Sakura Wars (PlayStation 4) Review

By Sandy Kirchner-Wilson 30.04.2020

Review for Sakura Wars on PlayStation 4

Sakura Wars is a renowned series in Japan, and well known in the West, with a thick history of anime and video games, stretching back into the '90s with the first game on the Sega Saturn. Published by SEGA the series was mostly Japan-exclusive, with only one previous entry making it to Europe and North America; chiefly, Sakura Wars: So Long, my Love for the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2. This new title is SEGA soft-rebooting the franchise with a new setting and characters, but not without having a place in the overall canon timeline.

Enter Seijuro Kamamiya; a navy man who has been assigned to Tokyo's Ginza Imperial Theatre. Through this new job placement, managing a team of girls as they perform on stage, he discovers he's now working for the Imperial Combat Revue - a mech combat unit based in Tokyo, created to protect the area from Demon attacks. While it's not the most unique setup for an anime title, it's all written very earnestly, and presented with a thousand degrees of charm and polish. At first appearances, players may feel something reminiscent of the "Tales Of" series by Namco, with flashes of influences from games such as Persona - but, honestly, Sakura Wars does a lot to try and stand out. From its music and setting, to the flow of gameplay and its varied and interesting, if expected, character interactions.

As a game it feels very distinctly cut into three types of gameplay: namely Adventure, Battle or Combat mode, and Mini-games (of which there is really only one). Adventure is this title's bread and butter. It contains the best story segments, and offers free reign to explore the theatre. Design-wise, the latter is geared towards feeling familiar as the story progresses, making the player comfortable with traversing it. Full of little rooms and a nice large auditorium, it's the perfect playground for the story that's been concocted, and has varied enough visuals that it's actually fun to learn it's layout, and to partake in events around the venue.

Screenshot for Sakura Wars on PlayStation 4

These chapter sections usually revolve around resolving a single conflict by doing various tasks, including typical, A-B delivery missions, and acting as a mentor to the team members, though there is quite a lot of side content. Clarissa, the best girl (don't judge), has some of the best missions, revolving around her love for books and writing, which usually end with her saying or doing something embarrassing, and throwing Seijuro out into the corridor before following it up with a text apologising or asking him not to "look at other girls" which he is hilariously oblivious to the meaning of.

These moments are littered with dialogue trees, with a wheel for selecting options akin to Mass Effect and Dragon Age. The goal is to either find the neutral or good response to keep or improve the level of trust and morale in the combat missions. Note, however, that thiss is surprisingly difficult with some replies that seem positive being delivered by Seijuro in the most awkward way. It's a system that's fun to experiment with, and, luckily, with the first patch the developers are adding a 'save anywhere' feature to the adventure mode, meaning you won't need to restart an hour-long chapter segment to redo a character moment.

Screenshot for Sakura Wars on PlayStation 4

Combat mode is the part, usually at the end of a chapter, where players get to hop into a mech suit, and go ham on some demons - although it would be nice if there were more demons. So, these sections drop you into a contained battlefield to hack 'n' slash through some, reasonably sized, enemy hordes. These are serviceable sections with the usual heavy and light attacks, as well as character-specific specials, and, later on, team attacks. Where this mode gets more interesting is that it uses a morale system. When taking damage, and falling off edges morale takes a beating, which can lead to defeat. Also, high morale can help the player build up team attacks and specials, as well as leading to more amped-feeling character dialogue. Interestingly, morale, as mentioned earlier, can lead over from adventure mode.

Completing dialogue options and heart to hearts can give you a much stronger head start in combat levels, automatically increasing the odds of winning and getting an S rank. All of the combat stages are ranked based on certain factors, similar to Sonic the Hedgehog. What they mainly suffer from is a lack of enemy variety, leaning heavily on enemy "drones," which are little round robots with spears, alongside higher level variants of these with clubs and shields. It's not awful, but the limited variety means they sometimes feel drawn out, which is a shame for such short levels, clocking in between 10 and 30 minutes.

Screenshot for Sakura Wars on PlayStation 4

Now, not that there's much in the way of mini-games but using the character's smartphone type device called a Teletron (which contains the in-game map and allows for between-mission communication from the team), allows you to play 'Koi Koi.' For those who don't know it, it's a card matching game popular in Japan, and its sleek simplicity makes it a very addictive offering, though because it's luck based it has limited life. Also, although it might not be a mini-game per se, it allows the player to take part in Raids. These are small combat missions, usually mid adventure mode, where the Combat Revue jumps into action to defend Tokyo from demons. These usually give the player a reward in the form of a collectable photo, which the game relies heavily on as the one and only collectable.

Aesthetically Sakura Wars strikes a good balance between supremely detailed and varied steampunk, '40s style scenery, and expressive and impressively animated characters. It may not be the most technically advanced, or may not be pushing the system to its highest heights, but it strikes a perfect balance in style and visual fidelity that makes it hard to look away from. This is backed by an incredible soundtrack, full of jaunty '40s-esque music, with a definitive Japanese flair, but also with a Gravity Rush-type… trumpety bloompety-ness that can't go understated. Where this aesthetic feels less consistent is during the dungeon crawling combat levels, as these run the spectrum of dark and industrial, to dark and alien. It's nice to have the stark contrast with the normal bright and playful visuals, but it really becomes repetitive, especially if revisiting levels in the combat simulator.

Screenshot for Sakura Wars on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Fun but limited combat, punctuates a fantastic, character-driven drama about putting on shows and pulling a once beloved group and theatre out of its rut, and into the spotlight on an international level. It's a rip-roaring good time that has such faith in its world and style, that the love of the developers, writers, artists, and composers comes through at all points during the journey. This is a definite recommendation to those who like games that focus on narrative, and who can overlook the fairly uninspiring (yet enjoyable) combat, or who love to explore characters and motivations through dialogue. Also, for those new to the series: fear not. It's in line with the old series canon, but this one is self-contained and expands into a new era of the story.






Real Time RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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