‘Kami’ help us, indeed
The visual novel genre is multifaceted. It runs the gamut from awe-inspiring and horrifying (à la personal favorite Saya no Uta) to controversial (such as the excellent Kana: Little Sister). Others still are simple vehicles for debauchery and sexual desires involving women whose cups runneth over and devilishly handsome men. And that’s awesome.
Those types of games are fun, perverse thrill rides that offer colorful characters, familiar tropes, and a waifu or husbando for everyone. I’ve completed dozens in my time, and I’m always on the lookout for great ones, whether they’re fluffy romantic otome titles or hardcore guro sleazefests. But, like any other genre, they can be hit or miss.
Sakura Spirit (PC)
Developer: Winged Cloud
Publisher: Sekai Project
Released: July 9, 2014
Sakura Spirit, one of Sekai Project’s latest Steam releases, showcases developer Winged Cloud’s attempt at creating the quintessential adult visual novel, and while it delivers in the visual department, the only things that can be considered “adult” in every sense of the word are the sexual overtones. And with dialogue and characters this juvenile, that’s pushing it.
Players take up the mantle of Gushiken Takahiro, aspiring judo star, as he cavorts with a sizeable harem of fox girls and other human girls with large breasts and immediately identifiable anime tropes for personalities. Takahiro passes out one day at a nearby shrine before one of his biggest judo matches, and when he wakes up he finds himself in Feudal-era Japan, where the girls wear plaid, belted mini skirts and corsets. Oh, and there’s a panty raid going on.
In the midst of all of this craziness, Takahiro finds himself arrested in this new world and accused of assisting criminals. Lost within a bizarre landscape rife with bouncing bosoms and buxom blondes, Takahiro has to find his way home while relaxing in the lap of carnal luxury.
It all sounds like par for the course, doesn’t it? A little InuYasha-esque, perhaps? You’re probably wondering where things go wrong. Because on paper, it sounds like a formula for the perfect visual novel. It’s got at the very least a rudimentary plot, competent anime illustrations, and even decent production values despite the fact that it’s devoid of voice acting. It’s an adult visual novel, and it’s even billed as such on Steam, so it makes sense that there should be talks of panty raids, women strutting around with oiled-up breasts and thigh highs, and gorgeous fox girls. It can revel in these things, because it’s quite obvious going into it what events will transpire.
And yet, despite all of this, it’s quite possibly one of the most pitiful attempts at being “sexy” I’ve ever seen. There’s genuinely titillating, à la Bible Black, Kara no Shoujo, or even DiviDead, and then there is this: horny teens trying to figure out what they think is sexy and what they like to hear from women, like the word “boobs” instead of “tits” or thinking panties are the ultimate sexual item. Give me a break. That’s so vanilla for a game that flaunts fox girls. Sakura Spirit treats knowing participants looking for some dirty fun like children who are, for some unknown reason, consumed by Japanese culture, honorifics, and terms that float around the anime otaku community.
Aside from several instances of spelling and grammatical errors, the dialogue and narration read as though they were drafted up by a 12-year-old who’s just delved into the archives of Fanfiction.net while learning beginner’s Japanese. Random insertions of honorifics abound, alongside words like “sideboob,” “rilly” for “really,” and other childish banter.
The player is assaulted by all of this within the first half hour, and for a game that barely breaks two hours, that’s quite an issue. This is a visual novel, and once you ruin the text, the dialogue, and the narrative, you’ve essentially broken the game beyond repair — especially given the fact that this is one where there simply are no branching character paths save for one boring choice near the end.
Even as the game begins to showcase its several sexy CG illustrations of the female characters (including slime girls, à la Monster Girl Quest), it falters every single step of the way, resorting to tired lines about how certain characters “taste a lot better when they’re wet.” If a line wouldn’t stand up in porn, why should it be acceptable or even sexy in softcore hentai? There are plenty of visual stimuli, but resorting to phrases teenagers might use when they’re about to get it on or downright grating text riddled with errors on several occasions isn’t going to get anyone’s motor running.
It’s not that the game doesn’t try hard to be sexy. It tries impossibly hard, and I’ll admit that some of the scenes could be arousing if they were indeed devoid of some of the lines attached to them. It’s just so hard to appreciate the shapely form of a fox girl’s derriere when you’re bombarded with lines that could have been ripped straight out of a teenager’s copycat Fifty Shades of Grey romance novel.
In fact, judging by some of the screenshots presented here and the snippets of dialogue I’ve alluded to, one might think it’s an extended parody of visual novels, and the writing is so bad it could be a believable work as a joke. I’m inclined to wonder if the writers were culled from various fanfiction forums who actually call their friends and family their “tomodachi” or say “itadakimasu!” when sitting down to eat — having never lived in Japan or been a part of Japanese culture.
Of course, this isn’t the first disastrous visual novel in the history of the genre. No, there are several other games that completely drop the ball when it comes to both adult content and gameplay, and Sakura Spirit certainly won’t be the last. But for this game to be so readily available, so abundantly popular on Steam, appearing to newcomers to visual novels as a viable option that will entertain and delight, it’s an absolute travesty.
It’s pretty to look at, but utterly devoid of any redeeming value. Save yourself the $10 and just Google around for some hentai. Then write some text like “B-baka! I-it’s not like I wanted you to look at my panties, anyway!” as captions. Voila! You’ve created a better visual novel than Sakura Spirit. Congratulations.