While two weeks ago we’ve mostly covered the beginnings of Winged Cloud’s presence on the EVN market (well, ignoring the "otome period", but Pyrite Heart might be worth a separate look, along with The Guardian’s Spell crowdfunding debacle), this time we’re taking look at a transitional period – one in which Inma still didn’t make explicit art, acting as the sole “all-ages” artist for the company, while Wanaca was already focusing exclusively on hentai titles, including the 100+ CG behemoth that is Sakura Dungeon. It’s also a time that brought something we could describe as a pretty obvious drop in quality – the new non-porn titles definitely looked like low-effort cash-ins, with mostly linear storytelling, no voice-acting and underwhelming CG counts. Sakura Beach 2, put together in only a few months and obviously reusing a lot of visual assets from the first game, was especially emblematic, foreshadowing the switch to mass-production of cheaper, shorter titles, that fully dominated the studios output a year later, after the release of Sakura Nova, the last arguably ambitious Sakura game. But, ignoring for a moment our knowledge of what the future held for the franchise, how these late Sakura ecchi VNs hold out today?
It might be just my personal taste, but I can somewhat accept a harem scenario if the protagonist earns it in some way – by being a really good person that helps the heroines in a substantial manner, or even being a shitty one but defying expectations and doing something exceptional when it truly mattered. Starting with a harem, however, feels like the laziest setup imaginable and I pretty much abhorred every instance when it showed up its ugly head in the Sakura series (of course, in short nukige such as Sakura Christmas Party the only thing that mattered was giving a justification for inserting a variety of porn scenes, so complaining about dumb plot is a bit of superficial – thankfully, I’m also making a series all about pointless nit-picking :3). Inma’s debut as a Winged Cloud’s character artist, Sakura Beach and its sequel, Sakura Beach 2 already had a pretty rough start with me because of this "storytelling technique", while the apparently short development cycle for both games also did little to encourage any kind of optimism from me when I decided to approach them.