A few hours in
Hey, remember how I was hoping Sakura Fantasy‘s story would ‘pick up’ later? Yeah, it… it really doesn’t.
I mean, stuff happens, that’s for sure. The story putters along a little more at first: Raelin does more training! Raelin spies on Gwynne and Keira some more! Raelin gets guard duty at the castle! Raelin accidentally meets the immortal, thousand-year-old empress!
When a much-needed plot accelerator arrives in the form of a falling star, something like an actual story starts developing. The star lands in the cursed Mires, an evil monster-infested land. So the empress puts together an adventuring party to retrieve it for her. Three guesses which three characters get to form that party! First three don’t count.
Some much-needed world-building happens during an extended training montage. Monster attacks have been intensifying, nobody knows what’s happening or why, the capital city might be the only one left standing in the world. Efforts to push back the infested lands consistently fail, so right now the city council is focusing on building larger and stronger defensive walls. Not everyone agrees with this approach, though; there are worries that someday, even the best defenses might not prove enough.
The empress believes that the star somehow holds the key to a brighter future. And that’s why she’s willing to send an underdressed rookie warrior, an underdressed training instructor, and an underdressed filing clerk into the Lands of Certain Death. Sure, Gwynne’s gift is that she can call down lightning, and Keira can turn her skin to stone — the actual in-universe explanation for why she wears that ridiculous see-through lace, by the way. But still! It’s tense, sort of! Everyone treats the expedition like a suicide mission! The Mires are dark and full of terrors! Something is developing that looks like an interesting story!
And then, half an hour into the expedition, the game just… ends. The valiant party finds a hidden village, defeats an evil monster through the use of common-ass battle tactics, and recruits a new member into their band.
And… that’s it. Cue credits.
Now, I’m not saying I necessarily wanted more Sakura Fantasy. Or that it’s too short, in any way. It clocks in at a ‘respectable’ multi-hour run-time, same as most of the other Sakura games. But it’s just that…
Stories that are part of a larger arc have to be judged on two fronts. They have to fit into the ‘complete’ story, but they also have to be interesting stories in and by themselves. The Fellowship of the Ring is important as a set-up for The Two Towers, but it also works as a standalone adventure story: there is setup, danger, narrative arcs, and payoff. If you’d never read any of the other books, the cliffhanger ending would be unsatisfying, sure. But a lot of interesting stuff still happened. If a multi-arc story cannot stand alone, it shouldn’t be part of a multi-arc, simple as that: if your chapter one only exists to setup chapter two, they shouldn’t be separate chapters in the first place.
Sakura Fantasy doesn’t quite pass this test. Nothing of any real importance happens. There’s a lot of world-building, and that’s important, sure. But at the end of chapter 1, there’s not a lot of resolution, or payoff.
Granted, the three heroes finally overcome — actually overcome! — a real challenge. And they’re celebrated as heroes for it. That’s like a satisfying mini-arc conclusion. Maybe I’m being over-harsh, here. And then there’s the whole reveal that Keira’s long-lost sister is probably still alive… which would’ve had some more weight if the aforementioned sister hadn’t been revealed five minutes ago.
I’ve heard people say that Sakura Fantasy is the best of the Sakura games story-wise, because ‘it actually has a story’. And before Sakura Swim Club, I might’ve actually agreed with that. As it stands, though, I can’t really lower myself to calling Sakura Fantasy a good fantasy tale. Mediocre, at best. Inoffensively serviceable.
I’ll tell you what I will call Sakura Fantasy, though: Peak Sakura.
Sakura Fantasy is without a doubt the most Sakura of all the Sakura games. And yes, that statement works in every way. The narrative goes through more tonal shifts than an off-brand tuning fork in a hurricane. ‘Serious’ and ‘funny’ and ‘titillating’ scenes are strung together without rhyme or reason, solely in service to whatever the storytellers decided would be cool next. And, crucially, the game has fully embraced its nature as an Anime Boobs porn vehicle.
Sakura Fantasy‘s porn comes at you hard and fast, har har. From every angle. Raelin decides to farsee-peek on Gwynne? Boom, she’s in the bathhouse. This happens twice. Raelin decides to have a chat with Keira? Boom, she’s changing. Also twice? Raelin decides to take the afternoon off with a good book? Boom, she strips down to her panties for no apparent reason.
And Sakura Fantasy‘s porn isn’t much for subtlety, either. It’s just so-much full-frontal stuff. There’s an old-fashioned panty shot or two, but most of the characters you perv on are buck naked. It actually strains the limits of Steam acceptability so much, you can start seeing the graphic hacks they put in to keep it acceptable. Nipples are improbably blocked by streaming water, or errant beams of sunlight, or convenient leaves that don’t at all look last-minute-Photoshopped-in.
Oh, and remember how I quipped that every woman in this game would turn out lesbian? There’s an opportunity to kiss every single one of them. Every single one.
It might not surprise you to learn that Sakura Fantasy is the second Sakura game to have one of those 18+ content patches. And unlike Sakura Swim Club, which actually turned out better without it, Sakura Fantasy does totally benefit from the addition of actual porn.
Again, it’s not even that much. There’s only one moment in the ‘base’ game that logically proceeds to sex, and that’s the (optional) scene where Raelin gets captured by an ooze girl tentacle monster. Yeah. Yeah, that sort of stuff is in there. But beyond that, most of the ‘hardcore’ content in Sakura Fantasy comes in the form of an easily-cut extra scene where Raelin walks into dreams again. Which means that here, you can basically select which of the three other characters you’d like to bang. This doesn’t seem to require any setup, or any particular good dialogue choices. Just… pick ’em, and they go for even. Again, even the magical empress, who totally perceives you’re using dream powers, is okay with it.
No, the biggest change this content patch brings takes the shape of nipples. Nipples and vulvas.
Remember those barely-censored scenes I was joking about earlier? Sakura Fantasy‘s content patch does away with that bare level of decency. Which actually makes for some pretty interesting studying! More nipples have been removed than I was quite aware of at first. It turns out, for instance, that this picture meets the limits of Steam’s decency…
…but this one is right out.
I say the content patch ‘fits’ Sakura Fantasy because it’s clearer than ever what this game is. Sakura Fantasy knows why you’re playing this particular game; fine storytelling and characterization, it ain’t. It’s almost refreshingly honest for it to be this blatant about things. The obvious last-minute hiding efforts of the ‘original’ version, in comparison, feel almost insulting. Game, don’t you think I know what you’re trying to pull?
But don’t worry. Sakura Fantasy knows.
Gods, what more is there to say? I called Sakura Fantasy Peak Sakura for a reason. It really is the ur-Sakura game. A barely functional story, with minimum plot and (unexpectedly diverse) characterization, and a lot of player choices that don’t actually seem to do much of anything, all used to wrap a presentable bow around an extended softcore porn gallery. Unless you get the content patch, in which case it’s a hardcore porn gallery instead.
Do you want to own Sakura Fantasy? I don’t know, do you? It’s certainly good at what it does, which is be porn in your Steam account. Moreso than with any of the other Sakura games, understand that everyone who sees this game in your list will understand why you own it. Sakura Spirit could have been peer pressure; Sakura Angels, comparative curiosity; Sakura Beach, the new art style; and Sakura Swim Club, my rave reviews and the fact that it’s actually good. But if you claim you didn’t buy Sakura Fantasy for the porn, you are 100% lying to everyone. Including yourself.
The question or whether or not this barely-disguised porn gallery is worth ten of your Steam bucks is left as an exercise to the reader.
Jarenth almost wishes he ended on this game, the ur-Sakura. But alas! More is still to follow. Bemoan lost opportunities with him on Twitter or hang out with him on Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign?