Winged Cloud’s early hentai VNs appeared at the moment of company’s greatest creativity (obviously, speaking in the relative terms) and during what could be described as a slow improvement in the overall quality of their titles. The two latest ones, however, came as a syndrome of an exact opposite tendency, one which becomes very clear when we look at pretty much any of the Sakura releases after Nova – the whole formula becoming increasingly stale and cynical, and WC’s games turning into little more than low-effort cash grabs, feeding on the loyal fans of the series.
Still, while they might represent the lowest moment in Winged Clouds' history, did these games at least keep some of the entertainment value you would hope for in a trashy fanservice VN? Spoiler: Not really…
A prime argument for my thesis that if you don’t want to put actual resources into creating an interesting setting, you’ll be better off just sticking to high-school SoL drama – at least then your laziness and corner-cutting won’t be completely obvious. While Sakura Space managed to make the theme of space mercenaries unbearably unexciting and generic, Agent achieved something maybe even harder – making an alien invasion and a secret agency fighting it completely dull and laughable (not to be confused with “funny”), mostly by never showing anything but fanservice and presenting the whole plot through WCs typical, cliched and bland narration.
Beyond that, the game offers a protagonist with no presence or charisma whatsoever (but who was, I guess, meant to be a badass), no routes, unconvincing heroines, distinct lack of humour and Sakura Maid’s levels of random fanservice (including a hentai scene with a kidnapped heroine in the middle of an enemy base and possibly the dumbest tentacle sex scene in the history of VNs). As a result, Agent is one of the saddest entries in the whole Sakura series, in which WCs attempts to give context to the porn CGs does not add any kind of appeal to them, but rather makes you cringe from how bland and stupid the whole setup is. Also unlike some of the Sakura games that preceded it, like Fantasy, Nova or Dungeon, it simply feels cheap, missing the visual flair and assets necessary to communicate its theme and storyline properly. In the end, it's a highly unfulfilling experience – find the pics online, save your time and money.
Final rating: Smelly Poo
The first example of Winged Cloud reusing a whole theme in something that isn’t a direct sequel (if anyone needs a reminder – Sakura Angels was a magical girl story with no actual angels involved) might suggest the studio running out of ideas, but is definitely a proof of it running out of creative powers. With two main heroines so shallow and similar to each other it’s seriously hard to differentiate between them, and a third one only remarkable by being their vague opposite (and whose darker philosophy is strangely also reflected by being black – though, as bad as it sounds, it’s at least a piece of visual variety previously rather absent from the Sakura franchise and I wouldn’t mind it becoming more common), this game already missed out on the most important part of the ecchi formula – appealing female cast.
Without it, there was already little Magical Girls could do to stay memorable, but it didn’t make itself any favours by also being short and linear. And while it might only be my impression, even Wanaca’s visual designs are among the poorest in the whole series, with magical girl outfits looking like a random, overly colourful mess (and this is made even worse by the ability to contrast them with relatively good-looking sprites from Sakura Angel). The aforementioned “dark magical girl”, Ayame, might be the closest thing to an actual “positive” here, but in the end, she is also way too over-the-top and one-dimensional to hold any serious appeal beyond hentai scenes. With a bland, "delinquent" protagonist and nonsensical plot added to the mix, it's another thoroughly skippable Sakura game, which only makes the cliffhanger ending, signalizing a possible sequel, laughable. Of all VNs in the series, this is probably the last one I would like to see continued and I wholeheartedly recommend avoiding it at all cost.
Final rating: Smelly Poo
There’s no escaping from one simple fact – the latest straight hentai games by Winged Cloud are terrible. And they’re not terrible in the meaning that would apply to pretty much all Sakura games, with their thin plot, pretty much just pretext for fanservice and h-scenes, poor writing, short length etc. They’re simply devoid of any kind of entertainment value that usually accompanies WCs stream of anime boobs – the bare minimum of characterization and humour that make these VNs more appealing than just writing “Wanaca91” in a Google search or browning random anime fanart. And this time, even Winged Cloud’s fans seem to agree with me in that assessment – both games received relatively poor reviews on Steam and VNDB, and most likely had their role in the company’s move towards hiring a new scenario writer and focusing on yuri content.
Will the het-porn formula come back in the upcoming Sakura titles? I have no doubts about it, but hopefully in a much, much better style – at least within the WCs scale of being “good”. After all, no miracles will happen within the world of trashiest Western eroge, even when magical girls are involved.
PS This time too, my special thanks go to Bosskwar, whose videos made preparing this post much less painful then it would otherwise be.