You would expect this 2003 PlayStation 2 release of the first Sakura Wars to be a straight transfer of the PC version of the game (which is in itself a nigh-identical to the Dreamcast por- actually, we’d probably call that version a “remaster” these days): The game was already popular, the existing ports were already good, the game had never been released on a non-Sega console before – it’d more than likely sell well enough to justify the cost even if it did nothing more than exist, and they could probably throw together some expensive limited edition to squeeze a few more yen out of fans. Simple!
But no. Sakura Wars: Atsuki Chishio Ni (there is no official English subtitle this time, sorry) is in fact a total remake – and one that to this day remains a PlayStation 2 exclusive.
Play for a short while and you’ll more than likely be struck by how expensive this remake feels. Atsuki Chishio Ni is awash with new full screen FMV sequences, the in-game artwork has been redrawn with crisp high resolution images covering the screen from edge to edge (a quick button press will temporarily remove any dialogue box from view if you’d like to savour any particular scene). Every enemy encounter has been redone in 3D and now uses the fantastic battle system first seen in Sakura Wars 3 (you can read more on that in Sakura Wars Corner: Battle Part).
But it’s also much more than a pretty layer on top of old bones: Characters have more expressions at their disposal than they did the first time around, there’s additional event art inserted into places there was nothing before, areas of the theatre that simply didn’t exist until the game’s sequel are not only accessible but contain their own events too. LIPS sequences have been reimagined using the wider range of styles made available in later games, and this time around Ogami’s handed a pocket watch along with his uniform, bringing Sakura Wars 2‘s time-passing mechanic to the original game for the first and only time (along with newly recorded dialogue from Yoneda too).
There are more subtle alterations too: While the vast majority of dialogue has been lifted wholesale there have been a few small, sensible, changes along the way, with Iris’ speech losing some of its more grating childish flourishes (bringing her more in line with later releases) and Sakura’s first evening knock on Ogami’s door occurring at a more reasonable 8pm than the original’s midnight. “Super positive” reactions, again from Sakura Wars 2, are now possible. When wandering the theatre you can now bring up a set of icons that show you the type of event waiting in a particular room rather than leave you stumbling around empty locations in the hope of finding something to do (you still don’t know who is in there though).
And of course some things are simply the same: Iris still loses her precious teddy Jean-Paul at night, and you’ll still find them in the same spot she left him all those years ago. The scene where Sumire and Sakura go to slap each other still happens (this, a little jarringly, uses a high quality version of the original FMV rather than a made for PlayStation 2 animation), and Ogami still ends up getting slapped twice. Even so it’s far braver remake than you’d think it would be – than it had to be – completely throwing out some old systems and revamping others in a much-loved and not especially cheap to produce series. But why take my word for it? Let’s briefly compare a few key moments from Atsuki Chishio Ni’s first chapter (top) side-by side with the Saturn original (bottom) and see exactly what’s different.
Here’s the moment Ogami and Sakura meet for the first time. There is no longer any border surrounding the artwork and the dialogue box now sits on top of the screen rather than underneath it. The 3D sun icon to the right of the text is just a nifty visual detail letting you know what time of day it is (this changes to a moon during nighttime events). Hopefully you can see how although Atsuki Chishio Ni is echoing the original scene, right down to the placement of the lanterns, everything on the screen is a brand new image created specifically for this game.
As we are introduced to each member of the Flower Division we are now shown unique event art that pans up from their feet before resting on their faces rather than the generic scenes used in the original:
These scenes are extended over the original too – for example now when you meet Iris you can optionally compliment her on her ribbon in a new LIPS sequence (these now take place within the dialogue box rather than on top of the artwork, and Ogami’s portrait alters to reflect the tone of the response before you decide which option to go for) before the game rejoins its old self:
Which brings us to our first view of the theatre. The default view is now far more zoomed in – all the better to see those adorable little 3D models – and at this point in the game Ogami is correctly wearing his naval uniform as he hasn’t received his iconic ticket clipping outfit yet:
You now control Ogami directly rather than clicking around the theatre, and as you can see here the start of the Sumire event is slightly different – optional rather than automated. You now can see she’s waiting in the dining hall, and it’s your choice whether to walk up and speak to her within the time limit (indicated by the border around the screen), or pass through without saying anything. There is no penalty for ignoring her beyond missing out on the “Sumire wants you to fetch her a fork” scene (and the potential positive/negative trust points that come from it), and this is true of all the other optional scenes that follow too – it’s up to you whether you want to get involved or not, and if you don’t? No problem, carry on.
And here’s Ogami receiving his uniform (there is no direct equivalent to these screenshots in the Saturn game; there Ogami walks in wearing his naval uniform and walks out of the office in his ticket clipping gear!) – and that new pocket watch too. Functionally it’s identical to the clock first seen in Sakura Wars 2 and its inclusion helps to make everything feel just that little more alive, time passing in five minute segments as you wander through the theatre’s rooms and enabling you to do something as small and pleasant as meet someone at a particular time. The limited edition variant of the game included a functional prop replica of this new item – you can see it in the photo at the top of this page.
The next scene we’ll look at has actually been pilfered from Sakura Wars 2 and nothing like it was present in the original game at all but it’s a fun one, so nobody has got any business minding its inclusion (and we could speculate serves a definitive response to the imagined question “I wonder if they intend to remake the second game too?“). Here Ogami must get changed into his uniform before the time runs out, and includes all the same “traps” as it did in Sakura Wars’ sequel, such as not thinking to neatly fold up his clothes or hastily walking out the door before he’s tidied his hair.
And then we get back to the original Sakura Wars – and Ogami’s first ticket clipping experience! The dialogue in this part largely follows the original (exactly follows the original in the comparative images below), with a few new LIPS sequences thrown in for good measure. You can see read about those over on the dedicated LIPS page.
One significant change pops up just before you enter battle for the first time: Not only is the koubu power up sequence a fancy combination of 3D CG and 2D animation that breathes far more personality into the event than it ever had before but you also get to see the Wind Division skillfully operating all the equipment that helps the Flower Division get to where they need to go. This is without a doubt a change for the better, as although they themselves were always in on the secret the previous releases of Sakura Wars led you to believe for most of the first game that Tsubaki, Yuri, and Kasumi were little more than office ladies and merch stall minders. If you’d like to read more about the battle system you’ll need to head over here.
The entire game’s one of the best balanced remakes I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing: Always respectful of the source material, always aware of its strengths, always unafraid to leave things as they are; but it’s also well aware of its weaknesses too, and never so in awe of the past that it would rather not leave something alone when it could be improved instead. Newcomers get a polished if slightly separate experience from the rest of the series, old fans get some well judged new scenes, backported revamps of existing content, and the chance to transfer their PlayStation 2 save over to the console’s excellent port of Sakura Wars 3, and stubborn authenticity-chasers can rest easy knowing the “real” original Sakura Wars remains a Sega console (and PC) exclusive. Everybody wins.
🌸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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