I recently finished Saku Saku: Love Blooms with the Cherry Blossoms. And I feel very conflicted about it. I said the same thing about Shuffle a while ago, but to an even greater extent than with that, this VN really could’ve been something great. All the necessary ingredients were there, and at times, you could kind of see that potential shining through. And when those times pass, it’s always really easy to see what they should’ve done differently. It leaves a bittersweet feeling, which I think it’s supposed to, but not in the right way. It has a slightly unfulfilling nuance to it, which dampens the effect it should’ve had on the reader.
The art and music were both really solid. Don’t have much else to say about them, except that the way the eyes in particular are drawn is fucking beautiful. 10/10.
The engine kinda sucks.
To be fair, part of what I disliked about it definitely stems from my post-modernistic views. A person with a more standard moral/value system would probably be more receptive to it, but I have a hard time liking character that presume to preside in judgement of others’ actions. It’s not like that happens more in this VN than any other given story, but the particular nuance I’m looking for usually isn’t acknowledged when it does happen, and I’m petty enough to let that bother me. Though admittedly, the few times when it is are pretty fucking sweet.
To anyone intending to read it, I’d recommend the route order Yuri>Mio>Konami>Ann>Tina. I’d honestly like to recommend Mio’s route first, since it has the least relevance to the overall plot, but it also happens to be the only route that’s actually bad, so if one read it first, I doubt they’d be particularly inclined to read the rest.
I’d probably have to give it about 8/10 overall, which fucking sucks, because it deserves better than that. It should’ve been easily 9/10 or higher. I’m probably being a bit harsh here because I still feel kinda let down, but once that passes I’ll probably rate it higher.
Now for the spoilery shit:
What they should’ve done differently and what they did right:
I wouldn’t have changed anything about Yuri’s route. It wasn’t perfect, or even the best route, but it was good enough that changing it would’ve been an unnecessary gamble. I loved the focus on the side characters and their interactions in this route, particularly between Hyberion (who’s just a great character overall) and Hanako. It’s probably also the route that best maintains the tone of the common route.
They honestly should’ve completely scrapped Mio’s route. The complication was an absolute no-no. It was so fucking ridiculous that I couldn’t sympathise with Mio at all for feeling that way or with Yuma for not slapping some sense into her. As for Mio’s character itself, I’d be able to put up with the constant crying if it weren’t for the fact that she fucking wails. If she sobbed instead, that would be fine, but I can’t stand the wailing. Had to rip my earphones out more than once. If they needed to give her a route, they should’ve done it more like Yuri’s route, where the focus was on the supporting cast more so than on the heroine. I would’ve given Miyu a much larger role, and probably given Yuri and Hanako a little more screen time too. And possibly introduce the supernatural element into it a bit too.
Konami’s route is difficult, and this is where my post-modernism causes me grief with the way the characters acted. I lost a lot of respect for Yuri in particular, because she just had a “it’s wrong because it’s wrong” attitude, which I honestly find kind of reprehensible. Aoi I could forgive, because she was against it for practical reasons - the fact that society at large would reject it and Konami and Yuma likely wouldn’t be able to find happiness because of that - rather than her personal close-mindedness. I would’ve liked to see more nuance in the positions of the cast, but if there had been such nuance, the route might not have had a complication. Because of that, I’m honestly not sure how this route could’ve been improved.
Ann’s route was great. I might have some little gripes with some of the things the characters did or said, but ultimately those were inconsequential.
Tina’s route was definitely the best, but it also had what was to me the most obvious flaw. Sou’s arc, which was amazing, and the highlight of the route - and indeed the entire game - was resolved kind of inconclusively. And I really wish that someone had taken the “it’s easy to throw stones” stance and sympathised with Sou a little more. I also wish someone (probably the same person) had told Yuma that he doesn’t really have the right to judge other people’s coping mechanisms (which is what the way Sou acted the day after Koharu’s death clearly was.) Ironically, this is a bit of a paradox, since judging other people’s coping mechanisms is itself a coping mechanism, but I at least wish someone had taken Yuma off his high-horse a bit. It’s particularly unfortunate because Ann/Elenora was in a perfect position to do this, so there’s really no excuse for why it didn’t happen. And it’s not like Yuma couldn’t have just considered these things himself. If, along with these changes, Sou’s arc had been resolved slightly more conclusively/decisively, it would’ve pushed the game over into “masterpiece” territory, in my opinion.