Sakura Wars is a self-styled “Dramatic Adventure.” It’s not a pure SRPG; it’s not a pure visual novel; it’s not a pure dating sim; instead, it’s all of the above, and then some. If I were to rate Sakura Wars as a SRPG, it wouldn’t be especially great. But that’d be missing the point. As a complete experience, it’s a must-have in the collection of any self-respecting Sega Saturn owner. It should come as no surprise that it’s one of Sega’s best-selling franchises in Japan. Out of the six games in the series, only two have been released officially in English: Sakura Wars 5 (2005) and Sakura Wars 6 (2019). Fortunately, the original (the subject of this article) was fan-translated in 2019. Link is down below.
Instead of featuring typical “gain x experience and then you’ll level up” systems, Sakura Wars utilizes its dating sim mechanics to give your characters better stats depending on how much they like you. Battles comprise approximately… 25-30% of the gameplay experience, in my estimation, so I think it’s fair to say if you’re the sort of person who only enjoys relentless battles and nothing else, this is probably not the game for you. Nevertheless, I have a hard time not recommending it to everyone else. The characters and the music are infectiously charming, and the game’s atmosphere epitomizes the best of 90s anime conventions, in a very good way. Additionally, because of the ubiquitous genre-bending (e.g. shooter, cooking, and card minigames, SRPG stylings mixed with visual novels), the game never really feels stale. There’s tons of replay value because the game offers a different ending depending on which girl likes you the most. There are six girls total, so have fun with that!
I’ll admit that I know next to nothing about the dating sim genre, and I’m naturally fairly averse to the genre as a whole. It’s just not my thing, and I’ve always been an outspoken critic of the vapid “waifu culture” thing. So you can probably imagine just how good Sakura Wars is if it managed to win over someone like myself. Everything in the game is executed with a spectacular degree of precision, refinement, and delight that I’d imagine only the most curmudgeonly crustaceans among us wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s got likable characters, a heartwarming story and setting, solid tactical gameplay, plenty of fun minigames, an ensemble voice cast, an awesome theme song, and aesthetics which pushed the envelope of what was possible during the 5th generation of gaming. It’s got a little bit of something for just about everyone!
Console: Sega Saturn
Developers: Red Entertainment, Sega
My video review
SRPG Academy’s walkthrough (includes battles only)
2019 Translation patch: http://sakurawarstranslation.com/