The History Behind Sakura Wars 4: Fall in Love, Maidens (2002)

Before that question could be answered something most wonderful happened. After years of hard work in the animation department from the OVA’s to the uber successful TV series a project even greater than those was created. Developed with the famous animation production house, Production I.G., a feature length film affectionately called Sakura Wars: The Movie was put into production. While previous productions had retold or added onto the story this time the material would be wholly original.  Bridging the gap between Sakura Wars 3 and the next entry, the movie would tell of the original Hanagumi’s exploits while Ogami was off in Paris involving an evil American businessman bent on replacing them with new mechas of his own design. Also introduced was another member of Orihime and Reni’s failed Star Division, Ratchet Altair, the first American in the series proper. While the story was as fantastic as ever animation and sound were as crucial to the series as ever. While the original animation style was a marvel in its own right Production I.G.’s take was breathtaking to say the least. All of these contributing factors led to the animated movie being a smash hit in Japan critically and commercially and making the series stake in animation bigger than ever before.

Success came for one part of the series but for others their time was coming to a close. Right after the release of Sakura Wars 3 the Dreamcast was on its last legs. Japan had a love for the console but even that wasn’t saving it from an untimely demise. Sega had announced to the world that they were ceasing production on the Dreamcast and that they were becoming a software developer and publisher from then on. The allure the console still gave to the Japanese public gave the team at Red Company time to think. Do they rush the next entry to release quickly and leave the console on a positive note or do they abandon it and make a fully fledged fourth entry on their former competitors brand new PlayStation 2? The teams chose the former this time around. Having only 10 months to complete the project the teams rushed to complete it. Working day in and day out the team was trying to create something just for the fans.

To relate to this the team chose a new poem that was somber yet very much related. It was less about war and more about the fleeting lives of our heroes. “Koise yo Otome” or “Fall in Love, Maidens” was a popular line from a 1915 tune called “The Gondola Song”. The name of the game would be more fitting then one would realize. While previous games in the franchise were fully blown sequels, this time around it was something more intimate and more of a fan disc in celebration for the series. Corners had to be cut. Few brand new assets were created and much of what been made for the previous entry and the ports of the originals were reused. That is not to say that the story wasn’t original.

Ogami was once again back with the Tekioku Kagekidan, fighting demons and reminiscing with old flames. As this was the final entry in the Ogami saga this time you didn’t get choose who you would end up with. This time the games functionality of reading your previous game saves was used to great affect. Now Ogami could finally end up with whomever the player had chosen for him. But a wrench was thrown into this. Reading previous game saves meant that Sakura Wars 3’s data was read as well creating a love–triangle situation for our hero. Because of the thirteen possible heroes to choose from that left over 40 possible combinations of characters making the game very short yet very wide.

Romanticism aside instead of being told in an episodic format the game was laid out as a play with its own three-act structure. Surprisingly enough the story revolved around a single play of the famous Les Miserables. Unsurprisingly this situation leads to many mistaken coincidences around the plays marriage scene. Because this time Ogami has been made the director of the play, in place of Yoneda, he has a hard time deciding what to do with the scene so he unfortunately asks all the other girls about marriage and of course wacky misunderstandings ensue. But all isn’t fun an games as an old ghost of the Ginza region emerges that even the Hanagumi can’t defeat alone causing both Tokyo and Paris to unite in an amazing finale to the series.

Sakura Wars 4: Fall in Love, Maidens piles on the fan service but not in the way you would expect. The theme of the game is about falling in love but is more about how great of a character Ogami is, and by extension how great of a person you are. The characters of both of the Hanagumi’s, clearly representing the developers, heap praise and gratitude onto Ogami by the truckloads. Even during the love triangle situations, which ended horribly in the past, depending on who Ogami picks there is a special scene that cleanly and clearly resolves the relationship with the other. The reconciliation, combined with how chaste, platonic, and oblique the portrayals of the relationships are anyway, successfully prevents Ogami from looking like a slimy playboy. The culmination of their praise comes with the Soubu or “dual warrior” a single overpowered Koubu that is piloted by Ogami and the players hero of choice; the series ultimate power fantasy. This combined with the shockingly short play time, nearly 1/3 of other entries, makes the game feel like sort of a bonus-disc or coda, a thank you and farewell to the fans of the series.

Even with the consoles passing as a major competitor, many fans still turned out for the final entries release. Selling slightly less than the previous game at 290,000 copies, Sakura Wars 4 was still a surprising hit for a dying console. Japan still couldn’t get enough of Sakura Wars even then. But as the console passed on it was up in air if the series would survive the transition.

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