The history of Sega’s consoles is one often written by their competitors. Right off the bat, Sega tried to follow in Nintendo’s footsteps, both in terms of creating a recognisable mascot, and in offering a varied games line-up. Becoming aware of a lack of a strong RPG franchise for the Sega Saturn, Sega partnered with game developer Red Entertainment (then Red Company) to create a series that would be a hit with RPG fans. It was a feat Red Entertainment had previously achieved with Galaxy Fräulein Yuna for the TurboGrafx-16 in 1992 and, more notably, Far East of Eden (天外魔境, Tengai Makyou), a series which in the early 90s rivalled the success of the well-known Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy franchises.
Sega, hoping Red Entertainment could repeat their success, contacted Far East of Eden’s creator Oji Hiroi in early 1994. Hiroi was initially reluctant to agree to a partnership, seeing as his games had until then been Sega’s competitors. However, eventually he pitched them a project he had previously abandoned, thinking it too ambitious in scope – Sakura Wars.
Sakura Wars combines a lot of what made Galaxy Fräulein Yuna and Far East of Eden so popular. Notably, Far East of Eden was the first RPG with animated cutscenes and voice acting, and Sakura Wars is packed full of them. Galaxy Fräulein Yuna on the other hand lends Sakura Wars a plot element in its girls-doing-mecha-combat. Sakura Wars was going to be no less than two games in one – a tactical RPG with combat directly influenced by Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series and a visual novel with dating sim elements. The story is set in an alternate Taisho-era Japan prior to the Second World War, where girls use magical powers to control mechs to uphold peace. To further aid the happiness of the public, the girls also act in the Imperial Combat Revue as a theatre troupe. The ‘Sakura’ in Sakura Wars stands both for the cherry blossom, the symbol of Japan, and for main protagonist Sakura Shinguji. Players never take control of Sakura or any of the other actresses, and instead play as navy ensign Ichiro Ogami.