A Dreamcast “Dramatic Community” release with “Online” in its title sounds about as useful in 2022 as a themed email program that will only show its personalised messages to recipients viewing them through their own copy of the same disc, but Sakura Wars Online (the version shown here is the “Teito Edition”, and is fully cross-compatible with the Sakura Wars 3/Paris themed version that was also available at the same time) has two handy tricks up its sleeve: A pretty straightforward offline mode, as well as an online mode that isn’t in any rush to check that you’re actually connected to the internet.
We’ll be sensible and start with a look at Sakura Wars Offline.
Here you pick a member of the Japanese Flower Division to speak on your behalf during the match (this is in addition to your customisable 3D avatar – I’ll talk about those later on), choose which one of six game types you’re going to play (the game selection’s the same whether you’re playing offline or over dialup), and then get on with the game with the CPU filling in all the spare slots – and more than likely one of them will hail from the Parisian side of Sakura Wars-ing, perhaps as a sneaky reminder that there’s still another version out there for you to buy. The games available to play are: Hanafuda, Pair Hanafuda, Poker, Mahjong (something of a nemesis of mine), and Daifugo. For a game whose biggest selling points are online play and being Sakura Wars-y it’s a little odd to see how brand-free much of the equipment you use is; bar generic portrait art found on the Jack/Queen/King/Ace playing cards (putting them on a par with a Sakura Wars 2 minigame) everything else could be from anywhere, which can only feel a little disappointing when Teigeki Graph‘s unlockable bonus hanafuda game was filled with unique card art.
Completing an offline game takes you back to the character select screen, allowing you to pick another Flower Division member to spout a few phrases on your behalf in another (or the same) game of your choice and… that’s it.
Oddly enough the online mode feels more fully featured, even without an extra length of data carrying cable dangling from your Dreamcast. The main draw here is the social side of things, being able to sit and (text) chat with other users in your (or if online, their) personal 3D room and perform Animal Crossing-like emotes at them using your own personalised avatar. The sheer quantity of unlockable customisation options (you can unlock new items even playing offline, and regardless of whether you win or lose) for your virtual self are nothing short of staggering: In total there are over a hundred face shapes to choose from, most of which are (deliberately) comically awful – extreme triangle chins and jaws that seem to go on forever. You can pair any of these with the skin tone of your choice, including unnatural colours if you want to. Your avatar can sit your funny face on top of almost thirty different outfits including recognisable character costumes and Ogami’s ticket clipping outfit, although at the beginning you’re restricted to a few kimonos, jackets, and a dress – however you can change the colours of these to suit your tastes too. And if Sakura Wars Online had stopped there, it would have been more than enough for the little model designed to sit next to your chosen Flower Division’s member’s portrait while playing card games and chatting about it afterwards.
It doesn’t even come close to stopping there.
There are almost one hundred and fifty accessories to choose from, covering everything from sun hats to the Les Chattes Noires logo to unicorn horns. Sixty different kinds of glasses, including snorkle masks. Fifty facial decorations – blushing cheeks and hair curls, things like that. More than fifty beards and moustaches (brilliantly all of these can be worn by men or women). Around fifty types of ears, over ninety noses, exactly one hundred and one mouths, including an animated 3D bird beak. Are we done yet? Heck no. You have more than seventy eyebrow styles to pick from, in excess of one hundred and fifty kinds of eyeball – and three different positions (close/mid/spread) to place them. There are one hundred and nine hairstyles, and one hundred and six completely separate fringes to go with them, with the colours of both parts and everything else entirely up to you.
Oh and you can even decorate your room too, adding posters to the walls or changing the flooring. This wealth of options is enough to put a lot of MMOs to shame, even modern ones blessed with a budget that far exceeds anything this title had to work with. I didn’t even mention your room’s little falling-block minigame either, the one where you swap tiny versions of the Teito and Paris cast around to match the pattern at the bottom. Even the packaging all of this comes in – the standard case, not the limited edition – goes above and beyond what’s expected of it, the included sticker sheet allowing you to easily mark which of your Dreamcast keyboard keys you need to press to create a thinking text bubble or write in pink, the fold-out reference card lists every action possible, and there are wholly separate manuals for the communication/usage side of things and the rules of all six table games as well. There’s even a Sakura Wars 4 preview disc in the back just in case you needed something else to do. There really is nothing else they reasonably could have put in here to improve the experience…
Apart from the time machine needed to play all of this as intended.
Still, weren’t truly online games the one thing we wanted the Dreamcast to have at the time? The one thing that set it apart? The one thing that proved it was the future of gaming? It’s true that Sakura Wars Online has little to offer in this day and age, but then again it was never made for us in the first place.
🌸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)
[I know I say this a lot but now more than ever this is true: This Sakura Wars Corner would not exist in any shape or form without the support I receive from the kind people who have donated/subscribed to my Ko-fi. Thank you everyone!]