The After Thoughts Of Sakura Wars (2005-2017)

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After the fifth Sakura War’s failure to stay afloat in Japan, the main franchise was all but cancelled. Year in and year out there was no word of a sixth entry reached the ears of the masses. Even if the Hanagumi and Hoshigumi no longer had staying power as icons in the gaming space, the brand was still alive and reactive to a very large degree. After a 2-year disappearance from the global market, PC ports of the four original games roared onto the scene. With In Hot Blood nowhere to be found, these new reiterations took what was old and tried to spruce it up for a new audience. Little did they know these would finally be the first games to reach the rest of the world but not in the way most wanted. Instead of heading over to North America where many fans waited for them, the series instead turned to the obscure home of one of its main characters, Russia. It is unknown how well it did there but the niche popularity of the series seemed to carry over to the new country, further extending the franchises reach.

After this the series animation tried to make a comeback. Sakura Wars: New York New York, tried to do what Sakura Wars: The Movie had done before it and continue the story from where it left off. Following The New York Combat Revue and their battle against the ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamen. Instead following Shinjiro as his standard self, for the most part he donned his other persona of Peppermint, introduced and used for a short time in Sakura Wars V. The series, while bizarre at times, tried its best to recreate the feeling of playing through one of the games with boss battles and other romantic interactions aplenty. But compared to other OVA’s and adaptations, the popularity of this entry is moot. After a few months it faded into obscurity just like the rest of the franchise.

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try. With the spinoff and side story culture of the series being ever present, a new team was put together to take advantage of that. Released in March of 2008 for the Nintendo DS, the culmination of their efforts was Dramatic Dungeon: Sakura Wars – Because You Were There, a rogue-like dungeon crawler. In a genuine attempt to rekindle the Sakura Wars Legacy, Sega advertised it as a completely new franchise even though it was clearly using mechanics popularized by Shiren the Wanderer with Sakura Wars storytelling. But unlike previous games there was an unusually brief amount of time spent on the story. Taking place one year after the end of Sakura Wars V, Yoneda has retired, promoting Ogami to commander of the Tekigeki. During a performance of The Maid of Orleans by Tchaikovsky, Joan of Arc herself appears causing a calamitous event that transforms Tokyo, and eventually Paris and New York along with it, into a monster filled labyrinth that incapacitates the Koubu. The members of the three respective combat revues have no choice but to delve deep into these dungeons and investigate. As the game moves on you gain control of Shinjiro as well, ultimately allowing you to recruit a party of your own choosing from the 18 cast members. The game seemed to be the continuation of the series fans weren’t expecting but could appreciate. Unbeknownst to them that wasn’t the case. 7 years on and a sequel to this has never materialized making this what seems to be the true finally for the series in canon.

But America would have to say differently. After years of patience and indifference from the Japanese franchise, the fifth entry, the one that was meant for them all along, finally reached stateside. Beginning the import process in 2008, the niche Japanese import publisher NIS America took on the job. Taking two years to fully translate every line of dialogue and text, the team worked at furious and at sometimes hellish pace. Once their work was complete they released it as a retitled Sakura Wars So Long My Love on the good old Playstation2 and exclusively on the Wii in North America and Europe. The hard work and dedication of the team at NIS didn’t help this entry however. While being able to find the right actors to suit the roles and changing things around a bit seemed like it could appeal to American gamers, even by NISA standards. But sadly they were mistaken. Selling less than 100,000 units the game was all but a failure in America. Many factors contributed to this. Releasing a 5 year old game on the dying Wii and the now defunct Playstation 2, their respective markets just didn’t have an audience their anymore. Bad marketing and literally no word of mouth left an American populace to not even know of its existence. And because of all of this and the working conditions that were maintained NIS America, the only publisher who was willing to take on Sakura Wars, will never do so ever again thus truly marking the end of the main franchise for good.

Unless a bit of false hope was added in. Circa late 2010, just around the release of Sakura Wars V in America, a new image was floating around Twitter. This image said Sakura Wars 6: Stronger than Love on it and seemed to depict a new setting of Germany, which was hinted in Sakura Wars: New York New York. Ontop of all this, Ouji Hiroi himself teased that a new Sakura Wars project was to release later that year. What fans didn’t realize was that they were being duped. Instead of a sequel the newly announced, Sakura Wars: Taisho Roman Academy was nothing of the sort. A browser-based game unlike Dramatic Dungeon, Roman Academy tried to emulate what the main franchise had done best but with a social twist. Taking place on the titular Roman Academy players would create their own character to interact with fellow players and Sakura Wars cast members alike, echoing Sakura Wars Online’s desires. For the most part the game is a pure strategy RPG, devolving back to the isometric grids of old from the series trademark ARMS system. Little information is known about the impact of this title in Japan but suffice to say it was just like the other entries before it; fading more and more into obscurity.

But there was still more to come. Something that was quite bizarre yet fitting to the series mythos. Sakura Wars Kanadegumi, starting in 2011, was a collaboration with long-running popular girls manga magazine Hana to Yume that reverses the series classic trope by putting a female protagonist in a troupe full of charming men. The story is that the heroine Neko Miyabi came to Tokyo in order to join the classic Hanagumi as a performer, but ended up assigned  to the Kanadegumi or orchestra group. Of course it turns out the orchestra is also a secret combat troupe for battling demons but this time instead of Koubu they fight with their own musical instruments. The Kanadegumi was popular enough to receive its own anime adaptation and performs stage shows just like the old Hanagumi and Hoshigumi. While this was the final manga adaptation there were two finals games awaiting the series; and they weren’t what fans wanted.

Sakura Wars: All Star Collection and Sakura Wars for Mobage  were two final entries hoping to cash in on what little was left of the series. All Star Collection was a trading card game, in lieu of popular ones such as Hearthstone, but also included the classic LIPS gameplay fans love with little else. Sakura Wars for Mobage, on the other hand, was a social and trading card game hybrid. Using the ever-popular Mobage platform developed by GREE the game used some elements from the franchise but mostly changed it to the platforms liking. The iconic designs of the original characters were replaced with hyper sexualized versions of themselves, further deteriorating the franchise’s image and fans opinions alike.

While these cash grabs were a slap in the face to fans, one new franchise would try to do them a service, Project X Zone. Fighting alongside classic Sega, Capcom, and Namco characters such as Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter and Yuri Lowell from Tales, the game was the ultimate title for fan service of the less titillating kind. Having Sakura, Erica, Gemini, and Ogami himself appear among these icons left players in awe and amazement and its fighting system was nearly a return to form for the franchise. Even Sakura herself was put on the title right next to other legends cementing the importance of the franchise to all. Even now a sequel to this newly beloved franchise is in the works and once again Sakura Wars is taking the lead.

But as of now this is where it all ends. Where the franchise could go from here is anyone’s guess. All fans have now is the series iconic music by Kohei Tanaka that can bring out any emotion in you from sadness to joy. While franchises today struggle to have a musical footprint Sakura Wars has music that anyone can instantly recognize and relate to; music that can appeal to a variety of cultures from Japanese to French and old American jazz tones. The longest lasting medium for Sakura Wars has actually been the stage show. After nearly two decades it is still going strong with nearly the entire cast in tow, performing new and unique plays with the same depth they had in their early years. Even when Sumire’s voice actress, Michie Tomizawa, announced her retirement back in 2002 there was still a special, melodramatic farewell stage show that was assembled just for her final performance; as no Sakura Wars heroine could retire without fanfare.

But how has the franchise affected the gaming industry itself? Well after Sakura Wars success on the Sega Saturn other games followed suit, attempting to blend the series visual novel and dating elements into a more standard RPG framework. Thousand Arms took a less pure-hearted approach, but combined dating and RPG mechanics in a steampunk world. Langrisser 3 introduced a Sakura Wars-like system in which you can develop trust with members of the female cast, culminating in a romance. Even later on, the Persona series successfully implemented Sakura Wars elements into its own story with relationship management more directly flowing into the story, but also including time management like Sakura Wars old adventure mode sections.

But those are just the story elements, what about the gameplay? One particular forgotten Sega title, Alpha Protocol, fully implemented the LIPS system, with morally gray choices and a timer counting down to put on the pressure. But really any branching dialogue game today can thank Sakura Wars for leading the way to this future. The most popular implementation of which is Bioware’s Mass Effect series that chose to take a more black and white approach while also taking the franchises ability to use data from other entries to even greater effect. Last, but not least, is a rather obscure title Codename Steam. Developed by Intelligent System’s the games combat system is uncannily similar to the ARMS system, border lining on ripping it off. However, Intelligent Systems worked with Red Company, now Red Entertainment, on the recent Fire Emblem Awakening so this might be the case.

The closest game you are likely to see to a Sakura Wars 6 is Valkyria Chronicles. With much of the Sakura Wars team remaining at Sega, headed up by Ryutarou Nonaka and Shuntarou Tanaka, they all decided to work on Valkyria. The game is eerily similar to Sakura Wars with another alternate history world with wildly unrealistic machinery powered by miraculous technology. Grid-less, real-time tactical combat, a heavy emphasis on developing relationships outside of battle, and how those relationships come into play on the battlefield. Of course, Valkyria Chronicles doesn’t have any of the dating-sim relationship or time management of Sakura Wars; all of the character development happens on a rail. Conversely, Sakura Wars didn’t have detailed roster management, training, and equipment upgrading mechanics. But the overall fell of the game is the similar semi-to fully campy wartime drama with a sentimental bent.

But in all of this what happened to Red Company? Well after the release of Sakura Wars V many left for Sega itself. Staying in a publisher role, the company continued to churn out content as much as they could. Soon enough, however, this ended with their acquisition by Chinese game developer Ulti Zen Games Limited. The rights to the franchise stayed firmly in Sega’s grasp but the company had just become another cog in the machine. The Red in Red Company wasn’t just there for fun, it had meaning. Royal Emperor Dragon; that’s what they thought of themselves as. And that was what the Sakura Wars franchise was to Japan for a time. But now that meaning had been twisted and contorted. The series was now just a cash grab and cameo franchise just the classic blue bomber Mega Man. Only a miracle can save the franchise now. One can only wish.

When Ouji Hiroi set out to make a new franchise for the Sega Saturn he wanted to create something more unique then anything else. A romanticized past and a derelict future are what this franchise was and has become. To some it may be a simple dating simulator franchise but to others it is something different. A franchise about mechas, demons, and romance; a franchise that separated itself from the crowd. Creating icons aplenty for it’s Japanese and global audience the series came define a generation, one that had been left behind by the rest. Sakura Wars is like one of the cherry blossoms that represent it, beautiful and breathtaking but seldom seen. But now armed with this knowledge what will you do dear viewer? Will you become a fan yourself, shouting the series name to the innumerable masses of the world, or will you let sleeping dogs lie and go about your day. The choice is yours. But remember one thing, cherry blossoms always bloom.

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