…Wow. After the disappointments of last month, it is so nice to encounter such a great VN on my first one of the month this one. Sakura no Mori Dreamers is a horror/mystery nakige based in a medium-sized Japanese town. It is primarily focused on the protagonist, Shinji, and his quest to discover the killer of his first love, Madoka. However, if you ask me if this is a story of revenge in the vein of Hello, Lady, that isn’t the case.
Shinji is one of those rarest of things in a VN protagonist these days… a young man with a strong will and who is actually intelligent enough to figure out the best way to act in most situations. That isn’t to say he is some paragon of the avenger archetype… if anything, he is a normal guy… but he has encountered enough loss in his life that it is pretty easy to empathize with him and his reactions to tense situations lack the frustrating aspects you see in a lot of VN protagonists.
Madoka, his deceased girlfriend, plays a vital role in the story, with the prologue thoroughly introducing her and the relationships between the protagonist and his adopted family (his parents are deceased). To be honest, the sense of loss at the end of the prologue is devastating, even though you know – since every single summary on the web reveals it to you – what is going to happen.
In terms of structure, about thirty-percent of this VN is slice-of-life, with the rest being raw plot. Most of the story is told as part of the ‘common route’, which makes up about 80% of the VN. In fact, the main conflict is resolved in the common route, so afterward it moves from the protagonist’s own personal conflict to that of the heroines… with the exception of Kureha’s path, which becomes something of an extension of the common route near the end.
This VN really touches on the darker side of human nature, with multiple psychopathic killers involved. There is a lot of semi-guro imagery in this VN (like pencils sticking out of the eye of a rotting corpse, a half-pancaked schoolgirl, etc). As such, I can’t recommend it for the faint of heart, especially since it is pretty frequent in the common route.
The protagonist and friends dive into the dreams of killers in this VN and eliminate the evil spirits waiting there… but that part of the VN is actually relatively small in comparison to the ‘background’ that gets formed around each major incident and its human cause. The fantasy-horror element is vital to the story, but it tends to take a backseat in two of the four heroine routes (Mahoro and Hatsune’s routes), whereas it is more vital to the other two (Kureha and Mifuyu’s).
In all honestly, it is quite possible to be perfectly satisfied with this VN after playing only Kureha’s route, which is why I think it should have been locked until you finished the others. There is a definite sensation of ‘true route flavor’ to her route, and I made the mistake of playing it first. That doesn’t mean that the other routes were neglected, but it is the only route where the common route’s main storyline is continued.
Hatsune’s route is probably the mildest… it is basically your classic nakige route with a few minor twists born of the fantasy element. Mahoro’s route is quite similar in this respect. However, Mifuyu’s route is seriously dark at times… primarily because Mifuyu is carrying a bit more baggage than the other two heroines, lol.
Overall, this VN is one of the better ones this year so far. For some reason, this seems to be the year for fantasy-horror VNs (with Tokyo Necro and Akeiro Kaikitan both standing out like burning flagpoles). There are some issues with the setting that prevent it from being a kamige – the evil spirits are a bit too… opaque as an existence, even at the end – but it is definitely worth playing and a solid candidate for May’s VN of the Month.
I actually finished this VN and this post before I went to sleep, but since I lost internet access due to a freak lightning strike (curse you, oh Lady of Storms!), I haven’t been able to get online to take care of things. This VN took me roughly twenty-one hours over the course of five days, but a lot of that was because, until the internet got knocked out, I was working like crazy to meet some short-term deadlines. Moreover, the loss of internet access completely screwed up my work schedule (while also hurrying my play schedule), which I’d re-geared since my doctor pronounced me semi-recovered.
Anyway, I’ve already started Soshite Hatsukoi ga Imouto ni Naru. For those who are wondering… the VN is absolutely nothing like what I expected so far, in a good way, lol. *smiles enigmatically*