Heya, readers. Happy new year! May your 2017 be good where 2016 was bad, and great where 2016 was merely good.
In lieu of the first ‘proper’ review of 2017 (that one comes next week), this week I’m posting the last entry of VNADS 2016. I’d originally planned to throw this one up last week (and then take this week off), but at the last minute I decided to spend Christmas time with my family and loved ones instead of…
…Well, I mean. I promised this at the start, didn’t I? “Tell me which one of these four specific games to review, and I’ll review it”. I have no-one but myself to blame for not even building in a convenient out. But at the very least, I hope you understand why this didn’t have priority. I’ve tallied the votes, and taken all arguments into consideration, and the final game of VNADS 2016, the one Sakura game I will review in that period, is…
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, high. Mechanical, visual novel. NSFW Warning: Sakura Game from the first page.)
(Game source: Patreon funds.)
…Sakura Space! Congratulations, all fans and advocates of space catsuits and zero-G boobs, looks like your Christmas wishes are being granted. To everyone else, better luck next year. Thanks for playing.
At this point, I really hope you understand what ‘Sakura games’ are. If you don’t, do yourself a favor and search Ninja Blues for my other stuff. Just type ‘sakura’ into the search bar, and take a journey. Preferably not while you’re at work. Proceeding from here, I’m assuming you know broadly what games and game types I’m talking about. Take your time; it’s important to have a solid background. Start here.
Okay, are you back? I’m sorry you had to see all that. In such a short span of time, no less. But you’re one of us, now. I understand if you need to take a break, Sakura Overdose is one hell of an affliction. I’ll be here when you recover, with another one of these. Another one of these; that’s really all you need to know about my mood going into Sakura Space.
“An artificial light filters into my room, reminiscent of the sun’s gleaming glory.”
I quickly go down a mental checklist. Overwrought descriptive prose? Check. Somewhat-fancy opening background image, depicting a bedroom that probably contains the main character? Check. Complete absence of any people in the image, so that the protagonist can either jump into view at the right time (if female) or remain conveniently invisible throughout the game (if male)? Check. I stifle a sigh. Another one of these.
Still, I might as well try to be optimistic. This series isn’t all terrible, not always. There’s a reason Sakura Swim Club‘s story landed it on my personal GOTY 2015-list. And while I despise both Sakura Beaches on narrative grounds, I can’t deny they at least tried to put the storytelling and the cheesecake on similar pedestals. Even Sakura Christmas had some clever things to say about expectations and taking care of yourself, even if that game was mostly an excuse for skimpy Santa outfits. It’s possible Sakura Space aims to be one of these.
My newfound optimism lasts for all of twenty seconds.
I mentally chuck Sakura Space into the ‘poor cheesecake excuse’ basket, where it lands on Sakura Fantasy with a soft thud.
Storytime, for what it’s worth: in Sakura Space, I’m taking on the transparent spandex-clad role of Captain… Shika, I guess. As you can tell from her hat, her cape, and her complete lack of Earthly modesty, Shika is a spaceship captain. But not just any kind of spaceship captain; Captain Shika runs a bounty hunting operation. Which makes me wonder why in the hell this game isn’t called Sakura Space Bounty Hunters, but I guess Winged Cloud just doesn’t like free money and word-of-mouth as much as I do.
A quick side note on the art here, and I hate that I’m ‘versed’ enough in these games now that I can say this, but: it looks like the new(er) artists are really starting to get the hang of the Sakura style. I can tell that the base art style used here is the ‘new’ style used in both Sakura Beach games, which was significantly different from the ‘classic’ Sakura art style used everywhere else. It’s the eyes, mostly; this art team has a particular way of drawing ’em. But the difference isn’t nearly as noticeable or glaring anymore. If I hadn’t played the Sakura Beaches before (and spent so much time writing reviews about them), I might not even have noticed the difference. They even got the boob-eye-spots right this time!
Anyway. Captain Shika is a bounty hunter. She likes to start her ‘day’, as much as that’s a thing inside a vacuum-sealed box floating through space, by looking through available bounty jobs in the current sector of space. But today’s about to be different from any regular old bounty hunting day, because a new bounty just got posted. A very high bounty.
It takes a moment for the reality of the situation to sink in for Shika. And then another moment. Actually, it’s going to take as many moments as I need to weigh the pros and cons of these here decision options.
Do I play Captain Shika as a careful old hand at bounty hunting, or as a shell-shook money hound? Yeah, as if. One second option later, Shika decides that this offer is too good to ‘just’ pass up. But she can’t make the decision herself: chasing a bounty like this would mean dropping all other obligations, and it’s not like the captain of a ship can just decide its course. So the other crew members must get involved.
You’d figure that on a spaceship, getting the crew together would be as easy as beeping out an intercom message. But Sakura Space handily lampshades that, meaning Shika will have to get everyone personally. And the first person can be found at…
Five lines later, I find myself at the ship’s swimming pool. I swear to God I’m not joking. Oh, but don’t worry, it makes sense: Shika’s first ‘eccentric crew member’ likes to swim so much that she spent her own money commissioning an on-ship swimming pool. With fancy space-facing window vista to boot.
As soon as the swimming pool loads in, I know. The crew member’s gonna be here, and she’ll be swimming, and the splash screen is going to gratuitously and creepily focus on either her boobs in a high school-issue swimsuit, or her butt in a bikini.
This, then, is Kotori. She’s, er… she’s very excitable, for one. And energetic. She wastes no time propositioning the captain, in very certain words, leaving me to wonder how much of an HR department this bounty hunting outfit has, exactly.
It’s only after the scene ends that I realize I don’t actually know what Kotori does. What’s her role on this ship? So far, my guess has to hover somewhere between ‘eye candy’ and ‘professional companion’. Neither of which I see having a big role in the bounty hunting trade? But then again, what do I know.
At least Shika’s other crew member has a more defined role, in that she’s the pilot of the ship. Her name is Nami, and she spends most of her day in seclusion, staring at the void of space from the cramped quarters of the pilot’s seat and daydreaming about exploration. You get one guess as to how much clothing she’s wearing while she does all that.
And that’s the whole crew! One scantily-clad captain, one scantily-clad pilot, and one scantily-clad… something-or-other. She has a role, I’m sure. Oh, and then there’s the AI, which does nothing but dispense plot beats and conveniently bypass locked doors when needed. Sure that that won’t be the setup for another nude scene later on.
Speaking of plot: Shika explains that the one billion space-credit bounty is for a notorious mystery criminal, name of ‘Akane’. She’s committed a slew of crimes on planets across the galaxy, ranging from arson to petty theft to causing total governmental collapse. And her signature weapon is a whip.
The bounty hunters talk things over. Kotori is excited at the prospect of riches, Nami is careful at the idea of a target that necessitates a one billion credit bounty, and Shika sort of oscillates between the two, because the plot sort of requires her to. But at the end of the meeting, the women decide: you only get one shot like this, one opportunity, to seize everything you’ve ever wanted. One moment. So they’re gonna try to capture it, instead of letting it slip.
An agreement is made, and I think I’m starting to see this plot take shape. With the help of AI, Shika determines which planets ‘Akane’ has attacked in the past Arbitrary Time Span. This means those people might know something or other that can help track her down. Shika also thinks she can predict the next planet Akane will strike at, meaning we might be able to get there — if not in time to catch her in the act, then at least in time to get real fresh eyewitness evidence. So it’s an interstellar game of cat and mouse I’m looking at, here. Shika and AI go over more information, trying to narrow down their leads, while the other two crew members prepare in their own ways — Nami by training for combat on the holodeck, Kotori by holding pool parties and daydreaming about getting an even bigger pool.
Then everyone goes to the mall.
Okay, okay. Apparently the ‘ship’ we’re on is more like a mercenary company carrier? With dozens of independent mercenary ‘teams’ docked on, all with their own little section of ship space, but sharing common ‘company’ areas. Like this mall. That’s… that’s weird, but okay. Interesting world-building, if nothing else. It could even add some neat element of tension, since other mercenary teams have also gotten the same bounty notice — and who’s not going to try and chase this payday? Maybe the cat and mouse has just become much richer in cats.
Except Akane is also on-board this ship.
Well then. I officially don’t know what this game is trying to go for anymore. Why spend all that time setting up an intergalactic bounty chase only to reveal the target right where we are? I appreciate the Moana level of Zen, but… How much more plot can be left after this? Shika knows Akane is here, so we can scrap all the travel and information analysis parts. She even knows what Akane looks like! This can’t get much more involved than ‘and then Akane was captured and everyone was happy forever, the end’, can it?