There is a demand for quality within the visual novel community, and no developer is held to that standard quite like developer Key, known for Clannad, Angel Beats!, and other tear-jerker titles. Now, the developer’s newest title, Summer Pockets, has arrived in the west and whether or not it builds upon the Key-seal of approval or not wasn’t really what was on my mind. Instead, I focused on the story that this specific title was trying to tell without holding it to a standard created by the developer’s previous works.
Summer Pockets opens by introducing Hairi Takahara, a self-deprecating 17-year-old who is at a crossroads in his life. This is shown within the first 5-minutes of the game as players need to make a choice for Hairi that comes up in many later scenes. His reasoning for going to the island is surrounded by loss as his grandmother had passed away, so he’ll be cleaning up some of her stuff with his aunt.
As a lead, Hairi is somewhat complex and in-tune with his emotions. He often gets lost in his negative thoughts, which leads him to get sidetracked or in situations he might not want to be in. There are a few things that loom over him that you won’t discover until the True Ending, but all that information comes with time.
The themes of an adventurous summer vacation reign true through each moment of the story. The moment Hairi arrives, he is given access to a bike that can take him anywhere on the island. As he explores, he meets new people who will shape his summer experience, for better or for worse.
These characters are each huge personalities and portray your standard rag-tag group of friends well. While each character has unique characteristics, they aren’t too overbearing or in your face. The best way I can describe the writing for them is to compare it to the likes of those ’80s high school movies. They riff off each other naturally, which makes it easy to sit back and enjoy whatever comes up next in their adventure.
As the days of the summer pass, players can make choices about what they do, but sooner or later, you’ll be locked into one of four heroine routes with a True route to follow. The romance between Hairi and the girls is rather pure as they each have something to offer him. Each pairing seems so believable that it only shows just how full of life Hairi actually is, even though he might not think it himself. Still, these routes mainly focus on the girls and how they fit in Hairi’s life, which is fine because I loved them all. I mostly enjoyed the more imaginative elements of the stories as supernatural moments do occur to add a bit more magic to their love story.
Each route is terrific, but getting the most out of the True End does require the player to want to know more about Hairi. Given that the summer has a time limit, so do the relationships created in this story. However, that’s not really the focus of Hairi’s troubles. The conclusion is enough, but if you’re looking to see Hairi ride off into the sunset with best girl, well, that’s not going to happen. Instead, we get to dive into what’s been on his mind from the opening scenes and get to the root of his problems.
Still, there are achievements in the game that players can get by completing specific tasks or choosing the correct responses. It gives players a reason to go back and play the game again if you’re a completionist, but that’s mostly it. Strangely, the text doesn’t fit in the boxes of the achievements, but I imagine this is something that can get patched out later.
During gameplay, players can also enjoy mini-games, which can be skipped without consequence. However, I thought they were fun and broke up the narrative. Aside from that, players make more choices during dialog than most visual novels, so expect to be interacting with the story often. Also, I enjoyed how the first choice you make finds its way into conversation throughout the narrative.
The character illustrations are lovely for each of the heroines. However, I thought the male illustrations were rather generic. Still, the male supporting characters add so much to the comical nature of the story that we can look past that. The CGs are each as beautiful as they are romantic, and the soundtrack only made the story better.
Summer Pockets reads like poetry. The story filled me with summer vacation nostalgia as I spent more time on the island. Each of the routes is memorable and unique, which is a testament to the excellent character writing.
Summer Pockets ended up being the visual novel that I didn’t know I needed right now. The game can take anywhere from 30 – 40 hours to complete, but along the way, you’re in for some excellent moments of narrative storytelling. Be sure to have a box of tissues handy if you’re sappy on love stories. You’ll need them.
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