I can see something beyond the sky.
Aokana certainly is a top tier adult Visual Novel. Featuring stunning visuals accompanied by an awesome soundtrack and topped off with an epic and emotional story well worth your time, there is little to be left desired. Opposite to many other Bishoujo Eroges out there, even the freely available R18 content is neither too intrusive nor main focus of the game - a rare sight and one more solid reason why this masterpiece easily became one of my all-time favorites.
Graphical & Technical Quality
Similar to the increased trend of other western Visual Novel adaptions, this game is running on the Unity Engine. On one hand, this means Aokana can show off a strong performance when it comes to the visual action with lots of sprite movement, effects, and the like. Conversely, choosing a full fledged 3D game engine over something specialized for VNs has it's drawbacks, namely we miss out on some of the more common technical quality of life gimmicks to easily get the most out of our playing experience.
The most vital basics are given with 80 save slots, auto and skip mode with behavior customization, options to customize sound settings for everything separately, as well as basic backlog jumping.
There also are higher level gimmicks like voiceline saving and a sprite viewer to unlock, but that's mostly it. No scene jumping, a rather minimalistic in-game quick menu, not that much to customize and one of my favorite features - automatically lowering the music volume during dialogue playback - despite existing doesn't seem to work.
On the graphical side, Aokana may not have animated sprites (no blinking or mouth movement) but it uses so many so extremely detailed backgrounds and CGs with so many variations you end up not noticing.
Furthermore it has a lot of movement and effects happening on screen. These are all presented amazingly well in a beautiful 1440p resolution, this alone is extremely refreshing coming from the default 720p found in most Visual Novels.
The whole anime-level show is accompanied by an amazing soundtrack appropriately fitting into each situation of the story. And if all that still isn't enough, Aokana has several opening and ending movies and even anime-esque after-episode-preview movies!
And finally the translation, while having one or two errors here and there, is rock solid and covers not only the dialogue but also subtitles for opening and ending movies. While one might argue it's over-compensating because it sure is weird when simple "Huh" sounds suddenly get sentence long translations and vice versa, it truly shows the spirit of a real translation and many other translation projects could learn a thing or two from our friends at Sprite.
Story, Content & Runtime
With that blasting appearance, let's get to inner strength - What can you expect from Aokana?
A story about friendship and rivalry, overcoming your past and shaping your future. Thanks to the unimaginable discovery of "Anti-Gravitons", particles that defy the very gravity keeping us pinned to the ground, a whole new world opens up to humanity: The Sky.
With the help of a simple pair of "Grav Shoes" flying free like a bird has become as easy as swimming through the sea. Of course, where there is an opportunity for competition there will be a sport to compete in, and so the "Flying Circus" was born.
In this new world in the sky where only the best can persist, Masaya Hinata, our protagonist, once was at the very top reaching for ever greater heights. Though the higher you go the further down you can fall, and so a fateful event made our prodigy child turn his back on the beautiful sky he once adored forever, being disgusted by the very idea of flying.
But, fate has other plans for him. Pushed forward by the very people that once looked up to him and unwillingly roped into his high school's dying FC club, he once again has to face the sky that pains him so much - not as a player, but as a coach.
When the entirety of Flying Circus is at the verge of a new age, can he overcome his past's suffocating shadow and see the light of the sky again? Can he prevent the same thing that once robbed him of all his fun in flying happening to his new star player? And can they find out the true meaning of "Flying Circus"?
Aokana is a game featuring mostly equal amounts of Slice of Life humor, deep, emotional Sci-Fi story and romance. And all the while it feels more like a VN-style playable anime than a normal Visual Novel, even though its actual anime was born from the VN. Like I mentioned earlier Aokana has anime-style after-episode-preview movies playing inbetween the chapters, with a "to be continued" feel even though you can continue literally 5 seconds later.
The character cast is distinct and huge. Next to our protagonist there are 4 heroines and 3 or 4 more main characters. All of them have fleshed out personalities (including their humoristic anime stereotype) and a well developed background story, that is deeply entangled with the main story and progressively uncovered.
The protagonist not only goes beyond the generic dense harem king, but also has a face shown quite often throughout the game and - even if only during childhood flashbacks - a voice.
Besides that notable cast of spotlight characters we get a bunch more side characters, each with more or less recurring appearances and a volume slider in the settings. Their names there even get progressively uncovered when the characters appear in the story for the first time.
Though opposite to the main cast, the side characters are all over the top and exist mostly for humoristic purposes. Even so, they don't ruin serious moments.
The game can be separated into the usual concept of common route (taking around 20h) and character route (around 10h each), though it is more easily separated into the 8 chapters/"episodes" the story spans across (6+2), adding up to a total content time of around 60h of enjoyment if not rush-skipping. There are 6 endings in total, 1 per heroine, the usual "bad" ending and the true ending unlocked after clearing all routes.
The heroine cast can be divided in two. First, the main heroines with intertwined main story routes, each one focusing on one of the core problems of our protagonist while also showing light and shadow of the main story's plot, competing for the "true" route spot. Second, the two side heroines with therefor less story intense "bonus" routes that still offer their own well developed story.
Which route you get is determined by 10-13 dialogue choices throughout the common route. The choices are obvious enough to realize which one you should choose in order to target a specific route.
After clearing the first route you unlock the gallery where you can re-enjoy the 165 CG and 26 SD artworks. And this number doesn't even include all the unique scenes from the several Flying Circus matches you experience in full throughout the story. For those you can rewatch them all, alongside the opening and ending movies. Also, while browsing the gallery you can enjoy any of the game's 49 beautiful OSTs.
After clearing all the routes you furthermore unlock the Sprite Viewer, where you can enjoy and play around with all the character sprites and scene backgrounds to your liking.
The R18 Content
To easily sum it up, the H-Scenes aren't anything special, they are just - there, perfectly fitting with the flow of the story throwing a rather strongly mosaic censored bonus in from the sides. So if you came here looking for some action befitting more adult than Visual Novel - you should probably look elsewhere.
The R18 patch provides:
Averagely 2 H-Scenes per character, 4+1 in one occasion.
Only a single "uncensored" normal CG and only a single appearance of a nude sprite (though they are freely available for every heroine in the Sprite Viewer).
No choices, no background moaning (though higher level voice acting), no sound effects whatsoever.
No fetishes, pure vanilla (at best a more thorough, experimental dip into the SM genre).
And when it comes to the depiction of bodily fluids, the inhuman stamina of the actors or the overall intensity of the action - saying "mild" or "on the believable side" might not even be enough.
Like I said, it's more a mood fitting bonus than full standalone hentai.
Is Aokana worth it? Yes! By all means, just grab a copy if you're interested in a superb Visual Novel with a well developed emotional story that contains explicit content that flows with the story instead of overshadowing it. If I'd go and rate it on a simplistic scale from 1 to 10, Aokana get's a straight 11! It's more than worth its price and there will always be a next sale.
The studio who made Aokana disbanded in 2019 but came back due to many, many requests from fans loving their game. This should be a testament of a brilliant studio and the games they make.