When I wrote how the Sakura Wars had hard time landing in the Western world, I wasn’t sure if the series would still hit the Western shores with its soft reboot title. Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love didn’t exactly perform well and had the usual NISA quality bug filtering. Wii version lacked the original language option altogether. Outside SEGA fans and importers, the series was mostly known for its animated entries. Interestingly, for a long time American and European Sakura Wars fans were overtaken by the people who were familiar with the franchise from these animations, not from their source material. I recommend reading how much an uphill battle Cherry Blossom Wars has in the West from the post linked earlier, I’d rather not repeat myself too much.
Well, at least it is hitting America on April 28th at a first glance. Despite this being cited as a world wide release date, none of my usual European sellers, not even local ones, are even listing it. At least the official SEGA of Europe is listing it for 28.04.2020 release. Though nothing can be pre-ordered yet, and the pre-order edition is very lacklustre; reversible box sleeve and a sticker set. For a high calibre game, one of SEGA’s most prestige titles, this seems rather lacklustre try. Where’s the music CD and other bells and whistles something like Yakuza gets? SEGA knows the game has an uphill battle. Old-school mecha fans will probably pick this up for it being a Sakura Wars game, franchise’s fans probably already imported the title from Japan and are buying it just to support the title, and the rest of the audience has to be convinced by the game’s play and visuals. It’s a tough battle for the PR department.
Sakura Wars has high production values, that much can be said. The models look decent enough, though they don’t exactly convey Tite Kubo’s character designs as well as they could, but there’s spirit in there. They’re as animated as you could expect from team that said they’ve taken lessons from the Yakuza games. From what we could see from the demo and numerous game play videos, many elements are very similar in execution, from how camera moves and characters interact. There are lots of interactive elements and small mini-game events that play out throughout the game. The game’s, the franchise’s, main delivery however is in its Dramatic storytelling. That’s where all the interactive mini-games are spread around, as the player is expected to decide via the LIPS system how to talk or act. Sometimes it’s to choose a simple answer, sometimes you have to limit how much you you want to peak on someone. The Yakuza series is very contemporary and managed to break some cultural walls, but in all earnest, it is an easier series to approach just from visual point of view.
The demo’s emphasize is on the adventure and interaction portion of the game. You’re expected to be invested into the story and the characters enough for multiple playthroughs in order to see all the different outcomes. This is is effectively the dating simulation aspect of the game, but rather than the game waiting for you to give an answer, waiting around is an answer in itself. Whether or not this is to your liking, it is essentially the main course of the game. Sakura Wars’ action stages look nice, but sadly have the same floaty and weightless feeling to them as the Sonic games the engine was lifted from. Attacks carry no real impact and camera positioning is not exactly user-friendly. A game like this, especially from an experienced team and big name franchise, should have far more polish and engaging action. The American and European audiences have been less enthusiastic about relationship simulation games than the Japanese, and while they’ve gained more audience as the time has gone by, the action would still be the more attractive element for the general audiences.
Famitsu’s 33/40 might be a spot on review for the game in Japan, with French Jeuxvideos scoring it at 13/20. If these are anything to go by, with the addition that the game’s sales dropped from second place to fifteenth after one week (latest Pokémon held the top spot), the gut feeling I have is that this game will be relegated to a very niche audience, which is partially already built into the fandom. Minimising costs is sensible, albeit always gives off a feeling that the publishing company doesn’t exactly trust the product. No English voice acting is mostly a cost-cutting method, as recording all the needed voices would add a lot to the end total production costs. However, it would have expanded the possible audience in the English speaking countries. We can carefully assume that the review scores will reflect the the aforementioned all the while giving it a respectful effort marking.
Maybe SEGA hopes to replicate success of Yakuza by slowly introducing this new action oriented Sakura Wars to the rest of the world and polishing it with each entry. However, the franchise’s relaunch in Japan first has to be a success in itself and we’re far from the point where we can safely say anything concrete. The reason I wanted to draw attention to sellers not listing the game, and me even wondering if the game was coming out on the stated date, is because the PR has been lacklustre. My small inquiry to a store stated that they wouldn’t know if they’d stock it, that a new and untested franchise like this probably won’t sell too much at full price. It’s not all doom and gloom. The word on the street is pushing the game forwards and positive word of mouth is the best thing this game could have going for it. I hope that this won’t be one-time game, that SGEA will put effort to expand from the niche by not only introducing new elements to the play, perhaps expanding the action portions by re-introducing series’ tactical aspects back. A niche and cult audience is a great a place to start, especially you already have a basis to stand on, but all those have to made to be worth something. SEGA needs that general audience to make Sakura Wars a success, but whether or not they’ll keep striking the iron while it’s still hot has to be left open. Well, if all else fails, they always could do a series compilation and re-release the previous games that way.