Project Sakura Wars, known as Shin Sakura Taisen in Japan, is an opportunity. The series has been dormant for years and is being revived with a new developer (Sega CS2 R&D), a new character designer (Bleach’s Tite Kubo) and entirely new gameplay that abandons its strategic roots. It is a lot of change all at once. As a means of showing how what is old fuses with something new, the Shin Sakura Taisen demo does its best to try and introduce everything this installment attempts in a short amount of time.
The Shin Sakura Taisen demo begins with Seijuro Kamiyama’s arrival at Tokyo’s Imperial Combat Revue Flower Division theater. He’s been hired by Sumire Kanzaki, the former member of the troupe and its current commander. As the new captain, Seijuro’s first order of business is, well, to meet the other members of the group. He meets Sakura Amamiya, a heroine who is essentially filling the same role in the revival as Sakura Shinguji held in the original game and his childhood friend, before he even walks in the door. From there, he finds himself heading around the whole theater to find the other members.
While this does serve as a means of introducing all of the people you will interact with most in Shin Sakura Taisen, it also shows off the Live and Interactive Picture System (LIPS). Every past Sakura Wars game has some visual novel elements, where players get an opportunity to choose responses to people to influence relationships and earn endings. As Seijuro walks around the theater, he gets to meet Sumire’s assistant Kaoru, then talk with the performers/warriors like Hatsuho, Anastasia, Azami and Claris. In each conversation, timed dialogue prompts appear. Each answer nets an audio cue indicating how well received the response was and a shift in the conversation as a result.
Two sorts of LIPS responses are shown off in these early segments, and each one shows how the new 3D presentation allows for more exaggerated reactions. For example, Claris is so absorbed in reading a book that she doesn’t realize Seijuro and Sakura have entered the room. Once she has finished and their presence is registered, she freaks out and is so shocked that she begins speaking in German. The other sort of response forces a player to gauge how intense Seijuro’s reaction will be to a situation, rather than picking one choice out of three. When Seijuro is looking around the theater, he could stop by the dressing room. Sakura pops in and he hides behind a counter. You can determine if he tries to peek and watch what she is doing; how far you push the line could result in him getting caught. Being careful means you get to see Sakura psych herself up.
Once a person has met all of the main revue members, the Shin Sakura Taisen demo sends players into a brief example of its new battle system. Rather than strategic, it sends people through more active areas. Think of it as being similar to Omega Force’s Musou games, only more straightforward and with less tactical elements. The segment here has Seijuro and Azami working together as they fight through a Gouma puppet drone-infested area. The path is very linear, giving people opportunities to fight through groups and see how alternating heavy and light attacks can chain into combos to cut through opponents. While brief, it shows off small and large ground-based enemies and a few aerial opponents. (There is also a flying dragon that people aren’t able to cut down just yet.)
It also lets people see the two sorts of platforming elements introduced in the Shin Sakura Taisen battle segments. While speeding down paths in Spiricle Fighters, there will sometimes be highlighted areas on the ground or walls. Some white blocks appear ahead of gaps that must be jumped, while dashing toward a wall could allow a Spiricle to wall-run across a larger gap to another area. It’s an opportunity to see the different sorts of activity.
Shin Sakura Taisen is, in many ways, going to feel very different. The pace can feel quicker in fights, since people are dashing from one location to the next and button-mashing through hoards of opponents. The story segments get more animated, since when we’re building relationships, we’re looking at a larger picture and sometimes even gauging how much passion is infused into a response. Even the LIPS segments, while familiar, don’t feel like the ones from years ago. It is shocking, and people might need more time to adjust to something that is so very different from a series they may have known and loved.
Shin Sakura Taisen is available on the PlayStation 4. It will come to North America and Europe in 2020.