Sakura Fantasy is the third title in the Sakura series from Winged Cloud, and it’s an improvement upon the last two. Not only do we have a story with a little more meat to it, but the characters are also finally more than mere stereotypes, and all this without scrimping on the fanservice we’ve come to expect from this developer. However, it’s not without its flaws, and there are a few issues that I’d like to see fixed in future installments.
Raelin is training to be a knight in a declining fantasy kingdom where evil monsters have encroached upon most of the land, and the remaining population survives in their walled-off city. We follow Raelin in her training until various forces conspire to send her on a quest out into the dangerous mire surrounding the city. One big change going into this story is that we have a female protagonist whose sprite appears on-screen. This also means that we have the opportunity for delicious yuri.
The plot in this two-hour installment is more interesting than we’ve seen from this developer before. There’s still plenty of silly stuff such as random unexplained powers, slimes that eat through clothing, and so on, but there’s a world here that actually has something interesting going on. By the end of the game, our intrepid heroes are on a quest to find a star, although they have no idea why their beloved Empress has asked this task of them. I’m actually quite intrigued as to what the importance of this star is, and I’m wondering if they’ll do something like in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, where the star turns out to be a beautiful girl. Since this is the first part of a planned episodic series, we’re left with many unanswered questions, and I’m actually looking forward to their resolution. I just hope that Winged Cloud doesn’t forget about this game in the midst of churning out all their other games.
Unfortunately, despite the improved plot, the writing is still sloppy – why?! This includes continuity issues and things that don’t quite match up and, as usual, many easily fixable grammatical issues such as repeated or missing words and so on. As I’ve said before, these are issues that should not be cropping up in a commercial game, and I don’t know why Winged Cloud hasn’t addressed it yet.
There are lots more choices than in the other games, which is a good thing, but unfortunately none of them have a significant impact on the story other than getting to see different boobs. I was expecting to have the story branch off into different routes for each girl, but instead all we get is a sort-of-dream makeout sequence with the girl of your choice, and then it’s as though it never happened. While I have no problem with fanservice, this was an incredibly lazy way to shoehorn it in and devalues the idea of a genuine romance developing between Raelin and any of the other characters.
Raelin is a decent enough protagonist and has a little bit of backstory to be explored regarding her home village and why she decided to become a knight, Oh, and she also has the ability to “farsee”, although so far she’s only used this power for spying on girls in the nude. At least she’s an unapologetic perv, unlike the previous male protagonists who have always fallen into the “Oops! I accidentally walked in on her! Oh noes!” trap.
The main characters other than the protagonist are Gwynn, a fellow novice, Keira, the knight in charge of training, and Ardena, the Empress. There’s not a huge amount of personality that’s been developed yet, but this is better than trying to cram boring clichés into the characters. Ardena and Gwynn both have secrets we have yet to learn about, and Keira also has a past, and this gives them all a sense of depth and purpose.
Of course the art is as shiny and gorgeous as in the previous Sakura games, and this one also has a patch to uncensor some of the CGS, which basically removes the bikini tops and conveniently placed leaves from certain images to up the raunchiness. Of course, you can still play through without the patch and get plenty of content that would be deemed NSFW by most people. There are also two CGs that you need to make specific choices to get, and I appreciate having content that’s a bit more of a challenge to unlock. (By challenge I mean I actually have to look at a guide to work out how to get it).
As the first chapter in a planned series, the game ends with many mysteries still waiting to be solved, and I’m genuinely looking forward to the next installment. What I’d like to see in future episodes is improved writing quality and branching routes that would allow a meaningful relationship to develop between Raelin and each of the other main girls. Here’s hoping that Winged Cloud finds the time and resources to devote to Chapter 2 rather than focusing everything they have on clicker games and generic new titles.