The stage is set and the curtain has been raised! Upon starting the new Sakura Wars, players will stumble upon a full anime intro complete with a tightly reworked original series theme. The animation in the opening sequence is so flawless I wound up watching it twice before actually pressing the “New Game” option. I was further treated to some more anime cutscenes that offer up some backstory and ground the game’s plot…
We then meet our hero Seijiro Kamiyama who is set it become the new captain to the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division. At the theater Seijiro meets childhood friend, and fellow FD member Sakura Amamiya. Following a brief chat, Sakura takes Seijiro to meet their commander Sumire Kanzaki — an O.G. member of The Division and the one responsible for Kamiyama to pull a Barkhad Abdi (“I am the captain now”) with his newfound opportunity. Sumire further raises the stakes when she explains that it’s been 10 years since the great battle of Tokyo that cost the lives of her original team.
Seijiro then goes on to meet the other members of his team, the strong-willed shrine maiden Hatsuho Shinonome, the Intelligent and kind-hearted Clarissa “Claris” Snowflake, the mysterious ninja in training, Azumi Mochizuki, and recent transfer/famous actress/no-relation-to-GHG-writer-Kevin, Anastasia Palma. After getting acquainted with the other members Commander Kanzaki informs Seijiro that he will lead his team in the Combat Revue World Games. The CRWGs bring together Divisions from around the world by testing their strengths on the battlefield as well as their showmanship on stage. He is to restore the Flower Division’s former glory all while keeping Tokyo safe from demon attacks that happen from time to time.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the game is getting to know your fellow Flower Division members using the series trademark LIPS System. You are given the opportunity to answer questions or perform tasks by choosing one of multiple choices, which often lead to some very funny moments, or some very.. um.. fan service type of situations. Better yet, these mechanics allow the player a chance to personalize how their story will play out.
Sakura Wars also, rather admirably, splits up cutscenes using the game’s engine to render them in real time. If not, we get the pleasure of watching some awesome anime assembled by an all-star art team. Aside from Tite Kubo’s (Bleach) involvement, we also see art by BUNBUN (Sword Art Online), Ken Sugimori (Pokemon), and Shigenori Soejima (Persona), just to name a few.
Another great aspect in Sakura Wars is the combat, with Spiricle Striker being the fight performed inside powerful mechs. This mechanic moves past the tactical combat system from previous games in the series that was similar to what’s found in traditonal Final Fantasy. In the last title, Sakura Wars: So Long My Love, we got an action point system where movement and attacks all cost AP. In “Project” Sakura Wars on the PS4, you get a fast-paced hack-and-slash with a spirit meter that measures the current moral of your team. When you perform combos and dodges correctly, your spirit meter goes up, giving your team an attack and defense boost; if you take hits repeatedly your meter goes down, it will greatly affect your teams attack and defense.
There’s also no need for customization or upgrades via experience points in Sakura Wars. In a game where storytelling is its biggest attraction, it’s possible that a traditional XP system would have been overwhelming. Thus, the Spiricle Striker system allows players to have a great balance of storytelling and quick, fun action.
The music… oh it’s everything in this game! Better yet, the score hits at only the most appropriate times. From getting ready to engage the enemy, to trying to get out of odd situations, SW has a complete soundtrack that will have you searching for it on your favorite streaming services. I know I find myself listening to it outside of the game and haven’t found a soundtrack this perfect since playing Xenoblade 2.
One of the downfalls of the new Sakura Wars is its short story that only takes about 30 hours to complete, not including side quests (Editor’s Note: After 220+ hours of Persona 5 Royal, this makes me very happy!). But if you’re a completionist like me, then you’ll be adding another 10 to 12 hours of gameplay. In addition to the side missions, there is also the mini-game Koi-Koi Wars, which allow all of you PlayStation Trophy Hunters to earn extra collectibles .
Another minor hindrance? SEGA, who own the rights to music rhythm game Hatsune Miku, did not incorporate its gameplay into the musical moments in the game. Granted this sounds more like a fan wish then something they should have done, but why not take advantage since you own the rights, any way?
Being a longtime fan of the series, Sakura Wars made a great impression on me; it remains true to its roots while providing a modern feel to any newcomers. While playing for this review, my girlfriend –who doesn’t really play JRPGs– was very impressed with the story and gameplay. SEGA definitely strikes a chord with what western audiences needed to make Sakura Wars a recurring franchise here. That being said, it’s showtime! 4/5 Bibles.