Developed in 1996 between Red Company and Sega, Sakura Taisen is the first entry in the now-iconic multimedia franchise that combines dating sim style adventure gameplay with strategy RPG combat. The game's development was lead by Oji Hiroi, who had previously produced the immensely popular Tengai Makyou series, and featured character designs by Kousuke Fujishima, famous for his work on several Tales games and the Oh My Goddess! manga.
Sakura Taisen was originally released on the Sega Saturn in Japan on September 27, 1996 and was a huge success; selling out the day it hit the market. With the game's amazing sales, several spin-off titles were released and the story was adapted into various forms of media including an anime as well as a series of stage plays. A sequel soon followed with the release of Sakura Taisen 2 in 1998 and the original game was later ported to the Dreamcast and PC by M2. A remake of Sakura Taisen was eventually developed for the PlayStation 2 in 2003 titled Sakura Taisen: Atsuki Chishio Ni, which featured a new 3D battle system, redone artwork, and a reworked story.
Setting and Story
Sakura Taisen is set in alternative-historical rendition of the Japan's Taishou era (about 1923). Most technology is powered by steam, from automobiles to personal computers. In 1918 an invasion by Kouma demons devastated the Imperial Capital, Teito Tokyo. The monsters were stopped, but at great human cost. As reconstruction was finished in 1925, plans were put into place to defend the capital against further assault. An elite anti-demon unit, the Imperial Assault Troupe, would operate in secret and combat the demons, this time aided by the powerful Koubu "Spirit Armor" suits. Under the command of Lieutenant General Ikki Yoneda, a hero of the Kouma war and one of the surviving members of the original, unarmed anti-demon squad, the Imperial Assault Troupe would operate in secret, based under the Grand Imperial Theater in Tokyo's Ginza district. By day, the unit would be called the Imperial Acting Troupe (a wordplay on the Japanese characters for "Assault" and "Act"), and its pilots would be Japan's greatest actresses.
The story unfolds in episodic fashion, each episode beginning and ending with a "previously..," and "next on..." eyecatch, giving the feeling of playing an anime TV series. The game operates in two modes: Adventure and Battle.
In Adventure Mode, the player controls Squad Captain Ichirou Ohgami as he goes about daily activity in the theater, interacting with the characters and building social relationships with them via the LIPS system. LIPS, in essence, is a specialized style of dialog tree, one that inserts minigame-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 invisible "trust points," which eventually determine the ending of the game.
Sakura Taisen's battle mode is conducted via a turn-based, isometric-view, grid-movement system. Trust points gained or lost during the Adventure portion of the game also confer stat bonuses during that episode's battle. This system would be replaced by ARMS in the PlayStation 2 remake. During their turn, units can move and attack, defend, heal or charge spiritual energy (to use for special attacks). Unit abilities vary with each character, with some preferring ranged, area, or close-combat techniques. Ohgami, as the squad captain, has the special ability to "cover" a selected unit, protecting it from damage when attacked, and subsequently gaining trust points with the pilot.
Selected personally by General Yoneda, the girls of the Hanagumi ("Flower Division"), possess vast amounts of Spirit Power and the strength of will to use it against those who would harm the peace of Tokyo. Acting by day as the country's greatest opera actresses, they would defend the citizenry by night.
- Birthday: January 3, 1903
- Age: 20
- Height: 176 cm (5'9")
- Weight: 65 kg
- Blood Type: A
As an Ensign in the Imperial Navy, Ichirou Ogami was surprised to find his first assignment was to be under an Imperial Army General. He was surprised again, when he found that that assignment was to be "Ticket-taker for the Grand Imperial Theater." He was even more surprised to discover the Imperial Acting Troupe's true nature, and his own status as the Flower Division's captain. Ogami possesses a high level of Spirit Power, a trait extremely rare in men, and required to operate a Koubu. More importantly, General Yoneda felt it was important that a male presence was needed in the Flower Division, the best to mediate between the girls' strong, sometimes conflicting personalities. Ogami would be needed to help them work in harmony, making them as strong in spirit as in battle. His white command-model Koubu uses enhanced communications equipment to coordinate squad members. In combat Ogami wields two swords in the Rou-Kou Mekkyaku (Wolf-Tiger Destruction) style to eviscerate threats to the capital.
- Birthday: July 28, 1905
- Age: 17
- Height: 155 cm (5.1")
- Weight: 44 kg
- Blood Type: A
Sakura is the daughter of Kazuma Shinguji, a hero of the Kouma War who sacrificed himself to save the capital. Coming to the city from her home in Sendai province, she joined the Assault Troupe to carry on her clan's - and her father's - legacy. As the "new girl" in the Flower Division, Sakura was at first regarded by the others (especially Sumire) as a clumsy country bumpkin unsuited to city life. Through hard work, practice, and natural talent, she's proved her worth, both as an actress and a fighter. She dislikes mice, and due to a childhood accident, is deathly afraid of thunder and lightning. Riding her pink katana-wielding Koubu, she wields the Reiken Arataka ("Spirit Sword, Wild Falcon") in the Hokushin Ittou-ryu (North Star Sword Style) discipline. Her namesake is the Cherry Blossom ("Sakura").
- Birthday: January 8, 1907
- Age: 16
- Height: 161 cm (5'3")
- Weight: 50 kg
- Blood Type: B
Heiress to the massive Kanzaki Heavy Industries conglomerate, Sumire was one of the first test pilots for the prototype Spirit Armor (then called the Oubu). She is the self-proclaimed "Top Star" of the Imperial Acting Troupe. Conceited and imperious, Sumire is the classic diva. Addressing him only as "Ensign," she orders Ogami around like a slave. She is, in truth, affectionate and insightful, and passionate about life, both as an actress and as a soldier. She can't stand spiders. Her violet Koubu gracefully swings a Naginata, exhibiting the elegance of the Kanzaki Fujin-ryu style ("Kanzaki Wind-God Style"). Her floral namesake is the Violet ("Sumire").
- Birthday: June 19, 1903
- Age: 19
- Height: 186 cm (6'1")
- Weight: 65 kg
- Blood Type: O
Born to a Japanese diplomat, Maria was orphaned during the Russian Revolution, eventually joining the revolutionary forces. Traumatized by the loss of her squad captain, she shut out her emotions, becoming a merciless sniper and earning the nickname "Kazuar" ("Fire-eating Bird"). She later moved to America, finding work as a Mafia enforcer before being scouted out and recruited by the Troupe's vice-commander, Ayame Fujieda. Prior to Ensign Ogami's arrival, Maria served as the Squad Captain. Though she initially refused to accept him as her commanding officer, she came to trust him as he proved himself in battle. Maria is a peerless sharpshooter, and rarely leaves home without her customized Enfield No. 2 Mk I revolver pistol. Her black Koubu unit is equipped with gatling guns and sniper cannons, making it deadly at long range. Maria's height, commanding presence and deep voice often lead to her playing male characters onstage, though she occasionally fantasizes about taking more feminine roles and cooking. Maria is named after the Tachibana ("Orange Blossom").
- Birthday: March 3, 1906
- Age: 17
- Height: 156 cm (5'1")
- Weight: 42 kg
- Blood Type: B
Losing her home and family in the chaos of the Chinese Revolution, Kohran was raised by a family in southern Japan. Her cheerful nature and happy-go-lucky attitude is emphasized by her folksy Kansai accent. Kohran is an avid inventor and believes that machines and technology should be used to spread happiness and help people. She often gives her creations the "Mr." appellation, such as "Mr. Freezy" for an air conditioner. Unfortunately, they have the tendency to backfire or explode, leaving Ogami to clean up the wreckage. In combat, Kohran's green Koubu provides powerful supporting fire from mounted rocket artillery launchers, as well as using all sorts of unusual weapons, such as remote mini-robots and Mahjong-tile guided missiles. Kohran is named for the Crimson Orchid ("Kohran") and Japanese Plum Blossom (Chinese "Ri", Japanese "Sumomo").
- Birthday: July 5, 1913
- Age: 9
- Height: 106 cm (3'6")
- Weight: 18 kg
- Blood Type: AB
The youngest member of the Flower Divison, Iris is a powerful psychic. Born into an aristocratic family of Champagne, France, she had great difficulty controlling her powers, and for her own (and others') safety was forced to live in isolation, her only company being a teddy bear named Jean-Paul. She joined the Troupe in Japan at Vice-commander Fujieda's request. She acts onstage alongside the rest of the Flower Division, playing childrens' or young girls' roles. Cute and expressive, she addresses Ogami as "Big Brother". Piloting her yellow-gold Koubu, Iris is capable of teleportation, telepathy and telekinesis, as well as repairing the team's battle damage. Outside of battle, she occasionally works with the Troupe's other divisions to enact powerful psychic rituals. Her floral namesake is the Iris.
- Birthday: September 7, 1903
- Age: 19
- Height: 197 cm (6'6")
- Weight: 78 kg
- Blood Type: B
Kanna hails from Okinawa, a chain of southern Japanese islands long famous for its inhabitants' idiosyncratic ways. Her macho, tomboyish personality often clashes with Sumire's, leading them to bicker constantly despite their close friendship. Kanna calls Sumire a "Cactus-Woman," while Sumire likens her to a monkey. Like Maria, she often plays male roles, and played as Son Goku in the Troupe's rendition of "Journey to the West." She hates snakes. Kanna is a master of Ryu-Ku karate, a powerful discipline which enables her to take on bears and bulls barehanded. Her highly mobile red Koubu, equipped with specially hardened knuckle weapons, engages foes in close quarters, pummeling them with powerful kicks and punches. Her floral namesakes are drawn from the Canna Lily ("Kanna") and the Paulownia tree ("Kiri").
Supporting Characters (Spoiler Warning)
Lieutenant General Ikki Yoneda
General Yoneda is a true war hero, once leading the original, unarmored Anti-Demon unit during the 1918 Kouma war. Wielding his sword Shintou "Mekkyaku" ("Divine Sword 'Destruction") he fought against the Kouma demons alongside Sakura Shinguji's father Kazuma. Yoneda commands the Imperial Assault Troupe, acting as the Grand Imperial Theater's manager during tranquil times. While on the surface he appears at first to be a laid-back drunkard, he views all the girls of the Troupe as his daughters. At the same time, he punishes himself, for no father would choose to send his children out to fight.
Vice-Commander Ayame Fujieda
Like General Yoneda, Ayame Fujieda once fought in the original Anti-Demon unit. Her sword was the Shinken Shirahadori ("Holy Sword, Strike Halter"). She held feelings for another member of the unit, Shinnosuke Yamazaki, but was left alone after he disappeared following the war. As the Troupe's XO, she coordinates between the various branches of the Troupe, including the Flower Division. In battle she commands the combat airship Shogei-Maru, and is the direct liaison between the Flower Division and the upper echelons of command. Outside of combat, she serves as a producer for the Flower Division's various plays. Though somewhat distant and reserved, she has many male fans.
The Wind Division
The members of the Wind Division act as the Flower Division's support staff, piloting the group's various combat transports and relaying orders and information between the squad and the Troupe at large. They deploy the high-speed Gourai-Go ("Rolling Thunder") transport train, as well as the Shogei-Maru itself.
There are three members of the Wind Division, who all staff the theater when off-duty:
- Tsubaki Nonomura - Tsubaki is the cashier at the theater's gift shop and concession counter.
- Kasumi Fujii - She leads the Wind Division, and runs the theater's administration office.
- Yuri Sakakibara - Yuri is the senior usher, and sees to the audience's needs during plays.
The first overseas release of Sakura Wars 1 would not occur until many years after its initial release on the Saturn. On August 18, 2001 Sakura Wars 1 was published in Taiwan by Dysin Interactive Corp, who would go on to publish the second and third entries as well . A Russian publisher named Akella would also release Sakura Wars 1 on the PC in Russia on November 1, 2006 . Akella had announced plans to localize the rest of the franchise on the PC but after the second game's release on December 24, 2008 the other entries were never published . Staff involved with the Russian releases have confirmed that the translation of Sakura Wars 3's script was mostly completed but that the release was ultimately canceled by Akella . Despite these overseas releases, an official English translation of Sakura Wars 1 never came to be.
- Sakura Wars First Sale News (Dysin Interactive Corp, 2001).
- Sakura Wars 1 Akella Official Product Page.
- Sakura Wars 2 Akella Official Product Page.
- Akella Will Publish Sakura Wars! (Akella, 2006).
- Rom Hacking Dor Net Comment by menschenfracht (2012).
- Sakura in Russia: A Conversation with the Editor (Path of Valor, 2012).
- Sakura Wars: How Akella Got Ahead of the Whole World by Simon Kostin (DTF, 2018).