You know, that’s the exact same question I was asking myself as I was reading through this… this thing.
In case you haven’t seen my nervous breakdown on Twitter, here’s the quick rundown: Sakura Spirit is an English-language visual novel released on Steam just recently, it’s about scantily-clad ladies and… well, not much else. It’s also not very good.
Update (9/18/2014): This review is based on the launch version of the game as it appeared on July 11 when I wrote this. I didn’t check myself so I can’t 100% confirm this (I’m *not* reading through this thing again, sorry), but I think the script may have underwent some revisions/updates since then due to all the complaints, mainly in order to fix some of the more horrendous errors highlighted in this review.
“Why did you even buy this, then?”, I can hear you ask. And you know what, that’s a perfectly valid question, but allow me to explain. As my experience with English visual novels has so far been, quite frankly, absolutely terrible, I went into this with fairly low expectations. Still, they weren’t *too* low — I mean, I figured it would at least qualify as an acceptable moege sort of affair, with cute, competently-written dialogue and lovable heroines.
And then the first minute of the game happened.
Random weeabooisms (basically blurting out Japanese in the middle of an English sentence), typos and strangely constructed sentences all in one delicious trainwreck of a package. Fun for the whole family.
Don’t get me wrong, a typo here and there I can absolutely forgive, it happens to everyone — hell, you should see the drafts of my reviews. Even after my initial surprise, I was all “okay, what the fuck ever, let’s press on, maybe it gets better”. Besides, it’s unprofessional to write off a game after only 5 minutes, right? The problem is, it doesn’t quite get better — well, if there’s one quality I can (morbidly) admire about Sakura Spirit, other than the ladies and their lady parts, it’s the game’s ability to be so consistently bad. Just when you think you’re out of the danger zone and can have a quick breather (because not every single line is *that* bad, honestly), BAM you suffer a preemptive strike right into your English prose muscle.
And it hurts. Oh it hurts. There’s onee-samas, ojii-sans, shinigamis and kamis and bouzus and imoutos and everything else you can think of: I believe the screenshots speak for themselves. It almost reminded me of this. Out of place Japanese aside, the bigger problem is probably the really awkward sentence flow. Other than the author’s complete and absolute hatred of the comma, some sentences are put together so haphazardly that reading through them soon becomes a chore, a puzzle to be solved. They’re also quite often needlessly long, expressing things that would have worked far better broken up into two or more shorter sentences.
The story is basically just an excuse for softcore porn, so expect to see some of the heroines outright invite the MC for sex in a roundabout, innuendo-filled way, only to induce the usual “n-n-n-no thanks! blush blush” reaction — as such, the dialogue has its fair share of tryhard humor coupled with awkward references to pop culture. It’s not a very appealing end result, unless you think PANTIES AND BOOBS HAHA LOL is good comedy. Spoilers: it’s not. There’s even an extremely forced reference to the Ace Attorney series in connection with underwear theft, which ends up being about as funny as you would expect.
MAKE IT STOP
So, uh, anyway.
You might be wondering why I’m talking so much about writing. The reason is quite simple, actually, and shouldn’t come as a surprise — a VN’s primary asset in engaging the reader is, you guessed it, its writing. It’s the writing that sets the scene and brings your characters to life. It’s the writing that pulls you into a fictional world and makes you feel like it’s real.
And none of that happens here.
However, don’t let it be said that I’m a man who won’t give credit where credit is due, so I will have to confess that I did kinda enjoy Sakura Spirit’s artwork. It’s cute, it’s colorful, and even manages to be sexy here and there — in all honesty, it’s far better than what you can often find in many other amateur English-language VNs.
Yeah, it’s fanservice-y, but Japan does the same thing, and besides, I’m not gonna pretend to be a saint and say I don’t like seeing some skin from time to time. But this alone is hardly enough to carry the game, and I believe everything I’ve written above makes that one fact painfully evident. If you just need to see some of the HCG, I mean, non-HCG, do a quick image search and call it a day. Look, I even posted some for you in this very review! The VN itself isn’t especially long, by the way. I’ve seen people say it’s under an hour — maybe I’m too much of a slowpoke for that, but I’d say it’s realistically more around 2 hours. Or at least somewhere between 2 and 3 hours, depending on your speed and how much you skip because you just want to make the pain stop.
Look, I know. I know it’s just a silly T&A cash-grab with lazy writing and no effort, and I shouldn’t get all worked up over it. But the thing is… if people think this is what qualifies as a visual novel, well… fuck, I don’t even know. This game only helps to spread the already fairly prevalent misconception that visual novels are just glorified porn (or in this case, softcore T&A) games. If you’re a VN reader yourself, or if you’ve just been following my blog, you know this is most definitely not the case.
And if you’re new to the whole visual novel phenomenon — and you’re reading this review –, I want you to know there’s much more to this medium. So, so much more. Don’t let something like this make you think this is all there is to VNs. And if you still have the urge to spend 10 bucks on a Steam visual novel, go spend it on something like Analogue instead. Or add another 15 bucks to it and pick up Saya no Uta, whichever works for you.