RETROGRADING 03.06.04

# 18. Sakura Wars 3
Release Date: 03/22/01
Developer: Red Company
Publisher: SEGA
Systems Released On: Sega Dreamcast

Before you ask, yes 50% of this is recycled ranting from our Dreamcast Feature. By the time this article is done I will have written 45 pages/4 articles of writing for 411mania this week ALONE. So shut up and deal with it.

It probably doesn’t surprise any of you to see this game on the list. It’s well known that I think pound for pound the Sakura Wars series is the best RPG series (and hell any video game series PERIOD) in terms of constant quality across the board. Incredible stories, graphics that are always jaw dropping, and gameplay that is addicting and innovative. And it’s got dating sims bits to it. Pound for pound there was never a game in this series less than incredible to me. Even the spin off like SW Columns and SW Online were cute.

When SW3 was released, you had a choice of three versions. You could get the normal plain Jane just like every other GD-ROM game made for the DC. Or you could get Sakura Wars Limited Edition B, which was just the same game with a Pink VMU. But Limited Edition A was my baby. One I knew I had to own. Why? It came…with a MUSIC BOX. Yes. You read that right. I salivated over getting a game that was not only going to be hands down one of the best DC games ever, but it came with…A MUSIC BOX. And collectors cards of the characters that you could put in the music box. And 3 years later, I still whip out the music box to listen to because it’s that soothing.

But enough about the music box, it’s time to talk about Sakura Taisen. By far the greatest video game series ever made. Better than Persona. Better than Shining Force. Better even than Pokemon. Yes. I said it. Forgive me oh mighty Pikachu God that looks down from on high and blesses me. But Sakura Taisen is hands down the greatest video games series ever.

Let’s look at it. The series takes place at the turn of the 20th century. Yes! Historical fiction rules! Second, it’s steampunk, one of the coolest genres ever invented. Giant steam powered mechs beating the living hell out of Satan and his demon hordes that have entered out world in an attempt to destroy it. That right there is such a surreal concept you can’t help but love it. Third, the spirit armor aka Ryoushi Kachuu are powered by girls with massive amounts of psychic energy. Yes, it turns out everyone they could find that had the appropriate power is a girl. Save yourself aka Ichiro, but your character is a complete and total dolt and a sexual pervert to boot. And thus of course you are made the leader. Think Tenchi Masaki but with the hormones of Nobyuki.

In Japan, The TeikokuKagekiDan (Royal Floral Assault Squadron) disguise themselves as an all woman theatre troupe who then enhance their psychic energy from the emotions they bring out in their audience and then turn around and blow demons back to hell.

And that’s the plot of the first two games. How could a person not fall in love with plot like that? Now Sakura Taisen 3 takes Ichiro to France. Now how smart is that? The king of incompetence and buffoonery goes to France, land of lechery. That’s a match made in hell. But I digress. There in France, Ichiro forms a new team of some pretty bizarre characters, ranging from an insane religious French woman whose accent keeps changing to a wanted felon from Transylvania who happens to be pyrokinetic. Do you SEE why I love these games people?

Oh, and the villains are furries. DEMON furries. And you get to kill them. Right there, that makes SW3 more fun that the first 2 games. After all, ANYONE can kill demons. But demon furries? Especially when the one is a Rabbit Furrie obsessed with Scissorsman from Clock Tower? (Or at least he’s drawn that way!)

What really makes this game shine, is the fact that you can import data from either SW1 or 2 from the Dreamcast ports (The original games debuted on the Saturn, but that is a chapter best told later on in this countdown…hint hint.) allowing you some kick ass secret stuff.

I know I’ve mentioned this in the DC feature and even in my first ever Retrograding but in each Sakura game you are not only killing stuff, but also playing a Dating Sim ala Bloody Bride or Thousand Arms (Also made by Red Company. GREATEST. DEVELOPER. EVER!) in which you answer questions in order to make girls fall in sweet sweet love with you. This affects not only the girls in combat, but also which ending you get as well. Yes, multiple endings based on what girl you manage to seduce and make fall for your pillow talk. Star Ocean 2 could have learned a LOT from the SW series…

Sakura Taisen also has battles in the vein of Tactical strategy RPGS. The games previous all took place on a VERY LARGE battle map. SW3 follows suit but gets rid of the grid system and replaces it with a big action bar. It really gives the series new life by adding a new way to do your tactical combat. Some SW fans to seem love it. Others seem to hate it. Me? I just loves me some Tactics games where you can rotate the screen and the angle you view the battlefield from. Hear that? Tactics games where you can rotate the screen!

But my favorite part of the game is how it is divided in over ten “episodes.” Yes, the game plays like an anime. Each episode is fully animated (save battles) and really does make the game feel like you’re watching an anime marathon.

And best of all? Unlike the Saturn games, once you have beaten an episode, you can now go back and watch it whenever you want! KICK ASS! There are also 3 hidden episodes which are pretty cute.

And hey, what better thing to put in a game that covers tactical mech combat and dating sims than a hidden side scrolling beat ’em up game? Like I keep saying, this game has EVERYTHING a gamer like myself could want. Are you a fan of Streets of Rage? Of TMNT: The Arcade Game? Of Double Dragon? Then wait until you play Koubu Knuckle, a cute tribute to that forgotten genre of yesteryear. It even has my much missed car breaking bonus stage from SF2!

And there’s more bonus games that just that. Each girl has their own personal mini game. There’s the Casino Wars. You have quizzes to take, and music and combines and even BROMIDES to unlock. Sakura Taisen 3 is so jampacked with things to do you can find yourself playing everything put the main game for days and even weeks straight.

You know I could keep going about all that was put into this game. The in-jokes. The cameos. The incredible soundtrack that plays throughout this game. The tea parties! TEA PARTIES! The strange and random cleavage shots that should appeal to all you weirdo gamers obsessed with electronically created women. If you play the game and get to use the lips options, you’ll understand what I mean. But I won’t. The only possible downside to this game is that I don’t enjoy the characters in SW3 as much as in the original 2, the many options and bonuses in this game are exactly why this game earned the title of the Flagship game for the Dreamcast. Sorry Bebs, but it overshadowed even Sonic when it came out.

If you do decide to import Sakura Wars 3, do your best to find the ultra amazing Sakura Wars Collection. I imported it on release day for 200$. You get all 4 Sakura Games for your Dreamcast in an incredible package. It’s wonderful beyond words and probably a lot cheaper now. However, if you just want the music box, you could go that route as well. I wouldn’t blame you either. The music box rules over all other video game add on spiffs.

Listen to me when I say this my beloved readers; Sakura Taisen is the greatest Tactical RPG series ever made. The plots. The Graphics. The insanity. If you are an RPG fan, an import fan, or a Dreamcast fan, you owe it to yourself to experience the greatness that is Sakura Taisen.

With a crapload of SW games in the works, and a PS2 version supposedly coming to the US (But how many times have we heard that?) you just may get the chance to finally play the games in English. There’s also two different anime series available in this country so there is NO excuse not to enjoy the Sakura Wars series in some way.

Write Red Company! Write Sega! Demand Sakura Wars in English! Threaten families, pets, and property if that is what it takes to get Sakura Wars in Region 1. Do it NOW!

#17. Panzer Dragoon Saga
Released On: 01/29/98
Developer: Team Andromeda
Publisher: SEGA
Systems Released On: Sega Saturn

It’s always funny that the best games for the Saturn game out when it was dying. Dragon Force. Shining Force 3. Burning Rangers. And of course Panzer Dragoon Saga.

The first two Panzer Dragoon were a completely different genre altogether; said genre being Rail Shooters. In retrospect, Sega seems to do rail shooters better than anyone with the House of the Dead and Panzer Dragoon Series. Fast paced, incredible graphics, and actual stories behind them. And both Panzer Dragoon I and Zwei were critical success, loved by reviewers and Saturn owners. PD1 was universally considered the launch title to own when the Saturn first hit shelves. And PD2 was considered even better.

For the third game, Team Andromeda decided to mix things up a bit. Instead of a straight out rail shooter, they created a game that combined RPG and Rail shooter elements. For example, combat is still in rail shooter format. You ride your Dragon into combat into real time battles. You can attack using the dragon’s lasers, your pistol, or you can use items. There is also a meter for each of the aforementioned options. And you must wait for the meters to fill to attack. When one meter is full later in the game, you can unleash an attack based on your dragon’s class. But with two of three meters filled? You get access to the Berserk attacks. Think of the berserk attacks as spells of limit breaks or summonings in the fact that they are special, do a lot of damage and have incredible graphical effects. There are over 20 berserk effects, ranging from healing spells to an instant battle escape to the very cool Dragon Phoenix. There are even five secret hidden Berserk attacks you can find in the game that are otherwise unobtainable. My pick of the five? Plasma Vortex. Powerful as all get out.

In the end, the combat is roughly the same as in the other PDS games. The flying, the rolling, the whole nine yards. If you’ve played a Panzer Dragoon game before this one, you won’t have a problem. And if you haven’t? Well, you’ll pick it up simply enough.

The dragon is by far the best part of the game. Sure Edge is the main character. But you don’t play Pokemon to be Red/Ash/whatever. You get to name your dragon, which helps with the gamer becoming emotionally attached to it. Sure you can choose not to name him, but then you lose the ability to interact with him and create a bond between Edge and Dragon. In fact, bonding with the dragon helps with your Spiritual Closeness points and also lets you unlock the hidden Astral Phantoms Berserk attack. Note to all who read this: PET YOUR DRAGON AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE.

The dragon has four attributes you can manage: Strength, Spirituality, Defense, and agility. And there is a yin yang relationship going on with the sets. The stronger your dragon gets, the lower its spirit level gets, which means it will be harder for the dragon to use berserk attacks. The faster and better a dragon can dodge, the lower the defense will be, meaning when it DOES get hit, you will take quite a bit of damage. In all the game almost forces you to raise a balanced Dragon.

Finally, when your Dragon evolves into a Valiant Wing, you will then be able to switch the classes of your dragon, gearing it to one of the four attributes or making it ‘normal.’ Switching to one of these classes will allow the dragon to learn attribute related berserk attacks faster and use the full-gauge class related power I mentioned earlier.

There is literally unlimited ways to customize your dragon. It’s incredible and by far my favorite part of the game.

In truth Panzer Dragoon appears to be a perfect game. It is four discs long, but that is only because of the massive amount of full-motion video in the game. People looking for a long gameplay based experience will be a bit let down that the game is under 30 hours long, and half of the game are scenes that you watch, not play. But my god are the graphics amazing. This was released a year after FFVII, and it makes that Square game look like a 2600 cart. They are that amazing and mind-blowing. PDS still holds up today against Xbox graphics. The fact the Saturn was capable of letting Team Andromeda create the visual effects of this game is no small feat. Words can not describe the graphics of PDS. Nor do screen shots. To play the game is the only way to understand why everyone who has put PDS into their Saturns felt their jaws drop instantaneously.

The sound too is five years ahead of its time. When your dragon cries out in pain, you will forget you are merely playing a video game. When the electronica music starts each battle, your adrenaline will surge as if you truly are in the midst of combat. What can you say? Techno/synth/Cybergoth/etc makes kicking ass more fun. The battles end with a serene Orchestral tune. The music actually reminds me of Mick Foley first coming to the WWE. As Mankind he would have two distinct themes. One dark and ominous as his entrance music. When the match was over, he would have a sublime mellow song called, “Ode to Freud.” When you play PDS battles and listen to the distinct contrast in the music, you’ll better be able to understand the analogy.

What else I think needs to be brought up is the fact Team Andromeda created an entire language for the world of Panzer Dragoon. A made up speakable tongue that had its own grammar and enunciation rules. This isn’t like Klingon where some words were done first and then twenty years later some super nerds decided to make a quick buck and pen an entire language based on it. No, this language was done solely to make the Panzer Dragoon games feel real. To make them feel alive and to help the player lose themselves in the game. No one made any money off the language of Panzer Dragoon, just like no one made any cash off LeeLoo’s language in “The Fifth Element.” It’s a stroke of brilliance that no other video game, RPG or otherwise, has come close to achieving.

There is also an amazing amount of extras to unlock in this game. You can get a gallery of all the dragons, some mini-games, and even a dragon hatchery. But weirdest of all is the fact the game has backwards compatibility with PDS Zwei. If you have beaten Zwei, you can get everything from exclusives items to appear in PDS to the original Panzer Dragoon opening cinemas and even the entire Pandora’s Box in Zwei opened instantly just by having both PDS and PDZ on the same ram cart!

This game has everything. As I said it is nearly perfect in every way. Graphics and sound years ahead of its time. It has a gripping plot that is pretty damn intense, a lot of movies, and even a dragon you truly grow to care about; especially if you’re a Neo Pet kind of person. So why isn’t this game the #1 one on the list, instead occupying a spot just below the halfway one?

Well there’s a lot of reasons actually. The first is that the game is almost too intense. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love this game. But ask those same fanatics (of which I am one) the last time they played it…and you will get a long pause. Then ask if they have ever played the game twice in a row. You will almost always get a “God, no.” I can’t explain it other than to say the game is too intense. The game absorbs you into it. And that’s not always a good thing.

The second is the amount of movies. Another game higher on the list is also a “Cinematic RPG” that spans four discs. But unlike PDS, it’s twice as long, and the story is better.

But most of all, this game has so many glitches and production errors it’s sad. Don’t get me wrong. This is a WONDERUL incredible game and Team Andromeda should be given an unlimited supply of fine women and wine for making this game. But the sheer number of glitches and errors really brings the game down in my opinion.

Did you know there are even complete FAQS devoted to the glitches in PDS. FAQS longer than normal walkthroughs? Yes, there are that many. There are parts of the game where it is still in untranslated Japanese. The game’s first disc still calls it self “Azel: Panzer Dragon RPG” during the introduction movie. This name is the Japanese one. There are dozens of walls you can just walk through. There are plenty of typos and lack of name continuity throughout the game for certain monsters/characters/places as if they were changed halfway through and someone forgot to go back and fix the words and insert the new ones. There’s a glitch that allows you to change your dragon’s class for free. And a few others besides these. In the end, they pale compared to the incredible wonders of this 1998 Game of the Year. But they are still there, and even though this game deserves the massive hype it gets, and even though I considered it one of the greatest games ever made, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out that indeed, PDS has its flaws too. Of course, I think I’m the only reviewer that points out its flaws. But hey, I don’t want anyone going into the game thinking it’s 100% perfect. It’s not. It’s close though. DAMN close.

In the end, Panzer Dragoon is one of the most original and breathtaking games ever made. It was released with next to no fanfare in 1998, and has since gone on to be one of the most sought after video games of all time. I sold a copy of PDS in mint condition for nearly 200 dollars on Ebay back in 2002. It makes me wonder why my current one would go for. How many console games other than Radiant Silvergun, Shining Force 3, Version 2, and Panzer Dragoon Saga break the 100$ mark? Not many my friend. Not many.

If you can afford and find Panzer Dragoon Saga, buy it. But it immediately. Otherwise you are missing out on one of the greatest games ever made. Don’t live in regret.

Shocking as this may be, there are 2 other RPGS that were on the Saturn I consider superior to Panzer Dragoon Saga. One shares its obscurity and high price tag, but has even better game play and half a dozen storylines. The other? Well…you should know me by now and already now what it is. :-).

#16. Segagaga
Release Date: 03/29/01
Developer: Hitmaker
Publisher: SEGA
Systems Released On: Sega Dreamcast

I think when I did the original version of this rant in the DC article, I shocked everyone. And that includes the rest of the Kliq. Sure they knew I loved Persona. Had heard me occasionally mention with fondness the words Sakura Taisen. And unless you have just come out of living in a came on Mars where you plugged your eears and sewed your eyes shut, then you know about my scary psychotic love for Pokemon and Ikaruga? But Segagaga? That was my surprise to everyone. I kept my passion for this game bottled up until I had the perfect chance to unleash it on all of you. Like the Sakura Wars 3 rant, I couldn’t outdo what I needed to say about Segagaga. What I knew you all needed to hear and understand. So I’ve edited it a bit hear and added some extra verbiage. But this is a game I damn well better get emails from my readers saying, “Alex, I went out and bought this game. Please take me of you ‘needs to die list’ now. Thank you.” Now read and understand.

This is it gang. This is Sega’s swan song. The finale. The finale hurrah. The last great truly incredible game they ever had. And fitting it was a way to say “Fuck you’ to Sony and “Thank you’ to the true Sega fanatics that stood by them through everything. Not a game since has equaled the originality, beauty, and outright psychotic nature of this game. Super Monkey Ball? Meh. Sonic Heroes? Bleah. Billy Hatcher? Snicker. Panzer Dragoon Orta? Sorry people. All great games, but this. THIS. This game truly is the defining moment of Sega as a company, corporation, and provider of entertainment and happiness to countless gamers. It never was to be translated into English. It even had to be edited after it first debuted in Japan because it was that screwed up. Yes, that’s right. JAPAN CENSORED THIS GAME.

And Sega had every right to make this game. It wasn’t for the average gamer. It wasn’t for the people who think 3D gaming is superior to 2D gaming. Or that near naked women in a game should be a major selling factor. Or any of the other crap we have had to put up with since casual gaming came up. It’s for people that loved Sega games and systems. People who own Burning Rangers or all three scenarios of Shining Force 3. People who own the 32X and still USE it. People who still whip out the master system for a game of Space Harrier or Alex Kidd in Shinobi World. People who hug the Saturn after a good game of Dragon Force or Guardian Heroes or hook up the Sega CD for just ONE MORE game of Dracula Unleashed before bed. People who still f*cking remember Sega’s Pre-Sonic mascot! This is for those that truly loved Sega. Believed in Sega. Stood by them through the 16 and 32 bit wars and trusted them enough for the 128 bit Dreamcast. This was Sega’s way of saying good bye, thank you and we’re sorry. It was the ultimate middle finger and apology all at the same time. And it was beautiful beyond words.

A month after it came out, it was going for two hundred dollars. This is the only time in my life I have ever been tempted to buy a bootleg copy of this game. I could have picked one up for thirty dollars. And I almost did, until I managed to come across on unedited Dreamcast Direct Limited Edition. And I paid the full price for this. The only other time I’ve shilled out that kind of money for a game was for Neo Geo Carts or the Sakura Taisen collection. I can’t begin to describe to you how I would spend nights in Portland online instead of clubbing or hanging out with friends trying to track down one of these.

When it finally arrived, it was worth it. It came with a SGGG T-shirt, the game in a special one time only DVD case, pins of every system ever made in a wooden box and more. Hell, you could even get a SGGG VMU that went for 80 dollars! Only one game has ever come in a larger box and with more stuff, and that is the LOVE HINA game that even game with its own stuffed turtle and sauna towel. Oh, and a clock of Keitaro and Naru getting married. Why the hell don’t these limited edition packs get released in America? WHY????

Lucky for all of you today, you can get the game, albeit it edited and without the cool extra gear, for only 30$. Buy it now or face my wraith

The year is 2025. Sega is near bankrupt. It has only 5% of the market share. The rest of the video game industry is controlled by the DOGMA Corporation who has ruined the purity of video gaming by deciding graphics are more important than gameplay, that 2D gaming isn’t as profitable, and that selling to the lowest common denominator works. That’s right. Dogma is a thinly veiled attack on Sony Corp. God bless you Hitmaker for being as evil as you could to Sony.

Sega needs helps. They have an estimated three years before bankruptcy. And so they initiate the SGGG program. You and another person (a girl) are hired by Sega to turn the company around and save video gaming from the idiocy that are casual gamers and DOGMA. Notice the all caps there people. It means HEEEEEEEEEL.

What begins is a amazing Business Simulation crossed with an RPG. Remember Wall Street Kid for the NES? Or EWR for the PC? Imagine those crossed with Dragon Quest or Valkyrie Profile. BA-BAM! You’ve got SGGG.

The interface is hilarious and addicting beyond words. The idea is you must develop games. Typical video game company stuff, right? But first you’ve got to get developERS. And in order to do that you’ve got to go to the R&D Lab and recruit them. It’s amusing because the R&D lab is a Dungeon and the developers are monsters by RPG standards. Negotiating is done via a Quiz/Dating Sim style segment and is a lot of fun. Unless you don’t know Japanese. Then it’s guess and pray.

There are so many wacky things that occur. Dealing with the VG press, salary negotiations, retarded executives, pissed off fans when you have to delay the game release thanks to unexpected errors. You are living what it is like to be a video game developer here people. And you will learn to despise video game fans after playing this game a few times. Oh yes. You will. But more importantly, you will learn to appreciate companies for making games and all that they do. Including the fighting “monsters” part. Who ever knew that the industry was that violent? I assumed it was just the Kliq and our cruel acts of randomly inserting things into Widro’s anus after drugging him with massive amounts of codine and PCP was completely and totally abnormal. But Segagaga teaches you that in fact, all people in the video game industry are violent perverts.

This game is Sega’s death rattle people. The end of the Sega we all knew and loved. But in typical Sega fashion they don’t go down in a blaze of glory or morbidly lamenting their demise. They go out having fun, making fun of themselves and their situation. They give fans the one last true Sega hurrah. And then start making games for consoles and companies that don’t deserve to have that Blue and white logo flash on a screen connected to their hardware.

This is hands down the greatest thing Hitmaker ever put out. No video game will ever come close to the emotion, passion and madness inherent to this one game. It’s also the rarest of the rare in terms of getting the original uncut first collector’s release. 4 versions of this game exist, and of course, the first is the best.

I know when most people think of the DC they think of 9.9.99. But not me. I think of 3.29.01: The release date of SGGG. The purest moment in all of Sega’s storied history. And the day a game was released where a company proved it had a soul.

If you know Japanese and own a Dreamcast you owe it to yourself and Sega to get this. To devour it. To savour every moment and line and joke and tribute and memory put into this game. Segagaga is an experience. A revelation. A annul in video gaming that should be revered as much for its obscurity as for its honesty.

SEGA!

And that’s it for this week. We’re halfway done the countdown. Next week I’m taking off for a breather and so I can review a few games for you all. But this means after my relaxation period, you’re going to have to see me talk about 15 games I love even more than the 15 I have already mentioned. Are you actually ready for that level of Zealotry? I think not!

See you in two weeks people. And keep the emails coming!