December 27, 2014

Visual Novel Review: Sakura Spirit

It's late Christmas night, so late in fact that it's technically the next morning.  I'm browsing through the holiday sale on Steam for ridiculous deals, and I stumble over something that looks... um... interesting.  I notice at the same time that Pixy Misa, our Australian blogboss, owned it and that he was using Steam at the same time.  I shoot him a quick message asking if the game was any good, and wander off my merry way.  When I come back a few minutes later, there's a reply: "I dunno, I haven't played it yet."  Well, that's unsurprising... Pixy seems to have an infinite backlog of games, the way some of us have an infinite backlog of anime to watch (note: Pixy has that, too).  We chat for a minute, and I wandered away again.  Upon returning, I loaded Steam again and found that I had two notifications: I had been gifted both of the games on my wishlish.  By Pixy.  Now, neither of them was expensive but I'm not exactly used to just being given things out of the blue like that.  When I asked him about it, he said "You can tell me if the game is worth playing."  What better way for me to do that than to actually review the thing in the style of one of my writeups?  So without further ado, let's get right to it... let's take a look at Sakura Spirit!

I think it's important for me to point out that this title screen does not, in fact, show up anywhere in the game itself... I stole it from a promotional video.  Right away this inspires nothing but confidence in my heart.


If you've never played a Visual Novel, understand that it's not a "game" the way, say, Mass Effect or Portal or Pong are games.  Most of the time, you're just reading words on the screen much the way you read a book.  Upon occasion, you have the ability to influence the course of the story by making a decision ("Go to sleep" or "Go out and party"; "Invade Russia" or "Invade Britain"... that sort of thing).   This is hardly something new to The Pond; Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel, as was ClannadKanon was originally a visual novel, too.  That's a good pedigree, this should be great!

Let's meet our protagonist, Skippy:

If you're thinking that he looks very much like an empty bedroom, you're right.  We never actually see Skippy, he's just words on the screen.  This is undoubtedly to immerse the player in the role, allow him (for the player is surely intended to be male) to identify better with the character.  Skippy is a seventeen-year-old judo master, about to participate in a national tournament in two weeks, and he's becoming something of a flufflebrain as a result.  For example, when a childhood friend appears to walk to school with him...

...he's still wearing his Batman pajamas.  Pay no actual attention to her; this is her only appearance in the game.  Seriously.  She never shows up again.  At school, he hears about a nearby shrine that athletes often pray at for success.  Figuring it couldn't hurt, he asks his judo senpai about it.

She knows of it, sketches him a quick map, and away he goes.  Pay no actual attention to her, either; this is her only appearance in the game.  Seriously.  She never shows up again.  Our Hero goes to the shrine, prays there... and the shrine speaks to him, and then magic happens.  Skippy finds himself in a strange forest, the shrine nowhere in sight, and something loud and boisterous approaching him at high speed.

The two with the ears are Fox spirits, accused of having stolen panties from the two humans chasing behind them.  No, I'm not kidding.  Hijinks ensue, and Skippy finds himself arrested by the two humans, defenders of the nearby village.

The one on the left is the classic tsundere, to the point that Skippy nicknames her "Tsundere Tyrant" within a few moments of meeting her.  The one on the right is the genki girl.  They tie him up, drag him to the nearby town which looks nothing like the one he woke up in this morning, and throw him in a cell.

At which point, the two fox spirits show up, magically bust him out of jail, and take him to their mansion deep in the forest.  Hijinks ensue... and so on and so forth.

Boobies.  There's a reason she's naked in bed with Skippy, but it's kinda stupid.  Anyway.  It turns out that our two fox spirits are distrusted and mostly hated by the villagers, who are often terrorized by forest spirits.  As the plot unravels, we discover that the "spirit world" and the "real world" are two different places altogether, but something bad happened years ago and six young spirits wound up trapped in the human world.  Two were found and raised with the humans, our two foxgirls, but the other four essentially turned feral and soon attacked the village.  This ended up with the village casting the foxgirls out... which brings us to now.  Skippy heads to the village to try and negotiate a truce between the humans and the foxies, when...

...a slime spirit attacks.  Yes, a slime spirit.  You can tell she's a slime spirit from all the... um... slime?  Why does it stop at her neck?  Why am I even worrying about this?  Of course, the Tyrant attacks the slime with a sword, which does nothing, and the slime counterattacks.

It's super-effective.  Oh, and it dissolves her clothes, too.  It takes a counter-counterattack from the foxgirls to send the slime spirit, who is named Sakura, scurrying back into the forest...

Wait.

The slime girl is named "Sakura."  She's a spirit.

The VN is called "Sakura Spirit."

 This is supposed to be her story???  Oy.

Anyway.  Our Hero winds up spending much time with both the human girls and the foxgirls and all four of them are amusingly flirty in different ways.  And by "amusing" I mean "adolescent male fantasy-style".  For example, here's Narumi:

I cannot facepalm hard enough.  Eventually the four non-foxgirl spirits join together to attack the village during the inevitable festival.  Here they are:

I... you have got to be kidding me.  I mean, it's clear this wasn't a big-budget VN, but using repaints of one slimegirl is cheaping out to the extreme.  Facing them down are Team Village:

Why do I have a feeling that if you gave them all the same hairstyle, they'd look alike?  Anyway.  The Good Guys win and rehabilitate the slimegirls, all is right with the world... and Skippy has to go back to his own world without saying goodbye.  Two months pass.  He won the judo tournament, then turned down his appointment to the national team, much to the shock of the country.  He spends every day at the shrine, praying and begging to go back to The Other World,   Eventually his prayers are answered, because it's that kind of visual novel, and the four girls are waiting for him.  The end.

*PROS:  Much to my surprise, there are more than I expected.  The artwork is quite good, on par with most Japanese VNs I've seen, and better than many.  Background music is acceptable, if not a little dull.  The biggest surprise of all, though, is that the writing is actually pretty clever.  The story, while cliched, is just interesting enough to keep you reading.

*CONS:  Hoo-hah.  The VN is ridiculously short; it took me 100 minutes to go through the entire game.  When it ended, I expected there to be another chapter, or Part II, or something... nope, no such beast.  Despite flat-out saying that when you return to The Other World, you'll choose one of the girls, you actually don't... that seriously pissed me off.  Unlike most VNs, where you get to influence the course of the story by making choices along the way, in Sakura Spirit there is one choice to make, and it influences nothing.  It may as well not be there. 

In the grand scheme of things, I'm actually sorry Pixy spent the small amount of money Sakura Spirit cost on sale... twice, actually, since he has a copy as well.  It might encourage the developer, Winged Cloud, and the publisher, Sekai Project, to release more VNs like this one... that would be A Bad Thing.  If there was more to it, that'd be one thing.  If there were more choices to make, that'd be one thing.  But as it is now, I can't recommend it at all.  Which is a shame, there's potential here.

To be blunt, if you want to experience a visual novel, get Katawa Shoujo.  It's free, it's much better developed, it's written better, and there's more meat to it.  The only place Sakura Spirit ranks higher would be the artwork. 

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:59 PM | Comments (14) | Add Comment
Post contains 1489 words, total size 11 kb.

1

But it has tenko with big boobs. That's gotta count for something!

Six randomly chosen spirits and four of them turn out to be slimes? Sheesh.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 28, 2014 02:06 AM (+rSRq)

2 Identical slimes.

Posted by: Wonderduck at December 28, 2014 02:34 AM (jGQR+)

3 Well, they are different colors, that's got to count for SOMEthing, right?

Right?

Bueller?

I dunno, when I see these screenshots where the same character picture appears multiple times, I think of some old Apple ][ adventure game that also had overlay characters pop up, and very bad parsers. And the computer only had a green monitor....

Sounds like this one only had a Next button.

Posted by: Mauser at December 28, 2014 03:33 AM (TJ7ih)

4 Seems that they forgot the first rule of visual novels.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at December 28, 2014 09:02 AM (2yngH)

5 That they're visual?

Posted by: Wonderduck at December 28, 2014 10:25 AM (jGQR+)

6 Blow up the moon.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at December 28, 2014 10:35 AM (2yngH)

7 Or at least blow up the Tokyo Tower. (Or the Sky Tree.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 28, 2014 10:41 AM (+rSRq)

8 So it was more a kinetic novel than visual novel?  Kinda false advertising.  There's nothing at all wrong with KN's (Planetarian, for example) nor short VN's, but it is best to let the customer know what they're getting.

Posted by: Clayton Barnett at December 29, 2014 09:32 AM (lU4ZJ)

9 Back when you guys were gushing over it, I got my hands on Katawa Shoujo. And after this, I finally installed it and tried it.

Um, I think I only got to the second decision point and I wanted to throw the guy under a train or something.  GOD what a whiny little bitch....

Pardon my language, but I don't know if I could repeat this thing enough to follow all the paths. Fifteen minutes was enough.

Posted by: Mauser at December 29, 2014 09:57 AM (TJ7ih)

10 To be fair, Hisao really does start off that game kind of wrapped up in his own poor-me mode. It's the other characters that snap him out of that and make him figure out that he's not so bad off after all.

Posted by: Avatar at December 29, 2014 12:46 PM (ZeBdf)

11 Mauser, I'm not going to say "stick with it," because if you can't, you can't.  However, consider this:

Hisao is a young man who's just had his entire world thrown into the dumpster, his own body has betrayed him and left him constantly concerned that he might die at some random time, and then he's put in a special school with no family or friends around as support.

Is it any wonder he's complaining?

To be fair, I identified with Hisao quite closely for reasons I've discussed before.

Posted by: Wonderduck at December 29, 2014 02:25 PM (jGQR+)

12 Honestly, Hisao really doesn't belong there. Most of the other people there are dealing with obvious physical disabilities and would have a hard time dealing with things in a normal school environment. Hisao honestly just needs to keep up his health and to avoid stress; a note getting him out of PE and regular trips to the doctor would have done the trick.

So it's... pretty rational for him to assume that he's in the environment he's in, not because it's best for him, but because it lets his folks avoid having to deal with it. In a very real sense, he got dumped there.

(Funny enough, the topic of Japanese schools and the disabled has come up a few times recently... I should do a post about it but I'm not sure how to discuss it really.)

Posted by: Avatar at December 29, 2014 07:11 PM (zJsIy)

13 Well then. I'm glad I refrained from spending any money on this, and I was considering it at one point. Your review has saved dollars, sir!

Posted by: GreyDuck at December 30, 2014 08:37 AM (AQ0bN)

14 I Got that that was his mental state, but he was so relentless about it. (Especially after I chose to let the teacher introduce him. He berates himself about what a poor choice that was.  I figured it was in character.)

(Wishing there was an option during the hospital intro to say "All I wanted was a Pepsi.")

Posted by: Mauser at December 30, 2014 06:19 PM (TJ7ih)

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