Title: Sakura Swim Club
Developer: Winged Cloud
Publisher: Sekai Project
Played on: PC
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of this review.
I’ll preface this review by saying that Sakura Swim Club is quite possibly the worst visual novel I’ve ever played. That sentiment is coming from someone who has been playing these sort of games for over fifteen years now. While I had gone into reading Sakura Swim Club with literally no expectations, it somehow still somehow managed to disappoint on a myriad of levels. The game is poorly written and formatted, the music is uninspired, and the characters shallow and unlikable even for a game that only exists for the sake of fanservice. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this visual novel is terrible with a capital T and should not be read by anyone but the most devoted fans of the Sakura series.
As to why this is so terrible, lets begin with the story. In Sakura Swim Club players see the plot unfold through the eyes of Kaede, a protagonist with no real personality, thus making him a perfect self-insert upon which players to project themselves. Living alone in an apartment near his high school, Kaede is bad and both school work and social obligations, and thus has no friends, significant other, or anything else of the sort to his name. So when pressured to join a club by one of his teachers, he eventually finds himself a part of the school’s swim club, of which there are only two other members, both of whom are cute girls. From here the visual novel weaves a tepid story about friendship and these three unlikable characters trying to save the swim club from utter ruin. Literally none of the plot is interesting, and mostly serves as a vehicle to push its leading ladies into compromising positions over, and over, and over again.
By the end, which came mercifully quickly, as this is a rather short visual novel, I could barely remember any of the character’s names, let alone recall details of their awfully written dialogue. Making matters worse, the dialogue is advanced one line of text at a time despite the text box itself being gigantic. Why such a strange choice was made in the first place is beyond me, but it hinders the flow of dialogue and narration in such a way that tepid lines of dialogue like “I get out of bed” and “I’ve arrived at school” each take a single click of the mouse to advance. Rapid clicking is already something of an annoyance in the visual novel medium, and having to do so hundred of times to wade through Kaede’s incredibly boring dialogue only makes matters worse here. The game does throw you a few dialogue choices on occasion to break up the pacing a it, but as far as I could tell none of these decisions really affect the plot in any way. They exist for the sake of providing an illusion of interaction.
The art here is perhaps the best part of the game, with backgrounds being crisp and colorful and character sprites and CGs well drawn in an appealing anime style. But these same backgrounds and characters are repeated ad nassum, as there are perhaps five different backgrounds in the entire game, and two outfits, a school uniform and swimsuit, for each of the girls. This is more or less standard issue for low budget games like these on Steam, but the girl’s lack of sprites often leads to strange instances where characters go from completely clothed, to their underwear, and back again in a matter of seconds. Were this a comedy, this would have been hilarious, but as Sakura Swim Club tries to at least maintain that it is mildly serious in tone, this is simply jarring and silly, but not in a good way.
As I mentioned previously the CG art is quite good, but falls into stereotypes of harem and fanservice anime in that most of them are the result of one of the two heroines falling and losing their clothes somehow. This, combined with impossible spine bending on the part of the artist to show off as much sexy things as possible, makes for some rather goofy look artwork that is more comical than sexy. For some reason, this same artwork also has the girls’ skin shining like it was covered in oil all the time for some reason. While this is a rather common trope in the sort of anime that inspired this game, it adds nothing to the art and only serves to make CG art even more ridiculous than it already is. Perhaps the biggest example of all of this is a strange scene in which the two heroines fall into the school pool and begin kissing for no real reason. The story never bothers to mention this scene again, and the art for it is hidden at the far end of the CG gallery as if it were some hidden bonus. Either way, it serves as a sort of symbol of Sakura Swim Club as a whole: a boring and generic piece of fanservice slop that doesn’t bother to try and be anything more than a vehicle for the delivery of art of anime girl’s chests and butts.
Sakura Swim Club’s music is probably the most uninspired part of an already tedious game and consists almost entirely of electronic loops, annoyingly poppy slice of life tunes, and a slew of other instantly forgettable tunes, much like the rest of the game
This game is bad. The story is terrible, the music forgettable, and the only remotely passable thing about it is the art, which, again, consists mostly of fanservice shots. So, in short, avoid this game like the plague. Even among fanservice visual novels, Sakura Swim Club is one of the worst I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing and adds nothing new to a genre already overfilled with similar titles. All that in mind, I give this one gets a well deserved 3/10. It really is that bad.
Those looking for a more substantive fan service experience can get their fix when the unedited version of Fruits of Grisaia arrives later this fall. Unlike Sakura Swim Club, that particular visual novel boasts an excellent story and likable character.
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