Winged Cloud’s latest addition to the Sakura series takes a slightly different turn in Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1. This time, in addition to being a series in itself, the game explores yuri options, a wider world of fantasy and the healing properties of chocolate baths. But even with slight changes, this entry in the series is still a classic Winged Cloud visual novel.
Raelin is a knight-in-training with a peculiar gift: she can focus her mind to see far-off lands and people. It’s the combination of farseeing and her penchant for mischief that lands Raelin in a boring guard job overseeing the council sessions, but things change when she meets the mysterious Empress Ardena. Their meeting and the foretold falling of a star spurs Raelin to embark on a journey to the dangerous wastelands outside the empire, to search for the star and maybe even her lost homeland. To make sure she returns alive, she’s accompanied by her strict instructor and her noble book-loving friend.
If you’ve played or even seen Sakura Spirit or Sakura Angels, Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1 continues the Winged Cloud philosophy of pushing Steam’s adult restrictions. There is absolutely nothing to be disappointed about if you enjoyed the previous games’ content; there’s plenty of lewd solo shots, slime, sudden stripping and walking in on half-naked girls. The main character takes a new approach to scenarios by being fully aware of boobs, and it’s a relief to finally see a character be active, though the game still sticks to mostly single-character graphics, leaving her out of being too involved.
The unfortunate thing with Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1 is that it still feels like a game where the script was written to string together a bunch of set images. Things that were an issue in both Sakura Spirit and Sakura Angels – the scenes out of nowhere, the quick succession of images that feel shoved in, the text not agreeing with the picture, the poor range of expressions – are still evident here, perhaps even more so. Sprites aren’t expressive enough to match many scenes, scenes with event graphics are often given little text and pass quickly, and the reasons given for inconsistencies are a bit much. There’s a level of self-awareness missing here that makes the quality hard to ignore.
What saves the game somewhat (if not the boobs and bathing) is its directing: the act of choosing sprites, coding movement and deciding/implementing all the tiny things that give visual novels motion or impact. The frequent sprite movement makes up for the general lack of range. Sound effects give some actions impact. The soundtrack is lovely, if not misused at many points. But when it gets down to it, while I can compliment Sakura Fantasy trying harder with nice details, it still largely doesn’t connect. Characters move but often don’t have to flit about the same spot with every line, expressions sometimes don’t fit what characters are saying, and the music’s tone sometimes clashes with what’s going on. It’s a different kind of mess, at least.
Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1 advances the series technically but the rest of its execution still lags behind. And maybe that’s not important to everyone, but when almost-porn is good it’s very good, and when it’s mediocre it’s forgettable. To see the series change with direction, music and sound effects is great; there’s a very noticeable improvement in each game. But the quality of the writing varies from lazy to unfocused to okay. With a bit more effort or planning, a Sakura series game could have the best of both sexy scenes and scenario. Currently though, it’s insulting that simply dumping skimpy event graphics and some kind of text in front of readers could be considered good enough.
Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1 delivers everything you’d want and expect in a Sakura series visual novel. While more directing means you’re not looking at something closer to a picture book, a lot of the effort into details makes things a bit weird. The script once again exchanges clarity for a succession of skimpy images, but if you’ve already been won over, you don’t need to be sold on it. If you’re considering it, there’s already two games just like this; this one is just the girls-only version.
Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1 is available for Windows, Mac and Linux on Steam for £6.99 / $9.99.
- Visual Novel Spotlight: Corpse Party: Blood Drive - November 3, 2015
- Visual Novel Spotlight: A Kiss For The Petals – Remembering How We Met (PC) - September 29, 2015
- Visual Novel Spotlight: Sakura Swim Club - September 15, 2015