Originally developed by in 1996 by Hiroi Ohji, Sega AM7 (later Overworks) and Red Company for the Sega Saturn, Sakura Taisen (Sakura Wars) has grown into a monolithic franchise, spawning multiple spin-offs, sequels, prequels, anime, manga and live theatrical adaptations, as well as a themed merchandise cafe. The games feature character designs by manga artist Kousuke Fujishima and many now-famous voice talents.
Settings and Story
Sakura Taisen's world is an alternative-historical rendition of the 1920s (or Japan's Taishou era), wherein most technology is powered by steam, from automobiles to personal computers.
The games themselves center around several teams of soldiers who use steam-powered " Spirit Armor" suits to defeat invading demons. These teams are assigned to defend various major metropolitan areas (to date Tokyo, Paris and New York), and its all-girl cast (besides the male protagonist) lead double lives as famous performers, an homage to the Takarazuka Revue.
So far three teams have starred in the series:
The Imperial Assault Troupe
The Imperial Assault Troupe is also known as the Imperial Opera Troupe (using Japanese wordplay), and is based under the Grand Imperial Theater in Tokyo. Its core team, the Flower Division ( "Hanagumi") pilots the Koubu Spirit Armor in combat. Its leader is Naval Ensign Ichirou Ohgami. With nine members, it is the largest and oldest group, and starred in the original Sakura Taisen game (and its PS2 remake), its sequel Sakura Taisen 2, and Sakura Taisen 4. The Imperial Assault Troupe also made a cameo appearance in Sakura Taisen 3.
The Paris Assault Troupe
Based in the Les Chattes Noires cabaret in Paris, the core pilots' unit is called the " Groupe Fleur de Paris" (Flowers of Paris), and pilots the Koubu-F series of Spirit Armor. They starred in Sakura Taisen 3 and Sakura Taisen 4. Their commander was Ichirou Ohgami, who was in Paris on temporary assignment. The cast (minus Ohgami) starred in the adventure-game spinoff Mysterious Paris.
The New York Combat Revue
The New York Combat Revue is based in the Little Lip Theater, located in Times Square, New York City. Its pilot group is called the Star Division ( "Hoshigumi"). Several of its members were reassigned from a previous, experimental Spirit Armor unit (also called the Star Division) that took part in World War I. Its commander is Shinjirou Taiga, nephew of Ichirou Ohgami. They pilot the Star-type Spirit Armor, which can also transform into fighter-jet mecha. They star in Sakura Taisen 5, the installment to be released in North America by Nippon Ichi.
Core Sakura Taisen releases have combined Adventure-style gaming and romance game-like character interaction with turn-based tactical combat.
The bulk of gameplay in a typical Sakura Taisen game is facilitated via "LIPS," which stands for "Live Interactive Picture System."
LIPS, in essence, is a specialized style of dialog tree, one that inserts mini-game like elements into the typical "choose an option" interaction. At its most basic form, it is a timed dialog response. Players must choose an option before time runs out. However, letting time run out is also considered a "valid" option, one considered as "no response." Different responses appeal to different characters, adding or subtracting "trust points," which eventually determine the ending of the game.
Other types of LIPS options exist, some of which were introduced in later installments. One, such as "Analog LIPS," uses the analog stick to determine the "force" of a response, like to the volume of a shout, etc. Other types of LIPS interactions resemble Quick Time Events and other types of mini-games.
Sakura Taisen 1 and 2 featured a turn-based, isometric, grid-movement combat system similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. Later installments use "ARMS," which stands for "Active Real-time Machine System."
ARMS is also turn-based, but is instead founded around action points to determine movement range and attacks. Both systems integrate the relationships with different characters to add attribute bonuses during combat, or unlock special combination attacks.
The franchise is iconic and highly regarded. Its recorded sales are the highest of any Sega Saturn original title. On Famitsu's 1996 Top Ten Most-wanted games, Sakura Taisen was bested only by Final Fantasy VII. It currently ranks 13th on Famitsu's 100 all-time favorite games listing. It is the number one most-requested sequel according to surveys by Famitsu.