Patreon button  Steam curated reviews  Discord button  Facebook button  Twitter button 
3DS | PC | PS4 | PS5 | SWITCH | VITA | XB1 | XSX | All

Sakura Taisen (Saturn) artwork

Sakura Taisen (Saturn) review

"Novel Tactics"

In an alternate 1923 Japan, something is amiss; unseen forces are scheming to unravel the current peace of the country. This is where the player character, Ensign Ichiro Ogami, comes into play as he's been assigned captain to a secret unit stationed in Tokyo. Called the Flower Division of the Imperial Assault Troupe, Ogami is initially confused that the unit is situated in a theater, performing plays on a daily basis to a packed audience. Bewilderment continues as he finds one of his duties to be a ticket puncher. However, all becomes clear once the "manager," Lt. General Yoneda, reveals that the squad masquerades as a theater group when not in battle.

What battles must they endure in order to preserve the peace? Turned-based tactical mech battles! Specifically, Flower Division members control steam-powered Spirit Armors named Koubu, called into combat whenever the opposing Hive of Darkness unleashes Hex Mechs to an unsuspecting public. The thought of controlling technologically-advanced mechs in 1923 Japan certainly sounds like an interesting concept for 1996's Sakura Wars. But there's something else you should know: turn-based battles account for about 10% of the game. The other 90% is essentially a visual novel with faint dating sim elements. While this hybrid seems like an odd mix that shouldn't gel, the devs have actually managed to make it all function together.

The reason it flows well is because the game is intentionally designed as if you're watching a show, specifically anime. Chapters play out like episodes, with periodic save spots being treated like eyecatches with their own illustrations, not to mention a "Next Episode" teaser at the end of each chapter. Early chapters are akin to something you would experience in a mecha anime, such as self-contained plots that serve to give development to certain characters, which then concludes with a mech battle. Doubling down on this theme, the prelude to nearly every fight features an extravagant "gear up" sequence where you see Koubu preparations. This is then followed by the Flower Division striking dramatic poses in unison, as their Spirit Armors, when making an entrance on the battlefield.

From a gameplay perspective, this is done in a way where the visual novel portions have the potential to benefit upcoming battles. As the story moves along in each chapter, Ogami will have many, many opportunities to converse with the six members of the Flower Division, and this is in spite of certain chapters focusing on specific characters. You'll quickly find out that each one has their own unique quirks and traits; Sumire Kanzaki comes from a rich family, thus acts spoiled and high maintenance; the purple-haired Kohran Li is a zany mechanic who is useful with making repairs to the Koubu; and then there's Sakura Shinguji, newest member, skilled with a sword, and, if you've vaguely seen any Sakura Wars-related images or merchandise, is practically the face of the series.

Whenever you're talking with a member, there's the likelihood of being presented with a multiple choice question scenario. On top of that, most have brief time limits. Choose poorly, and said character will be mad or gloomy for the time being. Suffice it to say, selecting a good answer will put you in good graces with them. Early on, a lot of the answers are pretty obvious in a "just be nice" type of way, but later situations actually challenge what kind of person you're trying to be in the game. During one moment, you're given a choice to either protect a wandering kid from an attack during combat or pursue a fleeing enemy. If you pick the former, a member will actually chastise you later for doing so, which presents another scenario where you either defend your actions or grovel to make amends.

How does all of that influence combat? Interestingly, being in great standing with any Troupe member will raise their stats during an upcoming fight. Someone in a "normal mood" has their default attack strength and will usually take two whole turns to destroy one enemy, but someone with "high spirits" might eliminate most foes with a single attack. It's certainly a clever way of having the two genres connect in a beneficial light. Though you also have to factor in that each member has completely unique capabilities, such as Kanna Kirishima, a martial artist and thus the strongest melee fighter; Iris Châteaubriand is the dedicated healer of the group, an insanely useful one, but also the weakest fighter; and then there's Maria Tachibana, with her rotary cannon weapon, who is great at long distance combat.

But if you're hoping for some mind-blowing experience, then you will have to tone down those expectations. If you've spent time with either genre, then Sakura Wars' handling is best described as being "vanilla." The multiple choice moments, while occasionally throwing curveballs and time limits, are pretty straightforward when answering. Even if you screw up, the game gives opportunities to rebound before a coming battle. Combat isn't comparable in depth to similar titles released during its day, such as Front Mission or Tactics Ogre, two games that are loaded with features. Here, you just move a Koubu, guard or attack, with the occasional special attack activated through meter, against two enemy types that attack short or long distance. There are slight variances in each successive battle, but they're all basically a beginner's guide to turn-based tactical combat.

These "shortcomings" don't make Sakura Wars a bad game by any means, but it is very much targeted at specific audiences. Perhaps due to its intentional episodic flow, the game has a warm familiarity that you would get from watching an actual show; play through an "episode," get to know characters, conclude with a battle, and then repeat the process in the next "episode" at another time, likely the next day. There's a comforting vibe to it. Doesn't hurt that the cast are actually likeable characters, with their dialogue often being elevated with the aid of established Japanese voice actors. In this respect, Sakura Wars is an entertaining hybrid product that will leave you satisfied with the overall experience by the time you reach its climax.

Note: this review is based on the game being played with the NoahSteam English translation patch.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (May 16, 2023)

Hex Mix


If you enjoyed this Sakura Taisen review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

You must be signed into an HonestGamers user account to leave feedback on this review.

User Help | Contact | Ethics | Sponsor Guide | Links

eXTReMe Tracker
© 1998 - 2023 HonestGamers
None of the material contained within this site may be reproduced in any conceivable fashion without permission from the author(s) of said material. This site is not sponsored or endorsed by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, or any other such party. Sakura Taisen is a registered trademark of its copyright holder. This site makes no claim to Sakura Taisen, its characters, screenshots, artwork, music, or any intellectual property contained within. Opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the opinion of site staff or sponsors. Staff and freelance reviews are typically written based on time spent with a retail review copy or review key for the game that is provided by its publisher.