I regret this idea already.
I jest, I jest. This Sakura Angels review is actually a long time coming: of all the games you’ll see in the coming month, this is the one I’ve been actually planning. I spotted Sakura Angels on Steam and Twitter not long after it came out, January of 2015. I knew I’d eventually have to review it, right there and then. And so I kept a Chrome tab with the Steam store page open, among the interminably shifting chaos that is my Chrome browsing experience. I kept that tab open for ten months.
Today, I finally get to close it.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-to-high, I suppose.. Mechanical, ‘visual novel’. NSFW level: maybe not open the second review page around office bosses or small children.)
(Game source: Patreon. Damn each and every one of you.)
Sakura Angels has a remarkably, er, subdued title screen. Where Sakura Spirit just couldn’t wait to shove every possible bit of glistening cleavage in your face, Sakura Angels is just… sky.
If you’ve seen or played visual novels before, there’s really nothing on this title screen to talk about.
If you haven’t seen or played visual novels before, then hey! Welcome to hell, pal. This is a visual novel options screen. Isn’t it interesting?
So, leaving behind a Preferences screen where I can’t indicate my preferences — ‘be somewhere else’ — a Gallery screen with no gallery, and a Help that can’t help me, I have no choice but to move on. Start Game. VNADS 2015 officially kicks off, now.
“Every night,” a mysterious voice bleeps and bloops, “I have the same dream. I’m always brought back to this place, without fail.” There isn’t actually a voice, mind. Just beeping. This leads me to believe that the person speaking right now is the game’s male lead character. Because that’s how these games do things.
Unnamed character keeps waxing about his dull dreams against a black backdrop. ‘I have this dream every single night. I always forget about it in the morning, which by rights should raise the question of how I’m even talking about it. But listen: it’s a really dark dream, okay? Focus on that instead.’
Oh, but then the dream turns ‘interesting’. Poet McNoname describes a force, an enemy, a pair of hateful bright eyes watching from the distance. Drawing closer every night, slowly, bit by bit. Radiating hate and anger, the desire to lash out, but never quite reaching him before the release of sunlight and morning dispels the oneiric landscape…
…except this time, things are different.
And just when the dream seems to be building up to an actually meaningful crescendo…
…I wake up.
Wow. This is one fancy bedroom. Computer desk, cool book planks, IKEA closet with an attached fold-out closet… particularly from a Japanese space perspective, it’s huge.
Anyway. Unnamed Player Character wakes up. And, true to narration, completely forgets about the dream. In its place are headaches, moping, and a desire to narrate every aspect of his life to some sort of invisible audience.
I learn about Player Character as he goes about his day. He’s not a morning person, check. He’s a little clumsy, particularly when it comes to uniforms, check. His parents are workaholics, which explains both how they can afford such a massive house, and why they’re never actually around.
Player Character’s parental absence has forced him to become an apt cook, check. Wait, his parents don’t even leave him breakfast? Jesus. Maybe Player Character should have a little chat with child protective services. How old is this guy, anyway?
Well, he’s some form of school-age, at least. I learn this because Player Character next narrates walking to school. Ostensibly, I don’t know what level of schooling… but given that he’s independent enough to make his own breakfast and go to school alone, and also given that this is a Japanese game, I’m going to guess ‘high school’.
‘I walk to school,’ Character narrates. ‘The sun is shining and the birds are singing and waves of students are passing by.’ The background image shows a fancy Japanese high-rise apartment block; sunshine is incorporated, and I think I do hear bird-sounds in the audio track, but no students are in sight. Ah well, two out of three ain’t bad. Let’s chalk that up to engine limitations.
Or… should I?
Huh. I guess the barrier between dream-world danger and real-life drudgery is about to be shattered hard.
I’m right! Out of the blue, Player Character narrates, a monster suddenly appears! And it’s…
This may or may not turn out a shorter review than I anticipated.
Player Character stands transfixed. An actual monster, wow. What does he do, what does he do, what do I do? What do I do, indeed: Sakura Angels ‘unexpectedly’
puts the next story beat in my hands.
Well then. As my martial arts teacher taught us over and over: any fight you can run away from is an opportunity not to get badly hurt or killed. Player Character, away!
…except he then trips over his own feet and falls down. So much for actual choice, I guess.
Lying on the ground, Player Character can do nothing but watch the horrible monster close in. Did I make the wrong choice after all? And then, just before the beast can strike…
A bang. A flash of light. A guttural cry from a vaporizing monster. And then…
Two magical girls stand before me. One asks if I’m alright; the other suggests that they leave, quickly, because I’m not supposed to see or hear them. Little too late for that, second lady. Also, I don’t actually know which of them is saying what: no clear description is given, and their names are presented as ???? across the board. Though… the friendly question marks are slightly tinted yellow, and the hostile question marks are slightly tinted red. So maybe…
I talk to the girls for a bit. I don’t learn their names, but surprisingly, I do learn my name!
The introduction is over almost before it begins, but this is what I learn: the creature that attacked me just now was a ‘shadow’. It’s not the first one to attack me? But the first one I actually notice. These girls are Kenta’s ‘guardian angels’, and they’ve been taking care of business behind the scenes. Except they cut it a little close this time.
And just like that, sans even a basic introduction, they leave. And Kenta is left wondering…
‘Oh my god, I’m late for school!’
I make it to school in the nick of time, the events of earlier already fading into the mists of memory. Did any of that really happen? What was that monster? Who were those girls? And will I ever see them again? The red-haired one was pretty adamant about not being seen, so I think it’s unlikely that…
Oh, we suddenly have two new transfer students? Smack in the middle of the school year? And without any prior announcement? I do so wonder who they could be.
And so, I officially meet yellow-haired Sayaka and pink-haired Hikari.
I try to engage with them during the school day, with varying degrees of luck. Sending a note to Sayaka — the actually talkative one — yields some confusing answers. And a rooftop chat session gets me even more lore insights. But trying to talk to her more during lunch break doesn’t work; seems she’s too busy showing off her magical running speed.
And then the day is over, suddenly, and we walk home. Which is to say, I walk home, and they follow me. For ‘protection’. The shadow monsters could attack at any time, after all! And I don’t know how I’d feel about another one of those horrible dog monsters getting close to me.
A fight breaks out! Sayaka and Hikari engage the shadow succubus, Yuzuki, while I… stand around, and try not to get killed. It’s a very dynamic affair, with fancy attacks and last-minute dodges and the character avatars all smashing into each other, and…
And my angels lose. Let’s keep it at that. And then we fly away in a blind panic.
Finally, one harrowing ‘pursuit’ later, we arrive at my house. Whew, what a day! This morning, everything was looking Situation: Normal for ol’ Kenta. And now there’s shadow monsters trying to kill him, a weird sexy succubus that may or may not be a transformed classmate, and two semi-competent ‘guardian angels’ camping out in the yard.
For now, Kenta desperately needs a nap. And another terrifying monster dream he doesn’t remember having, by induction. The rest of the world and the rest of the story can wait; I’m sure nothing weird will happen if I just close my eyes… for one… moment…