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Review of Summer Pockets

SubjectSummer Pockets
ByVote: 6.5machinesmile on 2020-11-15
ReviewI played the original version (i.e., NOT Reflection Blue). As a disclaimer, these are just my opinions, reflecting my personal taste, your mileage may vary.

I acquired this game (and had very high expectations for it), because Key's Little Busters! is one of the top-3 of my all time favourite visual novels. And in many regards this VN is excellent: graphics are really good, music and voice acting are brilliant, the island and its locations and legends are a great setting. However, to me the beef in visual novels are the characters and stories, the style and quality of writing. Unfortunately the writing in Summer Pockets is quite a mixed bag.

There are some things the writing excels at. The basic set-up is great. Also the initial light-hearted slice-of-life & comedic story parts are top-notch; in them writing has perfect rhythm, content, and form. However, everything else is average at best and just plain bad at worst. The routes are on a short side. Only one of the normal routes has a coherent story and real relationship development. The dramatic/sad parts are often overly melodramatic. The last-second attempts to make the route endings happier are either completely absurd (Tsumugi, Kamome) or illogical (Ao, Shiroha's true ending in "Pocket"). Even after full completion of the game there are many things in the routes that don't make sense. Discussing these problems in more detail is not possible without major spoilers. I wrote route analyses, but they became too long-winded and I was unable to take my story editor hat off when writing them. They probably won't be very useful from a review point of view. I post them below hidden with spoiler tags just in case someone is interested in reading them.

Route analyses (major spoilers):

One general gripe: while I don't dislike sad or even downright depressing stories as such, the routes in this game followed the Key "crying game" formula to a fault. When it is a given that every route (even Shiroha's with the true route) will follow the same /\ shaped tragedy formula with character introduction > brief light/comic part with her to make you care > tragic twist > tear-milking > bad end > very weak attempt to somehow end the story on a brighter note, it is desensitizing and counter-productive to the story's effectiveness. I was able to become emotionally involved with the first two sad routes I played, but after that I knew what to expect and that my actions would make no difference to the outcome, so I stopped caring and was unable to be moved by the (subjectively much better and more emotionally charged) true routes.

The routes in the order I played them (the parts in past tense describe my subjective experience):

Shiroha's route: This is even shorter than the other routes, with initial interactions consisting of Shiroha just brushing MC off with a couple of sentences, and in August several days get skipped completely. I would have hoped for much more interactions and much better relationship development; as Shiroha initially appeared reclusive and even near-repulsed by MC, they would have been especially important in this route. On a plus side, the sparse content was well written and this had a rare happy ending... Or so it seemed.

Tsumugi's route: This was horrible. Tsumugi's personality and actions consisted of saying mugyi, acting like a six-year-old, and humming a short tune. Apparently the writer(s) did realize this might not cut it for one of the main characters, so they added Shizuku as her sidekick. But as Shizuku's personality consisted entirely of liking boobies, she did not exactly help. Interactions in this route consisted mostly of never-ending and repetitive inane babbling about things to do. The "spirited away" concept was initially very promising, but in the end it made no sense neither in character nor in game context ("Tsumugi" was not Tsumugi after all, and the "spirited away" phenomenon of a living, conscious person differed from the memory-carrying butterflies lore that made up the theme and "miracle logic" of the rest of the game.) The emotional climax with the thousands of candles was well written and genuinely touching, though. However, any redeeming this route might have gained with that beautiful candle scene was promptly destroyed when in the after-scene it was revealed that the mysterious non-Tsumugi who had won over MC's heart was in fact... a teddy bear. Alrighty then. This route should have had an "Unadulterated garbage! Do you want to skip to end?" warning dialogue at the beginning.

Kamome route: This had potential to be a great route. Kamome was an entertaining and likeable character, and her initial childhood adventure re-enactment plot was both heart-warming and fun. This route would have worked fine either as a welcome change of pace without a forced tragic twist, or with the tragic twist as a ghost story where Kamome would have been seen only by MC. But instead the writer(s) made a complete mess of it. First, the earlier parts prior to Kamome's sudden disappearance described how other people could also see Kamome and communicate with her, and how she was also able to affect the physical world (e.g., by doing chores at Kyoko's place, carrying tent and other travel equipment to the mine, moving her suitcase around, etc.) These parts make no sense if she only existed in the MC's head. Second, the ending was completely nonsensical, it was so ridiculous that it was insulting. The route established with certainty that Kamome "will never wake from her sleep", meaning that she is either dead or in permanent coma; MC only ever saw her ghost. However, in the end MC receives a real physical letter from Kamome, and the last image is a CG of Kamome and MC embracing. Seriously? I have never seen a more ungainly, implausible, forced, glued-on "happy end" anywhere.

Ao's route: This was the best and most coherent of the four basic routes. Ao was an entertaining and likeable character; MC and Ao actually appeared to have chemistry and the relationship development felt natural; the story events throughout the drama phase made sense, and the tragic events were not cheapened into drawn-out tear-milking bawl-o-drama. The only real shortcomings were the overall length -- I would have hoped for much more interactions before the drama phase -- and the quite baffling ending. In the end both MC and Ai are going to find Ao's memory-carrying butterfly to wake her up, despite the facts that MC has no tolerance to touching the butterflies (he was about to commit suicide the very first time he did) and that touching them en masse would put both of them in coma. Earlier Ai's butterfly form recognized Ao and came to her (although she couldn't see it), so perhaps it is presumed that Ao's butterfly would do the same with Hairi and/or Ai, so random touch-method searching would not be required? This is contradicted by the fact that Ao's butterfly actively avoided Hairi when it parted from Ao, and the fact that MC speaks of possible "years or decades" of searching when he returns to the island, but it is the only way the ending would make sense.

ALKA + Pockets: By the time I reached these hidden routes, my emotional involvement had already waned to the point where my reaction to any sad dramatic events was on a sardonic "well I'll be, another tragic twist" level. Also the subject focus (mother/child relationship, importance of core family) was not my cup of tea. It's a shame, because these are ambitious and expand the originally rather brief Shihora route (but in the end go overboard and add unnecessary complexity to the story with the existence of Umi's origami plane in a "wrong" timeline). Key has published an official short story that offers an explanation for that, but in my opinion any decently written game should contain all the information necessary for understanding it.

Comments

#1 by diabloryuzaki
2020-11-15 at 19:42
< report >btw can you explain more about illogical part for ao and pocket route that you mentioned above? while i can understand why you called it illogical, i think it is better to pointed out which one is illogical and what make it should be better because sometime what people said as illogical is just wasting part or not important

btw i kinda agree for kamome and tsumugi ending is absurd because
1. it is weird to give time limit to the teddy bear for manifested as tsumugi when she have been in there for many years moreover the real one only act as fake tsumugi is too pushy, if that teddy bear tsumugi really do it for tsumugi then it is not weird to see her to take out the real one in front of hairi at times
2. kamome route is good actually but turn into a joke when the truth about her disappearance ended like that. she is just turn into astral body but she is still live so why event to visit the real one is not too much? i think this is the moment when i see someone didn't understand about astral body completely, watch the last part of kara no kyoukai movie 1 will tell you about it clearly. but i think i can understand why kamome route ended like this, the real reason is if they add the event to visit real kamome, it will be same to ao route though the difference is just did the patient have astral body or not
#2 by machinesmile
2020-11-15 at 23:23
< report >
btw can you explain more about illogical part for ao and pocket route that you mentioned above? while i can understand why you called it illogical, i think it is better to pointed out which one is illogical and what make it should be better because sometime what people said as illogical is just wasting part or not important

There were three things that made no sense to me.

First, Umi says she always wanted to meet her mom. But during the common and heroine routes she pays no heed to Shiroha whatsoever.

Second, Kyoko is implied to have been told by Shiroha's mother about the procedure to stop Shiroha from getting her power, so that Shiroha would not be doomed. Shiroha's mother had the same power as Shiroha (receiving visions from her future self), and seemed to know everything about the tragic loop Shiroha & Umi would get into. But according to the story the very reason why Shiroha gets her power and that loop starts is because her mother goes missing, apparently of her own volition. If her mother foresaw what would happen, why on Earth did she decide to go missing in the first place?

Also the existence of Umi's origami plane in a "wrong" timeline (i.e., in one where she has never existed) did not make sense to me. Apparently it was supposed to be an indication of the true role Kyoko and especially the storage building had in the story, but I think that was really impossible to understand without reading the official additional short story from the Key website.
Last modified on 2020-11-15 at 23:51
#3 by diabloryuzaki
2020-11-16 at 06:37
< report >well, what you just pointed is the hole that never get fixed even in RB

1. umi didn't appear too much to explain about her past like we almost didn't see too much about past event where it is just umi and hairi in there. if this event is exist and show up in the vn, maybe we can see more about her hardwork to get close to shiroha like what SS tell us before and the timing is in alka when takahara dream about umi

2. nobody know about shiroha mother and what is the reason to cornered her like that, honestly this is have been explained little but sadly there is not much to said to prove it because everything can be answered like this "that is hindsight-based opinion and only appear after read it all moreover non of the character in there said anything about it", trust me there is people who will answer like this because they didn't found the character said about it directly

3. you see how weird is umi's origami plane in storage house but didn't you realize that nobody really explain about it? it will be different if there is some legend about it like shichiechou, but sadly no so here we go with convenient logic where as long as nobody care about it everything is alright

summer pockets can be better actually but because they have been reach the limit to write so they are forced to show it to us like that even in RB it didn't change too much. try to read the thread about it, i have write the difference between RB and original in there. btw thanks to pointed that part because it can be good reference to people if they want to read it more further or not