Sakura Wars on PlayStation 4
Sakura Wars is one of those games which is hard to nail down as good or bad – not because it lacks major flaws or strengths, but because it manages to offer them up in a package which walks the middle of the road and fails to venture out toward something remarkable.
The latest iteration in the Sakura Wars franchise and a soft reboot of the series proper, the game sticks to a familiar set-up. As the newly instated commander of the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Squadron, players must come to know and trust in the team members of a demon-fighting task force through visual novel-style interactions and join them in battles for the safety of the city.
Establishing stronger bonds with each character reveals more about their pasts and motivations, and by getting to know each character well enough, players might have what it takes to inspire them to protect the city, save their struggling theatre, win a competition between Combat Revues from across the globe and stop a plot being carried out by a masked ally of the demons.
If this sounds like a few different stories competing with each other at once, that’s because it is. Sakura Wars has several plots competing for main billing at any given time, and it can make the narrative feel cluttered and unfocused on more than one occasion.
Granted, each one has its high points. Gaining the trust of and inspiring each team member makes for some interesting sub plots, and overcoming the latest evil plan made by the demons comes together in a satisfying enough way by the game’s end.
More often than not though, it can make Sakura Wars feel bloated with ideas it wanted to explore fully but couldn’t. This in turn leaves several plot threads dangling or tied up in an anticlimactic way, and even makes some storylines feel like filler arcs thrown in to pad the game’s run time.
Sakura Wars’ gameplay is similarly mixed in execution. As mentioned earlier, part of the game sees players interacting with other characters through visual novel-style dialogue exchanges. Getting to know characters and interacting with them in different ways can raise or lower the standing they hold you in, and impacts which of several different ending scenes you can get.
Likewise, as players get to know characters better and raise their affinity with them, minor sub-plots and events will become available.
These run the gamut from emotional confessions to anime cliche shenanigans, and while some are incredibly cringe-worthy – namely, the moments where you’ll need to keep your character from looking at female characters’ cleavage or from going into bathrooms while female characters are using them – the majority add to the fun of interacting with each character.
Though this isn’t anything exceptionally different from other entries in the series, it’s all executed well enough that fans of the genre and older titles from the series should be happy with the result.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the game’s combat. Whereas past titles jumped to a turn-based strategy design for combat missions, Sakura Wars instead offers a new hack and slash action slant.
As one of six different steam-powered mechs, players can rend their way through hoards of enemy units Dynasty Warriors-style. They’ll then need to defeat a boss enemy to clear the combat mission, which can entail dodging area-sweeping attacks or solving illusion-based puzzles to track down the actual enemy.
It’s a decent idea, and some of the components necessary to pull it off properly are there. Each mech offers different moves and abilities, and a focus on dodging attacks with precise timing offers some much needed depth to battles.
Overall though, these segments can feel like they needed more time to be polished. The controls for the mechs can be floaty and lead to more than a few occasions where players will fall off of platforms or battlefields. Enemy variety is likewise severely limited, and though there are different moves and combos you can execute, it becomes very repetitive to use them over and over again.
About the only aspects which are well executed all around are the graphics and sound design. The game is gorgeous, with graphics and an art style which truly bring the series into the modern generation of gaming. Characters and settings pop with color and detail, and characters’ gestures and movements look like they’re out of a high quality anime.
All the while, the soundtrack and voice acting match whatever is happening to a tee. Each line is delivered with an expert amount of emotion and timing, with every main character able to run the gamut from calm and collected to furious and passionate as the scene demands.
The game’s music, meanwhile, fits each scene it accompanies just as well. Though some tracks may feel overused by the end, the majority add some life and energy or melancholy to scenes accordingly, and will stick with you long after the game is through.
Sakura Wars isn’t the return fans were hoping for, but it’s still one worth seeing and playing. For all the flaws the new action hack and slash combat and scatter-brained storytelling entail, the character interactions, visual novel elements and sound design all show how much potential the new take on the series has.
It won’t make many new die-hard fans of the property, but for those willing to give it a chance, there’s enough to give them hope that good things might be in the series’ future.
Action hack and slash combat is half-baked
Cringe-worthy character interactions
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