These games with their soft pinks, catchy tunes, and consciously artificial setting of one nice new guy in charge of a bunch of single young women all conveniently living and working under the same roof can only mean one thing – one nice new guy is going to get himself a date! Sakura Wars disagrees. These titles are, in their own words, “Dramatic Adventures” – and for once the often excitable marketing copy’s pretty much spot on.
But wait! There are dates in Sakura Wars! There are times when characters will explicitly say they’re going on a date with Ogami, and in some cases whether he wants to or not! There are even mandatory dates! How can anyone seriously say these games don’t have dating?!
Well… it’s more that “dating” in Sakura Wars can mean many things, from being dragged to an informal meal out with a work colleague (Sakura Wars 2) to indulging Iris’ birthday wish (Sakura Wars) to a concerted assault on the local clothing shops followed by an awkward hug (Sakura Wars 2, Sumire’s ending). The tone is always more “That was a nice day out” than “And now we are forever lovers“, the fleeting nature of these moments underscored not only by the short length of these scenes – the ending FMVs, where Ogami and his chosen are at their most openly affectionate, last a minute at the most in a pair of games that comfortably take over twenty hours each to beat (once) – but by the Flower Division’s captain himself: His duty as an officer means he’s someone who can and is reassigned wherever he’s needed whenever it’s deemed necessary (see: His return from naval duty at the beginning of Sakura Wars 2, or all of the Paris-based Sakura Wars 3) – there’s a built in and inescapable understanding that whatever affection you build up here won’t last – at least not in a romantic way.
But isn’t that the worst of all worlds? Dating fans trying to play Sakura Wars in the most loved-up fashion possible still won’t get any proper dating, no breathless confessions under starry skies or flashforwards to blossom-strewn weddings (no rating testing NSFW-ish images either), and everyone else has to endure a bunch of go-nowhere not-romance shoved into stories where cool people take on the forces of darkness in big stompy steam-powered mechs?
The key to understanding Sakura Wars on this front is realising that it chooses to define its single relationship stat as trust rather than love. Both games are structured in a way that constantly emphasises you’re not there to sample Sakura Wars’ selection of young ladies and then chase after your personal preference for the rest of the game but to take your place as one part of a happy, functional, team. The first game doesn’t even let you do anything vaguely date-like until chapter eight (of ten), and even then it’s a New Year’s Day trip out that’s swiftly cut short by not only everyone else comically spying on your antics but the unexpected return of Aoi Satan and his all-new gang of henchmen.
Even if you want to “No, but” this and try to force Ogami to ignore anything other than the chosen object of your affections Sakura Wars will still shepherd you into a constant stream of events with the whole cast that simply aren’t written with any romantic payoff in mind, not even if the other person’s a pretty single woman in a fancy dress in need of a few kind words and a hug. The Flower Division are always portrayed as people who cherish full and rounded relationships with their captain as a friend and work colleague above all else – they want a reliable friend more than anything else, not a bunch of flowers and a blushing confession (and may even reject such advances if the current context/their personality deems it inappropriate). Maria for example expects Ogami to show a certain amount of formality and level-headedness, and Kanna will be pleased if you spar with her and don’t come out the other side of it a bruised and broken husk of a human being – not that it wouldn’t be nice if their captain liked them liked them, but they aren’t incomplete or stuck in a hollow acting/training holding pattern without his affection to spur them on. Sakura Wars 2 really hammers this point home on Ogami’s return to the theatre, greeted as he is not by fawning friends keen to show how much they missed him but Iris listing off where everyone’s gone: Sumire’s returned to her family. Kohran’s busy inventing elsewhere. Maria’s gone to New York. Kanna’s training in Okinawa. None of them needed Ogami’s permission to leave and they didn’t ask for it either. You are shown over and over again that although Ogami may be special – as a military officer, as the leader of this group of women, as your in-game avatar – he isn’t the center of anyone’s universe but his own, and the Flower Division as well as those around them will have private conversations on the phone they aren’t required to discuss with him, their own squabbles, histories, and feelings for each other that exist without his influence.
The cast may enjoy spending time with Ogami if they get the chance but you’re never left in any doubt that they’d be perfectly fine whether they’re singing on the stage, perfecting their specialist skills, or fighting off demonic kouma if he’s not there to be blushed at, and this is why getting to spend some time in their presence as the focus of their attention – as the focus of their attention, not as their potential boyfriend – always feels so dynamic and special, even when the moment is fleeting, inconsequential, or lacks the lasting amorous overtones you may feel you deserve. Sakura Wars isn’t about you or how you (want to) feel – it’s about them.
🌸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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