Sometimes people seek out visual novels for hard-hitting stories. Other times they come to them to be swept away in a magical world. But, at times, all readers really want is to experience a comedic romance situated in a (somewhat) realistic setting. Sakura Sakura is exactly that type of game. It’s a comfortable tale that gives folks a fun, simple time over the course of a playthrough. The title itself refers to two women in protagonist Tohru Inaba’s life. There’s no relation between this game and the series of “Sakura”-branded visual novels from Winged Cloud. In fact, Sakura Sakura originally launched in Japan in 2009. As such, it predates any and all of Winged Clouds’ titles by years.
The two “Sakuras” in this story are Sakura Nanako and Sakura Kirishima. To avoid in-game Sakura overload, they’re typically referred to as just Nanako and Sakura. Nanako is the dorm mother where Tohru is staying. She’s also a teacher at his school. The dorm itself has a retro, cozy feel with only two other students residing there. Sakura, on the other hand, is another student who helps to run the school’s art club. This club is also downright serious. Not just anyone can join — they must pass a series of rigorous knowledge and demonstrative tests. Tohru used to go to an all-boys school and excels in martial arts. Because of varied reasons, Tohru decides he would rather pursue art instead of continue to kick butt at kendo in his new school.
Don’t expect anything to come easily for poor Tohru over the course of this comedic tale. His home life is hardly enviable. The dorm may be small, but residents Akira and Naoki constantly cause issues. No matter what, they’re always butting in on Tohru’s life and complicating even the simplest things. Despite their ridiculous, invasive nature, both characters eventually grow on the protagonist as well as players. There’s something charming about their near-constant silliness. Of course, Tohru would still have issues even without their presence. He’s also got his hands full dealing with both Sakuras.
Tohru may not seem all that special, but in true visual novel fashion he’s unquestionably attractive to both Nanako and Sakura. Yes — even though Nanako is both years older than him and his teacher, she finds a gross high school boy desirable. Players simply need to put these issues aside and enjoy the goofy ride Sakura Sakura brings them on. Much of the game’s humor comes from pitting the two Sakuras against each other in a bid to draw the attention of Tohru. The absurdity of the whole thing is a bit much at times. Even so, the characters are fleshed out enough to make choosing between one or the other a difficult decision.
Going down Nanako or Sakura’s path is based upon dialogue choices scattered throughout the game. Once through both routes, however, a new one opens up. This new route isn’t even about Tohru! Instead players finally get to learn more about Naoki instead. From there you’ll unlock additional routes to see Tohru’s life with his chosen Sakura later into their relationship. There’s a surprisingly large amount of content packed into Sakura Sakura. The first two routes might take ten hours to run through, but fully completing everything the game has to offer will yield a dozen additional hours of game time at minimum.
Fans of visual novels have likely played their fare share of romantic comedy titles before. One thing that separates Sakura Sakura from the rest is a mode which occurs between main story sections. At these times, players get a glimpse of the dorm and can explore its rooms. This opens up optional side story content. The side stories can be skipped and do not affect the main plot in any way, but they do provide a fun way to learn more about each character. Completing the side stories is recommended to get the full experience.
There’s little to complain about in regards to visual and audio quality of the game. Unlike many other recent releases, there are few typos in the English script. The artwork is high quality and there are a fair amount of CGs to collect. The Japanese voice acting is par for the course and soundtrack is cutesy. Sakura Sakura comes in an all-ages Steam release and an 18+ version/patch. Even so, the game is not heavily focused on sexuality. In fact, the first two routes have very minimal sex at all for folks who choose to apply the patch. The focus is on building up emotions between characters over the long term.
Sakura Sakura is the kind of game to play when you’re not in the mood for anything serious. It keeps the mood light and provides plenty of laughs throughout the story. It also features a great deal of content to keep folks interested in seeing everything the game has to offer. The design decision to offer additional storylines and character development as optional is odd, but not annoying. Each character grows over the course of the game, which is more than can be said for many other high school-centered romance visual novels. As long as you don’t try to take Sakura Sakura too seriously, it’ll provide hours of wacky enjoyment.