Developed in 1996 between Red Company and Sega, Sakura Taisen is the first entry in the now-iconic multimedia franchise that combines dating sim style adventure gameplay with strategy RPG combat. The game's development was lead by Oji Hiroi, who had previously produced the immensely popular Tengai Makyou series, and featured character designs by Kousuke Fujishima, famous for his work on several Tales games and the Oh My Goddess! manga.
Sakura Taisen was originally released on the Sega Saturn in Japan on September 27, 1996 and was a huge success; selling out the day it hit the market. With the game's amazing sales, several spin-off titles were released and the story was adapted into various forms of media including an anime as well as a series of stage plays. A sequel soon followed with the release of Sakura Taisen 2 in 1998 and the original game was later ported to the Dreamcast and PC by M2. A remake of Sakura Taisen was eventually developed for the PlayStation 2 in 2003 titled Sakura Taisen: Atsuki Chishio Ni, which featured a new 3D battle system, redone artwork, and a reworked story.
Setting and Story
Sakura Taisen is set in alternative-historical rendition of the Japan's Taishou era (about 1923). Most technology is powered by steam, from automobiles to personal computers. In 1918 an invasion by Kouma demons devastated the Imperial Capital, Teito Tokyo. The monsters were stopped, but at great human cost. As reconstruction was finished in 1925, plans were put into place to defend the capital against further assault. An elite anti-demon unit, the Imperial Assault Troupe, would operate in secret and combat the demons, this time aided by the powerful Koubu "Spirit Armor" suits. Under the command of Lieutenant General Ikki Yoneda, a hero of the Kouma war and one of the surviving members of the original, unarmed anti-demon squad, the Imperial Assault Troupe would operate in secret, based under the Grand Imperial Theater in Tokyo's Ginza district. By day, the unit would be called the Imperial Acting Troupe (a wordplay on the Japanese characters for "Assault" and "Act"), and its pilots would be Japan's greatest actresses.
The story unfolds in episodic fashion, each episode beginning and ending with a "previously..," and "next on..." eyecatch, giving the feeling of playing an anime TV series. The game operates in two modes: Adventure and Battle.
In Adventure Mode, the player controls Squad Captain Ichirou Ohgami as he goes about daily activity in the theater, interacting with the characters and building social relationships with them via the LIPS system. LIPS, in essence, is a specialized style of dialog tree, one that inserts minigame-like elements into the typical "choose an option" interaction. At its most basic form, it is a timed dialog response. Players must choose an option before time runs out. However, letting time run out is also considered a "valid" option, one considered as "no response." Different responses appeal to different characters, adding or subtracting invisible "trust points," which eventually determine the ending of the game.
Sakura Taisen's battle mode is conducted via a turn-based, isometric-view, grid-movement system. Trust points gained or lost during the Adventure portion of the game also confer stat bonuses during that episode's battle. This system would be replaced by ARMS in the PlayStation 2 remake. During their turn, units can move and attack, defend, heal or charge spiritual energy (to use for special attacks). Unit abilities vary with each character, with some preferring ranged, area, or close-combat techniques. Ohgami, as the squad captain, has the special ability to "cover" a selected unit, protecting it from damage when attacked, and subsequently gaining trust points with the pilot.
Selected personally by General Yoneda, the girls of the Hanagumi ("Flower Division"), possess vast amounts of Spirit Power and the strength of will to use it against those who would harm the peace of Tokyo. Acting by day as the country's greatest opera actresses, they would defend the citizenry by night.
Supporting Characters (Spoiler Warning)
The first overseas release of Sakura Wars 1 would not occur until many years after its initial release on the Saturn. On August 18, 2001 Sakura Wars 1 was published in Taiwan by Dysin Interactive Corp, who would go on to publish the second and third entries as well . A Russian publisher named Akella would also release Sakura Wars 1 on the PC in Russia on November 1, 2006 . Akella had announced plans to localize the rest of the franchise on the PC but after the second game's release on December 24, 2008 the other entries were never published . Staff involved with the Russian releases have confirmed that the translation of Sakura Wars 3's script was mostly completed but that the release was ultimately canceled by Akella .
Despite these overseas releases, an official English translation of Sakura Wars 1 never came to be. However, a dedicated fan by the name of Kayama did created text translation guides for the first four entries in the series that players could read while playing the games to understand the dialogue. He began releasing these guides online in 1998 under the name Lando before ending the project in 2003. These guides remained the only way for English speaking fans to experience the first Sakura Wars game until December 15, 2019 when a fan translation patch for the Sega Saturn version of the game was released by a team lead by a Saturn hacker named NoahSteam.
External Links and Sources
- Sakura Wars First Sale News (Dysin Interactive Corp, 2001).
- Sakura Wars 1 Akella Official Product Page.
- Sakura Wars 2 Akella Official Product Page.
- Akella Will Publish Sakura Wars! (Akella, 2006).
- Rom Hacking Dot Net Comment by menschenfracht (2012).
- Sakura in Russia: A Conversation with the Editor (Path of Valor, 2012).
- Sakura Wars: How Akella Got Ahead of the Whole World by Simon Kostin (DTF, 2018).
- SAKURA TAISEN (SAKURA WARS) Software Review by Richard "Pocky" Kim (EX: The World of Anime & Manga, 1997).