It has been over two years since the release of Little Busters! English Edition, a Key visual novel that managed to make it into my top 10 game of the past decade. This time, Key returns with their latest visual novel, one that was actually not available in English prior to this release. Now the question remains, does it shape up to their previous releases?
Consistent pacing. One of my biggest issues with the visual novel medium is how so many of them fail to maintain consistent pacing. You either have a game that’s really slow to get going and only ramps up much later or a game that jumps between the two so often that it just becomes jarring. Key visual novels are victim to this too, usually featuring an overly long common route with character routes that resolve themselves far too quickly. As such, I was surprised to see Summer Pockets pretty much avoid that problem entirely. Here we have a decently long visual novel that does not take long to get going and does not falter along the way, maintaining a pretty consistent pace all the way up to the end.
The common route, while full of random slice of life scenes, doesn’t drag on and smoothly transitions into each character route. The character routes are long enough that you get a good amount of character development, yet they aren’t short enough that it ends up feeling rushed (well, with the exception of one that I’ll discuss later). It’s honestly refreshing to play such a well-paced visual novel, especially recently when it feels like all I’ve been playing are rushed messes.
Great characterization. It wouldn’t be a Key visual novel without a cast of well-developed characters and Summer Pockets is no exception. Unlike other VNs where characters feel like they are there simply to fill a specific archetype, the characters here in Summer Pockets actually receive a good bit of characterization through the game’s numerous slice of life and comedy scenes. Through these scenes — and each character’s respective route — you slowly get to understand these characters and their backstories in a way that other visual novels simply fail to do so. Sure, some characters are weaker than others, but it’s a lot better than similar visual novels and is one of Key’s greatest strengths when it comes to the medium.
Excellent true route. The character routes may have their issues (more on that later), but if there’s one thing that I can always expect from a Key visual novel, it would be a true route that makes the whole experience worth it. In Summer Pockets, you will spend the majority of your time pretty much setting up for this true route. As you go down each character route, the game will reveal bits and pieces of a larger story to you, whether that be backgrounds for certain characters or details about the island on which the game takes place.
Some of these details may seem trivial, but end up playing a large role by the end of the game. In fact, I had fun trying to figure out if certain events or objects had a deeper meaning behind them, it was like trying to solve a mystery that hadn’t even presented itself yet. What’s even cooler is how the game takes your completion status into consideration as well. As you complete each character route, the game will change small bits of dialogue and even some events in the common route. It may not be noticeable at first, but by the time I had completed two routes, I started to pick up on it and was excited to see the direction the overall story was heading.
That excitement paid off, as the true route ended up being my favorite part to the game. It takes all that had been built up over the common route and character routes, ties it all together, and delivers an excellent ending worthy of the Key name. Granted, it’s not on the level of some of Key’s older works, but it’s still a solid ending all things considered and is definitely one of the better ones I’ve seen out of the medium as of late.
Underwhelming individual routes. Unfortunately, due to how each route is kind of set up in order to deliver the true route, it leaves behind some rather underwhelming character routes. The pacing and characterization may be fine, but as standalone character routes, there really isn’t much setting them apart from your everyday slice of life romance VN. Each route has its romance, a bit of drama, slice of life scenes, and some comedy to top it all off — it’s a fairly standard formula as far as the genre goes. If anything, the setting and Key’s usual light fantasy themes at least differentiate them a little bit, but nothing too spectacular. By regular VN standards, the routes are decent, but by Key standards they’re rather disappointing.
Kamome’s route. Okay, so while every other character route may be underwhelming, Kamome’s route is just straight-up not good. Here you have a route that follows the same kinda setup as the previous ones, so it already isn’t that great of a standalone route. However, it goes one step further by providing pretty much nothing to the overall experience. It doesn’t add anything worthwhile to the island’s background, doesn’t help set up the true route, and is mostly forgotten by the time you get to that true route. The other routes, while not the greatest on their own, at least add to the overall story a bit, so it was odd to see a route that just doesn’t even try to do that.
Even if I disregard that aspect, it’s still my least favorite of the bunch. It’s the only route where the pacing faltered a bit and the ending was kinda just ridiculous. It doesn’t fit the overall theme of the game and honestly felt like it was tacked-on.
While it may not be as strong as some of Key’s previous works, Summer Pockets is still a solid visual novel overall. You have Key’s usual top-tier characterization, but this time it takes place on an island setting with some great art and music, consistent pacing, and a true route worthy of the Key name. The character routes may have their issues, but that doesn’t stop the game from delivering an excellent overall story. I’m a bit disappointed that the game did not measure up to Key’s previous works, but its still miles better than most of its competition and is definitely a visual novel I would recommend.
You can buy Summer Pockets on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.