Release: 2015 (枕)
Writers: SCA-自 (Sca-ji)
Rin – 4/5
Rina/Yumi – 5/5
Shizuku – 4/5
Mizuna – 3/5
Ai Naoya – 5/5
浅生詠 (Asou Ei)
Makoto – 3/5
Japanese difficulty: Medium
Ratings: VNDB (8.65); EGS (8.81)
The experience of reading this long awaited work of probably the most erudite of visual novel writers, Scaji, can be both amazing, and somewhat disappointing at the same time. For starters, you shouldn’t come into it expecting another Subarashiki Hibi, as while Sakura no Uta definitely has its fair share of ideas, it isn’t really a work specifically designed to explore the higher existential questions of avant-garde philosophy like the aforementioned masterpiece. The few questions that Sakura no Uta does tackle throughout its story are much more down to earth — the question of talent, the meaning of a happy life, and the effect interpersonal relationships have on all that —; it does lightly allude to and quote various thought-provoking works of literature — Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, Maugham, and the nigh incomprehensible Nakahara Chuuya — but in the core it’s just a drama about one man’s struggle against the unfair nature of fate, against his own fickle talent that would betray him only when it counted most.
Like most visual novels, Sakura no Uta is split into routes, but in its case, all of them other than Makoto’s, are locked into a strict playing order and complement/foreshadow each other. The things you learn in Rina/Yumi’s route that don’t seem to matter much unravel their significance once you learn more stuff in Shizuku’s route and so on. Scaji’s masterful writing to allow the reader just enough information to keep him interested, but not enough to figure everything till the very end is present, and still very effective in Sakura no Uta.
Unfortunately, the initial chapter of the game starts very slow, and apart from a few foreshadowing parts, incredibly generic, full of pace slumbering light-hearted comedy and slice of life. It’s obvious it was written early in Scaji’s career, as while not particularly impressive prose-wise, it doesn’t even offer that much of an interesting plot, and only introduces the characters at best. Luckily, the things pick up in the second chapter right away as it starts with an amazing conversation between Rina and Yumi (that one part felt totally Subarashiki Hibi to me, I wonder if Scaji wrote those two concurrently or something), and then the plot concentrates on a really cool scheme and heartfelt feelings of Akashi’s artistic soul, who only seemed like a comic-relief up until that point. Then the plot momentarily stumbles and crashes into the wall as you have to get Makoto’s route out of the way; seriously, it’s not even that bad — good even — but why would Scaji let someone else write stuff in his masterwork? It’s like having to read a bonus chapter in the middle of Lolita written by an average modern author who has one-third of a talent for prose, and one-tenth of ingenuity.
Interestingly enough, some characters in parts written by Scaji, like Rin, actually have more of a presence in other routes than their own, her route being just a fairly simple romantic story with a couple of dark revelations that only really come into play in the later routes. Shizuku’s route is mostly a flashback that explains a lot of the odd behavior she and the protagonist exhibit, and also finally introduces the protagonist’s faster, a master artist, about whom a lot of the story indirectly revolves. Then — after witnessing a minor story about the relationship of him and the protagonist’s mother, which I could not help but feel was incredibly rushed (it pretty much just repeated everything word-for-word that was already crystal clear from the foreshadowing) — you end up in a route which is supposedly Ai’s — the protagonist’s older sister kind of persona — but is actually a route about Naoya himself, and him coming to terms with his own talent in a way that probably no one saw coming.
It’s a grand, heartfelt story that at times makes you shed tears, and at times laugh. It makes you consider your own life and ask what you have done with it till this point, if your decisions were right or not. It’s a bittersweet tale that probably won’t leave you happy after its conclusion, but it will definitely leave you a more profound man. It might not compare to Subarashiki Hibi in literary value, but it’s definitely among the better depictions of dramas of life I’ve seen in literature, much less games.
Oddly enough, my favorite part from the whole thing is the exploration of Yumi’s and Rina’s relationship in their route that only indirectly touches upon the overarching story. Not only Yumi, with her disdain for men, is probably both the most profound and interesting character in the whole story, her relationship with Rina, who suffers just the same for her inability to answer her feelings, is among the best depictions of the same-sex love emotional struggle I’ve ever seen in fiction. The idea is usually just scratched on the surface in the plethora of dumb superficial yuri games, but in Sakura no Uta we’re talking about almost Giovanni’s Room kind of profound emotional exploration.
The allusion of the whole thing to a Red Riding Hood with the roles reversed, and the motive of the death-foreboding cypress are also worked into the story with such masterful poignancy I can do nothing but take my hat off to Scaji’s genius. Even the prose seems to flow better in Yumi’s route, especially where she narrates her past and the text starts to seem almost like verse. I wonder if this route was written last, or if Scaji was struck by some sort of inexplicable genius when he penned it, but it is the only one in Sakura no Uta that gave me a feeling of awe similar to that of “It’s my own invention”.
To sum it up: I thoroughly enjoyed Sakura no Uta, and it’s definitely the best game of the year, maybe a few years even. It didn’t give me anywhere as strong an impression as Subarashiki Hibi — Scaji’s masterpiece — but it’s a good, profound story penned by a master’s hand, and should be read by anyone with even a passing interest in the medium. Seriously, if Scaji wasn’t writing visual novels, I’d expect his name to come up among Nobel Prize laureates in a year or two — I definitely read less profound books of the guys that actually won the prize.
|Beautiful, flowing prose||Makoto’s route feels generic and out of place|
|Attractive, lively character sprites||The plot always feels like it’s just one step from becoming something amazing|
|A couple of good music tracks||The ending leaves room for a sequel (if ten years weren’t enough)|
|Interesting, profound, likable characters||Nowhere near as mind-blowing philosophy-wise as Subarashiki Hibi|
|Some genuinely funny comedy|
|A thought-provoking story about the unfair nature of the world|
|Thought-provoking on same sex relationships in Rina/Yumi’s route|
|Thought-provoking on art and its relationship with the physical world|
|Thought-provoking on life in general|
|Profound knowledge of art and its history|
|Profound knowledge of literature|
|Full of little philosophical insights and thought-provoking trivia|
|Very-well written, amusing H scenes|