tite Kubo, the creator of the hit Shonen Jump series Bleach, which is what drew me personally to the soft reboot in the first place. Graphically, Sakura Wars is stunning, with rich and diverse character designs brought to life in both gameplay and cutscenes, and the 3D models truly stay faithful to each of the individual character designers works. Cutscenes can either be 3D animation or 2D animation depending on the scene, which feels a little weird at first but it happens so infrequently that it’s really a non-issue

The Good

  • A lovable and dynamic cast that you will fall in love with!
  • Gorgeous graphics that make each artist’s designs pop on screen.
  • A varied branching dialogue system that makes multiple playthroughs worth playing.

The Bad

  • The mini-game Koi Koi. I don’t get it.
  • Some people might think it’s too anime.

Family Focus

Sakura Wars is rated PEGI 16 and T for Teen by the ESRB. Contains blood, partial nudity, bad language and sexual themes with suggestive options available in the dialogue choices. Little Jimmy probably shouldn’t play this game, wait until he grows up a little then he can play it.

This review is based on a retail code of the game supplied by PR for the purpose of review.