Editor’s note: My Mandarin is outstandingly bad. I apologize in advance for translation quirks.
In April, fans of the classic Sakura Wars franchise were met with a miracle. Game publisher Sega announced that the series would get its first mainline entry in more than thirteen years. The new project, tentatively titled Shin Sakura Wars, will bring fans back to Ginza, albeit in the year Taisho 29 (1940).
That isn’t all that’s in store for the franchise, though. Another all-new entry in the franchise is slated to launch exclusively on smartphones in China. The project, titled Yīnghuā Dàzhàn-Xīn de Yuēdìng (Sakura Wars: New Promise), received a teaser trailer, several art pieces, and a media blast that details the game’s characters, features, and basic plot elements.
We break everything down below. In addition, we’ve delivered a brief primer on the franchise, for newcomers in our “Before We Begin” segment.
Before We Begin…
Before we begin, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the greater Sakura Wars franchise.
The Sakura Wars Plot
Historically, the Sakura Wars franchise has been set in a fictional version of Japan’s Taisho era. Specifically, the franchise kicks off in Taisho 12 (1923). In this era, steam power has led to countless advancements in human life, allowing for all manner of conveniences.
All is not well in this universe, though. While humanity has progressed greatly, a darker undercurrent roils throughout the world. A clan of demons known as the kouma have launched an assault on mankind. To combat them, humanity created gigantic mechanized robots known as koubu. These bipedal baddie busters require an immense amount of psychic power to successfully operate.
The government, meanwhile, aims to keep the existence of the anti-kouma forces a secret. And, on a fortuitous note, the individuals who hold the greatest propensity for psychic ability tend to be young women. With this in mind, the Imperial government begins construction of the great Ginza theater. This grand playhouse serves as a front for the massive military installation that lurks just below the base floor.
The newly-formed Imperial Assault Troop (“Teikoku Kagekidan”) is granted two missions:
- To defeat the forces of the kouma, wherever they may stand.
- To restore the light of humanity’s hope through theater and song.
Before you ask: yes, Teikoku Kagekidan is a pun, both in English and Japanese.
Naval ensign Ichiro Ohgami is the latest recruit to the Teikoku Kagekidan, and is given orders to report to Ueno Park to meet his contact. There, he encounters a girl, named Sakura Shinguji, who explains that she is a member of the Teikoku Kagekidan, and leads him to the theater.
After a meeting with esteemed general and Manager of the TeiGeki Ikki Yoneda, Ohgami finds himself tasked with three objectives:
- Lead the Teikoku Kagekidan to victory
- Foster unity within the corps, whenever possible
- Work as a ticket clipper in the theater (no, really!)
With these directives in hand, Ohgami must bring out the best of the Teikoku Kagekidan, while leading them to victory in their deadliest missions yet, as the feared Hive of Darkness has risen after years of dormancy.
The Combat Revues
Three major “Assault Troop” forces have been represented across the franchise.
- Sakura Wars 1, 2, & 4: Teikoku Kagekidan (Japan – lit. “Imperial Assault Troop”)
- Sakura Wars 3 & 4: Paris Kagekidan (France – lit. “Paris Assault Troop”)
- Sakura Wars 5: So Long, My Love: New York Combat Revue (United States; Japanese name: New York Kagekidan, lit. “New York Assault Troop”)
The Imperial and Paris forces were headed up by Ichiro Ohgami, who eventually took over for Ikki Yoneda to lead the Teikoku Kagekidan in Japan. Sakura Wars: So Long My Love saw a new lead, Shinjiro Taiga, taking the role of commander in New York.
Major Gameplay Systems
Each chapter of a Sakura Wars game splits fairly cleanly into two disctinct segments:
- A visual novel-esque Adventure Mode
- A strategy-based Combat Mode
Adventure Mode sees the player navigating their environment du jour, whether it’s the theater, or even the city of New York in Sakura Wars V. Here, you can trigger conversations with characters, events, and basically grow your relationships with fellow members of your regiment.
Once you find an event, the game kicks into the Live Interactive Picture System (LIPS, for short), which is similar to your typical dating sim interface. You get the image of the person you’re talking to at the top, and the text at the bottom.
When it comes time to perform an action, be it answering a question, restoring power to the theater, or even getting dressed (no, really), a secondary window pops up. This includes your list of conversation choices, or required actions in the box. Meanwhile, a timer, presented as a steam gauge, steadily fills up around the perimeter of the box. Running out of time triggers either a fail-state (actions), or an “indecisive” dialogue (conversations).
This is a valid choice, sometimes, so it’s something worth keeping in mind!
In addition to the conversations, there is an element known as “Picture LIPS”, which sees the player examining a person, a place, or what have you. Highlighting specific elements causes the cursor to change shape, denoting whether you’re examining, conversing, or what have you.
Combat is where things get interesting. Koubu combat segments have always been a strategy-based affair.
In the first two games, battles were grid-based segments that weren’t too different from, say, Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. One side performs its actions, the other performs theirs… it’s pretty straightforward, overall, though performing specific actions – like having Ohgami save a comrade under attack – can alter relationship statuses.
In every mainline game afterwards (3, 4, So Long, My Love, and Atsuki Chishio Ni), the combat took a vastly different approach. The battles became fully 3D events, which ditched the grid. Instead, players are given an Action bar, which is used for moving, performing battlefield actions like attacks, specials, and what have you.
A modified variant of this system would later be used in another Overworks joint, Valkyria Chronicles.
Sakura Wars: New Promise
The five-minute promo introduces the major story elements, and offers an in-depth look at the game’s mechanics.
Unlike the rest of the major franchise entries, Sakura Wars: New Promise isn’t being developed by Red Entertainment and Overworks. Instead, Chinese developer Qì chéng Zhìzuò Zǔ is taking the reigns on the project. Likewise, a new character designer is being utilized instead of Kosuke Fujishima, leading to a generally different overall feel to the art.
Sakura Wars: New Promise places players into the shoes of an as-of-yet-unnamed member of the Chinese military. Much like previous entries in the franchise, they will be tasked with leading a theater troupe cum undercover military brigade named the Shànghǎi Huá jī tuán.
The Shànghǎi Huá jī tuán has six members in its ranks:
- Yu Linglong: A Shanghai native, who wishes to learn swordsmanship from the player character
- Rose Chevalier: The Sumire – she’s a glamorous, dignified French actress
- Mori Mori: A girl from Yunnan province who adores folk songs from the area
- Lilia Lodornia: A shy Russian girl
- Aoi Hinagiku: A Japanese girl who hails from Kyoto and loves to cook
- Mo Minglian: A girl from Beijing, who respects the protagonist mostly due to his noble lineage
Art for each of the characters was also revealed, which you can check out below.
We’ve also grabbed stills of the characters in their military uniforms:
Sakura Wars: New Promise will be set in a fictional version of Shanghai during the Taisho period. Much like the rest of the franchise, this will be a retro-steampunk world, with modern touches.
Like the mainline titles, Sakura Wars: New Promise‘s Adventure Mode will have players control a chibi version of the protagonist as they bop around a version of the Shanghai theater.
From here, he can trigger various events, or initiate conversations with other characters.
Some of these get, er… pretty risque.
In conversations, the classic LIPS system is back in full force. Instead of the “filling text box border”, though, the timer is presented as a stopwatch.
Moreover, reactions in the game now much more obvious than previous installments. In addition to the chime and character actions, a heart icon will flash onscreen to denote whether this was a good or bad choice.
As explained earlier in the article, Sakura Wars maintains a supernatural element, as this revolves around psychic-powered song girls who pilot robots to fight demons. That said, China has an explicit ban on media that promotes “cults and superstitions” within the nation.
As such, the initial promotional material does not touch upon kouma, wakiji, or other franchise mainstays. Instead, it shows combat off in a battle against four people who apparently stole a construction mech.
Combat is based heavily on the first two Sakura Wars games, rather than newer entries in the franchise. As such, battles are grid-based, with each side taking turns before the next acts.
Special moves are given prominence as screen-filling events, which do heavy damage.
The teaser material hints at numerous new characters, including:
- A woman from the military who, like Ayame Fujieda and Kaede Fujieda, serves as a leader in the command center
- Two women who appear to be analogous to the bridge bunnies – Basically our Yuri, Tsubaki, and Kasumi.
- A laid back male military member, who appears to be analogous to series mainstay Kayama
- A strait-laced doctor
- Three older government officials
- A sinister old man in a Chinese clothing
- A chef
Four guest characters from the rest of the franchise were confirmed as of press time:
- Ichiro Ohgami
- Sakura Shinguji
- Ri Kohran
- Erica Fontaine