Sakura, Moyu is the latest game by Favorite, the producers of Hoshimemo and the Irotoridori series. For those who aren't yet familiar with Favorite, I should tell you that there are three things this company is known for. For one, they produce first-class 'nakige' in a unique style full of pastel colors and manipulation of visual and narrative perspectives. Second, they are known for their excellent stories and characters, regardless of which writer they have on the job. Last of all, they are known for being lolicons (lol). No, I'm not kidding. The fact that every one of their true heroines at least looks like a loli at first glance says everything, hahahaha.
Sakura, Moyu was written by Urushibara Yukito, the same writer as the Irotoridori games. As such, it should surprise no one that the setting is layered and complex and the story not at all what it seems on the surface. It should also surprise no one that there is a lot of emotionality in this game... but I don't think anyone was expecting just how emotional this game is. To be blunt, I spent roughly 80% of this game either on the verge of or in tears. Considering that the game is one of the longest games I've ever played (at least partially so because I so thoroughly relished Urushibara's writing style), that's a lot of tears... and a lot of tissues *glances at the overfull wastebasket next to his pc and the empty tissue boxes lying around it*.
However, there are some issues with this game that need to be mentioned to get them out of the way. Few games are perfect, and this one is no exception. To be specific, Urushibara has always been mediocre at the romantic elements of his games. Unless the romance exists at the end of a path full of suffering and despair or occurs in an incredibly stressful situation, he can't seem to write it very well (in other words, he is good at dramatic love but only a bit less than average at everyday love). As a result, the romance in the first two paths (Chiwa's and Hiyori's) feels abrupt and forced... not to mention the fact that the beginning of Chiwa's path is so at odds at first with the game's atmosphere that I had to put the game down for two days to get past the emotional disconnect it created. Hiyori's path is somewhat less problematic but still feels forced and abrupt, so I'm basically saying that readers who have high hopes for romance in these two paths will probably be disappointed, at least to an extent.
One other issue that always nags at you as you play the numerous paths is the treatment of Kuro, the game's true heroine... to be blunt, like all of the Favorite true heroines, the story is set up so that if you aren't on her path, she gets screwed over to one extent or another. Now, if you don't instantly fall in love with Kuro during the opening scenes, like I did, this might not be a problem for you, but one reason I spent the end of every path in tears and couldn't empathize with the characters' happiness was precisely because of this.
This game is very much a story of self-sacrifice... to the extent that it feels like every time you turn around, someone is sacrificing something for the sake of someone else. The creatures of the Night (the underworld-like dream realm the characters fought in ten years before the story's beginning) are, as is openly stated, driven to feel unconditional love for humans, and as such, their excessively kind hearts spend much of this game suffering as a result of human actions and the tendency of humans to disregard their own happiness at the oddest of times.
This is also a game full of loneliness... to a degree that 'loneliness' or 'lonely' (さみしさ and さみしい) are the two most common words in the game by an exponential level. All of the main characters in this game suffer from loneliness to one degree or another at some point. Some take it on of their own will, others have it inflicted upon them, and yet others endure it because it is their fate. As such, there are very few points outside of the relatively few standard SOL scenes (compared to the game's over length) where the game isn't somber in atmosphere.
This game is also unbelievably layered and complex... so much so that it reminds me of games like Harumade Kururu and Ever17 in retrospect. It has been a long time since a writer managed to keep me so thoroughly in the dark about so much of the game's general story for so long (the last time was Bradyon Veda), and, in that sense, I'm grateful for this game's existence.
I do, in fact, like how it all (the main story) ends, and I even liked how each of the individual paths ended, taken by themselves (If i ignore how Kuro gets screwed over). I also found myself to be completely satisfied once I finished the game... to the extent that I don't think I'll ever be able to replay this game. This game was very high stress in the sense that I was constantly being bombarded with the characters' emotions, and as such, it isn't a game that would be easy to come back to any time soon. The sheer length of the game also adds to this.
In conclusion, this is a game that is worthy of the legacy of Favorite as a company, worthy of being the first mainline project since the release of AstralAir in 2014. It has problems and the game is probably one that is emotionally stressful. However, for catharsis addicts, it is a worthy addition to their collection of nakige and utsuge, lol.