Sakura Spirit follows the story of Gushiken Takahiro, a 17 yr old child who has aspirations and dreams of becoming the #1 judo contender to represent Japan. After growing to up to be such a standout judo contender by following his Dad’s quotes, video games, and TV shows, he is now a few weeks before a big tournament that gives Takahiro the chance to represent Japan.
This big match begins to make him a bit nervous. By following his school friends’ advice, he finds a temple hidden in the woods, rumored to carry heavy spiritual power. He begins to pray, and the result is that he meets a voluptuous spirit. Shortly thereafter, he is transported to a land in major trouble.
The story throughout the title is pretty easy to follow, and it’s quite simple to figure out what will happen, as Takahiro is the key to bringing peace to the land. What needs to be pronounced in a title like this would be the character to character relationships, which the title does an okay job in providing in the short time it has. However, it should have worked on a few things.
When Takahiro enters the new land, the transition to the female leads garnering interest in the main protagonist is almost immediate, providing extremely intimate and provocative fan service early in the story. The characters are quickly infatuated with Takahiro, but I feel like there should be a challenge, a pathway to gaining such a “reward”, events with cause and effect on character relations.
This would make reaching intimate scenes much more satisfying for the player. The allure of the art is obvious and, very similar to real-life seduction, teasing creates better end results, so if we could have established a strong connection with the characters, providing a solid foundation for more meaning and attachment to the characters, this would have been more satisfying than just seeing skin and calling it a day.
The script does have good moments that will make you laugh, and is quite pretty rife with sexual innuendo and devious flirtations. I did, however, find some mistakes with the script, which broke the reading flow. There seem to be a lot of issues with the words “is” and “isn’t”, which are instead replaced with “are”. We are told by the developer that they are patching the game to fix that issue.
One of the game’s major flaws are that it lacks choices for the player to participate in. For how quick it is, the developers did an alright job of establishing a connection with the female leads but what could have helped immensely to draw the player more into the world and the relationships of these four ladies would have been the choices Takahiro takes.
One choice is provided at the very end of the story, but it does too little, too late, and the effect is barely emphasized, making the choice near meaningless. This is followed pretty much immediately by the story’s resolution.
But let’s take a detour from the narrative toward the risque aspect of the game, the art. The art is absolutely fantastic, even apart from its titillation factor. The color palette is perfectly chosen, and there’s some nice highlighting and clean line work. That said, I did find the characters and environments to be a little lifeless, animation-wise.
Characters are frozen in a single pose, never to change, adjusting only their eyes and perhaps blushing. It would have been good to change poses now and again in order to maintain viewer interest. Especially the one character, Miyo, is always brandishing her katana slightly unsheathed.
A last moment near the end, she dresses in a yukata, and she’s still maintaining that awkward pose, with no katana at all. If it were too difficult to add separate poses, perhaps adding an animated environment would have helped to break the feeling of stagnation the viewer gets from the static imagery.
The same could be said of the sound in the game. Even just adding more environmental sound effects would have helped. The songs composed for the game are pretty good, however, and quite catchy, too.
All of the above considered, I don’t think Sakura Spirit is bad by any means. The four lead heroines have good designs and I appreciate the unique personalities they provide. The game does reference Eastern and Western culture quite frequently, which helps to anchor the game to reality. Takahiro’s personality, too, seems quite natural.
The art is an absolute treat and is extremely enticing—which is the major selling point of the title. I do also like the quick accessibility to saving, the options within the game, and the ability to go backwards to reread anything possibly skipped. The game flows really well.
The chapter breaks make for natural stops in the story, giving players a good place to stop during the read.
For me, playing lackadaisically lead to a whopping two hours spent on the visual novel. People can easily finish Sakura Spirit quicker if they rush it. I would have desired more time to enjoy the characters, and the developers seem to hint at the possibility of a sequel.
I would suggest Winged Project to take a few lessons from other visual novel experiences like Hotel Dusk and Virtue’s Last Reward, or games like Persona, and Conception II in its character and relationship development choices, to hopefully help engage the player a bit more.
I would love for the game to fully utilize its potential in being a visual novel rather than be something that could’ve been just done on paper, and take advantage of the type of media used to the utmost potential. I will say, however, that this game does do it’s selling point, its art, justice.
Winged Cloud and Sekai Project must be respected for bringing this title to a very, very niche market. I hope more like it are developed and help to push for acceptance of sexuality in gaming. For those who are hoping for an engrossing visual novel experience, sadly, it isn’t fully there. The story does have its few comedic moments, but I suggest it mostly for its art.
Sakura Spirit was reviewed using a Steam code provided by Sekai Project. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.