A few hours in
Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Okay, okay. I calmed down. I’ve accepted the situation, now. Sakura Dungeon isn’t what I expected it would be and that, that’s fine, this is fine. This is fine.
I sank about three hours into Sakura Dungeon over the course of this week. Much more than I’d expected I’d need for a Sakura game, but much less than I would have needed to beat this. Even on the easiest difficulty, it took me this long to get about… one third of the way in? If I’m reading the CG gallery right, I’m between 25% and 33% in. Not nearly the end, no. But that’s alright. I’ve already seen more than enough to cast my judgment on Sakura Dungeon. And that judgment is…
…it’s… pretty okay? To be honest?
In only the second time in recorded history, I find myself (mildly) praising a Sakura game. But Sakura Dungeon is honestly a pretty decent dungeon crawler. It’s mechanically simple, but feature-complete: there are dungeons to explore, treasures and secrets to find, battles to fight, stats to optimize, skills to learn, parties to organize, and items to hoard until the end of time. It controls well, tries to put its own spin on things, and actually has one or two innovations that I think add to the formula in a positive way. And the art style… well, I did just tell you it was a Sakura game, yeah? If you enjoy the series’ one variant of titillation and female body shape, you’ll probably have a good time.
As explained, Sakura Dungeon‘s core conceit is that immortal (sexy) fox spirit Yomi and human (sexy) adventurer Ceri are trying to unseat the wicked (and presumably sexy) Dungeon Lord. This involves fighting their way to the bottom of the dungeon, populated by a variety of (sexy) monster girls, as well as various puzzles, dead ends, and traps (decidedly unsexy).
The two side of any good dungeon crawler are exploring the dungeon, and fighting the dungeon’s denizens. Sakura Dungeon presents both fairly well. On the exploration side, I was surprised to find that the dungeon levels are more often than not actually challenging to explore. The first level is essentially a straight shot with one or two dead ends, but later levels becomes large sprawling mazes. And while each level shares a common end goal — get to the exit — the complications and obstacles are pleasingly varied. Sometimes there’s a locked door, and you’ll have to scour the level — or different levels! — for keys. Sometimes a McGuffin is needed to proceed. Sometimes the exit is guarded by a strong boss. Sometimes there are traps. Sometimes there are bonus objectives. One level even has honest-to-goodness secret walls, that don’t show up as such on the map until you’re run into them face-first.
In short, dungeon exploration is… pretty fun! It’s not incredibly complicated (so far), so don’t expect Legend of Grimrock-style serious exploration. But it’s engaging enough that I actually enjoyed looking through new floors, instead of dreading it.
Of course, dungeon exploration is punctuated by combat, usually of the random-encounter variety. Here, Sakura Dungeon transplants a typical JRPG-style combat system, with a few twists.
Combat is essentially a turn-based hit-fest. Characters take turns — in some vaguely specified order that may or may not change depending on your actions, I honestly can’t tell — using one of their up-to-six skills. Nearly all skills are some variant of attack: these can be Melee or Ranged, Physical or Magical, and possibly of some elemental charge. And they have a cost, a power rating, and hit and critical changes. The cost is measured in AP, each character’s blue ‘mana’ bar. AP regenerates slowly over time, and regenerates more quickly if you use the ‘guard’ command — the one non-attack skill. If attacks land, they reduce the enemy’s Vitality Points (VP). If the hit is critical, you also tear up their clothes. But hits can be dodged or parried, for obviously no effect.
For any individual character, using skills is the only thing they can do on their turn. You do have items, but those can only be used outside of combat. It’s a fairly simple system, hence ‘hit-fest’. Sakura Dungeon tries to compensate for this a little by giving each character access to a maximum of six skills. Each character class starts with a few of these; other slots can be filled out by using skill scrolls, to your own best judgment.
And, of course, when I reference ‘the party’ and ‘character classes’, what I mean is that in this game you can (try to) ‘capture’ any monster you find. You have to defeat them by using the rare Capture skill, which can be tricky, and there’s no guarantee you’ll nab them even if you do land it. But when you do, that character then joins your roster. Sakura Dungeon shows a surprising hidden depth here. All characters have their own strength and weaknesses, stats and skills, and it can take some planning to bring the best party of six for any occasion. And of those six, only three characters can fight at once. Characters in the ‘backline’ safely regenerate VP, and can’t be attacked, but they can only regain so much AP. And both in and out of combat, you can switch front- and back-line characters from the six you brought… unless they get knocked out in battle, in which case the switching is done for you.
I honestly can’t tell if some monster girl characters are supposed to be stronger than others. I think they might be? Characters don’t seem to increase in their core stats from leveling up, seeing as though there’s items that do that. So maybe the low-stat Bunny you start out with can never aspire to be much more than a low-stat Bunny, destined to be replaced as soon as you find enough better characters. That’s definitely how I’ve been playing it, and I’m doing fairly okay. All the same, it seems totally viable to adapt your party to the strengths and weaknesses of tough bosses you’ll be facing. If I know my next fight is going to magic-immune but physical-weak, why wouldn’t I bring my melee-heavy party? Ceri, a boar, a slime, a warrior, a sword witch, a spearwoman…
Obviously, not even the most nudity-filled battle party is going to keep low-intensity JRPG combat fresh for too long. Sakura Dungeon suffers from this just as badly as any other game. If you’ve fought one sexy catgirl, you’ve fight them all. The ‘gotta catch ’em all’ aspect from the Capture spell/mechanic does help keep things fresh for longer, whenever you meet a monster you don’t ‘own’ yet. But otherwise… But Sakura Dungeon actually acknowledges this, and provides options. The random battles are still random, there isn’t a great deal you can do about these. But inside the battle, there are actually two ways to automate the whole proceedings. ‘Auto Battle’ makes the computer play the battle out slowly, normal battle speed, giving you plenty of time to jump back in when things go sour. And ‘Skip Battle’ does the same, except the battle speed is cranked up to about ten times normal. It essentially does what it says on the tin — functionally skip the battle. As long as your party doesn’t get defeated entirely, you can expect to be back in the dungeon in under ten seconds.
The auto-battle AI isn’t particularly bright, and you’ll probably take more damage this way than through clever self play. But here Sakura Dungeon pulls another twist: damage heals naturally incredibly quickly. Every battle turn or every two dungeon steps, all monsters that aren’t knocked out entirely regenerate a set amount of health. In fact, there is no ‘healing magic’ or limited health resource at all in this game. There are potions and revival items and the like, sure, but those are intended as quick pick-me-ups for challenging situations. If you’re not in one of those, you can casually regain a ton of health and AP just by walking around.
It’s a clever combo, to be sure. Sakura Dungeon wants to be a real, serious dungeon-crawler, but it also doesn’t want players to get bored and leave. So you can battle if you want… but you can also turn on overdrive and inefficiently blaze through everything. And you can play carefully and conserve resources… or you can just grind levels through rapid battle, returning to the surface to heal and trigger optional story beats every five minutes. It’s up to you.
Grinding levels might actually not be a bad idea, because Sakura Dungeon very often assumes that you will. The game falls backward over itself to reassure that, no, there’s actually no rush to progress. If you think an upcoming fight is too hard, by all means, feel free to grind! I insist.
Taken together, a picture emerges of Sakura Dungeon as a relatively simple and straightforward dungeon crawler RPG, that uses a few clever mechanical ideas to balance out the more boring aspects of its heritage. And… well, like I said, it kind of works. It’s not an incredibly engaging game by any stretch, and I have to wonder how long it’d have lasted with me before overstaying its welcome. But it does what it wants to do relatively well.
And as for why Yomi is wearing a swimsuit in that last picture…
There, er, honestly isn’t all that much more to say about Sakura Dungeon. It’s a semi-competent dungeon crawling RPG that marries a few quality-of-life mechanical innovations to the Sakura series’ trademark laissez-faire approach to female nudity. Doubly so if you look up and install the 18+ patch; like Sakura Fantasy, doing so firmly moves the game from softcore cheesecake factory to hardcore hentai hotspot. Of course the clothes tearing mechanic goes to full nudity this way; I’m surprised you even have to ask. But also expect a number of otherwise un-translatable sex scenes to make their debut here. In the unpatched version, a small study session with a bookish witch ends when Yomi notices that the witch is kind of cute and adorable. Fade to black, next scene. But in the unpatched version… well, let’s just say I won’t be posting the results here. Look it up. Or use your imagination, either/or.
Sakura Dungeon runs twenty dollars on Steam. That is pricey, but… this might be the first Sakura game to date that, as a factor of mechanical design and time spent in a scantily-clad anime harem, actually sort of justifies that price point? As always, I leave the decision of whether or not to permanently commit a game like to your own Steam library up to personal judgement.
Jarenth has little problem with porn in his Steam library. In for a penny, in for a pounding, right? Correct his idiom 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?