Thank You Winged Cloud.
The rest of this review is going to make that statement seem insincere, but I truly want to thank Winged Cloud for finally revealing who they really are. Honestly, we all should have known after seeing this lovely piece of promotional work for Pyrite Heat…then subsequently playing Pyrite Heart. But with the Kickstarter for The Guardian Spell, most saw it as proof that WC (there has never been a more accurate abbreviation), many defended the group as a simple, ragtag troupe dedicated to providing sugary comfort food to the otome masses. And if that’s ALL they did, I’m sure many would still defend them today. But, here we are and, as my Aunt likes to say, the truth has revealed itself. WC is all about one thing: fanservice. Regardless of your gender, they want to be your first stop for the finest in otaku wank material and that’s it. Wait, does that mean they have come to closest to achieving gender equality in gaming? Screw it; let’s talk Sakura Spirit.
To be fair to the group, when Sakura Spirit was announced no one was expecting The Shawshank Redemption with fox girls. No one ever pretended that was going to be anything more than an ecchi title in a similar vein to nearly every bad anime I’ve challenged myself to live-tweet in the past year (save for the endless black hole that is Brother’s Conflict), so I did something that I have never done before and will never do again: I lowered my expectations. I told myself that it was fine if it didn’t have the best story, or characters, or anything I usually find worthwhile about gaming as a whole. I figured that as long as I could enjoy it ironically and find some humor in the abundance of ways WC would undoubtedly find to show off their over-curvy females, I would just laugh along and rate it all accordingly.
That line of thought lasted approximately three minutes in game.
I will be very upfront with you; this game has gotten me in a ‘vendetta’ kind of mood and my issues with my Internet this past month hasn’t helped. This is going to be a long one but it is vital to get it all out, not just for the sake of my personal health, but also to make it clear just how this game managed to defy reality and not clear the low bar I had for it. So, there will be some spoilers here but, if that is something that honestly concerns you, may I remind you of the promotional art of this game?
Strap yourselves in folks. This is Sakura Spirit…may God have mercy on our souls.
Takahiro Gushiken, AKA Jesus Takahiro, is about to have the match that would make or break his career (huh?) in two weeks: a championship match where the winner is then signed up to be a young national athlete for Japan. He is very determined to win, in order to fulfill his dreams of representing his country and the sport he loves so much. However, despite his preparations, Takahiro is still nervous about the competition. With the suggestion of his friends, he goes to a shrine that is rumored to grant any wish. Then, bullshit occurs…‘bullshit’ being our plot(s), of course.
While it is promoted as the main plot, you can pretty much forget that entire starting paragraph about judo and what not because it is a moot point. It serves mostly as a vehicle to get Jesus Takahiro into the alternative universe, while setting the perverse tone for this game as we are treated to some dork lusting after his own sister and confessing to being a voyeur. This HI-LARIOUS series of jokes commit the cardinal sins of not being funny while also not contributing anything to the game. So yeah, roughly ten minutes completely wasted when Takahiro could have just woken up and gone straight to the shrine he had to go to.
Once Takahiro is in the alternate universe, we begin our actual storyline which boils down to Kindergarten Miyazaki. The world he falls into is similar to Edo Period Japan, but with the inclusion of spirits such as the titular fox girls. As the game’s cow goddess says to our, er, guy that stuff happens to, he was pulled back in time in order to quell the contention between human and spirits and bring peace to the world. This is not only the major driving force of what I laugh at whenever I type the word ‘plot’, but it also fits into what I realized where considered the backstories for our four girls. While I will get into the finer points soon, the over-arching issue with this story is that it’s explained that all of the spirits presented do not belong in the same world as the humans. An incident when they were all little kids (which is its OWN paragraph as well) forced the spirits into the human world. So, Sakura Spirit, why exactly does Jesus here have to bridge the gaps between the two different species when ONE of them don’t belong in the world they’re in?
Maybe I should’ve just called it ‘B-Grade Inuyasha’…or just Inuyasha.
Seriously though, just try to imagine Princess Mononoke if San, the Wolf Goddess, the Boar God and that freaky elk the hero likes to ride around on were dropped into the world by cosmic happenstance and NOT a natural part of the environment? The entire point of the movie is than man and nature has to find a way to coexist. The point becomes absurd when all ‘nature’ has going for it are beings from another plane of reality. This is further highlighted when the game tries to introduce a slime girl (who gives me uncomfortable flashbacks to the Jello Bunny from Queen’s Blade…NSFW link) and the worst she accomplishes is sticking the tsundere to the ground with her gunk. Between Slime Girl and the Fox Girls, the presented conflict is laughable period.
Beyond that point, it simple does not work because the resolution to the issue happens without much effort on either side. In fact, the resolution is done in a way to build up the Mary Sue protagonist but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself so back on point.
Of course considering the Peeping Tom jokes we started with, surely you must be thinking, ‘JP, what’s the point in having a story like this that requires maturity and depth to deliver correctly in a game all about slutty animu girls?’ Well dear reader, before we go into this further I know what is about to come my way so let’s take a quick detour and address what will surely be the argument against my next critique.
I am well aware of the lineage for visual novels in Japan AKA the Source Wall is in pornography and one of the biggest defenses for bad EVNs recently is that they were emulating their Japanese counterparts. Also any critique of their work is a sign of cultural differences and not a sign that they’re bad writers. First off most of the people who make that excuse are not Japanese, have never been to Japan a day in their lives and have no intention of marketing their work to a Japanese audience. So, that argument is null. Second, let’s take it halfway seriously for a moment and say it’s a legit defense. The problem then is that anyone spouting that nonsense is saying that Japanese media is inherently bad or sophomoric so they shouldn’t be held accountable for whatever they’ve done that emulates it.
That’s not only insulting, but also cowardly. Just as many good games and anime franchises make it to the West as bad ones, so every writer has plenty of examples to go with in writing their project; not just the bad materials they hope to use to disguise their own failings. So, once again this argument is null. There; if you’ve reached this point in the review and you’re angry with me, I just gave you a whole new topic to bitch over. You’re welcome!
Anyway, back to the cast. There are attempts to tell a story here, but the cast isn’t up to the task to make it happen. This is best seen in the girls individually, as well as with Jesus Takahiro himself and, if you’ve been wondering why I’ve constantly referred to this character as ‘Jesus’ it is mostly because not only has he been brought back with the expressed purpose of saving the world from itself, but also because he is never wrong about anything. Ever.
In a previous feature on Jacob’s Island, I lamented the closeness of the main character to a prototypical Mary Sue, but while she was close she wasn’t the real deal. Takahiro is, without a doubt, the real deal as he exists solely as a wish-fulfillment for the author and the intended audience. He is already a champion-level Judo practitioner for his age with enough strength and skill to defeat a supposed master of martial arts at the peak of her abilities. He also apparently has high intelligence as he acts as a plot hole filler through the game; providing shovel loads of information to patch up any potential loose threads when the need comes. And even the girls he outright insults, to their faces no less, can’t help but want to have sex with him…which incidentally makes the ‘bridge between two worlds’ HIS PENIS.
On the surface, this is to coincide with a popular trope in harem series: the ‘Chivalrous Pervert’. And I’d buy that if Takahiro had an ounce of chivalry in him. However, when a fox girl is slutting around with an apron, some panties and nothing else and your immediate reaction is to admit that you like it, but you don’t want her older sister to catch you both, ‘chivalry’ just isn’t your thing. This is a repeated thing with him where he is put into situations to produce a fanservice scene and he sits around drooling until someone interrupts them. Again, I get this is the thing in some (bad) anime series, but after the literal tenth time this happens it isn’t funny. It is tedious and cements Takahiro as a spineless pervert no different from incest boy at the beginning of the game.
Considering the roots and inspirations for this game, I shouldn’t be this angry. But I think a great deal of that anger comes from Takahiro being played completely straight. None of the attempts at humor in this game are made at his expense: instead being used to put the girls in ‘sexy’ situations. This would have been the perfect area to bring people in and have a little fun with this ridiculous subgenre, but it doesn’t happen. Takahiro just stays a dull, perfect hero that does absolutely nothing to advance the story. So, either you are okay with stepping in the boots of a pervert Messiah who is perfect in all his ways or you’re not. I am not and I worry about the ones who are.
We should probably talk about the girls now and if you were stupid enough to think any of the females presented would bring more to the story than their cup sizes…you are not alone. The writers of Sakura Spirit are right there with you and try their best to give the four girls time to flesh out some of their motivations. This occurs through the incident where the human and spirit worlds literally collide and leaves quite a body count in its wake. The incident is cited as being the point that creates the contention between the spirits and the humans. Unfortunately this potentially interesting (if not tired) storyline is undermined immediately by the fact that it is resolved with TAKAHIRO’S PENIS.
While it is good for a cheap laugh in the beginning with the fox girls stealing the samurai girls’ underwear, without any sort of tension all this back story does is lock in the exhausted clichés that these four represent. The most obvious of all of these is Miyo: the black-haired samurai girl who is immediately labeled a tsundere by Takahiro (because he is a moron), which of course proves to be correct by game’s end! Miyo’s attraction to Takahiro is especially mind-boggling since 99% of their interactions either end in her being mocked, being treated like a child, or in her outright humiliation. The only time they even come close to being on one track was when she was flat-out drunk and that doesn’t count because she doesn’t remember.
But of course all of this equals a massive, raging crush on her part! Yes, she makes her intentions clear shortly after Takahiro beats her in a sparring match. During said match, Takahiro puts her in some sort of submission hold which leads him to accidently rip off her wet shirt and exposes her breasts. Now completely humiliated, Miyo asks Takahiro to start at her naked so she can overcome her ‘irrational’ nervousness whenever guys start at her tits! See? She liked him all along!
There. Isn’t. A. Groan. Loud. Enough.
Right behind Miyo is the blond-haired fox girl Maeko who represents the ‘cutesy little sister’ trope and I honestly can’t believe that’s a thing. She is apparently gifted in magic, but she also has the mentality of a 12 year old. This, of course, means that the writers LOVED showing her off! Around the end of the second act of the game, I started to notice more graphics featuring her than the others, so I decided to keep count. Would you like to know how many times Maeko is featured individually in event graphics? Six.
‘JP, that doesn’t seem like a lot!’
True. It doesn’t seem like a lot…until you realize that Maeko has more individual graphics than the other girls. It’s almost like they figured that some in their audience would enjoy seeing a cutesy little sister type in heat and wanted to grab as many of those folks as possible! But that’s just silly…isn’t it?
Next up is Narumi: the red-head samurai girl who is the weakest of the four, but only because she had the second-most potential. She is the one the supposed ‘incident’ affected the most as it killed her parents. These issues are introduced in a way that, in any other series, would be a turning point and interweave her into the larger plot since regardless of the cause, the appearance of the spirits led directly to deaths in her family. Of course, the fact that I’m saying this means that is exactly what DOESN’T happen.
Again, considering what this game is supposed to be I shouldn’t be this pissed off, but this is stretching the ‘incompetence’ excuse thin. I didn’t break into Winged Cloud HQ and force them at gunpoint to include this withered human vs. spirits, coexistence crap. I didn’t demand that they make that conflict the focus point of one of their major character. And I sure as Hell didn’t ask for arguably the biggest dramatic point of the game to be focused on her. WC decided this would be a good idea and aborted what could have been a decent storyline so that Narumi’s full focus could be where they figured it should be: Takahiro’s penis. Self-High Five on that move guys: gutsy call.
Oh and I’d be remised if I didn’t have a good laugh at the fact that by bringing up these issues only to have them resolved with Jesus Takahiro’s mere presence within a matter of seconds, the game showed that all Narumi really needed to get over the crippling, childhood trauma of her parents’ deaths as well as her own self-doubt is the attention of a possibly attractive young man. But, then again, if you looked at the promotional art for this game and didn’t expect a metric butt-ton of misogyny…you probably got bigger issues.
Finally we have the white-haired fox girl Machiko: the character with the most potential. Considering how prominent she was in the promotion for Sakura Spirit, it’s surprising how serious the game takes the character. She’s ridiculously flirty, not even letting a near death experience stop her from making Takahiro blush, but at the same time she has her younger sister Maeko. She, incredibly, is portrayed as the most important thing in her life which not only makes Machiko incredibly pragmatic and resourceful, but it’s also something not even the mystical force of Takahiro’s penis changes Machiko’s priorities. That doesn’t mean she is flawless, far from it. But if I had to pick one tolerable character in this mess, it would be her.
And I think the writers also figured it because right after Jesus Takahiro mends the rifts between Human and Spirit, we barely see the girl. I could be completely wrong in this analysis, but it seems like once the writers got her naked early on, they realized they were stuck with an actual character that had to actually contribute something more to this farce of a plot than censored nudity. So instead of risking anything, she became the ‘responsible’ foil to Maeko’s ‘hilarious’, oversexed hijinks. Now, even if I’m wrong on the why, that doesn’t change the fact that Machiko is left twiddling her thumbs through most of the story proper. It is a waste of a character, even in a fanservice format, to just get one or two graphics out of them then leaves them hanging around like they’re waiting for a bus.
Also, there are several ‘jokes’ within the game that Machiko is sometimes the unwilling sex toy for the cow goddess. Because sexual assault is funny when the molester is the same sex! (EIC Note: This is obviously sarcasm. I don’t believe that, but the ‘jokes’ from Sakura Spirit makes it clear that the writer does.)
So, to be clear: the major plotline suck, the secondary plotline sucks and the entire cast sucks. Have I mentioned how it ends yet? Oh, I haven’t? Well let’s close out this section on that then.
The only presented threatening spirit of the game is Slime girl and no, I don’t think it’s unintentional that the title of this game is ‘Sakura Spirit’. The most she actually does is vandalism because, God help us, there may be someone out there into slime girls (as the Jello Bunny made clear) and is also the most childish out of them all. After easily subduing Sakura before she could ruin a village festival (go with it) Takahiro is returned to his own time. We are told he wins his big judo match (if you thought there was going to be any other outcome to that just look at a mirror and laugh at yourself) then he is faced with the prospect of returning since he promised the girls he would find a way to cross worlds again in order to pick one of them to form a relationship with.
This wish is granted as Takahiro is returned to the girls, but we don’t get to see his choice. Instead we are left with the reality that now Jesus Takahiro has fawning harem of anime tropes at his beck and call until the day he grows a sack and realizes he left behind modern technology and medicine to live in a time period where a sip of water could kill him, if something sex related doesn’t take him out first.
Truly this is the Power of Love~!
PRESENTATION & GAMEPLAY
This is usually the part of the review where even the most critical of reviewers would go, ‘But at least the art was pretty!’ Well Sparky, if that’s what you’re expecting you might want to choke up on that bat, because here comes the curve.
The best word I can use to describe Sakura Spirit’s presentation is lazy. The character models, beyond clearly being designs ripped from other WC works, slides underneath the low bar to deliver slutty school girls and whatever the Hell the fox girls taped together. They may be Lolita style dresses or lingerie depending on your preferences, so there you go. Yeah, I’m sure a lot of brain cells were burned out coming up with that. To be fair there are only so many ways to make a kimono or a female ninja outfit look sexy (1,729,358,640 ways to be exact), but whenFuu…Fuu…FUU from Samurai Champloo can pull off sexy better than a cast specifically designed to do bring the sexy…YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
The Event CGs becomes a joke unto itself by the halfway mark as it serves mostly as a checklist of ways they can show off the girls’ assets. Things get truly ridiculous when we reach the big dramatic moment I talked about in the Story section with Narumi lashes out at Takahiro and we get treated to this gem. Where do I even begin on this? Again, I remind you that this is supposed to be a solemn, character-building moment for Narumi. Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise since it is kind of hard to focus on character development when WC is showing off Narumi’s transparent bra, high-riding skirt and the fact that her tits seem to be defying every law of physics conceived. Because THAT’S what you geeks paid for and THAT’S what you’re going to get!
Beyond the utter lack of imagination are smaller technical issues that further compound the overall laziness of this artwork. This is best shown off in the third act of the game when we are tortured with the village festival and run into Miyu and Narumi. Notice the position of their hands? Through the game proper, the girls are always shown holding their weapons in exactly the manner they are in the picture. So, Wanaca didn’t bother to redraw the sprites in a way that would make sense for this act and instead left them looking like dumbasses after erasing their weapons. Nice touch!
This lack of attention slides into the presentation proper as we get several graphics of Miyu that are technically copies with different backgrounds and different crap covering her…and sometimes not even THAT much. Seriously, defenders of this game who are lining up in the comments or on Tumblr, tell how this and this aren’t the same. And this CG is repeated three more times before she gets her shirt ripped off for good. Yay.
I know the audience this is meant for does not care about quality as long as they get to see anime breasts, but I choose to believe that during the development of Sakura Spirit Wanaca somehow managed to avoid every reflective surface known to mankind. This is a terrible display of their talents and a waste of a good artist.
There is nothing to distinguish the soundtrack from anything else crapped out by any other ecchi or harem franchise ever created. And while I wasn’t expecting anything groundbreaking, ESPECIALLY in this area, at this point of my notes I was searching for any plus I could find. Not surprisingly by this point, the soundtrack did not come through for me.
The gameplay is a damn disgrace. Regardless of your opinion of the story or presentation, everyone cried foul over the lack of editing, broken English and the final absurd choice presented in the game. The latter makes some sense as we wouldn’t have head our harem ending if the player was presented with something as tedious as a choice of who to spend more time with. However, the constant grammatical and basic English errors embarrassed both WC and Sekai Project enough to develop a patch to remedy the situation.
To be clear, this isn’t something translated by Sekai Project for a Western audience. The writers are native English speakers so this bullshit has no excuse. Hell, since I haven’t pissed off Chris Tenarium and he’s in the middle of a Let’s Play for this travesty, I’m sure he’d love to know that one of Winged Cloud’s grand muckety-mucks hails from bloody BRIGHTON. That’s right amigo; a BRIT unleashed this nightmare on us! THANKS!
Oh and none of this changes the fact that half of the broken dialogue for the game is spoken in Weeaboo. Seriously, can we put a stop to this nonsense here and now? Mixing Japanese and English has always been stupid; always. Whatever humor or cute factor that may have been extracted from this bloated corpse of an idea has long been used and is now tired. It doesn’t make it sound more authentic to anime. It just makes everyone who reads it annoyed.
But at least they’re trying to fix some things. Now if someone can tackle the other parts of this list that would be fantastic.
…I hate Gundam SEED less because of this game.
To be completely honest, I knocked Takahiro with the nickname ‘Jesus’ expecting to unleash a few Kira Yamato slams. Then, the entire Earth ground to a halt as my brain responded, ‘Well, at least in Gundam SEED Kira is wrong early on and has to learn how to fight to protect other people.’
Sakura Spirit made me defend Kira Yamato: a character I have loathed for over a decade. I should honestly stop the review right there. That, for me, is condemnation enough.
To be absolutely clear, the only thing I hold Sekai Project responsible for is putting the game on Steam with an ‘Everyone’ rating. That was nonsensical and was corrected recently. Other than that, the whole steaming pile is directly on it belongs: at Winged Cloud’s feet. If I didn’t give this game the final rating I’m leaving it with, it would be out of total cowardice as well as being a lie, so I’m choosing not to be coward and a liar. Sakura Spirit exists solely because Winged Cloud figured they could profit off the perverted subsection of male anime fans in the same way they wrapped the otome fandom around their little finger with Pyrite Heart. It’s incompetently written, lazily presented and its cast reaches repulsive levels of bad. The only way to like this game would be to shut down every synapse of your brain then beat yourself in the forehead with a ball-pin hammer until the only thing that matters to you are shiny, large breasts. And catgirls.
Honestly, why does it exist? The very people Sakura Spirit cater to can get authentic ecchi straight out of Japan thanks to the magical dystopia known as the Internet. However, it does provide excellent entertainment for those who are mocking it: Kotaku, Game Grumps, et al. So maybe that’s the point at the end of the day! To give everyone who don’t know anything about visual novels something to laugh at and paint the entire medium with! And make no mistake about it folks. The legacy of Sakura Spirit is that for a lot of people, this was the first English Visual Novel they were exposed to. This is shade that will color every other EVN they see until someone points them in the direction of something good. That is a shame: that is a Goddamn shame.
We deserve better from Winged Cloud and, honestly, they deserve better than to be a fanbait peddler. But, as stated before, they’ve earned their low marks for this one. So hopefully this will be the final word on this piece of crap until the end of the year when I rank the Worst Games of 2014. Good riddance.