Just yesterday I reviewed Demon Sword Incubus. This is a truly terrible “erotic” game that needed to remove the one “quality” it had going for it so it could have a console release. The Nintendo Switch port of Sakura Dungeon has also been released this past week, and while it too has its most adult excesses curbed to get a console berth, this one has much more going for it as an actual video game, and remains a good time.
Sakura Dungeon is, as the name suggests, a first-person dungeon crawler, in the vein of Wizardry, or the recently-released Etrian Odyssey HD collection. The difference is that the “monsters” in this game are actually very fanservicey women, and your job isn’t just to defeat them, but also to capture them, Pokémon-style, and add them to your growing army. Or harem. It does look more like a harem, really.
Capturing “monsters” works just like it does in Pokémon. You want to reduce the character’s health to almost nothing via the turn-based combat system, and then use a special “capture” special ability. Do that and the monster girl turns herself over to you. Then you can add her to your party and continue to explore with the new ally.
In most ways, Sakura Dungeon is incredibly efficient as a dungeon crawler. Map designs are hardly of the intricate, puzzle-and-trap-filled variety as in Etrian Odyssey. They also don’t have smooth scrolling from step to step as you explore, which is initially disorientating. Most modern dungeon crawlers have a “head bob” effect to give you a visual cue that you’ve moved from space to space. With Sakura Dungeon, a long passageway can be a little disorientating because you can’t be entirely sure if you’re actually moving through it as you press the buttons.
Combat, meanwhile, is also very minimalist, with very basic visual effects representing sword strikes or the use of magic. What makes up for it is, of course, the monster designs, because this developer really goes all-out with the fan service, and unlike in Demon Sword Incubus, the designs here are, overall, actually quite good. Not particularly intricate or innovative. Just effective at delivering a good range of attractive characters in clothing that have lots of bits missing and lots of skin exposed.
Sakura Dungeon’s systems are so simple that there’s no healing magic. Instead, characters recover health with each turn in combat and step within the dungeon. With that resource management system out of the way, exploration becomes much more straightforward. You want to delve as deep as you can before your characters get too beaten up, and then you just warp back to town for an instant recovery. Rinse and repeat, and you’ll slowly and steadily make progress through the adventure.
I know all of this sounds basic to the point of inferiority. The Etrian Odyssey is right there for truly high-quality dungeon crawling, after all, but Sakura Dungeon does have a very appealing “easy playing” quality going for it. You can sit down for a session, make some progress, and do so largely switched off, simply enjoying the character art as you go. The dungeon crawler genre is so timelessly enjoyable that a no-frills but well-made take, with that one aesthetic quality to boost it, means that it is still a perfectly good time.
One final mechanic of note is the clothes-ripping feature. When characters suffer a critical hit, part of their costume tears off, making them more vulnerable and also easier to “catch.” The adult version of Sakura Dungeon on PC allows this clothes tearing to go all the way to the nude, whereas the “all ages” version (including on Switch here) stops short, with all their bits still covered. As I mentioned in my review of the game on PC back in 2016: “I actually prefer the edited version of Sakura Dungeon. It’s not because I’m some kind of conservative prude that doesn’t like fan service or sexytime, because I am absolutely positive on both. Rather, at least where this game is concerned, the nudity isn’t necessary to the development of the game’s plot or theme, and so therefore I tend to find the “censored” versions more tantalising and therefore, ironically enough, sexier. Perhaps I’m weird and perhaps it’s just because I have an overactive imagination, but I definitely find Sakura Dungeon more titillating when the girls keep some shreds of clothing on them throughout.”
With that in mind, the “safe for work” version of Switch is the one I would have played anyway, even if the publisher somehow convinced Nintendo to loosen the restrictions with adult material. With that being said, of course, having the option for either based on your own preferences would have been better. It is long past time these console manufacturers – Nintendo and the others – allowed themselves the space for adult material if the players want it. But that’s another topic for another time. The main point here is that Sakura Dungeon is perfectly ecchi enough as it is.
Outside of the character designs in battle, there are also many key art CG stills that can be earned (generally by defeating the monster for the first time). These are all excellent in their design. However, the dialogue that goes with them assumes that the player is playing the adult version, and so comes across a little odd here and there. “Aieee you destroyed all my clothes I’m naked!” is an odd line (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s essentially it) when, in the accompanying art, she’s still wearing something.
Speaking of dialogue, Sakura Dungeon’s plot is very simple. When a powerful demon escapes her imprisonment, she forces the adventurer that accidentally released her to help her recover her power. To do this, the two set about clearing out a dungeon that the demon used to haunt, with the ultimate goal of defeating the pretender to the “throne.” Were this another sub-genre of RPG the plot would be too simple for its own good, but dungeon crawlers have a long and proud history of being functional in their plotting, Sakura Dungeon gets away with it.
Sakura Dungeon is, ultimately, a fan service delivery mechanism. But it’s one that doesn’t overlook the need to also be an enjoyable game. Were you to remove the fan service, the no-frills approach to dungeon crawling would still be enjoyable. Not exceptional, no, but still enjoyable. The Switch version is inferior to the PC release from a half-decade ago because there isn’t the option for the adults-only version that some would prefer, but that aside, if you’re content with “all ages” fan service and a genuinely good dungeon crawl backing it up, then you can do far worse than this.