Mixing the murder mystery genre and supernatural themes together will typically pique my interest. I’m the type that will leave no stone unturned when trying to crack a case. Well, the Moonstone-developed Sakuranomori Dreamers has plenty of these elements and more. While the developer is known for the more risque visual novels available, this title ends up being approachable and, at times, thrilling. Still, the build-up to the best parts can feel like a marathon.
Sakuranomori Dreamers introduces Shinji Fukigami, a quiet boy who has had a pretty rough life. He spends most of his time riding bikes with childhood friend Madoka Akitsu and hanging out with his mom and sister. However, the story ends up taking a dark turn when it’s discovered that Shinji’s real parents died in a plane crash, that only his aunt, her daughter, and he survived, so now, they act as his family.
A lot happened to Shinji on the day of the crash, and we soon discover that he might have gotten a little too close to death, which has a knack of following him around. Across town, he sees invisible creatures and even ghosts of his dead classmates. After another tragedy strikes, he is set on learning more in hopes of understanding the plague that has befallen his town.
One of the best parts about Sakuranomori Dreamers is Shinji as the main protagonist. He is well written and has a real personality, unlike the empty shells that we might all be used to. He is great under pressure and not afraid to act on his intuitions. However, he does show growth by learning how to open up and be honest with those around him about the situation that they are each facing.
The biggest issue here is the pacing. The story has a great foundation as the seemingly slice-of-life opening makes it hard to believe the horrors that await the characters in the later chapters. However, the story continues to include these more light-hearted scenes that just don’t work in the following parts of the narrative. It’s as if the story has an identity crisis at times and doesn’t know which genre it wants to be.
This is sad only because the horror moments are so good, but between them are dozens of interactions that don’t do anything for the plot. The story also takes its time introducing characters and progressing the narrative as some scenes overstay their welcome. Still, it’s extremely tough not to invest yourself in this mystery since it is quite compelling and full of supernatural suspects and new developments.
I should also add that once the story gets going, it really takes off up until the normal route ending. A nice feature that game has is an “Others View” system where we can see what is happening between characters when Shinji isn’t around. I really liked this as it gave us access to some parts of Shinji’s life that he wasn’t so quick to think or talk about.
There are four possible romance routes with the group of girls that Shinji surrounds himself with. Each route offers a chance to learn more about the characters, but Kureha’s route is the only one with any real connection to the plot. The additional endings offer a decent conclusion to the respective relationships, but everything here feels separated from the happenings of the story. These relationships are entirely removed from the story’s narrative and rightfully so, for reasons that might be considered a spoiler. Still, I don’t think the game really needed them.
I ended up really liking the illustrations in Sakuranomori Dreamers. Each character is memorable and charming in their own unique way, and there are even several costume changes. It’s strange to think about, but after the intense build-up to the conclusion of the normal route, the h-scenes emerge in hopes of curing any nightmares you might be left with. There are also a few animations in the game that depicts real jump scares and action sequences.
Music in the game is pretty bland and nothing to write home about. It doesn’t enhance the experience or the scenes in any way and simply just exists. There’s no stand out tracks that I can think of, but at least the voice over was exceptional. Now, if only Shinji were voiced.
Sakuranomori Dreamers only suffers from a slight identity crisis as it struggles to balance its several plot points with its horror elements. However, once all the pieces are in place, you’re in for a terrifying and energetic experience that made me happy to stick through it until the end. There’s really no need for the romance routes, but they are there for those who want them. If you’re a fan of supernatural mystery, you’ll find some great moments of storytelling here, after the narrative finds its footing.
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