Friday, 13 July 2018

Plk_Lesiak’s Shovelware Adventures: Yuri Sakura Games, part 1

Wondering what this series is about? What's with the "crappy" rating system? Find out all about it here​​​​​​​!

Yuri as a fully-fledged main theme came a bit late to the Sakura Gaming Universe (they’re all connected, I tell you!), but for the last year, it absolutely dominated Winged Cloud’s production, with their last het hentai game, Sakura Magical Girls, released in early 2017. That transition, however, was a long and inconsistent process, which produced both the absolute best among Sakura games (especially Sakura Dungeon with its never-ending stream of good-quality f/f porn and fanservice CGs) and some… Less fortunate projects. Today and two weeks from now I’ll take a closer look at WC’s iterations of Girls’ Love, without ever hiding my intense bias for the genre – one which makes me that more excited when the formula is applied well and that more furious when it’s desecrated by really crappy, uninspired VNs.
Fantasy, one of WC’s most ambitious, but never-finalized projects, proved above anything else the biggest advantage of yuri-themed ecchi VNs – having a protagonist who is more than just a faceless self-insert, given the minimal amount of character development and as few significant traits as possible, to not disturb the player filling this hollow husk with his own fantasies. Realin is not only an actual character, with a sprite and proper personality (and a convenient, voyeuristic gift of “farsight”, mostly used to peek at people in baths), but even gives out traces of interesting backstory and compelling relationships with the other heroines. The game also, as one of the very few entries in the Sakura series, does some effort to build a setting and a linear story of sorts, predictably based on fairly common fantasy tropes, but nonetheless semi-serious and interesting. The biggest problem is, however, that we’re unlikely to ever know what happened with the crumbling Empire, besieged by magical monsters and the quest to retrieve the Fallen Star – as much as anyone can tell, after the first chapter (which is still rather worth reading by itself, but obviously doesn’t conclude the plot in any way), WC buried this series forever.
Final rating: Golden Poo! 
After the positive surprises in the form of Fantasy and Dungeon came a bitter disappointment called Sakura Space. While we all know that it’s normal for WC’s games to take a theme and make the absolute bare-minimum effort towards utilizing it in a compelling way, I still wouldn’t believe it’s possible to make space mercenaries this boring and mundane if I haven’t seen this particular title. With little variety in locales, uninteresting characters and one of the poorest excuses of a story I’ve seen in VNs (that is, btw, told primarily through text, as action scenes barely ever have CGs or even sprites representing the enemies), it’s wholly underwhelming even by the Sakura game standards. Considering Inma’s character designs also being on the slightly less-fortunate side of the spectrum (apart, maybe, the crew's captain portrayed above), even the fairly nice yuri scenes couldn’t save this adventure of an all-female space privateer team of being simply forgettable.
Final rating: Rabbit Poo
If anyone thought Sakura Space was bad, a true disaster was awaiting them in an unlikely place. It came with WC’s attempt to go beyond the pure ecchi VN formula and spawn a “dark fantasy” series called Legends of Talia, taking the form of the first and only entry in that franchise - Arcadia. This super-short yuri VN was meant to give a new tone and new quality to WC’s productions, following a tale of a disillusioned knight, worshipped throughout the kingdom as a hero, but now wondering the land without mission or purpose. While it sounded interesting in theory, it failed to deliver on its promises in the most spectacular ways – from stiff and overstylized dialogue (repeating words pointlessly and use obscure terms will obviously make your sentences more refined and serious), through fanservice’y art not fitting the plot, all the way to the tone-deaf writing, it’s a kind of disaster I haven’t seen before or since among commercial OELVNs.
            After seeing 5 minutes of expository dialogue inserted in the middle of a nearly hopeless battle against a fire-breathing dragon, you’ll appreciate every other fantasy VN you’ve read in your life that much more. Still, the saddest part of this might be that this failure cemented WC’s commitment to low-effort ecchi VNs and made it pretty certain that we won’t see this company evolving in any kind of interesting direction in the foreseeable future.
Final rating: Smelly Poo
As you can clearly see, the early history of WC’s yurige is a bit of a downward spiral, starting from the very strong entries, showing the full extent of the studio’s creative powers, all the way to the disastrous attempt at creating a new franchise and new style for their VNs. However, as I will show in the next Shovelware Adventures, this tendency thankfully didn’t hold and after Legends of Talia, yuri Sakura games still held a few nice, even if minor, surprises.
Be sure to check out part two of this journey through the land of crappy yurige, coming up in two weeks!

PS Once more, 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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