If you’re a long time reader of Diehard GameFAN, or my video game ramblings in particular, then you know that the Sakura Taisen, or Sakura Wars franchise is my favorite video game series of all time. You’ll also notice that in honour of the Dreamcast’s 10th anniversary, I have a retrospective on the Sakura Taisen Complete Box up today.
When Nippon Ichi announced that they were going to localize the fifth and final game in the series (originally released in 2004) and bring it stateside in 2009 to the Playstation 2 and the Nintendo Wii, you can imagine how ecstatic I was. This would be my first chance to play one of these games in English after nearly a decade and a half of relaying on my Japanese to get me through some of the best SRPG and dating sim experiences I’ve ever had.
With the release of Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love inching ever closer, I managed to sit down with Nao Zook, the Public Relations Managers of NISA and ask several questions about their experiencing bringing Sakura Wars V to this side of the Pacific.
Alex Lucard: The Sakura Taisen franchise is one of, if not THE most popular Sega/Red Company franchise over in Japan, with ST supporting an entire store in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Why do you think it has taken this long to bring it stateside and what made you in particular decide to do it?
Nao Zook: Most of NISA titles are Strategy RPG and traditional turn-based RPG with 2D Anime influenced characters. We’ve always looked at the Sakura series with interest, so when we gained an opportunity to localize/publish a Sakura Wars title, we were ecstatic.
We aren’t sure of the exact reason why it hasn’t been brought to the U.S. In my opinion, maybe it was due to the large portions of dating-sim and life simulation elements, which had not been widely accepted by the videogame industry in the U.S. in the past… though that notion has been changing recently. With the release of PlayStation 3, PS2 gamers might be more open to different kinds of game styles.
AL: You’re bringing over Sakura Taisen V, aka “So Long My Love”. Why did you decide to start with the fifth game?
NZ: “Sakura Taisen V”Â is one of the latest releases in the main series. It has a new story with new characters, so even those who’ve never seen or heard of Sakura Wars can easily get into the game and story.
AL: Sakura Wars V is four years old, having been released in 2005 to pretty high scores (37/40 at Famitsu). Do you think the game has aged well, or have you had to do some touch ups for its pending North American release?
NZ: We know there is a huge fan following for the Sakura Wars franchise, so we tried to keep to the original Japanese version as much as possible. Even if this game is four years old, we believe it still can appeal to the US audience thanks to its well-balanced game play and the simulation elements of the game. There are some parts where we changed the text for the North American version, but it was not because we felt the context was too old.
Also, we heard a lot from the fans of Sakura Wars that they wanted to have the original Japanese voice over, so we decided to pack 2 discs in the package: an English voice over disc and a Japanese voice over disc
AL: With Sega of America obviously being unwilling to bring over their potentially most lucrative franchise to the US, your co-workers at NIS America had to do it for them. What was the process for bringing it stateside? Was it a lot of Legal Mumbo Jumbo? Was it easier that getting everything in order with Cross Edge?
NZ: We are still in the process of localizing the game and it is certainly challenging to work with several companies at the same time. Challenging, but this project will be very rewarding for us when the game is released. We picture how excited and happy fans are about finally getting a Sakura Wars title… that keeps us working hard every day.
AL: You don’t see a lot of console dating sims in the US. In fact, the last I can remember is Thousand Arms, by surprise, Red Company for the PSX back in 1999-2000. Why do you think that is and how do you think fans will react to this aspect of Sakura Taisen?
NZ: This might be because of cultural differences between Japan and the US. In my opinion, Japanese gamers might be more character-oriented because Japanese gamers are largely influenced by the Anime and Manga culture. So in Japan, the Sakura Wars series was accepted as a mainstream videogame even with the large amount of simulation elements. I believe there are huge followers of Sakura Wars in the US already, and I am sure they know what they are getting into, and so they will enjoy Sakura Wars. Sakura Wars might seem like an oddball game for some, but I hope RPG fans will give it a try and experience a different kind of RPG this coming winter!
AL: Although Sakura Taisen is a Strategy RPG-Dating Sim hybrid, it’s very different from Nippon Ichi’s own developed SRPG’s like Disgaea, Makai Kingdom and Phantom Brave. For gamers not aware of the Sakura Wars franchise, how would you compare the two and what can you get from one that you can’t get from the other?
NZ: As you mentioned, Sakura Wars is different from Nippon Ichi Software titles, such as the Disgaea series, Phantom Brave, and Makai Kingdom. Sakura Wars has the simulation element within the gameplay, and how you build relationships with other characters greatly influences the story’s progression and your attack skills. This is something you don’t experience much with other NIS titles. I won’t say one style is better than another, but the experience found in Sakura Wars is unique when compared to NIS titles.
AL: In Japan, the Sakura Wars games have always had some pretty elaborate pack-ins. For example, I still have my Dreamcast’s Sakura Taisen 3 and the wonderful music box it came with. Will we be seeing any premiums with this game?
NZ: We are planning to make a premium package that includes two discs: one of English VA and one of Japanese VA. This way, fans of Sakura Wars can have the opportunity to listen to the original Japanese VA if they so desire! The reason we decided to have dual discs is that this game is just so big we couldn’t fit both Japanese VA and English VA on a single disc. We could have just dropped the original Japanese voice over completely and have just the English voice over to get it on one disc. However, we knew the decision would not make the fans happy at all; as matter of fact, they would be very disappointed! We wanted to make sure that fans of Sakura Wars would be satisfied with the inaugural release of the Sakura Wars series in the U.S., so we decided to go with the dual disc option.
AL: The first four Sakura Taisen games all made Japan’s “Top 100 Games of all time” as voted by fans a few years ago. If Sakura Taisen V is successful in the states, will we be getting ports of the Saturn and/or Dreamcast versions?
NZ: We would love to do so! :-)
AL: In Japan the big five have tended to be Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Megaten and Sakura Taisen. We’ve seen the first two succeed quite well in the U.S. and the second two gain a cult following. What do you think will be the fate of Sakura Taisen in the US?
NZ: There is a large following for Sakura Wars in the U.S. already, maybe large enough to say it has already gained a cult following, which is fantastic. We would like to see gamers who never heard of Sakura Wars find this game to be interesting and give it a shot. Even though it is one of the latest main entries in the franchise, the new story and characters (except a couple of returning characters) will welcome their interest with open arms!
Sakura Taisen V: So Long, My Love is scheduled for a late 2009/early 2010 release. You can view the official webpage for the US release here. You can also be assured we’ll have a review for the game up on release day. I’m truly hoping all of you reading this who have yet to experience a Sakura Taisen game will come to love them as much as I have.