Upon playing Sakura Taisen 2 last year, I have become a big fan of one of Sega's finest series. Thus I was eagerly looking forward to playing the fourth installment of Sakura Taisen, which was released in March. When it became obvious that the game shipped on only one disc, I wondered whether Overworks had managed to develop a new, enhanced compression technology or if the game really would be that short. Sadly, the latter turned out to be true.
After his stint in Paris, everyone's favorite naval officer, Ichirou Oogami, has returned home to Tokyo. However, this time he does not only have the choice between one of the eight Tokyo girls, but has his hands full with a total of 13 girls around him, as the Paris girls have followed him to Tokyo. As usual in a video game, someone has something against you enjoying the happy life of a playboy. In Sakura Taisen this traditionally means fighting a ghost from the past who is haunting and seeking to destroy Teitou (Imperial Tokyo anno 1926). For most of the game's battle portion you will be fighting against evil mechs and yellow smoke, which causes all steam-powered machinery to go into beserk mode wherever it appears. Since the Teitou Kagekidan's Koubu mechs (the good guys) also fall into that category... you get the idea. Eventually the guy who is responsible for all those raging steam machines comes out of the depths of Japanese history, and while the girls will only perform one modern play, "aa, mujou" (which is the Japanese translation of "Les Miserables") this time, their opponent prefers the ancient Japanese Nou theater.
Sakura Taisen 4's presentation is as great as ever; the lively score, which was again composed by Kohei Tanaka, and the new Dreamcast powered visuals manage to impress. Surprisingly, the Tokyo girls' faces received a solid visual makeover as well. The five girls from Paris look pretty much unchanged, though.
The game almost entirely takes place in the theather building in Ginza. When you are not in the middle of an event, you are allowed to walk around freely in the building until the next one occurs. You can and should use this time to court your girl of choice, visiting her in her room and trying to win her over by replying to her as nicely as you can or want.
Players who haven't played the third game yet will have to get used to the new, revamped battle system. This shouldn't be much of a problem, though, as battles are still turned-based and, even without any knowledge of kanji or kana, easy to grasp. The interesting idea of the Oogami kagekidan feature (letting the player decide which characters will join him or her in battle) sadly hasn't been implemented very well, as you can only make us of it once, before the final battle.
Despite all those (minor) tweaks, two of the series' greatest trademarks have thankfully been left unchanged: the charming wit, the playing with words, which again and again will manage to make to you smile or even laugh. And the voice acting is still top-notch and beyond any criticism.
Overall, Sakura Taisen 4 - Koiseyo otome is another outstanding piece of software from Overworks, which sadly suffers from two major flaws: As mentioned in the beginning, the game ships on one disc (for reference, ST2 and ST3 each spanned three discs) and thus, you will see the credits after a mere nine hours of play time. In combination with a cast of 13 characters and an enemy, who reveals his motif and ambition only before the final battle, the game suffers greatly from this shortness. Nonetheless, it is still Sakura Taisen, and it plays and feels as charmingly as ever, making the fourth game in the series truly recommendable.
Last but not least, the most interesting question: Was the "grande finale" as Sega has constantly dubbed the game indeed the last in a great series? After the end of the Dreamcast, the series' new home will be Sony's PlayStation 2. Whether or not PS2 owners will see a brand new ST game or remakes of the first four installments remains to be seen. Luckily, for all Sakura Taisen fans with Sakura Taisen 4 the developers haven't shut the door for a new installment story-wise.