Sakura Sakura is yet another pure love story visual novel to make its way to Steam, this time from Sol Press, the same company that brought over Newton and the Apple Tree a few months ago. For being a pure love story, Sakura Sakura brings with it a surprisingly decent love triangle, but also suffers from the poor pacing common to the genre.
Actually decent love triangle. Normally, a love triangle is a cause for pain in romance visual novels and something not often seen in pure love stories, but the love triangles here in Sakura Sakura manage to avoid that pitfall. The game takes this tried and true story setup and manages to spin it in such a way as to avoid being annoying. As a result, it goes fairly light on the cheap gimmicks, misunderstandings, and other tropes that often plague VN love triangles. In fact, the game had more drama outside of the love triangles than it did within them. While they definitely did not come without some drama, it really felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the drama-filled and clichéd love triangles usually seen in the genre.
Great HD art. It seems like most visual novels nowadays are forced to stretch their art to reach 1080p, resulting in blurry assets regardless of how good the art may be. As such, I was quite surprised to see just how well the art scales in Sakura Sakura. The game may not run in widescreen, but when scaled up to 1080p, the art and other assets look fantastic. I did not see any jagged edges, blurry lines, or other artifacts that usually result from such upscaling. The art itself is pretty good as well — it is just made that much better by the excellent scaling.
Facial animations. To go along with the great art, Sakura Sakura makes the game even more immersive by adding basic facial animations. These animations come in the form of blinking and moving the mouth when speaking, the latter of which is even synced with pauses in sentences. They are not only visible on character sprites, but characters depicted in CGs as well, making such scenes a whole lot more lively. Of course, these animations can sometimes look derpy, but they look good for the most part and I definitely appreciated their addition.
Configurable honorifics and keybinds. Sakura Sakura may be lacking in the config department overall (more on that later), but it does have two options that I hardly ever see included in most visual novel releases: the option to toggle honorifics and the ability to change keybindings. The former is something I wish was present in more visual novels, as it satisfies both those that want an experience more akin to the original and those that want a more localized experience. The ability to change keybinds is something I would consider essential for any modern-day PC game release, so it really is a shame that most visual novels completely lack this option. Sakura Sakura at least offers basic keybind config support, although it definitely could be improved (such as allowing multiple keys to be bound to a single action). Sol Press is definitely setting a good example with these two options, so I hope that other VN localization companies follow suit.
Wonky pacing. Unfortunately, Sakura Sakura suffers from a common problem affecting most pure love story VNs, that being bad pacing. Not only are the common routes extremely slow, but the character routes are almost the complete opposite, providing for a rather jarring shift in pacing. In fact, I was surprised when I reached the end of my first character route, as I had hardly spent any time in it compared to that of the common route prior. Part of this is due to the number of subplots covered in the common route (some of which the game could have definitely done without), but it largely comes down to how the game managed its pacing – it was either too fast or too slow, there was hardly any middleground. Had the game spread this pacing out evenly, the character routes would have been much more impactful, but as it stands, they really just feel rushed.
Lackluster config menu. While the inclusion of configurable honorifics and keybinds is definitely a plus, Sakura Sakura is sorely lacking elsewhere in the config department. It has most of the basic settings one should expect from a modern VN release, including text speed, auto speed, skip options, and character voice options, but completely lacks other important features, such as animation options, font customization, and cursor options. For example, while I did like the facial animations, I can see how some may want them to be turned off, an option the game does not currently offer. On top of that, the game does not allow its regular animations to be configured. By regular I mean the animations that are often limited to just fade-ins, such as character pose changes. Some of these animations are quite slow, resulting in a noticeable delay between lines. In fact, this bothered me so much that I oftentimes found myself double-tapping enter in order to advance to the next line and skip the animation fading at the same time. The game has a few other problems related to its lackluster config menu, but these are the two examples that stood out to me.
For a pure love story VN, Sakura Sakura definitely has some issues, especially when it comes to its wonky pacing and lackluster config menu. However, the game does manage to tell a decent story, one with a love triangle that is actually not annoying for once. On top of that, the game is very well-done graphically, with nice HD art and even some simple facial animations to make the game more immersive. As such, it earns my recommendation — it may not be the best, but it is definitely better than most.
You can buy Sakura Sakura on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.