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Sakura Wars (2019): A Taisho Era Story(?)

I, like many westerners, have never got to experience any of the Sakura Wars games due to fact that they were released exclusively in Japan on the Sega Dreamcast and Sega Saturn. Now Sega has decided to give us a new entry after ten years that serves as a soft reboot for the franchise allowing more people to experience the action dating sim. The final product is an odd, but delightful experience that stuck with me long after I stopped playing. If you are familiar with the original games or perhaps watched the anime and movie then you are probably wondering where the original characters are. Well don’t worry about that, it will be explained in the story. You take the role of Seijuro Kamiyama who has just been appointed as the new captain of the combat revue known as the Flower Division, the absolute bottom of the barrel compared to the other combat units. How do I know that their status is so low? Because literally every other combat revue will show up to your base of operations to remind you how pathetic your group is. Seriously they go out of their way to belittle you. So it is up to you and your new unit to prove to everyone that the new Flower Division is just as capable as their predecessors.

No underdog narrative like that would work unless you have likable characters and thankfully Sakura Wars has a bunch of lovable leads. We have the fiery shrine maiden Hatsuko, the aspiring ninja master Azami, the actress Anastasia, Clarisis the book worm, and the pure hearted swords woman Sakura. It’s through helping them with their insecurities that you see new sides to these girls and you start to form a genuine connection. You can develop these bonds even further with romance or the “te a te” moments as they are referred. If your bond is high enough before the final missions you can choose who will be your destined partner. The fact that every woman gets a different ending makes each of them feel special. Just for the love of god DO NOT FORGET TO GO ON A DATE WITH THEM. The consequences of doing so are severe. Our protagonist Seijuro is a treasure because you can decide if he is a stand up guy who would die for his comrades or you can make him a total sleaze bag who can’t resist peeping into the girls showers. Seriously the dialogue choices range from earnest and encouraging to perverted and juvenile and it’s pretty humorous to be honest.

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Now onto the gameplay. The combat is easy to learn and pick up on as you slice and shoot your way through enemies in your mech. In fact a little too easy as I never once died and my health only dropped to orange once. If you save up your special attack then you can reduce the bosses health by 3/4ths instantly. Hell I obtained several S ranks with ease. I get taking the new player friendly approach, but there still needs to be some challenge. At least these segments don’t last long which was the right call. If you do yearn for more mech action then you can replay missions with the other characters. Again they are the exact same missions, but they really serve as what I like to call “makeup bonding”. If you select the wrong dialogue choice then you can increase your bond levels with the ladies with these mission replays.

While I stated that I adore our main characters I can’t say the same about our villain. Who is so obviously evil that its shocking no one has once said “Guys I think this man is completely off his rockers. We should probably speak up” Another nitpick I have is that there is no English dub. I don’t mind if I’m playing in Japanese, but there are scenes while in combat characters will deliver loads of exposition that I should be giving my undivided attention to, but I’m a little distracted with the constant fighting. If it was in English then I could hear what they are saying. If you are one of those people who prefers subs over dubs then you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the cast includes several top tier Japanese voice actors like Ayane Sakura, Miyuki Sawashiro, Maaya Uchida, and Tomokazu Sugita (anything with Gintoki’s actor is always worth watching/playing). These actors deliver a hundred and ten percent in almost every scene… even the drag out ones. My final gripe is that while the story is passable it tends to drag out certain moments that end up being total fake outs. Some of them try to tug your heart strings, but these don’t feel earned. Maybe that’s because at the end of the day it is still a dating sim game with potential perverted moments. Kind of a drastic change in tone.

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While the lack of a complex story and straightforward action are some of Sakura Wars glaring issues, it makes up for it with it’s cast of oddballs that you can’t help, but grow attached too.

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