Sakura Samurai Review

The katana holds a special place in all kinds of media. In film and videogames, the katana is pretty much unstoppable. It can cut through bullets, other people’s swords, tanks – no material is a match for the samurai sword.

But this isn’t actually how the katana works. In real life, the katana is a fragile blade. It can break if used too often, or incorrectly. And when used in the samurai era, katanas were quickly pulled from their scabbards in an attempt to end a fight as quickly as it began.

All this is to say that, for the most part, there are very few games that have created a realistic feeling of being a katana-wielding samurai of ancient Japan.

This is what I believed until I played Sakura Samurai, a game that emulates what being a samurai of Japan would be like. And for that reason, I found it to be an incredibly enjoyable game.

Sakura Samurai starts off with a scroll explaining that a samurai is destined to save Princess Cherry Blossom. That samurai is you. That’s also pretty much all you’re getting plot-wise. Sakura Samurai is all about combat.

Luckily, the combat in this game is superb. The core of the combat in Sakura Samurai is based on fighting as a samurai would. This means that if you button-mash, you’re going to get your butt handed to you. You have to be patient, timing your button presses to evade attacks, then slashing enemies, before quickly retreating. Your katana is also fragile. If you block, or have your weapon collide with the enemy’s, it will weaken, requiring the use of whetstones to keep the blade at full strength.

This style of combat honestly took some getting used to, in that I’ve been accustomed to hacking and slashing my way through action games. Sakura Samurai forced me to be cautious, figure out my enemies’ tells, and then react quickly enough to strike.

After mastering the first area, I figured that I had experienced everything the game had to offer in terms of combat: dodge, then attack. Simple as that. But two aspects taught me otherwise. First, the game’s difficulty ramps up very quickly. Enemies get faster and hit harder, and bosses become tough as nails. And secondly, there’s a great amount of enemy variation, forcing you to switch up your tactics. Fighting a samurai is different from fighting an archer, who’s different from fighting a spearman. This helped to keep the combat-heavy game from getting stale.

When you aren’t out cutting enemies, you can go to towns scattered about the world map. There, you have the option of strengthening your sword at the blacksmith, buying items from a nearby vendor, saving your game and resting at an inn, or playing mini-games to unlock bonuses. The towns are a nice distraction after a tense couple of combat stages, and I found myself becoming charmed by the exuberant personalities that wander about the villages.
The game is relatively short once you get the hang of it, as 3DS eshop games tend to be. But there are extra modes that require you to defeat a multitude of enemies in a row, extending the playtime a bit.

Sakura Samurai surprised me. I got the game with zero expectations, and came away pleased. The game’s bright, cel-shaded graphics hide a challenging game that emulates the feeling of being a samurai in ancient Japan. Though short, and at some times, harder than I’d like it to be, it was well worth the time I spent playing it.

Pixels or Death gives Sakura Samurai four stars out of five.