Following the trend in the gaming industry in the mid-2010s, Sega has revived one of their long-dormant series, Sakura Wars, for us to enjoy once again. The series combines RPG, dating sim, and visual novel elements into one game, which is something that set it apart back when it first came out. Sega has also chosen to keep the series' signature steam-powered world, as well as its mecha combat. In the past, Sega contracted Red Entertainment to develop the Sakura Wars games, so this is the first time an entry in the series has been developed in-house. This entry features an all-star cast of artists, voice actors, and the longtime composer of the series, Kohei Tanaka, who has worked on anime like the famous One Piece series and video games like Gravity Rush.
The story takes place ten years after the original Sakura Wars and two years after the most recent Sakura Wars game (So Long, My Love). You play as Seijuro Kamiyama, a naval officer who has been reassigned to the Imperial Combat Revue's Flower Division as its captain. You're in charge of getting the team ready for the Combat Revue World Games, which will take place in less than a month. The Imperial Combat Revue has lost its former glory and is on the verge of being disbanded due to poor theater performances by the current team. You must fix the team's performance issues and overcome their lack of experience in combat as you get ready for the games. Demons are also appearing in Tokyo once again, which will complicate things as the world's best Combat Revues converge on one location.
Unlike previous games in the series which featured tactical combat, this entry goes for an action RPG style. Basic attacks are mapped to the Circle and Triangle buttons, with specials on the Square button. You can also dash, dodge, and jump to give yourself more mobility. Dodging an incoming attack perfectly rewards you with invulnerability and five seconds of slowdown to land multiple attacks on your enemies. Each mission has Kamiyama team up with at least one other member of the Flower Division, and getting a good score during missions increases the amount of Trust you earn with that teammate. Higher Trust levels increase Morale, which has an effect on your attack and defense. You can get good scores by finishing quickly, dealing lots of damage, ending on a high morale level, and defeating more enemies.
Gaining Trust outside of battle is where the visual novel and dating sim elements come in. Sakura Wars features the Live & Interactive Picture System (or LIPS), which presents the player with dialogue choices to choose from within a set time limit. LIPS forces you to think quickly, run the dialogue options through your head, and come up with one you think the character you're talking to will like. Picking good dialogue options increases Trust between you and that teammate (or multiple teammates if it involves multiple characters), which is what leads to Trust Scenes.
Trust Scenes are where the dating sim elements come into play. These sequences place you in a one-on-one scene alongside one of the girls with whom you've built up sufficient Trust, and they usually involve you helping them out with a specific dilemma they're having. Advancing the scene requires that you make choices the girl likes. In one of the scenes with Sakura, for example, I had to help her get through an episode of depression by reminding her about her dreams to be like Sakura Shinguji, the original Sakura Wars heroine. The reward for doing well in these scenes is an intimate conversation.
Sakura Wars looks to bring some of anime and manga's best talents together to create a game worthy of the series' legacy. This is a huge series in Japan, so it's exciting for me as an anime fan to see all of this industry talent stacked together for one game. All that's left is to prove they can make a good game. Sakura Wars releases in the West on April 28. Keep an eye out for my review in the future!