I don’t think it’s much of a secret that Sekai Project finances their “serious” localization projects with a constant stream of comparatively low-budget borderline-lewd visual novels, and as much as I would like to claim that I am above such base pandering I somehow own all of their “Sakura” games and only one of their serious games.
“Planetarian”, by the way, in case you were curious. I strongly recommend it if you want an absolutely beautiful story that will punch you in the gut just when you’re starting to think things might turn out all right, then just keeps punching.
But I digress.
Anyway, while the first SEVEN “Sakura” games were Visual Novels, Sakura Dungeon is an old-school-style dungeon crawler, with gridded corridors to map out and hidden doors and pit traps and spinners and teleporters and all of the sorts of things you would expect from the genre. You have a party of six characters, there’s a “front” and a “back” line to your party, you regularly retreat to an inn to recover and change your party… seriously, it’s a Wizardry game in all but name and art style.
The art style is, of course, probably what caught your eye in the first place, and I will make no excuses for it. It’s designed for guys who like improbably-proportioned monster girls in skimpy outfits.
Unlike the Wizardry games, you don’t actually create your party members. Rather, the game starts with you being woken from a magical slumber by a pesky adventurer who has decided to challenge you for, you know, justice and glory and all that. Did I mention you’re a Demon Lord? You’re a Demon Lord. Probably important. Anyway. You wake up, you don’t precisely know WHY you were in a magical slumber in the first place, you have juuuuuust enough energy available to you to survive the pesky adventurer attacking you and bind her in a magical contract, and then you need to send her down into your old dungeon to figure out just what has been going on over the last few hundred years. She can, in turn, capture the monsters in the dungeon and you can recruit them to your team, building up a party of bigger and badder monsters the deeper you go.
Wasn’t this the plot of Wizardry IV? Something like that, anyway. If Werdna’s goal had been to Catch Them All, as it were.
So, your begrudgingly-faithful minions wander around, beating up monsters, capturing monsters and slowly figuring out just what’s been going on. Eventually you regain enough strength to join them in the dungeon, which adds an extra strategic aspect – you’re one of the strongest party members, but if you die it’s Game Over and you’re reloading your last save.
Unlike most “Sakura” games, which are short 2-3 hour affairs, Sakura Dungeon is a full-length game. It took me just about 20 hours to finish the main story and then level up enough to take out the optional dungeon and optional True Ultimate Big Bad , and it never felt like it was dragging. Occasionally you’ll need to pause and grind up a level or two, but there’s a fast-forward auto-battle option for combat that works pretty well when you’re just beating up on random dungeon trash. It’s not recommended for boss fights at all, though.
It’s also genuinely funny at times. There’s a lot of banter between your party members, and all of the monsters you capture have a personality that comes through whenever the whole party stops to talk about the boss they’re about to fight or about things that are happening in the dungeon. It doesn’t fall prey to the far-too-tempting trap of Building A Fantasy World, which is a refreshing change of pace after one-too-many Serious Business RPGs, but it gives you a little backstory on most of the characters and how they came to be where they are.
And, yes, there’s an awful lot of almost-nudity.
…I mean, just look at those completely naked walls. For shame!
So if you like dungeon crawlers and have no shame whatsoever, I give it an unqualified recommendation. It even comes in your choice of Mac, Linux or Windows versions!