Friday, 15 June 2018

Plk_Lesiak’s Shovelware Adventures: free Sakura games

On a few occasions I’ve stated that I do now wish to give too much space to bad OELVNs, as it goes directly against the idea behind this blog: showing the real value within the Western VN industry and disproving negative stereo types held by JP-oriented readers (and people less familiar with the formula altogether). There’s, however, no way to reasonably deny that the OELVN scene is full of games of questionable quality – many of which I, as someone exploring all corners and shady alleys of the VN world, end up playing. And while a large number, maybe even a majority of those games can be excused for their failures, considering they’re purely amateur, freeware projects (such as quickly-put-together game jam entries), many other are commercial products that, by the sheer fact of asking money from their audience, are fully open for scrutiny and even straight up shaming, if they deserve that.
            This new format will be focused on the exactly that kind of games – titles from most notorious, shovelware-spewing developers and all kinds of unfortunate, misguided failures that plague the OELVN industry. Torturing the games and their creators is not my main intention though – I want to both keep a lighthearted tone in my coverage and not forgot the humour, intentional or not, that can be found in bad games. For this reason, the mini-reviews presented will be at best semi-serious and to make that point clear, they’ll be made using a custom, 3-point scoring system:
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Golden Poo: Awarded to games that, while still definitely bad in many aspects, are either amusing with their absurdity or present some kind of trashy charm that make them, in certain contexts, a worthy experience.
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Rabbit Poo: Given to rather unremarkable bad VNs, which don’t reach the real depths of crapiness possible, but are still not really worth attention – just like the rabbit pops, they don’t really stink or grosses you out, but aren’t worth your attention either.
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Smelly Poo: The true bottom of the shovelware barrel, games some bad that they only deserve to be thrown into a ditch and be forgotten by all civilized people. Might end up being the most-used badge. God help us all.
 
Of course, any comments and suggestions about the format itself will be appreciated. But, for now, enjoy the first episode of Shovelware Adventures, taking a look at free Sakura games by everyone’s (least) favourite OELVN studio, Winged Cloud!
 
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Since the release of Sakura Spirit in 2014, Winged Cloud worked its way to the questionable honour of being the most notorious and ridiculed Western VN studio. Not everyone knows, however, that it’s not only by far the most successful OELVN producer in sheer sale numbers, but also one with a very strong Patreon support, which made the company pretty much immune to market fluctuations. As a reward to its patrons and additional promotional material, in 2016 WC (I will use this short consistently from now on, because reasons) started releasing short, free nukige, with codes unlocking additional 18+ content being distributed to their supporters. So, are these freeware pieces of fanservice, 6 released so far, as bad as they might sound?
 
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The WC’s first freeware nukige involves a maid (in an outfit apparently stolen from a BDSM porn film shoot), who spends her lonely time in her female Master’s mansion playing with rapey magical plants, equally rapey slimes and sharing highly unprofessional thoughts about her employer. After the first part, her repertoire also expands towards sexually harassing the guests showing up in the Master’s estate, hoping to meet the elusive owner (who, of course, never shows up, as that would both resolve the plot and require producing another character sprite).
The game is exactly as basic and dumb as you would expect a free Sakura game to be - I have to admit, however, that I’ve found quite a lot of humour in the God-awful dialogue and weird character designs in this series. It’s over-the-top trashiness and paper-thin justifications for sexual content were fairly funny on their own, and while there was rather little actual intentional comedy in it, I count it as a positive experience. Plus, it doesn’t include the feeling of guilt that might accompany acquiring any of the commercial WC products.
 
Final rating: Golden Poo!
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What could be counted as amusing trashiness in Sakura Maid here was replaced with exactly what Sakura games originally were (and admittedly what most porn games in general are) – male wish-fulfilment of the most primitive and pitiful variety. This time, we follow out apparently-average protagonists during one of his annual Christmas get-togethers with three young, beautiful and professionally successful young woman who apparently still count being part of his harem as one of their prime life-ambitions. The predictable pattern of sexual encounters and bickering between heroines about access to protagonist’s penis have some limited appeal, but doesn’t nullify the generally crappy vibe dominating the whole experience.
 
Final rating: Smelly Poo! 
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Featuring the least-convenient double-date ever conceived in fiction or reality, this entry to the Sakura series belongs to the exact same category as Christmas Party, maybe even beating it through the sheer impracticality of the presented set-up. While the Christmas sex party described above had a minimal amount of believability and convenience in it, with the whole cast relaxing during the holidays in their slightly messed-up, but apparently pleasurable manner. Here, the generic protagonist, having the luck of winning an all-costs-covered Valentine’s Day stay in a luxury hotel, decided to openly invite his two girlfriends, switching between them every hour for the whole night. We can then join him in his misery, without enough time to do much with either of the girls and no chance for any interesting interactions or funny dialogue that could come out of confrontations between the heroines (which, of course, are the polar opposites of each other when it goes to personality). Decent-quality porn CGs by Wanaca might be enough for some, but don’t save the VN from being one of the most generic and boring things I’ve ever read or seen.
 
Final rating: Smelly Poo! 
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The latest freeware Sakura game brought up an unexpected development – discovery on the WCs side that while you can’t really tell a story through an hour-long nukige, you can make it fun to read through comedy. Halloween’s protagonist, a female vampire with delusions of grandeur and a sarcastic ghost bound to her hairpin and giving her snarky remarks on her behaviour is a personification of this idea and makes it one of the most fun WC games to read. On top of that, it offers probably the best visual designs and most creative ecchi scenes among all the Sakura freebies and why that might not be a high barrier to cross, it's still worth appreciating. It also supports the old truthy that you can force someone to love you by sexually assault… Wait, that doesn’t sound right... I… 
It’s pretty funny though. :<
 
Final rating: Golden Poo! 
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As a bit of final word, I wanted to remind everyone that these are all still Sakura games, which means they’re not above having random typos and scripting errors. As free products, however, they’re kind of worth it. In a way. At least, if you like either Inma’s or Wanaca’s art and don’t mind burning an hour on something nearly criminally dumb. Also, my pro-yuri bias is definitely affecting the scores, but as I will show when discussing the fully-fledged Sakura yurige, there's more to it than just f/f being my favourite brand of romance and ecchi.

PS My special thanks go to Bosskwar, who made this series possible (or at least much more enjoyable to make) through his let's play videos.

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