Sakura Wars - o Sakura Taisen for the most passionate - it is an IP of SEGA not well known here, yet it is a historical brand that has its roots in the now distant 1996. It is known, twenty-four years in this medium correspond to a couple of geological eras, and this makes it one of the longest-running brands ever (it has two years more than Metal Gear Solid, just to give an example), presenting a conspicuous number of iterations present on many platforms, including four mobile games. The new Sakura Wars landed on PS4 arrives after fifteen from the last main chapter, the appreciated - but very unfortunate - Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love, published on PlayStation 2 and Wii, consequently we are faced with a production with a nice weight on the shoulders, having the task of bringing back such an important series with a title that oscillates between sequel and reboot. The title unexpectedly leaves the Japanese soil arriving on our shelves with a delay not too marked - less than five months - perhaps reiterating the fact of wanting to really embrace its old and new audiences with new-found determination. An absolutely arduous delivery to respect and a bet that, as we will see, presents some gambling.
Tokyo, 1940. About twenty years after the events of the last and very distant Sakura Wars V: So Long My, Love, we find ourselves in the role of Seijiro Kamiyama a young - very young - captain of the Navy, relocated by the organization WLOF in the Japanese capital with the task of guiding the young recruits of the famous Floral Division, a combat team aboard mechs that in the last decade has lost that excellence that has made it so famous and respected. The basis of the division is the Imperial Theater, which acts not only as an excellent cover to host the secret agents who swell the ranks (who in fact show themselves to the world as simple actresses or insiders) but also to cheer up the spirits and cheer up morale of Tokyo citizens. Alas, even on the theatrical front mala tempora currunt: the Imperial Theater is almost bankrupt and the performances of the protagonists only earn insults and ridiculous laughs. Kamiyama's mission is therefore twofold, having to train not only young troops but also to lead them to success in the field of dramatic art.
And if having to face mechanized and exhausting demons of acting lessons was not already exhausting enough, here are the increasingly talked about World Games, which will see the divisions of the whole world facing each other in a sort of gigantic tournament on board robottoni. So here is a very difficult third task for Kamiyama: win the competition. In short, Sakura Wars puts a lot of meat on the fire at first glance, all seasoned by an inspired and intriguing setting, (re) presenting an alternative world based steampunk, complete with combat mecha, set in the first half of the 900s. The starting points are simple and modest, but at the same time strong and well delineated, however sliding on some lightness.
The canonical formula of the series has always seen an alternation of staged combat sessions visual novel and dating sim, unbalancing strongly on the latter. The "tradition" is respected also in this chapter: here is where the Live & Interactive Picture System (or LIPS) which basically consists in having to choose the most suitable response during dialogues and game events as quickly as possible, radically changing the pace of the story according to our choices, even changing its epilogue. This system is of crucial importance and permeates the entire play structure of the title, so much so that - not unlike the Person - the bonds built with the girls around us determine its effectiveness in combat, as well as being reflected in the daily reports spent outside combat suites. Unfortunately it does not reveal a very thorough mechanism, in the countless Sakura Wars dialogues we will always have a maximum of three choices and the most obvious they are also the correct ones, which slightly dampens the player's choice. Furthermore, although it is necessary to note some moments of good writing, funny and sometimes amusing - and here we see how the game tries not to take itself too seriously - the narrative and the main plot turn out to be fairly flat, even if occasionally showing some appreciable flashes.
Once you put on the uniforms and get on board our powerful Spiricle Striker Mugen (the assault mechs) the real action begins, showing one of the most important novelties of the franchise. So let's say goodbye to the tactical turn-based battles we were used to and welcome a decidedly more system. frantic and action-like. The formula adopted by SEGA allows us to move freely on the battlefield taking advantage of the peculiarities of all the different mechs deployed on the field, being able to switch from one to the other with the push of a button and facing numerous hordes of enemies in an approach which is very similar to that musou. Light and heavy shots alternate in a simplistic and no-frills combo system, which while not shining in depth works, although you still have the feeling that you could - and probably should - do something more. Nonetheless, almost all the mecha differ well from each other, among the faster and more graceful ones to the slower and more devastating ones, some dedicated to close combat while others devoted to the one from the distance. It is created a functional but also very light mix, not that this is necessarily bad, especially given the fact that the time spent aboard the war machines is extremely reduced. The phases of the clashes are decidedly diluted during the course of the adventure, emphasizing the will of SEGA in wanting to give them to a secondary task in the balance of Sakura Wars.
It is necessary to quote Persona again, but Yakuza can also be brought into play, to underline how a title, which wants to make the fulcrum of the experience the component of writing must be able to make it sliding and brilliant itself. Unfortunately Sakura Wars is really too long-winded. Furthermore, the aforementioned titles, while challenging the players with very long "reading" sessions, balance the balance at best by giving long and complex sessions dedicated exclusively to the fighting while in this case you can detonate a bold obstinacy in wanting to leave the bulk of the work writing, which does not always manage to bear the weight of this enormous responsibility over the course of the thirty hours that are proposed to us. Overall, a playful formula is not perfectly centered but still valid, as long as you are ready for a light, verbose and rich experience. cliche.
No Waifu no Laifu
Looking at trailers and images of Sakura Wars it is easy to think that all the narrative plot, including robots, is a mere excuse to place the lucky protagonist in an all-female environment, in the most classic of situations. harem Japanese. In fact, it really is. Not that it is a defect, mind you, the production does not try to hide behind a finger and indeed immediately discovers its cards, while remaining faithful to the tradition of the brand, surrounding us with attractive girls that follow the stylistic elements built in decades of anime and manga. Being Kamiyama at the head of the division, the player has the opportunity to interact with the female cast, relating to the girls, being able to also unlock special tete-a-tete events, in which to get more intimacy with the protagonists, creating romantic sub-plotsand which prove to be decisive for our adventure. Sakura, Hatsuo, Claris and the others present themselves as well-characterized characters but strongly linked to their stereotypes and therefore not too multifaceted. Having said that, the game tries to satisfy all the "palates" of the various players and succeeds in intent, placing its success in the strength of the cast.
The process of "exhumation" of the brand also passes through the artistic side: having abandoned the old character design, SEGA makes use of the talent of the author of Bleach, Tite Kubo. The mangaka has accustomed us to stories of fluctuating quality but to characterizations of characters that are always well cared for, it is therefore a bit disappointing to note how in Sakura Wars his touch, although very recognizable, don't be too inspired. In addition to noticing striking similarities - which we can see as homages - to some of his old characters, perhaps one is noted poor creative freedom granted to him by the development team, but his trait still fails to impact as it should, while immediately jumping to the eye and thus creating strong contrasts with the characters not designed by Kubo.
Technically the title shows itself quite well valid, with a good glance and a commendable deep cleaning, contrasting with squared and not very rich environments. The care of polygonal models can be seen, especially as regards enemy and allied mechs and the surplus of special effects enriches the fights very well. The soundtrack accompanies doing its job but fails to get the bite needed to keep buzzing in the head once the console is turned off, very good dubbing Japanese although unfortunately not present in all dialogues, another proof that perhaps there are too many, and that forces us to look at the characters gasping like fish lost in an aquarium.
Break the lines
If Sakura Wars had better measured its balance and deepened, not even too much, writing and fighting we will be faced with an excellent title. Unfortunately, i "self" they count very little and therefore this statement can remember very much the scholastic stockpiled "is intelligent but does not apply". Actually Sakura Wars is a worthy restart of the brand, who regrettably pulls the handbrake in various aspects and cannot fully hit the target. We are faced with a product that will make fans happy but that it will hardly win new audiences. The foundations for creating a winning formula are all there and certainly the desire to create a light and carefree title is not to be condemned, on the contrary, but it is good to note how the desire for simplicity sometimes slips into an unattractive picture, failing to exploit fully its undoubted merits. Sakura Wars therefore remains in limbo, proving itself a valid title but perhaps without the necessary strength that would have placed him under the limelight.