So it’s now officially 2016, and what better way to celebrate the beginning of a new year than a review of a game themed around…Christmas. Huh. Well, as the new guy at Hardcore Gamer, I sort of figured it was my duty to prove my loyalty by jumping on a grenade nobody else was touching (a rather pillowy grenade, but a grenade nonetheless). To be honest, though, I actually had some morbid curiosity concerning Winged Cloud’s recent series of Sakura visual novels and games. They’ve released at least half a dozen of them in the last year alone, so they definitely have a following. And besides, what if there actually was something more to them than just anime ladies with notably huge assets? So I decided to tackle Sakura Santa to find the answer to that question.
Long story short, no. There is nothing more to this game than boobies. At least, nothing of any sustenance and/or interest.
Our protagonist du jour is Koji, a university student spending his first Christmas away from home. Feeling lonely, he decides to visit a local shrine and make a small offering, wishing that he didn’t have to be alone during the holidays. Immediately afterwards, all in a row, he comes into contact with a prankster fox spirit named Akina, Koji’s childhood friend Itsumi, and Santa Claus, all of whom are busty anime women (yes, even Santa; it actually makes slightly more sense in context). Over the course of several days leading up to Christmas Eve, you have to choose which girl Koji hangs out with each day, and…well, that’s basically it in terms of gameplay. But a visual novel’s strength, as the name would imply, lies in its ability to deliver a strong story. As you may have guessed, though, Sakura Santa’s priorities reside elsewhere.
Every date you have with one of the three ladies goes down exactly the same: Hang out, have some generic discussion about romance and the relationship/friendship between you two, and come across a moment during all of that which results in a full-on pin-up moment as seen above and below here, either on purpose or due to zany shenanigans. The first moment like this comes across as kind of cute, but to say it gets predictable quickly would be an understatement. Some decent dialogue might remedy this, but don’t expect to see anything more complex than what you’d find in a generic high school anime romance.
The writing quality knows only two levels: “Nicholas Sparks” and “horndog,” and it tends to switch between them suddenly on a whim. So one second you might be with Itsumi discussing how she’s been doing ever since your childhood, and then BAM, suddenly she’s telling you that it’s okay to ogle her breasts, all while Koji’s internal thoughts read like he’s composing a letter to Penthouse. Even with those bits, however, Sakura Santa’s greatest sin isn’t being cheap, or being tawdry, but rather just being dull. And in no way should I ever have to describe a game where Santa Claus shoves a magic candy cane between two massive breasts as “dull” of all things.
It’s not like the aesthetics make up for it as well. The entire art budget obviously went into the bits with the cheeky spreads mentioned and ogled above (which I admit an immature part of me does enjoy), because the rest of the game’s graphics consist of three women, about seven generic backgrounds, and one text box. So yeah, attractive ladies or not, variety isn’t exactly on the menu here. I obviously wasn’t expecting much going in, but scenes taking place in what is supposed to be, say, an extremely busy cafe with wall-to-wall customers manifesting itself as completely barren except for you, your friend, and some disembodied voices just seems silly, at least in my eyes. The soundtrack is equally as unimpressive, consisting of a mere handful of tunes that loop in each scene, complete with audible fade-outs and pauses.
If this review seems a bit more bare bones than our previous reviews of other titles in this franchise, then sorry, but that’s what Sakura Santa came off to me as. I was honestly surprised when looking back on Marcus’ thoughts on previous games in the franchise, and was surprised to see that he was actually able to find even the faintest whiff of plot or character personalities in them, because none of that was present here. You have three one-dimensional women, ninety minutes of gameplay at best (although there are multiple endings), and for those of you thinking that you can at least download an explicit nudie mod, sorry, no naughty bits in this go-around. The developers even state so right on the Steam page. From what I’ve heard, even amongst the Sakura titles, this game underdelivers, and I can believe it.
There’s a joke about two huge lumps of coal somewhere, but I refuse to offer Sakura Santa even that. Whatever cheap thrills this visual novel does include aren’t worth sitting through incredibly flat writing and a lack of substance for. If you’re looking for shiny anime mammaries, hit the rest of the internet instead.