This is one of those games that has been on the backburner for a very long time. I don’t even know how many years its been since I first bought the game but there were just so many that kept getting ahead of it. Well, the game finally made it to the top and I managed to complete it. I haven’t played too many visual novels, but it definitely can be a fun genre when handled well. The story is good and the characters are fun so it’s a good experience. Of course, the genre can only go so far without too much gameplay.
The story starts off with our hero Shinjiro Taiga. He has arrived in New York to be an usher at a famous theater. It turns out though that this theater is actually the headquarters for the New York Combat Revue. This team fights off all of the giant robots and aliens that threaten the planet. After the first mission goes terribly for the team, Shinjiro steps up to be the leader in place of the injured Ratchet. He may not have experience and the team may not respect him yet, but he will give the mission his all! As the game progresses he gradually begins to learn about his teammates and their tragic pasts. With a new sense of unity within the team, they will have to stop a fearsome demon known as Ranmaru from awakening the ultimate evil!
You can argue that the most important part of a visual novel is the cast. This is the one genre where the gameplay isn’t really the focus. There is gameplay of course, which I will talk about later but with bad characters it just wouldn’t matter. Fortunately the cast is solid for the most part. There are only a handful of characters that aren’t all that good and most of them are minor supporting characters as opposed to being the leads. Naturally we should start off with the main character.
Shinjiro is the main character and he’s a nice guy. He doesn’t really have any personality beyond being a nice guy who works hard. I suppose that’s all he needs though and I’m only judging him from the decisions I made. You have the option to make him into a fairly sketchy character if you wanted too. He’s not going to be remembered as one of the best main characters out there, but he’s a good guy and that’s good enough I’d say. He wants to protect his friends at any cost and is always quick to jump into a fight. That’s the kind of vigor you want in a main character.
Ratchet is a character who felt like she would be really important in the story, but surprisingly doesn’t get much of a role. She appears a lot more than the two girls by the front of the theater, but her actual importance is barely any higher. Still, Ratchet seems like a nice character even if I disagree with her decisions. She does care about the team and what she lacks in fighting ability she makes up for in tactics. One of the game’s paths apparently has her fight again towards the end which is cool, but in my story she never got back into the mech after the opening level. A shame since it would have been cool to have had her fight.
Gemini is definitely the main heroine of the game. She’s in the center on the cover, the game’s subtitle is referencing her, she’s the character Shinjiro ends up with in my story path, her subplot is the most important one and shows up in various chapters, etc. She is definitely the main protagonist aside from Shinjiro and she gets a ton of character development. She moved to New York to try and succeed in the Big Apple. Gemini grew up on a farm and has to adjust to the city but wants to prove that with hard work you can succeed anywhere. The other half of Gemini moved to New York to avenge her master who was murdered by the demon Ranmaru. See, Gemini was born with two hearts because she was supposed to be twins, but there was a complication during the birth and so the twins share one body. They are able to change places depending on which will is stronger. It’s an interesting take on the plot since usually it would just be that Gemini’s split personality isn’t actually real.
Here both Gemini are real people who are simply trapped in one body. I liked Gemini’s twin quite a lot and so officially I would put her as the best character. Gemini would be the second best though so it doesn’t matter too much compared to the others. The twin’s quest for revenge is just handled really well and she can actually fight without a machine which gives her a step over the others. It’s just a great plot and while of course it does throw in some romance you can avoid it for the most part. I chose to use Shinjiro as a good friend who was helping her through a tough time. The only rough patch of her arc is that we learn that her mentor was actually a pretty bad person so it turns out that Ranmaru was doing everyone a favor. Sometimes it is good to have villains around I guess. Gemini also owns a horse which gives her extra bonus points.
Sunnyside is the director of the team and definitely the shadiest character around. He jokes around so much that it’s hard to know when he’s serious. Perhaps he really would have destroyed one of the main characters in order to stop the villain. It’s just hard to say, but either way I can’t say that I’m a fan of his. He just isn’t a likable character and I can’t say that he did a great job of leading the team since he is always withholding things from them. Letting Shinjiro be the captain of the team was probably his best decision.
Diana is the weakest member of the main fighters. Her story arc is about how she doesn’t value life at first. She feels like since everyone dies eventually they may as well die right away. Definitely a rather grim way at looking at things. As a result, she lets the villains destroy a lot of birds in the process before she gets ready to fight. It’s just such a terrible plot because birds were the one creature that she was always really fond of and she still wouldn’t get up to fight. By the time she does it is simply too late. I couldn’t respect her as a character and there wasn’t much she could do to save herself at that point. Honestly, we don’t have to stop at main characters. She’s the weakest character in the game for sure. Her chapter with the birds is also what caused the game to lose one star with all of the animal violence.
Rosita is a fun character and probably the only main character that the game doesn’t try to pair you up with which is a nice change of pace. She’s basically just a kid so the bond with her is more of a father figure. She is a bounty hunter so Rosita is a tough kid. She wields two guns which she doesn’t hesitate to use. I still question how she was able to apprehend so many criminals but I guess if your gun skills are good enough then age quickly starts to become irrelevant. I feel like the voice actress probably had a lot of fun laying it on thick with the accent. It sounds rather fake, but is pretty fun. When used well accents can definitely make a character more memorable and I doubt I’ll be forgetting her voice anytime soon. Rosita is also very useful during the fights since her attack range is so long.
Then we have Subaru. She’s the quiet, but mean character who thinks she is above everyone else. I say “she” because I think it’s obvious, but a mild subplot is that nobody knows which gender Subaru is despite the character trying to make it obvious to everyone on several occasions. The game even forces you to ask her directly at the very end of the game to which she naturally doesn’t bother telling you. Honestly, who would in such a situation? Subaru isn’t a bad character, but I’d probably consider her to be the second weakest of the main 5 behind Diana. She just isn’t as interesting as the others and her episode wasn’t quite as fun. At least she can fight in hand to hand combat which is cool. The quiet character archetype can work well, but usually the livelier ones will end up being more enjoyable.
Cheiron is the law expert and she is always firm with everyone. She does lose a lot of credibility during her backstory though where she sells out to corporate and tries to destroy Harlem. The whole time this is happening you keep waiting for the twist where she is actually helping them out, but it never happens. She was apparently just brainwashed while getting her degree and forgot about the little people. It’s definitely well known that power corrupts, but it really hurts her character to see it happen to drastically. We put her back on the right path and she becomes a good character after that though. She’s quick to come to Shinjiro’s defense when the others take it a bit too far in their picking on him and she also serves as a mentor for Rosita. A rocky start is certainly better than a rocky ending as we at least got to see Cheiron improve during the game. She’s not the best member but at least she is a good one.
Ranmaru is the main villain of the game. He shows up in every chapter to mock everybody and keeps making threats. He’s technically very strong and so the whole team has to come together to stop him. I guess you could technically say that about most of the bosses though. While Gemini wanted revenge, she goes manage to spare Ranmaru as part of her development. I can get behind that, but it’s a bit of a stretch when the whole cast chooses to just let Ranmaru go. At least arrest the guy! This was a big mistake and is the reason why Nobunaga later gets revived. Ah well. Ranmaru is definitely a solid villain and he makes for a good enemy for Gemini. She definitely would have been outmatched without the others though.
Finally we have Nobunaga. He’s not nearly as interesting as he just shows up to say that friendship is fake before admitting that it’s the best thing ever. He doesn’t have a whole lot of time to appear so I guess it makes sense, but he could have been a lot cooler. Things also started to get a little weird when they brought reincarnation and time travel into the mix. Getting rid of that subplot would have probably been a good idea since it does come completely out of left field. That being said, he did give us some good fight scenes. Nobunaga’s design is on point and he is certainly a threat thanks to his high power level. It’s intense to see one guy taking on a whole squad of super powerful mechs.
So the gameplay mainly occurs at the very end of each chapter. There are minor quick time events during the chapter where you will walk a few steps from area to area or move a lever. There are of course many choices that you have to make, but I’m not even sure if I’d call that gameplay. I mean, it’s just pointing and clicking. Still, your choices will have an impact on the ending. I believe there are 5-6 endings so choose carefully as the game will force you to pair up with someone so it might as well be a hype character. I tried going for the friend zone, but the game denied me.
The main combat gameplay is Xcom style like in Mario vs Rabbids or other games of that nature. You control 5-6 robots and have to either destroy a bunch of generators, defeat all enemies, or take down a huge boss. Typically the big boss at the end will have several parts and you’ll have to decide which target to focus on. You can go straight for the boss core or try to take out the armor and limbs around it to make the boss weaker. It’s always a tough call and there’s no real correct answer. They can all be risky and you still have to watch out for the minions swarming you from all sides. It’s a really tactical game and you feel like a true leader. I definitely had fun trying out quite a few different strategies. The final level in the game is naturally the hardest and it took me quite a few tries to complete the level where you are protecting the ship. Just keep on trying out different tactics until you figure out which one works for you. Your allies’ strength will depend on how well you get along with them when you’re making decisions so it does actually encourage you to be nice to them. I got quite a few wrong answers with my partners which is probably part of why the levels were so hard towards the end. Still, I always have to give the answer that makes the most sense.
As it’s a visual novel the game does have some pretty iffy choices at times. We get the usual hot springs mixup as well when the main character forgets how to be smart. Even the falling on top of someone cliche happens. Still, the game was fairly tame in this regard. It may have been because I would always give the safest answer, but that’s part of why being able to pick your response is always a good thing. It’s a minor enough element where it’s not a big deal. The harem elements of this game are pushed to the backburner which is a really good thing. You can still choose to interpret the game as everyone (except your final decision character) just likes Shinjiro platonically.
The graphics are really good. This game actually has full anime cutscenes scattered within which is really cool. A lot of the game’s cutscenes are just stills with voice acting after all so this shows where they spent their budget. The illustrations do look good though and the character designs are on point. Mix this all together and I’d say that the graphics definitely did a really good job. It may not be the next big thing or anything like that, but it’s solid enough.
It almost goes without saying since I’ve never heard of a short visual novel, but the game’s length is pretty good. It should last you around 15-20 hours I’d say. There isn’t any replay value since once you beat the game that’s it so it’s all about the initial playthrough. I mean, there are multiple endings, but would you really want to play the whole game again just for that? If that’s your plan, then it’s best to make multiple save files once you’re deep into the game in order to experience them all. There’s definitely enough content here to justify the price and the difficulty also ensures that you won’t blast through it too quickly.
Overall, Sakura Wars was a fun game and definitely fun to play through. The length was good and the gameplay was fun when it happened. Most importantly, the story was good so it was like watching a fun anime movie. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of the visual novel genre. If you really need gameplay or don’t like long cutscenes then this won’t be the title for you. So long as you know what to expect and like the idea of this game then I’d say that you’ll definitely like it since the execution is on point. It’d be cool if we got another Sakura Wars game someday. Also, I have to give the game one final shoutout for making the whole thing take place in New York. That was really cool and it’s the only anime type game that I can think of which takes place there. Unless I’m missing something, I’ve now played two visual novel games. This one and Guardians of the Galaxy. I guess we’ll see what the third is!