Remembering what summer vacation is all about.
Summer Pockets is an all-ages Nakige from developer and artist Visual Arts/Key - a name well known for some of anime's idols such as Clannad or Angel Beats. Following in the same steps we once again get beautiful 1080p artworks, a gorgeous soundtrack, a deep and emotional story making the entire journey worthwhile and even minigames to round off the experience.
Graphical & Technical Quality
The visuals are stunning. From the main menu to the general scenery, details and effects shine everywhere and take you on a journey from the moment you start up the game for the first time. All of that is accompanied by an absolutely beautiful soundtrack and packed into a smooth running engine. While the character sprites themselfs aren't animated at all (no blinking eyes or mouth movement) the screenplay and camera movements make up for it.
And speaking of a game, Summer Pockets actually feels like a real game at times due to the two full fledged and some smaller minigames to play throughout the story and the insane amount of player choices. Even a date (as in time) system exists to tell you how much time has passed in the story and in the main part of it you can freely choose 2 events per day from the map. This gives you both the freedom to choose exactly what you want to do, but also limits you to only doing so much each playthrough.
Alongside these major features the rest of Summer Pockets' engine runs smooth too and offers some cool, modern features. Like a literal 1000 save slots which can have a custom description and be swapped around freely, a bunch of quick menus to access the most important features and even ingame achievements.
Auto mode's progression speed can be set based on dialogue's character count - a really great feature only very few VNs seem to implement - most animations and shortcuts can be turned off if wanted and a normal level of customization can easily be done.
On the other hand though, compared to other high-end VNs I know Summer Pockets is a bit simplistic when it comes to navigating through the story. You con only jump back to the previous choice or, via the backlog, to some designated points in the dialogue. For jumping forwards you have the usual auto and skip modes with their behaviour customization but that's it.
Making use of the 1000 save slots is highly recommended when aiming for quick achievement farming or route setup.
And on the actual downside, Summer Pockets seems to have a bug or two. E.g., for me the first start of the game threw me (without main menu whatsoever) directly into the story, only to then give me a font error because I obviously don't have the Japanese font installed and then crash on my first attempt to go to fullscreen mode.
While this has been a one-time only encounter, font issues are not.
If I remember correctly I had to change the font shortly after the beginning - which is an intended feature, offering you a not too small variety of fonts to choose from - because the sometimes used special characters in the text couldn't be properly displayed.
Furthermore the font regularly goes haywire. The letters become huge, bold and lose their spacing resulting in a hardly readable blob of text. Albeit annoying, this only happens in menus or overlays and is fixable by simply closing and opening said menu or overlay again.
The translation is solid enough, with only a few missing words or similar here and there. Sadly it doesn't include subtitles for the opening and ending movies or the songs with vocals but this could be fixed with unofficial fan patches.
Showcase of the two major minigames.
Story, Content & Runtime
What can you expect from Summer Pockets?
A tragic tale about a fateful summer vacation. One that might induce nostalgia from all the summers you had yourself, or sadness over those you didn't. Silly, happy everyday moments meeting deep lore head on.
Takahara Hairi, our protagonist, has been through a lot. His school's swim team's star not too long ago, a tragic incident took his pride, joy and the ability to even go into the water from him. Running away from the team he felt he left hanging and his life that went south after that as a whole, the boy who can't swim anymore goes to the island Torishirojima - as ironic as that is.
"For now, I am a wounded migratory bird who can't fly."
Initially invited over there by his aunt who requested help with sorting through the numerous remains of Hairi's late grandmother, he soon finds himself getting to know what little there is to see and how few people there are to meet on this small, secluded island, maybe finding new friends and new things to do amongst them.
With the calm distance to the hardships of life and the motivation of his distinct cast of potential new friends, maybe Hairi can once again learn what it means to live in happiness, enjoying what precious, limited time you have during summer and maybe, one day, face the sea he dreads so much once more.
Summer Pockets is a story about remembering how to enjoy summer, with all the drama, the silly fun and maybe even the romance it includes.
Or at least...
... this is what the game makes you believe.
Underlying this setup is a story reaching way further than what meets the eye, spanning across several layers of lore. In fact, nothing in this story is as it seems on first glance.
Truth is, this story isn't even about our protagonist. The only true thing is that it is about this specific summer.
Every heroine's route has its own special story with its own obvious and hidden meaning, yet all of them also string together the true story which is revealed during the game's two true routes which are unlocked after playing all of the normal four. Alongside those there are also bad endings you can reach.
And as if to rub salt into the wound, Summer Pockets doesn't even try to hide it. All the hints, all the pieces of information you need to string it all together have been there from the very beginning - some being subtle hints you simply can't understand yet, some being mysterious teasers fueling your desire to learn more - yet it only ever fully clicks after it already is too late. I both love and hate VNs doing that.
For maximum impact of this game of hide and seek I highly recommend, despite having the freedom to do what you want, to play the routes in their original order - that is the one in which the characters are first introduced.
On a side note though, the narrative is rather... cold?, with many short, single sentences and a lot of hasty jumping between short scenes at times.
Anyway, to accompany that youthful journey throughout the summer, Summer Pockets offers 71 amazing CGs and 49 unique soundtracks, which you can enjoy in the gallery after finishing the first route, and also has a detailed sprite viewer to unlock after clearing it all.
As stated before, "it all" means the four main heroine's routes as well as the 2 true routes unlocked after that. Said heroines have distinct personalities to enjoy and a notable amount of backstory and character development, while the sidekicks are just the usual personification of ridiculousness. Also, one heroine was sadly forced into the role of the overbearing closet pervert bringing the unasked for dose of lewdness into this wholesome all-ages story whose romance elements don't even necessarily have to reach a kissing scene.
The male protagonist is somewhere in between, having both story elements and genericness. At least he is a real character with a face.
The game can be divided into three parts - the prologue with a whopping 13 decisions, the common route where you spend ~10 ingame days by choosing what to do twice a day from the map, and the character route with some more choices of both types or even minigames.
A full route takes around 15h (not rush-skipping) to finish and considering you have 6 unique routes, as well as some side events and the two main minigames to see/play/master which fill up their own respective playthrough, plus 200 "records" (in-game achievements) to obtain - you can take your own guess at just how much time Summer Pockets can consume.
Another cool feature, making Summer Pockets feel like an actual game, is the choices. While there are only a few, easily distinguishable choices that matter in altering the story (choosing a route), there is a ton of them - 13 in the prologue alone - and each and every one of them is tracked and will get back to you at some point by either subtly altering or completely changing some scenes or characters just reacting to something you said even much later.
This level of interaction and love for detail is one of the best I've ever seen.
Is Summer Pockets worth it?
Maybe not the best around due to its sometimes overbearing, forced comedy, it still is one of the greatest VNs I've ever played. Amazing artwork, the best soundtrack ever and a really captivating story with several hidden layers should be totally worth your money, otherwise I don't know what is.
And even if not, the next sale is always around the corner to push this masterpiece into your game library!
On a side note: For everyone out there having either fluent Japanese skills, is happy with unofficial fan translations or has the necessary patience and hope for an official release - there is a remastered version of Summer Pockets available in Japan called "Reflection Blue", featuring more playable routes and improved minigames.
If you want the fullest experience possible or crave for more after playing this version, maybe that is something to look into.