SAGA PLANETS’ trial for their newest offering, Hatsuyuki Sakura, has been out for a while so most of you might have already played through it. Not to mention someone needs to breathe some life into this blog, otherwise it’s going to become a tomb haunted by ghosts. Fitting that the game I’ll talk about today is about such denizens of the other world.
Ran, the girl above, lives with Hatsuyuki, who is most definetly not the usual male lead. He’s a brooding, cold, lone wolf of guy. Blunt and often mean in his way of talking to other people, feared by many and respected by some. He holds sorrow deep inside his heart, and he has no hopes or expectations for his future, but perhaps there is some kindness underneath that cold exterior. He is so different from what you’d normally expect. Have you heard of anyone else who tells a girl off by telling her to go home and masturbate?
His tale and the game’s story starts when he meets the main heroine of the game, Tamaki Sakura, one cold winter night when he’s chasing after some rabbit that has stolen his money. She has come to this town searching for something called the ghost child, and Hatsuyuki ends up becoming involved in her little ghost-hunting quest. I will say one thing about all the characters in general, and that is SAGA PLANETS has refrained from using cheap, moe personality traits to bring appeal to their characters. In their previous game, Kisaragi Gold Star, you could easily observe what moe archetype each character takes after but that’s fortunately not so much the case in this game. What draws you to the people of this game is what’s revealed of them through Hatsuyuki’s interactions with them. They are more than a collection of moe labels, and there are hints that there may be more behind them than what you simply see or hear on the outside.
The next thing that makes Hatsuyuki Sakura wonderful is everything else. The graphics, superb. The music, wonderful to listen to and creates the right kind of mood. The OP’s also spectacular, like Rolling Star in the previous game. Which in the case of Hatsuyuki Sakura is a seamless blend of school romance and supernatural mystery, a surprisingly excellent fusion of comedy and drama. The light-hearted antics of Sakura, Nozomu, and the other girls contrast starkly to the mellow, sometimes sad malaise that pervades Hatsuyuki’s private life, the exact nature of which you won’t fully know until the end of the prologue–and when you do the story takes on a serious, even dark tone. Not overtly, but with subtlety that lurks in the background, never in your face unless the moment is right, and when it is the game delivers like a freight train. A story is well-written when the first act closes with the audience knowing exactly what kind of journey the characters must now take for the rest of the tale, and the end of Hatsuyuki Sakura sets the score to be settled so strongly you are just as determined and set on what you have to do, just like Hatsuyuki at the end of the trial.
Beautiful is what this game is. At the very least I am enjoying this hell of a lot more than Kisaragi Gold Star. Hatsuyuki Sakura is a more serious story, perhaps even moreso than Natsuyume Nagisa. The game’s a lot like Lump of Sugar’s Itsu-Sora in some respects. You sure as hell wouldn’t think so by visiting the game’s official site or looking at all the screenshots, but mark my words and prepare yourself. This game is no leisurely stroll through the neighborhood, but a foreboding trek through a haunted forest. In winter.