“People are determined when they have a clear goal.”
This is my second route as I’ve decided to playthrough in the order that the heroines appear, and it really feels like a perfect follow up to the Shiroha route. Upon starting a new game it was nice to see an option to skip the loooong prologue… Though I wonder what that does for all of the prologue humor that carries through into the latter parts of the game.
The route is at times amazing and at times underwhelming. It was a nice 5-6 hours long in my experience, however the time isn’t perfectly managed. The sometimes-slow pacing messes with the tension of the route, and since the route itself is a sort of mystery story, that tension is very important. Luckily there is also an amazing romance story in here, and that aspect really holds the story together.
Ao’s personality is weeeird. She’s very submissive, but in a very assertive way to the point where it feels like she has control. She’s a shy girl that comes across as very extraverted and loud. She does a lot of screamed punchlines where the camera suddenly zooms in on her face… I’m not a fan of that. It’s not very funny. Some of the humor hits though. The shrimp trauma needs to be spread.
The further into the route I got, the more I liked her… And that’s weird, because she never really changed. Maybe I just liked how romance-focused the route was…
Anyway, I’m coining the term Aodorable.
The route has a small amount of downtime during the map segment. Ao often isn’t available so I ended up filling the gaps with the weird animal fighting minigame which I obtained after visiting Umi on the first day. Very fun little game. If it wasn’t for that, the route would be relatively short I imagine…
Ao’s earlier scenes are a bit boring to say the least. The sleeping scenes have some interesting information in them, but they’re kinda weird… The part time job scenes are nice however.
I couldn’t help but notice that—although Hairi spends a good amount of time with Ao—Ao herself doesn’t spend much time with Hairi. The two surprisingly don’t talk much for a long duration of the route.
Inari, our weird blue digimon fox, gets more and more screentime the more you read. I really grew to love Inari. At first it didn’t really do anything, but it kinda became the bro of the route. Hairi and Inari work together both comedically and seriously, and they have a good dynamic (despite Inari only being able to say pon.) Some of the jokes Inari sets up are adorable too. The hand holding scene is great.
And then we get to the real meat of the route… A mystery-esque search for answers within a limited amount of time.
I have to say, I’m really impressed with how well this route is tied into the rest of what I’ve read so far. (Very light Shiroha spoilers.) It not only shares elements with Shiroha’s, but it actively answers questions that were prompted at the end of Shiroha’s route. And since Hairi got a lot of development in Shiroha’s route, he can fully go into exploration and observation in Ao’s route.
I was expecting these things to not show up until the very end of the game. I was expecting some kind of plothole ridden route format such as in Rewrite. I wasn’t expecting Summer Pockets to follow up on the greater lore of the setting during the routes. Because of that, this game feels less like a series of routes and more like a single book.
There’s this one song that plays a lot in this route, and it sounds like some kind of 28 days later track, and I love it.
Eventually the mystery elements enter the story, and gradually our duo of searchers begin to run out of time. Every day feels less hopeful; the effects of the searching start to have an effect on our characters. This progression, or maybe it’d be best called a regression, is thrilling to watch… Or it would be if not for the interspersed moments of downtime. Part of me wonders if this development may have been a bit too gradual. They could cut out a day or two of events to make it a bit snappier. Because of such pacing, the route starts to feel predictable in various ways which is a shame.
Still, the route’s main plot point remains intruiging.
Eventually we hear about Ao’s backstory, and we get this CG of Ai, and I really like the CG; even though it portrays a nice deed, the CG is drawn in a really creepy way. That’s interesting because it makes the reader get into Ao’s mindset: Despite this being a moment of good, it certainly isn’t an appealing one.
The tension, rather strangely, starts to die down. The mystery isn’t solved or anything, but the route switches focus rather heavily to Hairi and Ao’s relationship. I’m not sure whether I like this switch of focus. In a way it feels like they gave up a promising aspect of the route… But on the other hand we get a great romance story out of it, and I’m a sucker for romance stories.
Then the route comes to a close, and I find myself truly loving the central relationship. Hairi gets a lot of alone time in which we learn about his feelings. Ao gets a lot of alone time in which we learn about her feelings. The two get a lot of time together. At the end of it all, I feel so much more appreciative of—and closer to—Ao!Hairi and Ao (and even Inari) than I ever did with Shiro!Hairi and Shiroha. I really really enjoyed this route.
But something about it feels wrong. Something feels missing. It’d be interesting to see if anyone else felt that way about it.
Regardless, this is definitely my favorite route so far, and I could easily see it being my favorite route of the entire VN. It has a wide appeal. If you like Higurashi, or AIR, or any Bishoujo game, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this route. Also if you’re Kanon, you’ll like this route.
And now have some screenshots~