It seems 2015 is the year for Winged Cloud’s Sakura series – we’ve seen five games released under the Sakura banner this year and the end is nowhere in sight, with Sakura Swim Club becoming the group’s third game to be released one month after the last. Once again introducing an entirely new cast, Sakura Swim Club explores the joys of high school pools.
Sakura Swim Club stars Kaede, the son of a very famous (but unnamed) man who is always in the shadow of his father’s accomplishments. In an effort to get Kaede to shine like the rest of the family, he’s carted around to different high schools every semester, all while being encouraged to find his spark. Understandably, the experience has dulled him and Kaede barely puts in the minimum effort to get by… that is, until he discovers his new school’s swimming club. Though discouraged by everyone who knows the club’s troubled history, Kaede can’t help but be drawn to its two members and quickly joins the club after realising that this just might be the place he can really enjoy life.
For those who have read about Sakura Spirit, Sakura Angels and Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1 or even heard about it, I won’t repeat things I’ve said before. Because, for the most part, I really cannot offer anything new to say. Winged Cloud is surprisingly consistent in turning out short, borderline-adult visual novels that heap on plenty of graphics involving boobs and butts, leaving the story to string them all together. It also helps that the team has consisted of the same people since Sakura Fantasy Chapter 1. Technical improvements have been made since Sakura Spirit, but the core of the games are largely the same.
If there’s anything different about Sakura Swim Club when compared to the other titles in the series, it’s that the game kind of drops all pretense of effort. Much like Kaede’s long-held apathy towards school work, the story is worked together in such a fashion that it hits all the points it needs to without caring about technique or personality. You get your teen angst, your mystery, your drama, your comedy, your end goal, your festivals and your sincere moments, but they all feel so shallow that, by the end of the game, you’ve barely touched on anything. It doesn’t help that half the game is purposely vague about everyone’s circumstances while the other half glosses over answers to initial questions with short conversations soon forgotten in favour of the lead-in to the next event graphic.
Sakura Swim Club also takes an interesting direction with its “why not have both” spirit (blatant spoilers ahoy). Kaede’s indifference towards basically everything leads to a lot of decisions that strike middle ground, going as far as even making this a game where the protagonist avoids romantic drama and ends up in a polyamorous relationship. This leads to essentially completing two routes at once and, optionally, clearing all the 18+ scenes in one run. What’s more, Kaede even uses the L word, and this time it doesn’t mean “lesbians”. We’re truly moving forward one step at a time.
Sakura Swim Club, the sixth game in Winged Cloud’s Sakura series, brings the same team back for very much the same kind of game. The story has a few changes when it comes to romance, and the 18+ version actually comes with new scenes, but it remains another game in a series that knows its formula.
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