Sakura Spirit, the short adult-oriented visual novel from Winged Cloud, was the game to signal the coming of what some may call the Steam Pornocalypse. For this game and its shiny assets caused a stir about just how or why visual novels were selling on Steam. And with the short game starting a whole series of similar titles, you have to wonder what it’s all about.
Sakura Spirit features the misadventures of Takahiro, a 17-year-old boy with dreams of being a big judo star. Before his upcoming match, he stops by a local shrine to get all the good luck he can. But things don’t go as planned, and Takahiro is sent to another world where restless spirits, fox girls and tsundere warriors abound. With everyone on his case willing to bare all, Takahiro has to figure out how to get home to see his dream fulfilled. Sakura Angels on the other hand follows Kenta, a high school student who is followed around by two ‘guardian angels’ on a mission to protect him from strange shadowy creatures that are out to get him.
Sakura Spirit and Sakura Angels are two fairly different games, but their core aspects and direction are almost the same. The core of either game revolves around a fairly simple story, where the protagonist and main characters must take on a big problem that turns out to have a fairly straightforward solution. The Sakura series’ main aim is to throw as much comedy and sexual overtones in a visual novel as possible, with more than a few event graphics shown every so often to support both of these aspects.
With Sakura Spirit, the way this comes across makes it feel like the entire game was made to slap some lazy text over racy images. The cast of few-too-many characters fight for the spotlight as shiny event graphics are pushed in anywhere they fit, while the more text-heavy parts of the game feel static, sprites hardly given any attention in movement or range. But where Sakura Spirit fails, Sakura Angels mostly improves. Its focus is tighter, the sexy moments a bit more on-point, and its direction given a bit more character. Sprites get two poses that see frequent use, and little animations in the background give everything a nice touch. The writing also picks up greatly, with a bit more punch given to the protagonist, though it still relies on plot conveniences and well-worn personality types.
If you’re a stickler for the technical, neither game has much to complain about. The visuals are quality, if a bit weird about anatomy, and the music tracks are plentiful and mostly fitting. Sakura Angels brings with it more choices, some nice transitions and more gradual music track changes. Sakura Spirit has slightly more special event graphics and that’s about it. Both are also about the same length, but Sakura Angels inches ahead with small improvements and a simpler story.
Of course, regardless of how either game fares, you can’t look at the Sakura series without acknowledging the weird atmosphere around it. If you’ve heard about the series at all before this, it’s likely because it’s Basically Porn on Steam and consistently tops sales in the visual novel category, along with HuniePop and NEKOPARA. But while it’s easy to worry that the Steam Pornocalypse is upon us and will wipe out any visual novel without a hint of boob, it’s important to remember that it’s not a zero-sum game here. The Sakura series existing and being popular isn’t stealing audiences or developers away from different games. The series won’t take away the Grisarias, the Cho Dengeki Strykers, the Faults, or the World End Economicas and likely won’t stop developers from making or releasing the range of games they love. Basically, it’s still a really good time to be into visual novels.
Sakura Spirit and Sakura Angels follow the life of two teenagers suddenly pulled into an unfamiliar world where they become very important people. While Sakura Spirit feels like a lazy attempt at anything but a boob slideshow, Sakura Angels has more energy and attention to craft. Both games are definitely for a simple story accompanied by copious amounts of T&A, so go into either game knowing what it is, but don’t feel compelled by hype to pick it up if you know you’re going to be disappointed or just bored. On the other hand though, if you’re fairly ambivalent, try not to disregard the series entirely for what it is.
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