Before the era of Steam adult patches, Winged Cloud established their brand by creating ecchi VNs, full of partially-exposed anime boobs, panty shots and flirty female characters in highly inappropriate outfits, but nothing that could effectively earn them that appealing “sexual content” tag on VNDB. In late 2015, however, utilizing progressively more widespread techniques of circumventing Steam’s censorship, WC made their move towards becoming an actual eroge developer – and year after that, devoted themselves completely to creating full-on Sakura nukige that we know and love(?) today. This time, I'll be taking look at those early iterations of Winged Cloud's porn in their whole, glossy-boobs-filled glory.
Featuring Japanese voice acting in a game that never had a Japanese version, Winged Cloud’s first venture into the world of fully-fledged eroge is definitely one of the most “weeb” things out there, but this didn’t prevent it from being one of the most successful and well-received Sakura games. It was also, believe it or not, a pretty drastic step backwards when it goes to storytelling, when compared to what we saw in Angels and Fantasy, with a barely-existent, linear plot and little entertainment value not coming directly from porn. It seems that implementing a novelty in the form of hentai scenes took much of the development team’s energy, without any to spare on character development or giving a proper conclusion to the tiny bits of SoL drama that the game introduces. This is especially painful in the case of Swim Club’s heroines – while the protagonist has a typical “being bound by your parent's expectations” issue that is revolved during the story, the girls have elements of painful, potentially interesting backstories introduced and then quickly forgotten for the sake of fanservice and unavoidable harem ending. Who would care about their mother dying of cancer if they can have a threesome with our “average guy” protagonist?
Admittedly, the game’s success didn't come out of nowhere – while the plot and characterization might be paper-thin, Wanaca’s CGs are probably among the better ones in the whole Sakura series and the Japanese voice acting is undeniably of decent quality. The game as a whole is still rather hard to recommend though – and nowadays, there’s probably enough of easily-accessible, translated Japanese eroge to make this kind of low-effort imitation rather obsolete anyways.
While featuring some of the most random and absurd sex scenes I’ve ever seen in a VN (including the heroine saying “Let’s have sex” out of nowhere, in the middle of a potentially deadly dungeon), Nova is one of those rare Sakura games to offer seriously appealing heroines and enough story to (mostly) justify its own existence as something more than a slideshow of thinly-connected “sexy” CGs. It also uses probably the most interesting setting in the whole franchise, combining sci-fi and fantasy themes in a way that does relatively little for the plot, but creates an aesthetic I personally adored, with some wonderfully-looking backgrounds, well complemented by climatic music by Zack Parrish and Wanaca’s always-solid character art.
All this combined with the presence of proper endings and character epilogues, decent voice-acting and reasonably well-implemented drama makes Nova one of the Sakura titles most closely resembling a proper VN – and while it couldn’t go without a highly-anticlimactic resolution to the main intrigue and its share of pure stupidity and trashiness, it was just as fun as I could ever hope for WC’s game to be. Somewhat recommended, I guess, maybe!
Those backgrounds though... Details matter. :3
As surprising as it was for me, I can’t say that reading through the first two WCs BxG hentai VNs was a bad experience – especially Nova seemed like a project creators of which understood that ecchi and hentai work best when they're attached to at least minimal amounts of story and character development, all working to give the porn segments meaning and make the experience more compelling and “personal” than watching a random video on Pornhub. As I will show in the next part, however, it was not a lesson that Winged Cloud really took to their hearts.
PS Once again, my special thanks goes to Bosskwar, whose videos made preparing this post much more fun than it had any right to be.