From the moment I first saw Sakura Dungeon, I knew what I could expect: scantily clad manga women.
The game has no shortage of them, but what I didn’t expect to find was a highly competent dungeon crawler with decent visual novel aspects sandwiched in between. I found it pleasantly surprising.
The game begins with a human adventurer, Ceri, releasing an ancient fox spirit, quite literally a vixen, named Yomi. While Yomi has been sealed away for hundreds of years, the dungeon she used to preside over has fallen under the control of another, unseen force. She decides she is going to reclaim rule over her dungeon, and to that end casts a spell to make Ceri her servant. After a quick trip to town, the dungeon crawling begins.
The dungeon crawling in Sakura Dungeon is first-person with turn-based combat, a style of game I’ve been a fan of since MS-DOS, and here, it’s done fairly well. The maps start off simple but become more complex and sprawling as you venture farther down. Often you can find extra rewards for fully exploring a dungeon level, but of course, this may mean more fights. The encounters themselves appear randomly while traveling in the dungeon, with a few marked map locations that having respawning battles.
The enemies you fight are mostly “monsters” with witches/warriors. By “monsters” I mean sexy women crossed with a beast or monster resulting in a tail or maybe cat ears. The combat is relatively simple. You’ll find the standard fare of ranged/melee/magic abilities which do physical or one of several types of elemental damage, as well as a guard ability that regenerates the action points required to use your other skills. Part of the game is simply paying attention to what types of damage your enemies are resistant to. If a monster is below your character’s level and they are at low health, you can finish them with a capture spell, sending them to the jail in town. You can then return to town and convince them to join your party of up to six. Each one has their own abilities, and you’ll probably be switching to your new captures as soon as you get them, though I did keep my bunny girl for a long time.
The graphics in the game are quite nice, and I don’t just mean the women (although I’m sure every curve was carefully and lovingly drawn).
The backgrounds are also well drawn and detailed. In the dungeon, they can be a bit repetitive, but it changes as you go down. There are also pieces of art as little rewards for completing certain parts of the game such as capturing a monster girl for the first time or exploring some side quest. These come in the form of glamour shots of the women in extra skimpy or torn clothing, sometimes in revealing positions. You can look at these for as long as you like, ahem, before clicking to continue. However, if you didn’t get enough drooling in the first time around, fret not. Once you’ve unlocked one, you can revisit it at any time in the gallery at the title screen.
The story in Sakura Dungeon is given in small, visual novel like dialogues throughout the game, and while I like the story itself, the writing could use some work. Some of it felt purposefully campy; other bits felt cliché unintentionally. Occasionally some of the monsters in your party would chime in, but most of their personalities were extremely one-note and boiled down to “I like shiny things,” or “I like to hit stuff.” More than that, numerous errors made it seem as though the dialogue had been eaten up by autocorrect. I’m not a grammar Nazi by any means, but it was enough to notice, and it could have used another read through by an editor. The music was nice, but also fairly repetitive, though I will admit that a scripted change of tune to something playful, coupled with a humorous piece of dialogue did solicit a laugh from me on several occasions.
I also liked that there were side quests in town, though I was disappointed the town wasn’t an area I could explore. While Sakura Dungeon may be a simple dungeon crawler, it did that part well, and that’s the most important part. I think it lacks some RPG elements I would have liked to see, but overall the game is still fun, and one I could sincerely recommend on merits not owing to the game’s art.