Foreword: Okay I’ll admit that Whirlpool games have given me quite the fatigue so it was about time I finished some other games like this one.
Definitely a very interesting concept, when it comes to games by Key it’s rather unfortunate that like other companies they have a general set pattern of how they formulate their story. This means that while the story is pretty impactful the first time around (like how I created rivers while watching Clannad), when it becomes repeated often especially in later titles the same story elements become stale and at least in this title that same feature allowed many more holes than really necessary.
While I definitely think Summer Pockets was a good game, and will make effort to emphasize why it was good, I think it’s just as important to point out its bad parts (some which are relatively objective, mind you) which would question 90%+ of the scores for this game on fucking VNDB/EGS.
Please note that due to discussing both the goods and bads of this title relatively more extensively, this review will contain spoilers! I will make all efforts to refrain from disclosing route summaries but please be warned!
Title: Summer Pockets
Release Date: June 29, 2018
VNDB Link: https://vndb.org/v20424
Getchu Link: http://www.getchu.com/soft.phtml?id=989183
Game Type: Slice of Life game based on a rural summer setting with themes of nostalgia
Summary: Hairi is invited by his aunt to come to the Torishijima Island after some events which have frankly left him tired. His trauma regarding swimming definitely didn’t contribute well to that recipe, and he just needed some time off for himself, and feeling some form of nostalgia brings him to accept his aunt’s invitation.
His arrival is uneventful except he causes some misunderstandings with the locals in the first hour about his existence… but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he is here to really look back on himself and have some time of healing, though he’ll soon find out that he’ll be involved in a lot more than rest-and-relax as he reminiscences on various aspects of life which includes his own.
Story Length: Moderately Long (30 hours)
Complete Story Clearing Difficulty: Easy
Comments: Very easy clearing difficulty which is actually quite surprising considering the games from Key I’ve played (which were Clannad and Little Busters) were extraordinarily hard when it comes to actually getting to complete game completion. As it stands I had no trouble with progressing in Summer Pockets which was actually favorable because this was meant to be that game that you should take lightly at least until you get to the last parts of the game.
Four heroines in total, though for some STRANGE reason the right side of the title screen is left blank *COUGH COUGH COUGH* (Like seriously it was so conspicuous that even I noticed it). Routes ALKA and Pockets open up after clearing all heroine routes and is considered the true route.
Character Design Rating: 6/10
Story Rating: 7/10
Protagonist Rating: 3/10
Game Quality: High
Overall Rating: 6/10
Rating Comments: Scores are unusually low especially considering it is a game from Key, I generally have the opinion that I liked the game; I just really hated small bits of it throughout which is why I need to rate it lower than it would normally be.
Character Design is splendid, unique, and memorable, but it’s just like other Key games where subcharacters are only placed for the humor and had that phenomenon where they suddenly serious/act as supporting characters in the climax. The relationships between them and Hairi (basically an outsider) was rather poorly developed since it was done through one or two scenes and this trait includes that for the heroines as well which is generally not favorable.
It’s really the problem with any story nowadays (especially with VNs) is that they fail to properly develop character relationships
Similarly, the story is really fine standalone; it’s just that as a whole game you can definitely tell there’s been different writers who never collaborated with each other because there’s a lot of missing links between routes with each route (which includes Shiroha’s, surprisingly) not relating to the true ending. It’s really nice to see all these decent scenarios, but if they have nothing to do with the grand finale what was the whole point of going through them in the first place?
Protagonist is the lowest of the group despite some good efforts into making him a character purely because he doesn’t actually do anything in the entire game. Sure he does have his trauma that he eventually overcomes as well as participating in humor, but that was it; even in the true routes he doesn’t really do anything extraordinary and what do you know; in the Pockets route he doesn’t even show up. Not a good way to go about a protagonist design
So definitely a game I thought was enjoyable, I was rather surprised that Nijima Yuu wrote some parts of this game but it didn’t completely disgust me like other games that he wrote did. On the other hand, when I was discussing this game with some other folks one of them asked a satirical question: “So how many girls have some stupid disease or magical plot point?” to which I hesitated to respond but eventually said “all of them” and I think that’s the biggest problem with this game; it uses these poor elements to progress its story so it just leaves a bad taste in the mouth except if you go full retard and just let the bad writing slide. It’s one of those games where the conflict is artificial and so is the resolution which results in scenario where you really have a hard time sympathizing with the characters
Ao: I went through her route first because Kotori Yuuka and Izumi Tsubasu, and it turns out that you should go through this route before Kamome’s at least due to this route explaining the Rainbow Butterfly in a bit more detail. Her route involves her twin sister who is in a coma and Ao finds herself at fault for this due to previous events, but there’s a blatant contradiction in her route already of how Rainbow Butterflies are described as someone’s memories after they’ve passed yet Ao’s sister is still alive. The fact that touching these butterflies also lets you reminiscence these memories but also makes you sleep more often (and also release a butterfly of your own eventually) was so artificial and a poor choice for going about for a story especially because it doesn’t apply to Hairi in routes like Kamome’s route for example, creating another contradiction.
Shiroha: Really what I would consider a very unfortunate route, despite being the main and central heroine Shiroha definitely doesn’t seem as such and even with how she’s pretty much the center of the true route I would have to say her own main route didn’t do a good job explaining things or even foreshadowing the events; the game only gives you that one fact that she distances herself due to what she believes is a curse, but doesn’t give any origins to what this is and its relationship with the Rainbow Butterflies at all. The true route does also make heavy implications on how she came about with this “curse” but this was just another wtf moment because the game threw all the logic out the window and incorporated the utmost convenient fantasy elements instead. Shiroha’s route in the main game can essentially be eliminated completely because the true route repeats very similar events with minute differences.
Kamome: Probably what I would consider the better route of all these four, Kamome’s route starts out with how this girl knows Hairi’s name which is strange because this is the first time he’s been on this island and definitely the first time seeing this girl. This girl invites him to an adventure of treasure hunting, and most closely follows the common route’s theme of “enjoying the summer vacation” compared to other routes which is why I would probably rate it higher. The plot twist at the end was actually quite decent since it was foreshadowed often and meticulously enough; it’s just that with every other route in this game Kamome’s route seems incoherent with the true route while Kamome herself only makes brief appearances as well.
Tsumugi: A strange character that seems to always be at the lighthouse all the time, Hairi’s interaction with this character involves collecting Pringles tubes so she can use it to build a veranda for herself. Tsumugi’s route also involves a subcharacter named Shizuku, and frankly the thing I hated most about this route was how the three of them become “inseparable friends” in just a few days (see how I’ve already talked about this game’s flaw being that poor development of character relationships). The entire route is based on this in addition to how strange things are happening to Tsumugi and they eventually find out something terrifying about this girl. This route tries to explain the “Other World” in greatest detail but fails because of too much focus on the heroine (though to be fair it IS Tsumugi’s route), so the ending became your very typical “Key” route which was definitely touching, but not something I want to scream about for the next 3 days.
Umi (ALKA and Pockets): I absolutely knew that there would be another route and Umi would be involved in it because the game was so obvious about it; having this character interact so extensively with Hairi yet at the end of each routes making her disappear unnaturally was the deal-sealer for me in recognizing that Umi was either going to be a heroine (though I was doubtful) or at least going to be described in a bit more detail in said true route.
My general impression of this true route is that Key just dumped EVERYTHING they built until this point and flat out tried to make a new game using the same settings and characters
While I don’t think this is a bad idea per se (strangely enough, because if you think about it the difference of each route is exactly that), the problem is that this “new game” is also not that great. Starting with Shiroha becoming Umi’s pretend mom and doing all these parent-child activities was really cute and all–I appreciated this fully plus the general warm atmosphere
which did some extreme critical 999,999,999,999 damage to my cold frozen heart, and how Umi can somehow predict the future got me excited for what the game will present, but… then the game decides to say Umi was Hairi and Shiroha’s daughter that came from the future and that was when I knew it was too much fantasy.
I mean seriously. Along with the fact that this kinda seems like Clannad (in the sense the After-Story was really all about Ushio who is the child of Tomoya and Nagisa), there are also some direct copy-pastes of scenes from games like Clannad so that was just flat out bad; like does Key not understand they can’t use the same gimmicks that they used for heroines for previous games because we still remember them?
This scene also seemed oddly familiar, and it’s not because their hair colors are similar *HINT HINT*
Definitely a lot of plus points in this true route however, including that slow and steady progression of story (which was weird because it was lacking in the rest of the game), plus involvement of all characters and the adorable presentation of how happy this family was
(and oh god I’m so lonely), I just wish the relationship between Hairi and Shiroha was elaborated much more in detail because the romance between them was essentially non-existent even in the True Route. In addition, the time traveling, paradox-resolution, curses, and basically everything fantasy (plus the beginning portion of the Pockets route) was frankly out of place and unwanted in a storyline that gave first impressions to be about childhood nostalgia.
Even after the game was over, the readers can also question why Shiroha and Umi were essentially in the exact same situation and also acted similarly, but Shiroha gained this “curse” while Umi slowly reversed into being a baby and eventually choosing to sacrifice her existence. That’s another inconsistency I found while playing.
I really wish Umi was given more meaningful interaction with Hairi too; as it stands the fact that Hairi is her dad is still rather awkward to me
Okay, I talked about the story a bit, so let’s talk about some other things:
First thing’s first; The fact that Summer Pockets is an “All-ages title” title. Key has definitely made some R-18 games (though opinion exists on how they botch it up severely
and quite frankly I agree), and I said it was weird that this game was all-ages, but this was because it had “service scenes” for each heroines and a rather excessive amount of sexual innuendos not really fit for “children”. That originally gave me the idea that they might release an R-18 version of the game later on, but after completing the game completely, I can’t see it turning into an R-18 game purely because of how much “family oriented” the story was and obviously games like Clannad wasn’t ever made into an adult game. How three of the heroine CVs are completely new to this industry in the first place kinda points to that as well; I can only imagine how bad it would turn out if they were suddenly asked to do voice acting for H-scenes, so my educated hypothesis is that I HIGHLY doubt Summer Pockets will get R-18 additions… and it really shouldn’t. Please don’t make this into an adult game Key
Or else these girls won’t be able to play it kek
One other thing was that the protagonist was extremely weak this time around. At least in the other Key titles that I know more extensively from Key (Clannad, Little Busters, Angel Beats), the protagonists are relatively more prevalent in the story but in Summer Pockets they almost literally get rid of Hairi in the true routes which was definitely something that bothered me; I mean why? It was as if the game just switched protagonists to Umi instead of Hairi and switching protagonists is never a good idea regardless of the situation, and while I can only make theories of the reasoning this feature is an objectively bad thing.
I genuinely do not understand the reasoning for this; it’s not like he’s unfitting to be placed in the true route, he just needed SOME relevance to it instead of being just one of the sideline characters
The next thing I really wanted to point out is the number of deus ex machinas. Sure, you kinda need to have some of this especially when it comes to resolving fantasy elements in an otherwise slice-of-life based setting, but the game took it a bit too far especially to forcefully create a happy ending for characters or even to just progress the damn story. These include convenient dreams, random reviving of characters that are supposed to be dead/not real, time paradoxing in the true routes, and etc etc. It just kills all that tension and excitement built up for each route because the scenario writers were just plain bad at writing and didn’t know of any better ways.
The last thing I need to reiterate is how the game doesn’t have any form of relevance across routes. Character design remains consistent but quite frankly that’s not hard to do, the true route pretty much throws the logic of the rainbow butterfly out the window (and also never fully explains what the hecky they are), and heroines given an appearance in other routes were done in a rather forced manner plus Shiroha who’s supposed to be the main and central heroine missing for like half the entire game. Each route felt like its own world and own story, which never relates back to any of the other routes.
Affection for the Characters: High
CG Score: 8/10. Visually beautiful, but I feel like at this day and age there could be some additional features like animated effects in CGs
Perfect for a Wallpaper methinks
Music Score: 9/10. If there’s one thing I can be bold to state is that they’re in the top 10, if not the absolute best, in soundtracks and auditory elements. I’m quite pleased that this is the norm for Key and definitely applaud them for putting in the effort.
- Visually a beautiful game with audio definitely complimenting such a design. It’s safe to say that Key has mastered the external components of a visual novel, so once they figure out the internal, they’ll be pumping out kamige regularly
- Routes by itself presents the story and main heroine decently
- True route has a lot of heartwarming moments and generally a good concept
- Characters including subcharacters are memorable, and the humor is quite good
- The mini-game feature is relatively fun
- Routes are incoherent to each other and especially to the true route. Contradictions also exist, sometimes within a route which just displays poor writing in addition to lack of collaboration between writers.
- The routes while decent themselves, aren’t original and can contain copy-pastes of different games from Key. This is especially visible in the true route and while it is still the same company’s style of writing, seeing the same story format reduces the impact and displays the company as being lazy.
- The fantasy and convenient elements make conflicts seem very artificial and doesn’t allow for the sympathy to occur as it was needed to fully enjoy the story
- Character relationships are typical in the sense it is not well developed
Overall, I somewhat enjoyed Summer Pockets. It’s not up to the hype that it had when it was first announced nor is it to the point people are screaming about it even now. I still think it’s better than the crap that’s been released recently but it’s far from receiving scores of 9 or 10; those are from people who obviously have MUCH lower standards or have never played another Key game in their life so all this “Key” Story Elements is a first to them
I wouldn’t be sure of how to fix this game for the better purely because both the normal routes and the true routes were good by themselves; the bad was that they didn’t have a correlation with each other and that’s only resolved through replanning the entire scenario (and they should also remove some blantant copy-pastes in the process), at which point you might as well just write a new game instead.