Season of the Sakura
Reviewed by Craxton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
January 27, 1999
(This is the first review I ever wrote. I've
thought about revising it several times, but, aside from changing
the headers, I've ultimately left it untouched. Consider it
a relic of my personal history. ^_^ )
||$24.95 (old price)
||Good, although they
can get monotonous.
||No SFX. Initially
catchy, but gets annoying after a while.
||Very well developed.
||Generic, but ultimately
||Sparse, but very
NOTE: Although out of print
for some years, Season of the Sakura has been re-released
as part of the JAST
USA Memorial Collection
. There are many new features that make the game enjoyable for anyone who is playing the games again, or for the first time (Windows XP compatibility is also provided). See this product for information on this game.
This was the first H-game I
ever played, and playing it will probably make you see why
I'm such a big fan of H-games today. ^_^ The player assumes
the role of Shuji Yamagami, a young man in his first year
of prep school. In the introductory screen, Shuji is taking
a romantic walk with the woman he loves, with sakura petals
falling all around them. Who's the woman? You have to play
the game to find out, because Season of the Sakura is a flashback.
Since this is my first H-game
review, I guess I should say a few things about the genre
itself. "H-game" is short for "Hentai Game," a Japanese style
of IF that involves sex. This is not to say that H-games are
pornographic. They are erotic, but to dismiss them as "porno
games" would be foolish in much the same way as dismissing
Star Wars as an "action movie" would be foolish. The design
philosophy is to create an interactive erotica story, usually
with the player as the male lead. The text of the story is
paired with anime-style illustrations of places and characters
which change to fit the scene, as well as music.
The interface of an H-game is
neither the parser of a text adventure nor the point-and-click
interface of a graphical adventure. Instead, the player selects
his actions by choosing verbs and objects from a list. While
some people complain that this constrains the player, it's
a necessary trade-off. A romantic game needs realistic NPCs,
and that is something conventional IF does very badly. The
more freedom the player has, the greater the chance he will
do something the author didn't expect. When that happens,
the game typically falls back on a canned response, or, worse
yet, fails to react at all. If these blunders involve NPCs,
it makes them seem like computer-controlled sprites, instead
of real people. By constraining the player, the menu-based
system virtually negates this flaw, allowing the mimesis to
remain intact under constant player-NPC interaction. Thus,
the characters seem more realistic, and the game more absorbing.
And absorbing it is. It's very
easy to lose track of time while playing Season of the Sakura,
and I had some trouble tearing myself away from the screen.
This is the interactive equivilent of a real page-turner.
Part of that is that the premise is easy to identify with:
who doesn't remember their high school years? Or their first
The object is to fall in love
with someone, and get them to fall in love with you. Sound
easy? It is, for the most part. The hard part may be choosing
someone in the first place. You'll meet eight differant girls
over the course of the game, each with a different personality.
In general, the characters are familiar archetypes: the fiercely
independent tomboy, the kind-hearted, devout Catholic girl,
the bubbly, air-headed bimbo, and so on. You'll get to know
them well, because character interaction is at the core of
this game. You'll spend most of your time talking to, looking
at, and thinking about the various other characters. If that
sounds boring, it's not, because, as I've said before, the
characters are very realistic, and once you're truly into
the game, you'll very rarely feel like you're talking to a
machine. If you succeed in capturing someone's heart, you'll
be rewarded with a nice little sex scene at the end.
Pardon me, did I say *the* end?
My mistake. There are twelve endings- eight successful and
four unsuccessful. Which ending you'll get depends on the
"love points" you accumulate. These "points" are a measure
of how affectionate a girl is toward you, and are individual
to each girl. (There are points for Reiko, points for Kiyomi,
points for Mio, etc., all independant of each other) The "points"
aren't shown onscreen, nor are you ever made aware of them,
except insofar as they influence how the girls react to you.
For example, early in the game you'll be asked by three differant
girls to try out their respective sports clubs. Reiko asks
you to try out swimming, Kiyomi wants you to play baseball,
and Mio thinks you should try tennis. If you try the swimming
team first, you'll get points with Reiko. If you choose baseball,
you'll get points with Kiyomi. If you choose the tennis team,
you'll get points for Mio. Some events are more important
then others, because they set off internal switches that change
the course of the game later on. What's more, the "switch
events" aren't immediately obvious. That means the game will
surprise you- the second time through, it's likely not only
that things will be differant, but that what caused them to
be differant won't be immediately obvious.
I can't help feeling that this
is turning into a review of H-games in general more then Season
of the Sakura in particular. But that seems to be unavoidable,
and it exposes Sakura's chief flaw: Season of the Sakura is
the definition of an H-game. It lacks anything to distinguish
itself from the rest of the genre. All the basics are here,
and they're all excecuted well, but that's it. There's nothing
unique about it. Most notable is the lack of a plot outside
of Shuji's love life. The framework of a school year is used
to set up situations, but there's little cohesiveness to the
events: they're basically just a sequence of events that happen,
with variations depending on the love points and switch events.
If you've played a lot of good H-games, you'll probably forget
On the other hand, if it's your
first, like it was mine, it will leave a lasting impression.
Once you get used to the quirks of the interface, it's a hell
of a lot of fun. The game has tremendous replay value, even
though some sections get tedious after the second or third
time. Furthermore, with eight girls available, you're almost
guarenteed to find someone to love. Which makes the game all
the more rewarding. The sex scenes at the various endings
aren't particularly effective on their own, but they don't
stand on their own, either. As I said before, the game draws
you in. Character development is so good that by the end,
you almost feel like you *are* Shuji Yamagami, and the woman
you're making love to really *is* your true love. That feeling
is a rush almost as intense as the real thing.
Just two minor complaints before
I wrap this up: First, although you can save at any point,
you only have five save slots. This isn't a big problem, though,
as it's difficult to screw up irrevoccably. Second, most of
the music has the upbeat, bouncy rythum of jingles from TV
commercials, and after about half the game, it started to
grate on my nerves.
But that's okay. I turned the
volume down and kept playing.
Bottom Line: My first love. ^_^