Title (JP): Summer Pockets (サマーポケッツ)
Platform: PC, iOS, Android, Switch
Publisher: Key/Visual Arts (JP/PC, mobile), Prototype (JP/Switch)
Release date: 29 Jun 2018 (JP/PC), 17 Dec 2018 (JP/iOS), 19 Dec 2018 (JP/Android), 20 Jun 2019 (JP/Switch)
This review was written based on the Japanese PC release of the game, and may not reflect changes made to other versions.
Key has a reputation of being a genre-defining developer, and so as Key’s first entirely new full-sized game since 2011’s Rewrite, and the first entirely new full-sized game to actually carry in the vein of other Key games since 2007’s Little Busters, expectations for Summer Pockets were already hard to live up to before it was even released. It is thus a relief to be able to say that for the most part, it does.
Summer Pockets is the second full game by Key in which Maeda Jun is not a writer, and given how the first, Rewrite, was generally regarded as markedly un-Key-like, it was worrying to first hear that Maeda only came up with the general idea for Summer Pockets, and was not actually writing the script. However, perhaps thanks to the feedback on Rewrite, Key has managed to, without Maeda writing, still manage to assemble a game that stands on its own identifiable as a Key game.
Summer Pockets starts with the protagonist Takahara Hairi arriving at the fictional island of Torishiro-jima, supposedly to help sort out his recently-passed grandmother’s belongings but actually because he wants to get away from everything due to having been hurt by an initially-unspecified event, and follows him as he spends his summer vacation on the island. While the general setting is reminiscent of Air, the atmosphere of the game is closer to Little Busters, with Hairi goofing around with male friends and the heroines knowing and interacting with each other.
The game follows a standard ADV system, with the story branching out into four routes for each of the heroines, Shiroha, Ao, Kamome and Tsumugi, and clearing all four unlocks a fifth route, which leads to a shorter sixth which serves as the grand finale to the game. The four heroine routes are quite enjoyable; Shiroha’s is a simple boy meets girl story held up with good characters, Kamome’s is filled with a youth-like sense of adventure, Tsumugi’s revolves around the theme of what to do with limited time, and Ao’s follows her attempts to save a loved one. All four have supernatural elements, and Kamome and Tsumugi’s especially are heavily influenced by previous Key games, to the extent that players might be able to guess what happens next (and at no point are these expectations subverted). This does not lower the overall quality of the writing- Kamome’s route is in fact one of the most enjoyable parts of the game- But it might very well cheapen the experience for some older Key fans.
The fifth and sixth routes are Summer Pockets’ equivalent of Air’s “Air”, Clannad’s “After Story” and Little Busters’ “Refrain”, and are especially reminiscent of the former two due to the main theme being the bond between parent and child. While the routes themselves are undeniably of high quality and have no significant faults of their own, this is also the greatest flaw in the game’s overarching narrative; The “true” routes’ main theme and narrative is for the most part unrelated to the heroines’. While it may not be entirely fair to fault the game for what is for the most part a genre contrivance, this is unfortunately noticeable due to how Little Busters managed to handle it magnificently.
Another slight problem with the game is how it is very noticeably far shorter than previous Key games, with the reviewer having managed to clear it in under three days. Though there is some replay value in the vein of an Angel Beats-style achievement/flag system which encourages the player to experiment with multiple choices, the choices do not impact the story as much as Angel Beats’ did making this far less of an incentive. The minigames, similar to the battles and baseball of Little Busters, can be a fun time waster but are ultimately irrelevant. Additionally, there are numerous interesting side characters who do not have much screen time, which adds to making the player feel like something is lacking, especially when considering how side characters in similar positions in previous Key games such as Clannad and Little Busters were given ample amounts of attention.
Summer Pockets is a touching and emotional story, with the power to make the player nostalgic for a summer that they might never have actually experienced. When held up to the standards of many previous Key games, however, it is unfortunately one step short. Nevertheless, it is without a doubt the first true full Key game in over a decade, and should be fully welcome on that virtue alone.
The Good: Compelling and moving narrative, fun characters, magnificent soundtrack and voice acting.
The Bad: Certainly good, but unfortunately one step short of some previous games by Key.
Conclusion: Summer Pockets is without a doubt a Key game, which a level of praise that should not be taken lightly.