Sakura Wars Review: Girls, Mechs, and Pacing Issues

Posted May 18, 2020 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Sega CS2 R&D

Publisher: Sega

Release date: April 28, 2020

Available on: PS4

The action RPG/Dating sim/visual novel Sakura Wars is the sixth mainline entry into the long running series first developed by Red Entertainment and its first since the 2010 worldwide release of Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. It marks the first time a title in the series has a new developer, with Sega CS2 R&D taking the reins, and is considered a soft reboot for the PS4. For the most part, Sakura Wars is an enjoyable JRPG, with most of its characters being likeable, a decent story, and a fairly fun combat system. It does falter when it comes to the dating sim aspect, which while sweet at times can also venture into creepy and cringey territory.

The story takes place in Tokyo during a fictionalized Taisho period. Seijuro Kamiyama arrives to take his position as captain of the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division. Not only does the Flower Division combat demon foes, but it also needs to stage shows at the Imperial Theater to provide cover for their operations. Kamiyama needs to lead the five girls- Sakura, Hatsuho, Claris, Azami, and Anastasia- to victory in the Combat Revue World Games. Unfortunately, a nasty demon presence has other plans for the festivities.

For the most part, the story unfolds decently, though when it gets to the relationship between Kamiyama and the girls it can devolve in silliness and stupidity. During conversations, you will have choices that may affect how your game goes, with most being on a timer (not making a choice is at times your best option). Sadly, your choices aren’t always good ones. Many times your choices will portray you as a decent but awkward man, a jerk, or a complete creep. The creep choices and some situations border on the cringey, though there is certainly an audience that will appreciate those scenes for what they are.

Gameplay during much of the game simply involves walking around and talking to people, occasionally taking on tasks such as finding a lost child or promoting the theater disguised as an elephant statue. Collectibles can in the form of bromides, pictures of the Revue’s cast, which can be purchased at the theater’s gift shop or found throughout the game. While there is some exploration of the surrounding city, it’s limited in nature, and outside of a card game called Koi-Koi (which is played over your phone in the game) there aren’t any side activities to really speak of. you’ll spend a lot of time checking in on the girls, occasionally taking on a first person view where you need to highlight things to advance the conversation. These scenes can lead to some awkward moments, as you can highlight certain female attributes. Some will enjoy this. Others may find it a bit on the creepier side.

The more interesting gameplay involves combat with your mech, called a Mugen. These mechs allow you to fight various demons who often appear in groups. Triangle will unleash your heavy attack, while Circle gives you light but quick attacks. Combining R2 and Triangle gives you a nice spin move. Collect enough crystals to fill up your meter, and Square enables you to complete a special attack. Sadly, you’ll see the same animation every time you use your special, and at times going from animation back to gameplay can have you facing the wrong direction, meaning your special can get wasted in the process. While there are five girls in your revue, you can only have one of them in your immediate party that you can switch to via the L1 button. You won’t switch often save for using the other character’s special attack, but it is worth noting that each girl play differently, with their own brand of combat.

Combat will sometimes take place on city streets, but more often it will be in a mechanical type dungeon in a demon realm. These areas involve some light platforming along with fighting waves of enemies, and vary only slightly across the game’s eight chapters. Demon types are varied, with small fodder types, mid-sized foes, large monsters, and aerial demons that include fire breathing dragons and laser firing crystals. Each dungeon ends in a boss fight, though the game really only has about four or five bosses to contend with, some of which you’ll fight multiple times. The final battle, while a little spectacular in the size of your foe, relies a bit too much on deus ex machina to keep our heroes in the fight.

Sadly, it’s often during combat where the game’s pacing issues arise. Many a time I went to press the fight, only to be stopped dead because one of the girls need a heart to heart. The end chapter is filled with these “We need to hurry!” but wait let’s talk situations, making things more frustrating than they needed to be. Worse still, while the Japanese only vocal track is fine for the most part, with ample time to read subtitles, conversations will occur during battle, making it very hard to read subtitles along with dealing with the chaotic action onscreen. While you’re not missing major chunks of story in this way, you can end up missing some character moments.

Visually, the game is nice to look at, save one minor quibble, that being a dark outline of the nose on the characters’ faces. From the side it’s not an issue, but when they look at you head on int looks more like a slit in the center of the face than a nose, and can be a little off-putting. It’s odd the same issue isn’t in the anime cut scenes, but overall it doesn’t detract from the game. Music is decent though in some spots feels out of place, and you’ll hear the same themes throughout the game during similar scenes. Watch through the end credits for a scene that plays out and there is a post credits scene that may change depending on your choices made during the game.

In all, Sakura Wars is a decent JRPG hybrid, with likeable characters and a combat system that is fun at least for awhile. It does suffer from pacing issues, use of bad anime tropes, and at times gets on the cringey side with Kamiyama’s relationships with the girls. There are some who will love this game, while others may be better off waiting for a sale. It does have its moments, and when it has those over its eight chapters, they can be very good. And it’s these moments that make it worth checking out at some point for those who enjoy JRPGs.

7.5/10 stars

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus