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Game Info:

Summer Pockets
Developed By: VisualArts/Key
Published By: VisualArts
Release Date: February, 5, 2020
Available On: PC (Also Android, iOS and Switch in Japanese)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Genre: Visual Novel
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $44.99

Thank you VisualArts for sending us this game to review!

VisualArts/Key became one of my favorite visual novel developers after I played and reviewed CLANNAD all the way back in 2016. Their visual novels are well known for being extremely emotional; the term is 'nakige', which is basically a 'crying game', where the readers get to know the characters in question, and then some deeply emotional events occur - often leading to tears. They are certainly masters in this field, if my experience is any indication. This wouldn't work if the folks at Key were not also excellent at crafting deeply interesting stories, which of course they are.

Unlike previous releases like CLANNAD and Little Busters! (which I reviewed and thoroughly recommend - with moral caveats), Summer Pockets is a contemporary release from Japan, rather than a classic that's been brought to us many years later. As a result, the interface and art are all very high resolution, and look great even on my large 4K monitor. That said, I did have some strange font issues that I got over by setting a different font than the default. It also means that the main story is about thirty to forty hours, rather than twice that from the other two mentioned games. As a matter of fact, VisualArts/Key just announced an expanded edition of Summer Pockets for the Japanese market, called Summer Pockets: Reflection Blue. There are supposed to be four additional routes, with one new character. No English release has been announced yet. I think it's worth noting that both CLANNAD and Little Busters! were released in the West after all of the expanded content had already been churned out in Japan; here, we got the original product only, as that's all there is at this time.

Summer Pockets
Highlights:

Strong Points: A story you won't forget, with a deep emotional impact; guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, as well as exercise your tear ducts; great characters; fantastic art and music; really good Japanese voice acting and English localization; a couple of interesting minigames
Weak Points: No controller support; not as long as some VisualArts/Key works I've reviewed (but longer than others); some typos
Moral Warnings: Curse words like '*ss', 'd*mn', 'sh*t', 'p*ss', and 'h*ll'; the main character comes from an all-boys school, and that is used as an excuse to be 'curious' about the opposite sex; quite a bit of crude language, like talking about 'boobies', erotic movies and magazines, and various innuendo; various situations with sexual tension, like looking up skirts and flipping them; one girl seems to take everything in the most erotic way possible, and gets flustered at the thought; terms like 'lolicon' and 'siscon' come up, including some thought on the implications of those labels; one female character is obsessed with breasts (including her own oversized samples); some characters show massive cleavage, though most dress modestly; the player character sees 3-4 females in various states of undress, which includes one girl getting dressed, another bathing, and another whose clothes fall off partly under water; through certain dialogue choices you can put itch cream on your eight-year-old cousin's behind, and possibly take a bath with her; possible sexual contact with one character is strongly hinted at; you live with and get married to a character; you make offerings at the local temple; you can earn nicknames, including being called 'Lucifer'

Summer Pockets begins with the protagonist, Takahara Hairi, sitting on a ferry boat heading to the remote island, Torishirojima, where his late grandmother lived. He received a letter from his aunt asking for assistance in organizing and cleaning up the many things she left behind, and having nothing else to do that summer vacation, he decided to accept her offer and make the trip. After all, school was pretty rough this past year, and he could really use the time away to refresh and recharge. As he is arriving at the port, he sees a beautiful girl with long hair who's gone before he realizes it. Thus begins the story of his incredibly memorable summer vacation.

It doesn't take long before he comes to find out that his aunt Kyoko loves organizing the storage shed mostly on her own, so Hairi ends up having a lot of free time on his hands. It’s during this free time that he can choose to hang out with several other kids his age - male and female - and he makes several friends quickly. From the typically shirtless Ryouchi and the modesty enforcing Miki, to the table tennis obsessed Tenzen and the several romantic interests, Hairi has plenty to do and see while on this island. Honestly, considering the timing of the writing of this review (COVID-19 lockdown), reading about hanging out with friends at summertime was oddly refreshing. It was written to feel nostalgic, and they succeeded; I wish I had memories like this myself from when I was young!

While most of the game is in the form of visual novel (words + pictures with Japanese voice acting), there are also a couple of mini games throughout. There is the table tennis minigame, and there is also a Pokemon-like card game called Islamon, which is fun, but the random number generator makes battles somewhat difficult to predict. The table tennis game is pure skill, but would no doubt be easier with a touchscreen rather than a mouse, since you have to click on icons quite quickly to do well.

Like many Key visual novels, there are primary character routes, and in this case multiple epilogues as well. As you play, the role of certain characters (especially your cousin, Umi) grows in importance. All of the characters are filled with charm; whether it's Ryouchi's laugh-inducing stripping (he hates wearing a shirt), Ao's random naps, Miki's Hydro Gladiator KAI water cannon, Shizuku's constant admiration for boobies, or Shiroha's calling you a local insult, the characters are all memorable and extremely well written. While the early part of the story is filled with laughs, as you go down each character arc, deeper themes and building relationships emerge.

The four main heroines, that comprise of the main arcs, are Shiroha, Tsumugi, Ao, and Kamome. Each of them are adorable in their own way, and blossom into truly memorable characters. Shiroha is the main character, and her story is the one we follow into the epilogues. In her arc, your relationship grows into a deep love that helps both of you grow as people. Tsumugi's arc was extremely touching. She's a bit of an airhead, but extremely sweet - and where the story takes it most certainly brought the first tears that I could not control. Kamome is a ton of fun, and is also a touching story in its own right. I love Ao's arc to death and kinda wish hers was the canon route, but I also love Shirohas, and it's not my place to say the authors were wrong.

Each route really gets you invested in these wonderful characters, and honestly every minute getting deeper into this story is one well spent. I really came to love each and every one of them, and if you are a sucker for sentimentality even a little bit, or have a heart that enjoys a good love story, you will definitely enjoy Summer Pockets. With that said, I certainly was reminded of story elements from CLANNAD and Little Busters! at times. Even still, they are all different and well written enough that they all stand alone on their own merits, and fans and readers of those other works shouldn't be distracted by any similarities.

Given the love stories here and the playful nature of some of the characters, significant appropriateness issues are unfortunately inevitable. For one thing, Hairi normally goes to an all-boys school, and he often uses that as an excuse to say that he is of course curious about how those panties look, he's interested in touching when girls are too close, and so on. He sometimes controls his impulses, but not always (or you can choose not to control them in many cases). Topics like dirty magazines and movies come up, and even sexual dreams. One girl tends to take somewhat innocent statements and finds an erotic way to interpret what is said and gets flustered as a result. Interestingly, this is actually incorporated into the story in a way that is more than just for laughs and fanservice.

One girl has an obsession with boobies, and talks about them quite often. It starts with her own; she is quite proud of them. Several character arcs involve the player being able to see depictions of several of the heroines in various states of undress; one girl you see her changing, while another you walk in on her bathing. There are other situations, where you save a girl from drowning but her clothes slip mostly off, and a time when you bathe together (but that is all described, not shown, and it's not as voyeuristic as it sounds). There is also a scene where you plan a stunt to flip up your girlfriend's skirt; they somehow do this in a way to make it not as bad as it sounds, but it still happens.

Most girls generally wear mostly modest clothing, with some notable exceptions. The 'booby girl' Shizuku wears a swimsuit that has so much cleavage it's almost certainly played for laughs - but little is left to the imagination. You can see a girl in their underwear a few times; once through their clothes when they are wet, and other times by various other accidents. In one character arc, it's strongly hinted that you and your girlfriend have some kind of sexual encounter; the specifics are left out but it's heavily implied. There is a scene where the girl is sleeping and mumbles something about it tickling when you kiss her there.

Summer Pockets
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay 16/20
Graphics 10/10
Sound/Music 10/10
Stability/Polish 4/5
Controls/Interface 4/5

Morality Score - 72%
Violence 9/10
Language 4/10
Sexual Content/Nudity 6/10
Occult/Supernatural 9/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical 8/10

Your eight-year-old cousin is adorable, but you find yourself in some awkward situations with her (mostly optional, but not always). She gets mosquito bites on her bottom, and you find yourself putting itching cream in sensitive places. You can also take a bath with her (nothing is shown). During one conversation arc you can choose to call yourself a 'lolicon', with humorous hijinks to follow. Speaking of 'cons, in another character arc, a minor character is called a 'siscon' for being extremely protective of her sister, and even being willing to entertain the idea of a three-way with her sister (and the main character). These terms, 'lolicon' and 'siscon', are slang terms borrowed from Japanese that mean attracted to young looking girls, and attracted to one's sister, respectively. Thankfully, nothing becomes of these besides a few stray lines mostly played for laughs. The main character is mostly a gentleman. Mostly.

While they are not common, curse words are used, including '*ss', 'd*mn', 'sh*t', 'p*ss', and 'h*ll'. There is a local temple on the island, and you can choose to make an offering there. You also can earn nicknames based on a few responses, and one includes the name 'Lucifer' and another is a 'host who has forgotten how to flirt'. In one character arc, you have a common-law marriage through a local custom, move in together sometime later, and get legally married after that.

Summer Pockets is honestly an incredibly charming visual novel that has art and music that is fantastic, that all contributes to yet another VisualArts/Key masterpiece. While this one only took me around forty hours to complete every arc (compared to the other, longer games), it's also the first initial release - they have already announced Reflection Blue, though no English release has been announced yet. If you are looking for a heartwarming tale of summer love and friendship, especially while being locked away from such things yourself, then I definitely recommend Summer Pockets - as long as you understand that the writing is really meant for more mature audiences, and take the appropriateness warnings I posted above into consideration.

About the Author

Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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