Japan has long held dominance over the visual novel market. For every twenty visual novels released in Japanese, English speaking audiences are lucky to receive even one official English release. As such when Sekai Project and MangaGamer released the English developed Sakura Spirit it came as quite a surprise that even caught Japanese fans of the genre off guard. The question is, now that Winged Cloud has released Sakura Spirit, was this surprise a pleasant one?
Gushiken Takahiro is a rising Judo star is nervous over his upcoming match and he has good reason to be, since this match in two weeks’ time could make him a star of the Japanese Judo team. Taking the advice of a few of his classmates, Takahiro chooses to visit a shrine deep in the woods to pray for good luck in the upcoming bout.
After coming across the extremely well kept shrine in the middle of nowhere, Takahiro enters only to hear a mysterious voice questioning why he is at the shrine and giving him a haunting warning before Takahiro falls unconscious. When he awakes he finds himself in the forest he had just walked through. Concerned about his situation, Takahiro only wants to return to his home.
Much to his surprise, he hears the sound of female voices within the woods as two fox girls, otherwise known as kitsune from mythology, run from two female warriors pursuing them for the theft of something rather precious to the girls. Takahiro soon realizes that he is in a world different from his own as not only has he been sent back to feudal Japan, but the land is also populated by Spirits.
After being arrested by the female guards for a misunderstanding and rescued by the fox girls, Takahiro learns that the two kitsune sisters are not trusted by the village and finds himself caught up in a dispute between spirits and humanity. With Takahiro surrounded by magic and weaponry, will he have any chance of finding a way back home?
The story of Sakura Spirit is a straight-forward affair that does very little to step outside of the box as it focuses primarily on the misconceptions the human village has of the kitsune sisters and trying to bridge the divide between the two while also giving the reader a bit of time with each of the four girls in the game.
Unfortunately despite having four different girls to offer, we learn very little about most of the cast and the world itself as the only characters to be given a minimal amount of backstory and development are Narumi and Machiko as they have history with one another but even this is not explored to its full potential.
The other two, Maeko and Miyu, are given just as much focus as the other two but readers learn very little about them other than their personality traits. Playing through the entirety of Sakura Spirit gave me the feeling that the writers have a lot that they might have wanted to expand upon but simply put it to the side in order to get the title released as not only are those two characters not explored any deeper than surface level, the cause of Narumi’s tragic past is never fully revealed nor does the issue with the Spirits appear fully resolved at the conclusion of the story.
That being said, Sakura Spirit is a fun, albeit short, visual novel that takes a well-used storyline and makes it more enjoyable by putting its own spin on things and presenting players with a likable cast of girls. With plenty of humor and some very extremely suggestive dialogue at times, Sakura Spirit does have its faults but those faults only put a mild damper over an entertaining visual novel.
As standard with many visual novels, there really isn’t much to playing through Sakura Spirit as players will simply read through the title. Though unlike many other visual novels, there is only one actual choice to be made in Sakura Spirit and even then this choice does very little to actually impact the outcome of the title’s story, instead it only changes a few characters’ clothing and unlocks a few extra CG scenes.
As with other visual novels, all CGs can then be viewed in the gallery at the main menu, but this is also a title that does not offer any scene replays, meaning that if the player likes a specific moment of the game, they will need to make various saves in order to quickly access these scenes. Not that that is a problem of course, considering the amount of save slots available. It is also interesting to note that there is no text log in Sakura Spirit, instead players are given the option to rewind the story as they see fit.
There is one problem in Sakura Spirit that pops up far too often however and that problem comes in the form of grammatical errors and numerous spelling mistakes. There are of course intentional misspellings such as characters not understanding modern terminology, but those are not what I am talking about. Players will encounter the first few spelling issues only a few minutes into the game and see them often throughout the two hour long game. There are times that back to back sentences will suffer from improper word usage, making a sentence incredibly awkward to read and problematic in a title all about reading.
Visuals & Audio
There is one thing that really stands out when it comes to Sakura Spirit and that is the artwork. Almost every character shown in the game is incredibly well drawn with a large attention to detail being spent to clothing and making the girls look as attractive as possible. In fact, the game really tries to push the All-Ages style when it comes to the CG scenes as there are plenty of lewd looking drawings mixed in with the standard CGs, not saying that is a bad thing of course.
Just like the characters the backgrounds are very nicely handled and have a decent amount of variety ranging from forested backgrounds to various housing interiors perfectly fitting the game’s theme and setting. I did mention earlier that “almost” every character is well drawn and later in the game readers will know what I mean as a certain Spirits design is incredibly lazy compared to what fans of monster girls are familiar with.
Now Sakura Spirit does not feature any voice work whatsoever but instead offers some fitting, albeit fairly standard sounding, background music that is varied enough to not grow old but none of the tracks stand out in any significant way.
Sakura Spirit is a low priced visual novel that suffers from numerous grammar problems that clocks in at a little under two hours but in those two hours players will be treated to a rather enjoyable, albeit surface level, storyline that accompanied by some stellar artwork and CG. While Sakura Spirit does end with a somewhat satisfying conclusion, it is done so on an obvious cliffhanger and it is clearly presented that the developers of the game will wish to continue the story and hopefully they will do so, because despite its faults, the characters and setting make for an enjoyable story that I would like to see continue.
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