Sakura Wars

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Sakura Wars
Sakura Wars logo.gif
Genre(s)Tactical role-playing, dating sim, visual novel
Developer(s)
Publisher(s)Sega[a]
Creator(s)Oji Hiroi
Artist(s)
Writer(s)
  • Satoru Akahori (1996–2008)
  • Jiro Ishii (2019–present)
  • Takaaki Suzuki (2019–present)
Composer(s)Kohei Tanaka
Platform(s)Arcade, Dreamcast, Windows, Game Boy Color, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable, mobile phones, Nintendo DS, Sega Saturn, Wii
First releaseSakura Wars
September 27, 1996
Latest releaseProject Sakura Wars
December 12, 2019

Sakura Wars[b] is a Japanese steampunk media franchise created by Oji Hiroi and developed and owned by Sega. The first game in the series was released in 1996, and has since spawned five other main entries and numerous spin-off titles since then. The series—set during a fictionalized version of the Taishō period—depicts groups of women with magical abilities using steam-powered mecha to combat demonic threats.

The original Sakura Wars was an ambitious title for the then-in-production Sega Saturn. The first game's overlap of the tactical role-playing, dating sim and visual novel genres prompted Sega to classify it as a "dramatic adventure", a moniker which has endured during the series' lifetime. Both Red Entertainment and Sega co-developed most of the games until 2019, when Sega became the sole developer. While the series has seen continuity in the main actors who could both act and sing as well as composer Kohei Tanaka, several other designers, programmers and animation studios would be employed through a number of games.

The series has sold over 4.5 million copies as of 2010, and garnered both critical and popular acclaim. The original Sega console games have been voted among the most popular for the Saturn and Dreamcast. The Sakura Wars franchise includes numerous anime productions, manga, and other media projects such as stage shows. With the exception of Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love and Project Sakura Wars, the video game series has not been released in English. Several of the anime series have been localized for English territories.

Media[edit]

Games[edit]

The first installment of the series was released in Japan on September 27, 1996. Subsequent entries are numbered and listed as direct sequels. As of November 2019, the series includes the main installments from Sakura Wars to Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love as well as spin-offs, both released and confirmed as being in development. Most of the older games have been remade or re-released on multiple platforms.

Main series[edit]

Release timeline
1996Sakura Wars
1997
1998Sakura Wars 2: Thou Shalt Not Die
1999
2000
2001Sakura Wars 3: Is Paris Burning?
2002Sakura Wars 4: Fall in Love, Maidens
2003
2004
2005Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
2019Project Sakura Wars
  • Sakura Wars is the first entry in the series, released in 1996 for the Sega Saturn.[7] The original game was ported to a number of platforms including Dreamcast, Microsoft Windows and mobile devices.[8] It was also ported as a bundle with its sequel to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) in 2006.[9] It was remade for PlayStation 2 (PS2) as Sakura Wars: In Hot Blood. The remake included additional voice acting, redone graphics and battle system based on later entries, and new scenarios.[10]
  • Sakura Wars 2: Thou Shalt Not Die is the second entry in the series, released for the Saturn in 1998.[7] It was also the last title developed for the platform.[11] It was later ported to Dreamcast and Windows.[12] It released as part of a bundle with Sakura Wars for the PSP in 2006.[9]
  • Sakura Wars 3: Is Paris Burning? is the third entry in the series, released in 2002 for the Dreamcast.[7] It was later ported to Windows,[13] and then to PS2 with Dreamcast-exclusive featured redesigned to work on the PS2.[14][15]
  • Sakura Wars 4: Fall in Love, Maidens is the fourth entry in the series, released in 2003 for the Dreamcast.[7] It was the last Sakura Wars game produced for Sega hardware.[16] It was later ported to Windows.[17]
  • Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, titled Sakura Wars V: Farewell, My Lovely in Japan, is the fifth entry in the main series, released in Japan in 2005 for PS2.[7] It was the first mainline Sakura Wars games to be produced following Sega abandoning game console production.[16] The game was localized and published internationally by NIS America for PS2 and Wii in 2010.[18][19]
  • A sixth entry currently titled Project Sakura Wars is in production for PlayStation 4.[20] Taking place in the year 1940, the game is said to "inherit the DNA" of the series.[21][22] The game will launch in 2019 in Japan and 2020 in the West.[20]

Spin-offs[edit]

In addition to the main series, numerous spin-off games covering multiple genres were released, all with the "Dramatic" moniker of the main series.[6][7][23] The first spin-off title was Sakura Wars: Hanagumi Taisen Columns, released for the Saturn in 1997. A sequel for Dreamcast released in 2000.[7][24] A spin-off set just after Sakura Wars for the Game Boy Color, Sakura Wars GB, released in 2000. A direct sequel released the following year.[6][25] A small peripheral titled Pocket Sakura was developed and released alongside the first Game Boy Color title.[26]

A small group of spin-off titles were developed under the umbrella title Sakura Wars World Project.[27] Sakura Wars Story: Mysterious Paris, a visual novel adventure set after the events of Sakura Wars 3, was released in 2004 for the PS2.[28] A prequel to So Long, My Love, Sakura Wars V Episode 0: Samurai Daughter of the Wild, also released on the PS2 in 2004.The gameplay deviated from the main series in featuring hack and slash action.[24][29] A Nintendo DS dungeon crawler spin-off titled Dramatic Dungeon: Sakura Wars — Because You Were There was released in 2008, featuring the casts of all three games.[7][23]

Other releases included fan discs, supplementary materials related to Sakura Wars and its first sequel, and Sakura Wars-themed pachinko machines.[7] Multiple mobile titles based on the series were also released, beginning in 2001 with Sakura Wars: Keitai Club.[7][30][31][32][33] Sakura Wars Online for the Dreamcast released in 2001 with two character packs, one themed after the Tokyo Flower Division and one after the Paris Flower Division. It operated until Sega closed down its servers in 2005.[7][34]

Other media[edit]

The Sakura Wars series met with considerable success, spawning a multimedia franchise and having its own merchandise store between 1998 and 2008.[35]

Alongside the video game projects, Red Company and Sega supervised a large number of multimedia projects.[36] These include anime, manga, stage shows, several light novels, concerts and CD album releases of the. These have met with substantial commercial success.[37][38] Despite a shared identity, Hiroi took care to keep each of these elements distinct and separate from each other.[39] A dedicated department store based in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, Sakura Wars Taisho Romando, was opened in 1998 to sell a variety of merchandise related to the series. The store remained open for ten years until it closed in March 2008.[35]

A prominent feature was an annual stage show dubbed Sakura Wars Kayou Show supervised by Hiroi, for which new musical numbers were created by Tanaka.[37][40] The show featured the cast reprising their roles and performing stage shows drawn from the series. Each character had songs themed after their characters.[24][37][41] The original stage shows ran from 1997 to 2006.[37][41] Since then, it has seen irregular revivals with both the first cast and later additions.[37][42][43][44] The cast, which grew to include those of later games, remained for the entire run with the exception of actress Michie Tomizawa who retired from the series and her role as character Sumire Kanzaki in 2002.[45][46] Tomizawa never returned to the game series, but did appear in later revival concerts.[42][45]

Following the first game's release, Red Company and Sega began supervising production of an original video animation (OVA) series which supplemented the games' narratives.[37] The first OVA adaptation Sakura Wars: The Gorgeous Blooming Cherry Blossoms was produced between 1997 and 1998, following the cast of the first game.[47] A second OVA series The Radiant Gorgeous Blooming Cherry Blossoms was produced between 1999 and 2000, relating side stories from between Sakura Wars and the end of Sakura Wars 2.[48][49] Further OVA series based around the characters of Sakura Wars 3 and So Long, My Love (École de Paris; Le Nouveau Paris; Sumire; New York, New York) were released between 2003 and 2007.[50][51][52][53] The OVAs were produced by Radix Ace Entertainment until New York, New York in 2007, when production shifted by Anime International Company.[47][48][52][53] The first two OVA series were localised for the West by A.D. Vision.[54] École de Paris and Sumire were dubbed and released by Funimation.[55][56][57][58][59]

An anime television series based on the first game was co-produced by Red Company, Madhouse and Studio Matrix. The 25-episode series was broadcast over six months during the year 2000.[60] While based on the first game's narrative and preserving Hiroi's vision, the series changed and added in several events. A major problem was remaining faithful to the source material within a TV format.[61] The series was dubbed into English for Western release by A.D. Vision.[54] A anime feature film, Sakura Wars: The Movie premiered in 2001, taking place between Sakura Wars 3 and Sakura Wars 4 and featuring new character Ratchet Altair who would later feature in So Long, My Love.[62][63][64] Produced by Production I.G, production took three years and was inspired by the wish to expand the series animation beyond what the short cutscenes and OVA projects had achieved.[65] The movie was released in English by Pioneer Entertainment in 2003.[66][67]

Hiroi wrote a manga adaptation of the first Sakura Wars, which began serialization in 2002. The original run finished in December 2008, but its popularity led to a second series continuing the narrative.[68][69] Since 2003, the manga has been published as tankōbon by Kodansha.[70][71] A comedy manga titled Sakura Wars: Show Theater, which featured comedy skits of characters from each main Sakura Wars location, was serialised between 2005 and 2009, and published by Kodansha in four volumes between 2006 and 2009.[72] A spin-off manga Sakura Wars: Kanadegumi was created by Chie Shimada, based on concepts from the Sakura Wars team, and published in the shojo magazine Hana to Yume published by Hakusensha.[73] In contrast to the main series, it was aimed at a female audience and shifted the narrative to a male harem set-up; main protagonist Neko Miyabi is assigned to the titular Kanadagumi, and develops relationships with its five male members.[73] Originally a two-chapter special published between November and December 2011,[73] it was expanded into a full series in February 2012.[74] The manga ran from 2012 to 2013. Between its debut and final issue, the manga inspired both an anime short and a dedicated stage show.[75] It was published in four tankōbon by Hakusensha between September 2012 and July 2013.[76][77]

Recurring elements[edit]

Screenshots of the recurring LIPS system (from Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love) and the recurring ARMS combat system (from Sakura Wars 3).

Setting and characters[edit]

The Sakura Wars series is set during a fictionalised version of the Taishō period, with the chronology currently running from 1923 (Taisho 12) to 1940 (Taisho 29).[21][78][79] The games are set in the cities of Tokyo, Paris and New York.[23] The setting combines real locations with fantastical events and steampunk-based technology.[23] The central conflict of the series is between demonic forces created by the ingrained darkness in human hearts.[80] To combat this in Tokyo, the Japanese government created a unit of steam-based mecha called Koubu powered by spirit energy. While a few men are capable of using them, women form the main combat units due to their stronger spiritual power. This group is known as the Imperial Assault Force, based in a theater and working undercover as the Imperial Theater Revue.[23][24] The group to which the protagonists belong is the Flower Division (Hanagumi), the main combat troop. Other groups make cameo appearances in the story if present.[20][23][81]

The first four games follow the military and romantic exploits of Imperial Army officer Ichiro Ogami. Originally assigned to the Imperial Assault Force in Tokyo, he later traveled to Paris and trained the newly-formed Paris Assault Force before returning to Tokyo and commanding the two united Flower Divisions during the events of Sakura Wars 4.[24][82] For So Long, My Love, the lead protagonist was changed to Ogami's nephew Shinjiro Taiga, who is sent in place of Ogami to train the New York Combat Revue.[83] Project Sakura Wars takes place in 1940, twelve years after an event called the "Great Demon War" saw the destruction of all three original Flower Divisions. New divisions were created across the world and began competing with each other, with the newly-reformed Tokyo Flower Division being the main protagonists.[20]

Gameplay[edit]

The gameplay of Sakura Wars incorporate tactical role-playing, dating sim and visual novel elements.[23] This blend of genres and styles resulted in it being labeled as a new genre dubbed "dramatic adventure" in its marketing.[84] The original combination of narrative and gameplay was inspired by the Fire Emblem series.[85] The gameplay is split between adventure-style segments where the player explores environments and interacts with cast members; and battle sections where choices during the adventure segments came into play. With the main female cast, the protagonist can pursue a romance.[23] Players may save their games during eyecatches. Romance options can be carried between the first four titles using save data.[86]

Throughout the series, the games have used different battle systems. The first Sakura Wars and its sequel made use of a traditional turn-based battle system on a tilted two-dimensional grid-based battlefield. Each unit has two actions from a selection of five.[87][88] The sequel expanded the number of actions to six, and included cinematic attacks. The leader could also issue commands to the entire squad to take specific battle formations.[89][90] Sakura Wars 3 introduced the "Active & Realtime Machine System" (ARMS), which takes place in three-dimensional battle arenas. Under this system, units have an allotment of Action Points (AP). AP are used up by moving around the battlefield. Units can perform one of six actions, with two actions per turn as in earlier titles.[91][92][93] Each unit has special abilities, and attack ranges based on their weaponry.[87][89][91][92]

Central to all the games and most spin-off titles is the "Live & Interactive Picture System" (LIPS). During conversations with characters and key story sections, the player is faced with critical choices with an imposed time limit.[24][33][94][95] The concept behind LIPS was to maintain player engagement while making narrative rather than freezing time and allowing prolonged time for thought, a trend the staff found annoying.[85] The most basic version was established in the first Sakura Wars,[36] then later expanded into "Double LIPS" with the incorporation of a personality meter which could indicate a character's feelings towards the player.[96] Between Is Paris Burning? and So Long, My Love, a version called "Analog LIPS" was used. This allowed players to alter the intensity of a single response. It also included interacting with the character and environments.[97][98][99] So Long, My Love expanded it further with quick-time events using the control sticks and buttons.[91] Choices made during LIPS sections directly impacted character performance in battle.[23]

Development and history[edit]

In 1990, Oji Hiroi at Red Entertainment (formally Red Company) decided to create Sakura Wars. Hiroi drew inspiration from Japanese stage shows when creating the project, initially titled "Sakura" ().[100][85][101] Because of lack of interest from publishers, Hiroi shelved the project until he was approached by Sega vice president and Shoichiro Irimajiri approached Red Company about developing a new project for the in-development Saturn. Successfully pitching his project to Irimajiri, Hiroi began development of the project, now titled Sakura Wars.[100][102][103] While the scenario and gameplay went through multiple redrafts, Sakura Wars always made use of a steampunk setting, a female lead and mecha combat.[85][101] Development lasted three years, double the original estimate, and was Sega's most expensive project at the time.[36][85][104] Many within both Red Company and Sega were sceptical of the game's success, but Hiroi remained confident.[105] Following the critical and commercial success of Sakura Wars, Sega and Red Company expanded the original premise into a franchise, starting with Thou Shalt Not Die.[36][96] A recurring feature from Thou Shalt Not Die onwards was the use of subtitles drawn from famous poetry or other types of fiction related to a game's location or mood. A recurring poet was Akiko Yosano, whom Hiroi admired.[96][106][107]

Following Thou Shalt Not Die, the team moved onto the Dreamcast to develop Sakura Wars 3, rebuilding the game engine and utilising the console's functions for gameplay elements.[11] Following the release of Sakura Wars 3, Sega discontinued the Dreamcast due to declining console sales, transitioning to a software developer and publisher. Rather than move their planned next entry to the PlayStation 2, the team created a final Dreamcast entry as a celebratory title for series fans.[16][82] This became Sakura Wars 4, which was completed in 10 months as opposed to the usual two year development period of other entries.[108] The original story planned for Sakura Wars 4 was moved for the team's next entry on the PlayStation 2.[16]

The next entry, Sakura Wars V, formed part of a seven-game group dubbed "Sakura Wars World Project"; the aim was to release these games overseas.[27] In the event, only Sakura Wars V was published overseas as Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love, and only three of the other planned games were released.[23] The remaining three titles were cancelled in 2008.[109] Sega and Red Entertainment greenlit Dramatic Dungeon: Sakura Wars in an attempt to revitalise the franchise using a new gameplay genre.[107] In 2005, Red Entertainment split from Sega after it bought back its majority share holding, although it continued to be involved in the Sakura Wars series.[110] Red Entertainment was bought by Chinese company UltaZen in 2011, with Sega regaining the Sakura Wars property.[111][112] At Sega Fes 2018, after years of rumors and speculation, the main series made its official return with the announcement of New Sakura Wars.[21]

All titles from 1996 to 2005 were developed by the same central team. These included writer Satoru Akahori, artists Kōsuke Fujishima and Hidenori Matsubara, director and later chief director Tomoyuki Ito, producer and later executive producer Noriyoshi Ohba, and designer Takaharu Terada. Hiroi had contributed to all the projects as a general producer.[78][80][81][96][113][114] Red Entertainment co-developed the games with an internal Sega team which shifted identity over the years—originally known as CS2 R&D during development of the first two Sakura Wars, the team was renamed Overworks in 2000 when Sega consolidated its 9 semi-autonomous subsidiaries into six studios; they worked on the series between Sakura Wars 3 and Sakura Wars V: Episode 0.[115][116][117] Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love was developed by the same team as part of Sega's GE2 R&D division, the same team which would develop Valkyria Chronicles.[118][119]

Project Sakura Wars was developed by a team within Sega's CS2 R&D division.[120] New team members for Project Sakura Wars included character designer Tite Kubo and writers Jiro Ishii and Takaaki Suzuki, all famous names in anime and video games respectively. Hiroi remained in a supervisory role, and also wrote the theme song lyrics.[20][94] Other developers worked on the series alongside Sega and Red Entertainment, including Idea Factory, who created the Wii port of So Long, My Love;[121] Jupiter Corporation, producers of the Sakura Wars GB duology and the Pocket Sakura peripheral;[6][25][26] and Neverland, who developed Dramatic Dungeon: Sakura Wars.[122] A notable feature of the series is its FMV anime sequences. The first game's scenes were animated by Kyokuichi Tokyo Movie (now known as TMS Entertainment).[123][124] From Thou Shalt Not Die to Fall in Love, Maidens, they were produced by Production I.G.[125][126] In So Long, My Love, the scenes were animated by M.S.C. In Project Sakura Wars, Sanzigen provided the animated sequences.

Music[edit]

The Sakura Wars series features a variety of music, and frequently reuses themes. Kohei Tanaka is the chief music composer of the series. Tanaka's first major work in the video game industry, it brought him widespread recognition.[127] Tanaka was among the first to support Hiroi with Sakura Wars, having worked with him during work on an original video animation (OVA) of Tengai Makyou: Ziria. Tanaka acted as a teacher figure for the rest of the development team.[101][128][129] At that time, rhythm and percussion dominated Japanese popular music rather than melody. Both Tanaka and Hiroi wanted to reintroduce younger Japanese to beautiful melodies.[130] Tanaka has been involved to some degree in most of the Sakura Wars games, composing the music for all mainline entries, and several spin-off titles.[23][95][130] A recurring theme in the series is a piece called "Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan".[131] Tanaka wrote the theme based on Hiroi's request to combine the music of a Super Sentai opening theme with the vocal style of the title song for the film Aoi sanmyaku (1949).[132] Versions of it were included in Sakura Wars 2, Sakura Wars 4, and Project Sakura Wars.[20][125][130]

Localization[edit]

While Hiroi wanted the series to be released internationally, nearly all games in the Sakura Wars series remain exclusive to Asian territories.[133] Early efforts at localizing the series were not undertaken because of Sega's uncertainty over whether the game's blend of genres would find a large enough audience outside Japan to be profitable.[134] Sega tried localizing the game at once point, but were stopped during the concept approval stage for unknown reasons.[135] Attempts by an unknown company to localise the PSP port of Sakura Wars and its sequel were halted as Sony did not give its approval to the project. This was because Sony classed Sakura Wars as a text novel, making licensing for importation and translation difficult after Sony's initial rejection.[136]

A Hangul translation of So Long, My Love was published in South Korea by Sega in 2006.[137] The PC CD-ROM versions of Sakura Wars and its sequel were localized and released in Russia by Akella in 2006 and 2008 respectively.[1][2] Dysin Interactive published the PC versions of Sakura Wars to Sakura Wars 3 in China,[3][4] and Sakura Wars 4 was released in the region by Beijing Entertainment All Technology.[5][138]

The first official English release in the Sakura Wars series is So Long, My Love, which was translated by NIS America in collaboration with Red Entertainment and Idea Factory.[133] The dub was produced at Bang Zoom! Entertainment, and included actors from NIS America's localization of the Disgaea series.[139][140] The team also included the Japanese voice track in the PlayStation 2 version, with a dedicated translation which preserved the original character names being created for it.[135][141] The localization took two years to complete, becoming NIS America's largest localization effort to date.[136][140] Project Sakura Wars is scheduled to be released worldwide by Sega in 2020, using the Japanese dub with subtitles in multiple languages including English.[20]

Reception and sales[edit]

Japanese and Western review scores
As of October 15, 2018.
Game Famitsu Metacritic
Sakura Wars 33/40 (SS)[142]
35/40 (PS2)[143]
-
Sakura Wars 2: Thou Shalt Not Die 33/40[144] -
Sakura Wars 3: Is Paris Burning? 34/40[145] -
Sakura Wars 4: Fall in Love, Maidens 36/40[146] -
Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love 37/40[147] PS2: 81/100 (15 reviews)[148]
Wii: 75/100 (30 reviews)[149]

Between the series' debut in 1996 and 2010, the series has sold over 4.5 million copies worldwide.[150] Each entry on Sega hardware rank among the best-selling titles for their respective hardware.[151][152] The original Sakura Wars was an immediate success, with several stores being sold out of copies within hours of its release.[36] Sakura Wars 2 remains the best-selling title in the series, with over 500,000 copies sold on the Saturn alone, making one of the console's best-selling titles in Japan.[151][153] So Long, My Love is the worst-selling mainline entry to date,[153] and was a commercial failure in the West.[136]

Japanese website 4Gamer.net described the series as a legendary property connected to Sega, citing several elements such as the anime-style presentation and blend of genres that were hardly seen in gaming at the time.[24] Jenni Lada of TechnologyTell wrote a retrospective on the series in 2009, calling Sakura Wars "an odd series [...] that defies genres".[23] In a 1999 IGN article on the franchise following the announcement of Sakura Wars 3, journalist Anoop Gantayat described it as "probably the greatest series of games to never make their way stateside", citing its unprecedented success when compared to other games on Sega hardware at the time.[154]

The series has been popular with both journalists and fans in Japan since the first game's release.[36] At the inaugural CESA Awards, Sakura Wars won the Grand Award, as well as awards in the Best Director, Best Main Character and Best Supporting Character categories.[155] At the 1998 Animation Kobe event, Sakura Wars 2 was awarded in the "Packaged Work" category.[156] The soundtrack album of Sakura Wars 4 won in the "Animation – Album of the Year" category at the 2003 Japan Gold Disc Awards.[157] Prior to release, Sakura Wars was the second most-wanted game in a Famitsu poll in 1996, coming in behind Final Fantasy VII.[154] The first four games all appeared on a public Famitsu poll from 2006 of the 100 best games of all time.[158] A second later poll ranked the Sakura Wars games as among the best on the Saturn and Dreamcast.[159] Sakura Wars heroine Sakura Shinguji was rated in 2009 by Famitsu as the 17th best Japanese video game character.[160]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations
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Notes
  1. ^ Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love published internationally by NIS America. First two Sakura Wars titles published in Russia by Akella.[1][2] PC versions of Sakura Wars to Sakura Wars 4 published in China by Dysin Interactive[3][4] and Beijing Entertainment All Technology.[5] Sakura Wars GB published by MediaWorks.[6]
  2. ^ Japanese: サクラ大戦 Hepburn: Sakura Taisen?
Bibliography
  • サクラ大戦クロニクル [Sakura Wars Chronicle] (in Japanese). Mainichi Communications. July 28, 2003. ISBN 4-8399-0960-1.
  • 広井王子の全仕事 [Complete Work of Oji Hiroi] (in Japanese). Everyday Communications. 2000. ISBN 4-8399-0259-3.
  • サクラ大戦公式ガイド 戦闘篇 [Sakura Wars Official Guide: Battle Story] (in Japanese). Enterbrain. 2000. ISBN 4-7577-0091-1.

External links[edit]

Official website (in Japanese)