Sukimazakura to Uso no Machi

vndberogamescapeOP

Intro:

Sukimazakura to Uso no Machi is a 2011 eroge from Propeller. It is written primarily by Nanaumi Sou (StarTrain), with help from Watanabe “Fucking” Ryouichi (Kuru series).

Story: 8.5/10

Yuuma and his younger sister Sakura, fleeing the cold harsh world and initially unclear but also harsh family circumstances, find their way into a parallel world. This world, an alternative Tokyo called Sakurano, exists beneath the boughs of a gigantic cherry blossom tree, which thanks to the perpetual spring of this world continually snows petals across the city. There is one more defining trait of this gentle sanctuary of a world: only liars can enter it. Then there’s that ominous English subtitle the game has, “End of the World and Cherry Blossom Princess”…

The game’s setting is unique and interesting enough to serve as a central, driving element of the story. Likely to no surprise to frequent eroge readers, soon after Yuuma and Sakura enter Sakurano they begin living in a dorm and attending school. More likely to surprise eroge readers, despite the unwelcome intrusion of school life into the story, the game manages to retain the unique atmosphere of the setting and the setting never fades into the background. A large reason for this is the great pacing, which highlights scenes here and there of school life but doesn’t tediously narrate every day as so many school eroge do. Such an approach would’ve destroyed any potential for the interesting setting to create an interesting eroge, so it is fortunate that the setting remains a consistent factor in the story and the character’s lives, rather than becoming just a window dressing for another generic school life eroge.

Sukimazakura to Uso no Machi follows a basic nakige blueprint. The common route focuses on school life (and dorm life and part-time work life) and humor. This game is surprisingly hilarious. Most of the humor is centered around the over-the-top idiocy of the characters. In other words it’s what’s often called a “baka-ge” and is one of the best examples of this type of humor that I’ve seen in a long time. It helps that there is a range of types of idiocies between the different baka (or boke) characters, so the humor never becomes too monotone; the heights of stupidity also continue to surprise, which again helps keep the comedy fresh and unexpected. There is also the occasional meta humor, which given the surrealist setting of this game is more acceptable and tolerable than usual.

While the game clears the early stages of the nakige formula with flying colors, with the introduction of an interesting world, brisk pacing, and fantastic comedy, the romance and drama—i.e. the plot itself—is not as clear of a winner. One of my main preconceptions about this game was that the “uso no machi” meant that the characters were all harboring big lies the revelations of which would constitute big plot twists. This is not quite the case. The game does throw enough smaller twists at you to keep your attention hooked, but ironically most of these are not even directly related to the characters’ lies. The lies that are meant to define the characters (or at least thematically this should be the case) are usually not very major, which seems like a bit of a thematic failing. All in all, the dynamic of “lies” serves to create a minor sense of mystery early on in the character routes, which is a key (but often overlooked) aspect of the nakige formula, usually covered by a game’s magical realist elements. I mentioned romance at the beginning of this paragraph but there isn’t much to say about it. In most routes it’s serviceable, but often it suffers from some degree of shortage of believability. The imouto route has what is probably the strongest romance, but is still disappointing because it doesn’t fully live up to the incest potential (they’re blood related, but it doesn’t seem to matter that they are.) That said, there are strong romantic scenes here and there, such as the fantastic Choko confession scene.

Lastly, there is the mystery of the world and the capstone Rin route. Here is where the pacing stumbles for about the first time in the entire game. First, since Rin is mostly absent from the rest of the game there is almost a second common route of additional daily life scenes, this time with Rin, before launching into the plot and romance of the route. Things pick up again from there, and then the game makes a major shift as it addresses the underlying mystery of the nature of Sakurano. Here the game again falters pacing-wise, with some over-explaining, and goes through about five spots where I thought the game was going to end, and could’ve ended without really losing anything, before finally ending.

It’s sad that such a well-paced game hits some pacing snags in the home stretch, but to backtrack I have to talk about the revelations dropped at the end of the game (no worries: as always, no spoilers here). The underlying truth ends up being much more of a bombshell than I was expecting. I remain ambivalent about it. Part of the reason it’s so surprising is because the small amounts of foreshadowing are clumsily done, which is of course never a good thing. Yet even more important is some gaps in thematic cohesion. The endgame goes into what seem to be the main themes of the game: that our weaknesses and imperfections are what make us humans and similarly the imperfections and hardships of the world are also what make it worthwhile. So far so good, but I feel the game is not able to fully connect these themes to the much more nebulous theme of “lies” that it had been focusing on up until the endgame shift.  While it draws some connections it wasn’t able to completely convince me. On the whole I like the game better for having the shift—it’s highly unexpected and interesting, and offers up a better thematic picture for the game—but it certainly could’ve been executed better.

Lastly, although I’ve been describing this game as a nakige, that’s not quite correct. It follows the typical nakige structure, but it doesn’t have the same type of tear-jerking emotional intensity. I don’t even think it’s intending for any major emotional scenes, but it even fails to engender much of the lower-key, more pervasive emotional impact that can also work in this domain. The game is fairly free of emotionality, which leaves it to hang largely on rational appeal, and as mentioned the thematics are not coherent enough to sustain that line of attack either.

Characters: 8/10

The cast of Sukimazakura to Uso no Machi is thoroughly eccentric. But not entirely eccentric, which results in a nice balance of even the non-eccentric characters coming across as eccentric because they stick out in a cast of eccentrics; their normalness becomes their eccentricity, as it should be. And as mentioned, all the characters are eccentric in their own unique ways so the eccentricity never becomes banal. Even as you start to feel you’ve become acculturated to the weirdness, the game hits you with a bizarre gag out of left field that proves how wrong you were.

Now, the characters are undeniably entertaining, but do they have substance? In short, they have enough substance, but not enough to stand out. There’s enough beyond humor-bait to sustain the heroines through the full course of their routes, but not enough to make their characters much of a driving force in their character routes. But they do offer enough substance to carry the reader through their path without feeling that they are anything less than characters.

The protagonist has some issues. Most notably, he’s one of those protagonists with no fixed character, who will change depending on what the situation demands of him. This is most noticeable in Choko’s route, when Yuuma suddenly becomes an eroge otaku. While this results in some hilarious comedy, it’s so out of character that one can’t help but feel a bit of a blow to the integrity of his character consistency. Not that he’s particularly consistent overall. For example, in the imouto route he becomes an incestuous boke, despite playing the tsukkomi in the majority of the game. I recognize the necessity of a boke protagonist taking on more of a tsukkomi role in routes where the heroine is all-out boke, but it’s hard to feel that Sukima no Machi has much of a consistent protagonist, if one at all.

Sound: 9/10

Sukimazakura to Uso no Machi has a fantastic soundtrack. If there’s any lasting emotion to be found in the game it comes from the music. Particularly a couple of musical themes that repeat across several songs, which have catchy and affecting melodies. But, unusually enough, it’s not only the emotional tracks that are good: even the daily life tracks and character themes are good enough to be enjoyable to listen to throughout the whole length of the story. The production itself is also a high quality, and imparts on the songs a “gentle” feeling that fits the game’s atmosphere and themes.

Both the vocal tracks are also great, though the OP sounds more like an ED and the ED sounds more like an OP. But the OP serves as a good OP in how well it fits the game; one can almost see the pink cherry blossoms fluttering to the ground on a gentle breeze while listening to the trilling piano and guitar.

Voice acting quality varies by character but is overall quite good, with standout performances for Choko and Sakura (voiced by Miru.) There’s also a side character (sadly H-less) voiced by Maki Izumi. Actually, the side characters are generally all well-voiced, as is Rin. So maybe Kaju is the only character whose voice I’m not keen on.

Art: 8/10

The art is good and, if not stylistically unique, is at least stylistically supportive of the game’s overall aesthetic. Again, the art helps engender the gentle, healing atmosphere of the game. Perhaps because of the time when the game was released—when eroge technology was advancing to widescreen, HD, improved graphics etc.—the game tends to overuse effects. The falling cherry blossoms are fitting, though perhaps still overdone, but other effects like scrolling backgrounds feel entirely superfluous.

Ero: 6/10

The ero is pretty standard stuff for a non-nukige. The main exception here is that the game includes some sex acts you wouldn’t normally find in story-based eroge, like anal and mutual masturbation. The variety is definitely appreciated, since even just the obligatory 2 or 3 scenes can quickly become dull when it’s too vanilla. The writing is a bit less dull than most scenario-game sex scenes, too.

Overall: 83/100

Pros: Great setting; hilarious “baka” humor; unique cast; interesting turns to the plot; moving and enjoyable soundtrack; good art

Cons: Lack of thematic cohesion; little emotional impact

Sukimazakura to Uso no Machi had a real opportunity, back in 2011, to be a (then)modern nakige, an update of the genre to bring it from the aughts to the 10’s (is there a term for this decade yet?) It takes the basic nakige formula and does some elements of it—such as the humor and the magical realist setting—very well. To that it adds some refreshing updates that keep it entertaining and new. And the presentation—the music and art—is top notch. But its main downfalls are a lack of emotional impact, which is obviously a necessity for nakige, and a lack of thematic cohesion, which I think greatly aids emotional impact because then the emotion means something. Likely because of these gaps, Sukimazakura did not start a new trend in nakige or herald a new wave of popularity for the genre. It remains, however, a worthwhile, if tragically flawed, example of how nakige can be reinvigorated with some fresh ideas.

Advertisements

0 Responses to “Sukimazakura to Uso no Machi”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s





%d bloggers like this: