Released in 1997 – the same year as Sakura Wars Hanagumi Tsushin and a year before Sakura Wars 2 – Sakura Wars Steam Radio Show is again billed as “Multimedia Soft” and a “Digital Fan Disc” rather than a game, although this time around there’s been a far greater effort to make the player feel included, instead of sold to, for the same ¥4800 price.
There are two discs in the box, both rather sweetly designed to look like LPs, and two manuals to go with them. This is because rather than being two halves of one whole the CDs cover almost entirely separate content; the first the eponymous Steam Radio Show itself and the second containing a selection of clips and photographs that we’ll talk about afterwards.
The Radio Show disc contains all the playable content, although on a fresh boot almost all of it’s initially unselectable as players need to complete short “DJ” stories (one for each Flower Division member) to unlock anything. The basic premise is that whoever you pick has been asked to perform a short Q&A segment on the local radio station and they’re a little nervous about it for a personality-appropriate reason. Ogami, via a LIPS dialogue box, hopefully puts them at ease before engaging in one of a random choice of two character themed minigames (out of – as you’ve probably already guessed – six in total), and if he/you wins the minigame (and only if he/you wins the minigame) the story continues on to the radio station itself, the Flower Division member you chose at the beginning answering a few questions about themselves (in character – this isn’t an interview with the actors) with a break for a clip of their theme song set to a newly-made montage of event images from the game, strangely including an animated sprite – like the one of Kanna shown here – of the character dancing in the dialogue portrait box, but no song lyrics. These questions offer a sweet glimpse of the more ordinary side of their lives, just a chance to sit and listen to them talk, often with amusing results. Kanna for example gets asked about her height, Sakura gets a marriage proposal, and Maria gets asked about an awkward rumour that she was heard calling the theatre’s ticket clipper of all people “Captain”.
If you can clear the minigames these short stories are really quite lovely, although for some more than others it’s very much an if: Kohran’s for example has you building a koubu using different parts that pass by on a factory line and must be picked up by an incredibly fickle crane, and success in Iris’ “Find Jean-Paul” task depends less one your ability to follow the wardrobe he’s hiding in and more on whether or not the game decides to do something as mean as randomly hide the wardrobe at the back and then pass other identical ones back and forth over it. It’s still more fun to spend time with than Hanagumi Tsushin and it’s an honest attempt to “gameify” the experience (no doubt on a tight budget and a short timescale), but locking the vast majority of a fan disc’s content away behind these things wasn’t the best idea.
Still, at the time the effort would have surely felt like it was worth the reward, as clearing all six DJ stories progresses the game onto the “Feeling Couple” segment, Ogami speaking to every member of the Flower Division in turn before going out on a date with the person he’s deemed most compatible with (at one of three locations of your choice, if Kanna’s event’s anything to go by), complete with a few more LIPS options along the way and a few unique pieces of artwork to go with them. And if that’s not enough this ending then segues into a teaser for Sakura Wars 2, showing off Orihime and Reni simply as mysterious new members in their casual clothes and offering a few stills of the redesigned koubu before looping back around to the Steam Radio Show title screen, this time with everything you’ve just seen unlocked.
In contrast the second disc makes you work for nothing, it’s selection of cast interviews (the voice actors behind the characters this time), photographs of available merchandise – posters, keyrings, toys, figures – and so on never more than a click or two away. The real star of the show are the segments taken from the live action “Sakura Taisen Kayou Show“, a mixture of stills and (highly edited) video clips that let you experience a little taste of the stage-based fun for yourself. These clips seem to run at a slightly higher quality than standard Saturn FMV, to the point where I couldn’t actually get any footage of them using an emulator because it kept bringing up a silent black screen instead. I did however take the time to pop the disc in a real Japanese Saturn to check them out and although the frame rate’s what you’d politely call “present” it’s not bad enough to spoil the magic, and at the time it would’ve been a convenient way of watching your favourite characters do their thing. In fact even today the many many many DVD and CD sets sold off the back of these shows (and there are so many shows…) aren’t especially cheap, and certainly not as cheap as this set is, even as an import Saturn game.
🌸Sakura Wars 1 and 2
🌸Fan Discs and related frippery
Sakura Wars Hanagumi Tsushin (Saturn)
Sakura Wars Steam Radio Show (Saturn)
Teigeki Graph in Sakura Wars (Saturn)
Sakura Wars Denmaku Club 1 & 2 (Windows)
Ogami Ichiro Funtouki (Dreamcast)
Sakura Wars Online (Dreamcast)
Sakura Wars Kinematron Hanagumi Mail (Dreamcast)
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