"The images — both characters and backgrounds — have been marinated in pungent hues of brown and red. I find such kwality to be inexcusable, considering the artistic excellence of Pia Carrot, Can Can Bunny Extra, High School Terra Story, Desire, and so on. Each of these games features colorful, stylish artwork — and each was released in the same year as Sakura Diaries, a game that exudes an aura of laziness."
Let's set things straight from the start — this isn't Sakura Tsushin (which is part of the Sakura Wars series), this is Sakura Tsuushin — note the extra U! — better known in the US as Sakura Diaries.
And the anime is one of the greatest stories ever told!
But you know what they say about games based on anime, right? If you don't... then surely you know what they say about games based on Hollywood movies! They (you know — they) say such license-spawned games are ASS. And that's what Sakura Diaries on the Saturn is. ASS. Sadly, unlike cute little covergirl Urara's petite posterior, this "digital comic" is the bad kind of ass.
You assume the role of Touma Inaba, who's basically a loser. But not a loser in the "geek" sense (that role is filled by an otaku-ish, bespectacled, hairy-chinned, unshowered nerd named Choro). Nope, Touma is a ronin, a high school graduate trying desperately to pass the entrance exam to Keio University. Which is an unrealistic goal, since he's failed the entrance exams to every other (easier) university. Forced to enroll in cram school, and living with his cousin Urara, this is a two-fisted tale: on the one, Touma's quest to get into prestigious Keio so that he can impress his dream girl. On the other, a tale of the budding romance between our hapless hero and his adorable cousin.
COUSIN ROMANCE?! If the game were better, I'd go into some detail to explain the social mores and intricacies, but don't worry yourself about that. Let's just get to the nuts and bolts of why Sakura Diaries (the video game) is ASS.
The FMV scenes have been culled straight from the animated series. That's a good thing. However, due to the Saturn's poor video playback capabilities, grain and artifacts pervade every inch of the screen. Still, it's a worthwhile effort — these video sequences do provide a glimpse into the brilliance of the TV show, such as the scene during which Urara confesses her feelings to Touma: "Watashi, Tonma-chan ni koto omotte ne... yo no naka de ichiban suteki na love song da ga, kikoete iru n da!"
You may have noticed — it's in Japanese. If you can't understand the language, then the impact of these FMV scenes will be lost on you, since the genius stems from the dialogue and not from the visuals. To make matters worse, most of the video clips only run a minute (or less) in length. Between the poor quality and short length of the animated snippets, these scenes feel like an afterthought: "we'd better pop some FMV from the anime in here so the fans won't get pissed!" Ready for the kicker? This is the good part of the game.
The actual, non-FMV ingame art is pretty bad. The character designs and poses used for the in-game artwork are of a less professional, less refined quality than the designs featured during the FMV sequences. Original artist U-Jin (a prolific hentai artist) was a master at creating stylish and provocative poses — Urara holding bedsheets over her chest, Touma striking the ground with his mop in astonishing (and rare) bravado! Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure he didn't personally work on the video game, as many scenes simply consist of "character X faces forward, arms hanging to the sides". Which, honestly, is fairly typical of digital comic and dating sim games.
The atypicality comes in the form of poor resolution and color choice. People are outlined in noticeable borders, and these borders are pixellated due to low resolution, and this low resolution hampers the artistic details (individual hairs, eyelashes) that one could reasonably expect from inanimate portraits. Details that you'll find on dozens of other Saturn games. Furthermore, the images — both characters and backgrounds — have been marinated in pungent hues of brown and red. I find such kwality to be inexcusable, considering the artistic excellence of Pia Carrot, Can Can Bunny Extra, High School Terra Story, Desire, and so on. Each of these games features colorful, stylish artwork — and each was released in the same year as Sakura Diaries, a game that exudes an aura of laziness.
Further laziness — the halfhearted minigames. Like this one scene, a million-and-one clones of nerdy Choro approach from the left and right, trying to grab you or something. You have to punch them. Unfortunately, the timing on the punches is so whacked that even when you expect to connect, you don't — you have to wait until the last possible second to swing, and if you miss, your recovery time is so slow that you'll get grabbed (and lose).
And supposing you do really well at that minigame? Well, like pretty much everything else, it has no sizeable effect on the game's progression. This game is a tease — it pretends to let you screw with the anime's storyline, but in reality it still insists on following the same set of rules. No matter how you act, you can't change the story's course. I was WAY more impressed with Evangelion 2nd Impression on Saturn — that game let you take control of major introvert Shinji and wreak havoc. Once, I actually laid the mack down on the class rep! That was pretty funny (she slapped me).... but such outrageous divergences aren't possible in Sakura Diaries.
If I want to relive the story from the anime, I'll watch the DVD — it's got better artwork, better music, better animation, no loading times between scenes, and better dialogue.
What did I expect? Well unfortunately, this is what I expected, but I hoped for more. I don't demand Sakura Wars quality interactivity in my digital comics, but I've played so many better games on the Saturn and DC — heck, even Cobra on the Turbo Duo, while incredibly dumb, was more inspired as a game than this! That thing had sequences where you actually had to search graveyards with a flashlight, or wander through labyrinthine dungeons. This one just puts you on a set path and no matter what selections you choose, you're pretty much going to end up getting the same results.
So where's the upside? Sakura Diaries comes with a mini-CD single. And one of the two songs on that CD is really damned good. Keep the single, sell the game!
Staff review by Zigfried (January 06, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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