On November 20, far too many fans to count came together to share an experience that had long been forgotten. That night, after fourteen long years, fans received their first experience with Sakura Wars.

As the clock struck 9:00PM Eastern, a low, murmuring chatter arose on social media as gamers logged into the Japanese PSN store. Clicking through the market’s countless tiles all vying for attention, they zeroed in on one image that had been drilled into their minds for months.

One by one, they found what they had been desperately anticipating in the form of an icon bearing a shot of a brunette girl, clad in pink and white, her rose-colored ribbon complementing the steel of the automaton she stood upon.

A few presses of the cross button set the gears in motion as together, they waited and watched a download bar fill at an agonizingly slow pace. No matter how fast the internet connection may have been, it certainly wasn’t fast enough.

At this point, though, the wait was but a drop in the bucket; a microcosm of the generation that had already passed. And yet, it still felt like it would be another eternity before the goddamned download would finish.

Like Iris and Sakura eavesdropping outside of Yoneda’s office, folks sat and waited, eager to know what awaited within this world that remained closed for so long.

In an instant, though, this fourteen-year wait is over. A title screen faded in, along with the familiar brassy trills of series theme song Geki! Teikoku Kagekidan. It was no longer a dream, a fantasy, or a passing fancy.

Sakura Wars is back.

Like an old friend welcoming the player home, the demo opens with a pan-up of the great Imperial Theatre. Though sporting a few improvements since the last time, the grand structure still stands proudly over its post in Ginza while new series lead Seijuro Kamiyama strides toward its entrance. Following a brief introduction of leading lady Sakura Amamiya and series icon Sumire Kanzaki, the player is taken on a walk through familiar territory over the worn green carpets of the first-floor hallways and past the blue-tiled floors of the dining room, before being left to their own devices in the lobby of the grand Imperial Theatre.

The lobby, itself, can be likened to a living museum of sorts.The player is free to explore its confines while a nostalgic instrumental rendition of Geki! Teikoku-Kagekidan plays in the background. Strolling through the room, which maintains the same layout from Sakura Wars 4: Fall in Love, Maidens, keen-eyed fans will be quick to point out landmarks that brought the theater to life in the days of yore. The painting at the top of the center stairwell still hangs proudly, greeting guests as it did sixteen years prior.

A new couch sits at the far end of the room, next to a display of historical relics. A photo book from Sumire Kanzaki’s younger days and a bromide of the Paris and Imperial revues performing in concert both sit, happy to be discovered, but content with just being placed on-scene.

Closer to the dining room, the gift shop is nearly unchanged. Though spunky shopkeep Tsubaki no longer runs the counter, the hanging artwork, the carefully arranged merchandise, and prominent bromides feel right at home.
All the while, Sakura dances in place, seemingly giddy to see the player partake in the nostalgia.

Stepping into the main theater, the scene pans over hundreds of blue seats which had become a fixture and a landmark of themselves, along with the great azure curtain that hung, guarding the stage from prying eyes. The front seats bear white covers, as they had in the previous, thought-to-be final time, that we would lay eyes on the theater in 2002.

As one thing leads to another, the Imperial theater begins to reveal itself to the player. The sprawling hallways unfold to a layout that’s been drilled into the minds of long-time players, with each twist and turn, each side room, lovingly recreated in 3D.

Yuri and Kasumi’s office.

The second-floor salon.
The dressing room.

And so on.

To wander the halls of the Imperial Theater once more, and to marvel at the locations that danced in our memories for nearly two decades, feels almost surreal. It’s like visiting an old friend after an eternity and taking a tour of childhood stomping grounds. One would notice the little things that are different, but at the same time, remark at how much it’s remained the same after so long.

But, more than anything else, there’s this feeling that we’ve finally come home.

In 2007, the Sakura Wars franchise went dormant following the release of Dramatic Dungeon Sakura Taisen ~Kimi aru ga tame~: a dungeon-crawling spinoff that brought the stars of the previous five games together for one last hurrah.

After that, it was hard to deny a sense of finality. Michie Tomizawa, who plays Sumire Kanzaki, officially retired from the franchise in 2005 with the Sakura Taisen: Sumire OVA. By 2008, Sakura Wars had become a proverbial ghost, with even the famed Taishō Romandō & Sakura Cafe closing its doors after ten years in service to eager fans across the globe.

It’s been eleven years since that day, and nine since Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love made an appearance in North America and Europe. To be able to walk along the tiled floors of the theater’s dining area, to partake of the sights of the music room, the salon and the main stage, it all feels right.

The Project Sakura Wars demo can be finished within an hour, but it’s enough to know that the game is a true-blue revival of the classic. The change in gameplay from a strategy-RPG to an action-RPG is a change from what fans may remember, but it’s a welcome evolution. Much like when the series switched from grid-based battles to the ARMS system in Sakura Wars 3, it took the core DNA of what makes the series tick, and brought it to an all-new generation.

Beneath it all is a genuine reverence for the past: a respect and adoration for what the series was, and a firm vision for what it could be in this new era. It’s messy in all the right ways, but it just feels, well… comfortable.

In short, it’s Sakura Wars, waiting in the wings for the next act to begin on December 12. The Taisho era waits with open arms, eager to welcome guests, old and new alike.

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