I sacrificed one class day for this. I’d say it was worth it.
I already mentioned some parts of this game through my previous first impressions post. So instead I’ll just cover what I didn’t (which would be the basics).
Hatsuyuki Sakura is SagaPlanets’ latest game released last month. Scenario was exclusively written by 新島 夕, unlike the two previous games (NatsuNagi and Kisaragi) where there were other writers working with him. Heroine character designs are by their in-house artists: ほのたにかなえ, とらのすけ, and ちろまろ. Soundtrack was largely, if not wholly, composed by I’ve Sound. Movies and animations were by Iris Motion Graphics and ろど of Yuzusoft.
In this town, there exist two beings. Normal humans, those who live out their ordinary lives and fulfilling them, they are those who are considered living. Then there are Ghosts, once living beings whose attachment to the living world has allowed them to exist beyond their time. Ten years ago, a large fire broke out in a hotel within the town’s abandoned district. Hundreds of people died as a result, but they continue to reside in the hotel. Something wasn’t right with that fire. It wasn’t merely an accident. And because of this, they sought revenge.
To put things simply, this is a story of graduation. The whole story revolves around that concept. Graduating from school isn’t the only way to convey it after all. This overarching theme is a powerful metaphor, and a very well-used one at that. Even if you don’t think hard enough, probably you could get a gist of the story from just that, so I’ll shut up about it. Knowing what it means is one thing, but the whole experience is something that needs to be undergone in order to appreciate it. While I admit that it has some pitfalls, such as being explanation-heavy and some character aspects going unexplained/unelaborated (particularly Sai and Miyatou), it’s a really solid plot that even forced me to make sure that I finish it within the weekend. But I’ll be honest here; this game isn’t actually plot-driven. Sure the background of the story sets up a lot of the events, but graduation is a human event. Natural forces can induce the process of revenge, but to graduate is an entirely human concept. Thus this is, for most part, a charage.
They made quite a cast here. Aside from the seven main characters, you have various side characters that are either the tagalong bunch in any route (e.g. Shirosaki Yankees) or route-exclusive ones such as Yuuhi and Miku (fucking bitch). Then you have the hordes of faceless and nameless mooks. Surprisingly though, there are a few faceless but named side characters around too. If this were plot-centric then utilizing every single one of them would’ve been a chore. But they developed every (named) character as it would fit their role. Hatsuyuki’s interactions with the girls, in particular, are really good. Their relationships are what I’d call naturally formed, with the exception for Aya because I felt it was a bit strange. Nozomu’s route is pretty much this “natural” relationship formation in its peak action. The others had it done pretty nicely too (Sakura’s debatable because of the nature of their relationship, but I won’t say anything). As for tying the plot with the route though, undoubtedly Sakura has the most weight of it, followed by Aya or Shirokuma. Nozomu’s route is, to say the least, the most detached of all routes though. It isn’t a bad thing, but it left out a few pieces.
In the technical side of things, the game enforces route order. After the prologue you have no choice but to play Ran’s route first. The route order I’m suggesting here would be, in my opinion at least, the best way to build up the understanding of the plot into the final route:
Aya > Yoru > Nozomu > Shirokuma > Side Events* > Aya > Sakura
While I highly recommend reading through the side events first before Graduation (you’ll probably lose all will to play the game again afterward), it’s optional really. If you like seeing side characters or Hatsuyuki at his most ordinary, then sure go for it.
The use of other elements such as music and art was pretty interesting. Some of us here are I’ve fags, and the BGM defined the feelings of the scene. Well… a bit too much I guess. One of the major points I want to raise is the fact that the soundtrack is so powerful that, at times, it even overshadowed the feelings of the storytelling. I’m not sure if it’s their fault or my fault for being so musically autistic, but I’ll list it down as a plus I guess. I do love the vocal tracks though. Even Presto makes me wanna cry (note: I never cried while/after playing this). Quality of voice acting was a bit fluctuating. You have pretty non-expressive-but-should-be such as whoever voiced Hatsuyuki’s dad, then you have Mint Yamaha voicing Sakura in a such a manner that makes you think “Shit. Only she could’ve said that.” Most of them are pretty good though (Fuurin fans rejoice); despite the downsides (Sai’s VA was pretty inconsistent with his tones, but still badass/hilarious).
Due to having three different artists do the character designs, things can get pretty inconsistent in this department too. Honotani Kanae did the designs for Sakura, Nozomu, and Naoko; Toranosuke for Aya, Shirokuma, and Megumi; and Chiromaro for Yoru and Miku. The CGs themselves are pretty enough, sprites are so-so. It’s the group pictures that can get a bit off due to the trouble of who draws which (one person ends up drawing one scene him/herself anyway). I just wish there were more SDCGs though. They’re pretty nice.
Siglus Engine is a pain in the ass to explain, along with the fact that system configuration panels are simple enough. Have a free Nozomu.
There is no ero in a mere visual novel. Hence, eroge. I didn’t actually pay attention to the H-scenes (first run) anyway. Reading them reinforces character development though. Personally I feel the sex here is less eye candy and more of plot additive to keep the relationships nice and sweet (take note that this is a nakige). So while I skipped all of them while reading main story, they weren’t under the “unnecessary” category either. If you just want something good though (and if you do then you’re more heartless than I am), Sakura’s 2nd and 3rd scenes + Shirokuma’s 3rd scene. They will not disappoint.
Hatsuyuki Sakura is a story of graduation. Don’t take Kisaragi Gold Star’s pitfall as an excuse not to try this game. If you’re a casual reader, then sure, go pick this up. You won’t waste your time for sure. If you like things plot-centered though, then picking it up is your choice. All I can say is that it’s a solid game. One of the best? Not so fast. High-tier? Definitely.