Sakura Wars - Import Review

Steam Skirts and Strategy

By: Jake Alley

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 5
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 6
   Plot 8
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Time to Complete

20 hours


Sakura Taisen

   Sakura Taisen is an enigma to most RPGamers in the U.S. Some believe it is based on the anime series of the same name, others mistakenly label it a dating simulation. While both these statements are close to the truth, they do not serve as a fair description of the game.

   On a fundamental level, Sakura Taisen is a Tactical RPG. It features large scale turn based battles on grids, spaced out with dialog scenes. Unlike the average TRPG however, these dialog scenes present the player with many options that have a major effect on the next battle as well as the ending of the game. The pacing is also quite different, as often over an hour will pass between two battles.

   Such strange pacing is the result of the unorthodox approach the designers took with the game. One gets the feeling while playing Sakura Taisen that the writers first wrote complete scripts for an anime series, then replaced the battles with actual gameplay at the last minute. The game itself is divided into several episodes, based not on the placement of battles, but the passage of minor plot points. Most episodes will feature just one battle somewhere in the middle of a minor subplot concerning one character's past, while other episodes will feature multiple battles when the actions of the enemy distract your party from their usual affairs. These episodes even end with a short movie depicting scenes from the next episode, adding to the game's aura of being a televised series.

This is gameplay, not a movie.
This is gameplay, not a movie.  

   Another unique quality of Sakura Taisen is the lack of an experience system. The actions taken by characters during one battle have absolutely no effect on later battles. Instead, each character has a set of fixed stats which receive bonuses or penalties depending on their mood at the moment. Therefore rather than taking the time to build up everyone's levels, in Sakura Taisen one must take the time between battles to wander around giving the other characters compliments and encouraging words, as well as break up the occasional fight, usually by responding properly to timed dialog choices. Each character's total accumulated happiness over the course of the game also affects the way certain plot points will unfold, and which character's ending one will see.

Same model, different paint jobs.
Same model, different paint jobs.  

   Unfortunately, the task of keeping everyone happy has very little reward in practical terms. While it is true that a happy character will receive very potent bonuses in combat, battles aren't nearly difficult enough for such an edge to be needed. Generally speaking, while any character can defeat any enemy in two attacks, said enemies tend to take off a mere fifth per blow. On top of this, each character starts each battle with two powerful healing items, and has access to a devastating special attack, which can even be combined for Chrono Trigger style combination attacks. Bosses pose a bit more challenge, but tend to hold back until the lesser enemies have been cleared away, leaving them wide open to a barrage of special attacks from every character at once. On top of everything else, the main character has the ability to block 8 attacks aimed at any one other character per fight, causing them to do no damage and adding to that character's happiness total. Not only does all this make death a nearly impossible occurrence, but it is not uncommon to finish a battle with each character at full HP.

No really, it isn't a dating sim.
No really, it isn't a dating sim.  

   Thankfully, as earlier stated, the main focus of the game is on the plot rather than the combat. Not only does Sakura Taisen provide a disarmingly upbeat story with a nicely well rounded cast of characters, it also backs it up with some wonderful graphics and sound. When speaking to a character, a full screen high quality picture of him or her fills the screen with nicely animated eye and mouth movements. This is accompanied more often than not with some very nice voice acting, maintaining the feeling of watching an anime series. These are further interspersed with actual anime cut scenes, free of the usual grainy muddy quality of Saturn FMV. The music in the game is also quite nice, although most is comprised of variations on the game's main theme.

   Overall, Sakura Taisen is a pleasant game that won't appeal to anyone. While no one would have a problem with its first rate production values, interesting story, or six different endings, the actual gameplay is restricted to painfully easy battles and the occasional mini-game ranging from playing cards to making borsch. Importers have even more cause to be put off as the game puts a major emphasis on dialog choices that must be made in only a few seconds. For those who don't mind an overdose of dialog however, there exists a strange appeal in complimenting a girl on her dress in order to improve her efficiency in defending 1910's Japan with her steam powered mech.

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