Sakura Wars Creator Oji Hiroi Discusses the Franchise’s Influence on Japanese Culture
Oji Hiroi admires the success of 2.5D franchises inspired by Sakura Wars, such as Love Live and Touken Ranbu, but believes their popularity will rescind soon.
This week’s Famitsu Magazine, the May 16, 2019 issue, had an over forty pages feature on the game history of Heisei era. Heisei era began in 1989, and Japan will enter a new era, Reiwa, once Emperor Akihito abdicates on April 31, 2019.
I wouldn’t be able to summarize the massive amount of information found in the feature in such a short amount of time, but many elements found within are worth pointing out. One of these is an interview with Oji Hiroi, the creator of Sakura Wars and Tengai Makyo, among other games.
In the interview, Oji Hiroi first reminiscences on the development of the first Tengai Makyo game, released in 1989 on PC Engine, and the hurdles the development team went through. Most of the game’s team, which later formed Red Entertainment, was developing on a CD format for the first time. Oji Hiroi speaks about how the CD-Rom format allowed them to include high-quality music and voiceovers, something unusual at the time. Furthermore, he notes that Tengai Makyo‘s success can also be attributed to the fact that Mashin Eiyuuden Wataru, a mecha anime co-created by him, the late Shuji Iuchi, and Sunrise, was very popular at the time. Ultimately, thanks to their experience with Tengai Makyo, Oji Hiroi and Red Entertainment later developed Sakura Wars on Sega Saturn.
In the second part of the interview, Oji Hiroi speaks about the Sakura Wars franchise as a whole and its influence as one of the first true “multimedia” franchises. He explains that Sakura Wars greatly contributed to shaping a concept now known as “2.5D”. This basically designates anime and game franchises which hold activities where seiyuu, Japanese voice actresses and actors, act their characters. Oji Hiroi mentions that after the very first Sakura Wars musical performance with the game’s seiyuu, Red Entertainment actually received criticism. Many believed that activities which push the seiyuu forward shouldn’t be linked to the game itself. Oji Hiroi notes that this mentality changed nowadays, and pretty much every franchise has some kind of 2.5D activity linked to it. Game franchises such as NieR, Danganronpa, Devil May Cry or Persona all have musicals or stage plays held in Japan. Franchises solely based around the 2.5D concept like the Love Live idol franchise are extremely popular as well.
However, Oji Hiroi argues that the popularity of 2.5D based-franchises will soon decline because it became too mainstream. He believes that by becoming too popular, the concept of 2.5D lost its appeal as a “counter-culture”. 2.5D franchises, even those who have completely different main audience targets, such as Love Live and Touken Ranbu for example, still compete with each other anyway because there are no dedicated 2.5D venues. To make things worse, they constantly compete with more traditional stage arts like Kabuki or the Takarazuka Revue. Oji Hiroi believes that all the seiyuu involved in the 2.5D industry struggled to rightfully reach the height they’re currently at, occupying the biggest venues of Japan, and he hopes they’ll manage to survive this upcoming crisis.
The next Sakura Wars game, New Sakura Wars, got its first trailer revealed at Sega Fes 2019. Comments from the game’s cast were recently published. An alternative version of the trailer was also published by mistake. The game is scheduled to release on PS4 in Winter 2020 in Japan. The game is temporarily named Project Sakura Wars in the west and will launch in Spring 2020.