Retrograding 05.19.04

#4. Sakura Taisen
Developed by: Red Company
Published by: Sega
Release Date: 09/27/96
Systems Released on: Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Game Boy, Sony Playstation 2

Well, this should surprise some people. I mean, the main game from the franchise I consider to be the best overall RPG series ever. And it’s only in at #4. But hey, just because Sakura Taisen has been quality of the highest degree straight across the board, doesn’t mean there aren’t three games that are better than the best in that series. Oddly enough, two of those games are Sequels. And I might have well give a bit of a spoiler now to make you all crap your pants since SOMEONE on the forums spoiled it until I did Big Brother to their post. The #1 game on the countdown? It’s a Square-Enix game. And I’m sure they’re just as shocked as you are by this little revelation. Now for Sakura Wars.

What is it about this game that makes me love it so? That makes me consider it the best import RPG ever? Is it the steampunk aspect? It very well could be? There is something about the concept of steam as the primary fuel source for technological advances that gets my imagination flowing.

Is it the time frame? Sakura Taisen takes place is the 1920’s. Japan has an actual military force. And in America, the twenties were a roaring feel good time with flappers, coca-cola and Prohibition running wild. At least in OUR 1920’s. The world tat Sakura Taisen takes places in is a little bit different thanks to steampunk. Let’s just say they are a little more advanced than we were back in that era.

Is it the mechs? We all know I loves me the giant robots. Whether it’s Autobots, Veritechs, or Voltron, Defender of the Universe – I like robots. And the mechs in Sakura Taisen appeal to me far more than those in Front Mission or Vanguard Bandits. Why? Because of the Six ladies that make up the Royal Floral Assault Unit. Or as I will refer to them from here on, the Hanagumi.

So is it the Hanagumi? Six great ladies, each with distinct personalities, looks, and mechs? There is Shinguji Sakura the main girl, little Iris Chateaubriand, Kanzaki Sumire who is my personal favorite, Maria Tachibana who is blonde and deadly, Ri Kohran the bookish nerdy girl, and Kirishima Kanna who is the powerhouse roid using Nicole Bass of the team. All six characters are wonderfult o get to know as the game goes on, and you can end up with any of them for six distinct endings, each one a blast to sit back and watch. And because I realize most of you will never play the game, or go out and try the anime series based on the games (which you really shouldn’t as it’s not very good to begin with and is rather a letdown compared to the games), I have uploaded two shots of each of the girls for you to look at to see what the actual characters in Sakura Taisen look like. Yes, if I have to stoop to including shots of each girl in order to get some excitement in this gamer generated by Americans, I’m willing to do it. Because even without the animated eye candy, the game is incredible to play. Trust me on this?

Is it the dating sim part of the game? Well yes, partly. I think dating sims are hilarious. I find the questions asked and the answers one must give to be a great source of amusement and wish there was more than just Thousand Arms in English, because 1KA is a dating sim at its simplest and most basic. In Sakura Wars, the dating Sim goes far beyond simple Q&A. In battles for example, Ohgami can protect a girl in battle from damage and gain a point towards their love bond, or whatever you’d like to call it. Consider it taking a bullet so you can cock and load your own love gun later that evening. Giggidygiggidygiggidy!

It is Ohgami? He has to be my favorite main male character out of every RPG ever. He’s a pervert. He’s not very bright. He’s got hair like he was an Asian version of the rapper Kid from Kid N Play. And yet he gets the ladies like he was well…me. ;-)

Ohgami is a great character through and through. He’s not just comic relief. He’s not just cornball antics. He’s not just a great military tactician and mincing pedophile (if you go after Iris, you sick f*cks!). He’s a very well rounded characters who then just happens to trip and catch him self by placing his hands on boobies a little too often.

Is it the music? Most certainly. Some of the best music ever in a video game. The theme song is incredibly catchy and is on a CD in my Pokemobile VW. I hear the main theme from this game about every other day, and I know the lyrics both in Japanese and in English. I love all the music from this game, but what hooked me on Sakura Taisen most of all was the opening demo when the game starts and watching. Due to the nature of the plot of Sakura Taisen, music and voice acting are integral to the game. I can’t put enough emphasis on this. Only Sakura Taisen and the Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete go to this level in terms of music being intertwined with gameplay. To play Sakura Wars without the music would be robbing your senses of a whole other level of the game. Don’t cheat yourself.

Is it the voice acting. God yes. Even if you don’t speak a lick of Japanese, just the intonation of each actress and actor makes the meaning behind the words quite clear. These people put their heart and soul into making the characters real and entertaining and Sumire has a laugh that rivals Nagha the Serpent from Slayers. This is by far the best voice acting I’ve ever heard on an import game. And it’s just another reason why I am crazy about Sakura Taisen.

Is it the graphics? Let’s leave it at this. The cinema scenes on the Sega Saturn are better than most of what I’ve seen on the PS2. And that’s not me being a Sega fan boy. Or me being a Sony hater. That’s me saying “Holy crap. The PS2 Sakura game, which is a direct port of the SC game, has the best animation out of any game on the PS2 bar none. And yet, the Saturn cut scenes from the original game can hold its own against the remake.” THAT is how good the graphics are.

Plus superdeformed Sakura characters are adorable when they show up.

Is it the game play? Tactical RPG goodness. How could it not be? Each character has their own unique attacks and although there are only 7 characters total, well it’s still more than in any Final Fantasy Tactics game, and the gameplay is seamless. And in the gameplay the dating sim aspects come back into play, because how each girl feels about you correlates directly with how good your characters are in battle. So make Ohgami a pimp daddy!

Is it the mini games? Well, the mini games are cute. But I don’t need them. Still, they are a lot of fun and worth checking out. Each girl has their own mini game. Sakura’s involves floor sweeping, Sumire’s is swimming like the old NES track N Field 2 game. Maria’s game involves cooking, Iris has a slot machine esque “dress the little girl” game that again reeks of pedophilia if you put her in the slutty bunny outfit. Kohran has a card game, and Kanna has a “Who are my real parents” game. Kohran and Kanna I suggest avoiding unless you know Japanese, but Sakura and Sumire are the easiest for English only speakers.

Is it the bromides? Well, cartoon characters don’t turn me on. But they’re pretty to look at, I’ll grant you that.

It’s all of these things and more. Somehow Sakura Taisen managed to take all of these aspects and create a video game that is truly better as a whole than in its separate pieces. Much like the aforementioned Voltron, or even Devestator. Who win between those two, eh?

This game was what really truly made me appreciate how far my Japanese has come along. A game that I was able to enjoy almost at the same level a native speaker could. There is a reason this series is right up there with Sonic in terms of popularity for Sega franchises in Japan. And hell, there’s even more nick-knacks for Sakura Taisen then there is for the Hedgehog franchise. I will never be able to understand why this series hasn’t made it to the States yet. It was supposed to made it for the Dreamcast, but that got axed. It was supposed to be in the US by the beginning of 2004 at the LATEST. But it’s not here. It probably NEVER will be here. The only answer I can come up with is that once again Sega of America has proven themselves to be total idiots in terms of marketing strategy. Sakura Taisen in English would draw major bucks. Here’s hoping now that Sammy owns them, that they’ll kick Sega’s butt in gear and start forcing them to release and English copy of Sakura Wars that has all the same love and care that went into the original Japanese version.

Go import the game for your Saturn for then bucks on Ebay. Watching the opening demo and listen to the song, and trust me…you’ll be hooked. Even if you can’t speak a lick of Japanese, the fact this game play out exactly like an Anime series will be ebough to keep you coming back for more.

And in the meantime, here’s those lovely pictures I promised you to get you in the mood for the game.