A Summer with the Shiba Inu
Developer: Quill Studios
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Genre: Visual Novel, Adventure (eShop categorizes as RPG and Simulation, too)
Platform: Xbox One (also available on Nintendo Switch, Steam and Playstation 4)
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 26/06/2020
Price: £ 9.99
A code was provided for review purposes.
Disclaimer: Since I had issues with my Xbox One transferring screenshots again (and the boyfriend being a bit picky connecting his profile to my to social media accounts), I used the images on the press kit provided by Quill Studios. I did complete the game with all endings and collected all achievements, though.
Visual novels… Two words that made me turn my head almost every time I hear about a new game. Since that genre recently gets more attention and love outside of Japan, I’m watching my backlog grow by the minute probably.
A Summer with the Shiba Inu stood out to me, though.
First, the title was nothing you come across very often. And then, you play as a… dog. A Shiba to be precise. If that’s nothing that gets your interest, not sure what else to tell you. Maybe the options to change the sound of barks to your liking that is an incorporated feature in the game?
You are still reading, that either means you are a dog person or I truly captured your attention. Bow wow for A Summer with the Shiba Inu or should I rather spend time with my cat at home? Let’s jump right into that review.
Welcome to Tai-paw!
Syd, a Shiba Inu, returns after being away for work at Canine-da, a faraway place from her original home town, Tai-paw. You learn that technology is far advanced in Tai-paw, more than she is used to. Meeting up with Max, a long-time friend, they talk about the old times and wonder how long Syd had been away. Why she left and why that dog is back is something that’ll be left in the dark for you at the start.
The player learns a little bit more about Syd in a flashback, about her job and how she ended up going back. It all seems well and both dogs head back to crash on their dog couch (?) until… Syd bumps into someone. A dog she should be familiar of, but cannot quite put her paw on it…
To get the awkward part out there now: For the first hour or two, I thought our protagonist Syd was a male.
Between the lines
It casually hit me between the lines of the game that promises approximately 70.000 written words in total and left me flabbergasted for a few moments. The style of the dog was not too obvious, honestly. Would Syd have worn a frilly blouse or so, I might have recognized that sooner than later.
Yeah, you saw that right, the dogs wear clothes, behave and communicate mostly human-like. They even go out to a restaurant to order stuff or live in apartments.
The whole story of the game consists of three aspects: the present, Syd’s flashbacks that help you understand her past as well as her secrets better – and the ARInas. In those ARInas, dogs challenge each other in a virtual simulation world. They must eliminate each other to gain higher social standards and increase their ranks. Syd explains that the ARInas are some sort of augmented reality and no dog gets eliminated during those stages… But it’s quite odd that some of those dogs were rushed to the hospital right after, don’t you think?
Everything’s not as it seems…
The ARI, the Altered Reality Institute, is tied together with those ARIna simulations. In those programs, you challenge the dogs you meet in the present when you returned to Tai-paw. During those flashbacks, you finally learn how Syd relates to all those random dogs she encounters and why she came back: to find her lost brother.
A Summer with the Shiba Inu also splits the main story into two parts: The ARInas and searching for your brother in the present. Helping you out here and now is a dog named Quei-li. You might think she is also a Shiba Inu, but no. She is the only labrador you’ll come across and stands out quite much during the game.
Sounds complicated? Well, I tried my best to lay it out clearly in front of you because frankly, I had trouble following this plot myself at some points. The choices you make along the way while constantly jumping through time is a welcome and familiar change of pace. And get that… they actually matter.
Your choice matters…?!
Oh, how many visual novels promised us to give a choice that does affect the story. An important voice to use well to make a heavy impact in the story… But we all knew the bitter truth after playing. Our choice did not matter the slightest or the developers did find a way to come around and you still ended up in a situation you wanted to avoid. The familiar feeling where you were robbed of a real option choosing between “Yes!”, “I agree!” and “… Uh-huh.” is something I dream about at night, too.
Just kidding, I never remember my dreams, nonetheless puppers and doggos, I am happy to announce you won’t find that in A Summer with the Shiba Inu!
To prove that point, there are 3 main endings for Syd and over 10 additional endings for the other dogs, meaning Quei-li and Max. That explains those 70.000 words in total. That comes from that rich variety of choices that ensure you to go down different roads more often than you might think. Try using a guide if you want the whole experience and know everything.
After finishing the main story once, you can progress rather quickly again through the game to get the other endings if you want to. I choose against that for the sake of my judgement, but the replayability is high nonetheless.
Mentioning that… is it worth it? Is it worth it going through those endings and different storylines and not just for the sake of the achievements you can gain?
Good dog! …?
Surprisingly, A Summer with the Shiba Inu’s story is one of the most intriguing ones I had experienced in a visual novel. I know, judging by that title I would not have expected that either! Let’s be honest here, that game first strikes you as those gimmicky titles you might pick up for fun or give it a try when playing with your Xbox One and it’s free on GamePass.
Unfortunately, because it’s more than that. But also, unfortunately, there are some things that I need to say as well.
A Summer with the Shiba Inu suffers from what many visual novels deal with: A good fleshed out story with weak parts of story bits where the reader/player is not filled in or drag on. Maybe it’s because, and as we writers well know, you cannot write a legendary tale in one day. Every writer will have their weak moments yourself. Or because you are so deep into your own story that you think – and forget to note that down in more detail to fill an outsider in.
Perhaps the time was running out, so some parts had to be written hastier than others. The other explanation I can offer is that you’re not too fond of that story bit and want to finish it off soon. Anyways… That’s something that title from Quill Studios isn’t spared from. Some story parts drag on that could turn you as a player off.
Also, prepare for a ton of dog puns… Some were funny, some were a bit too much for my taste.
Music & Visuals for Everydog
Music can help with those parts that feel too long to read through. The soundtrack is nice to listen to, but not a masterpiece. The tracks are loops that are often too short and the variety of songs is lacking as well.
The visuals! Some of those pretty visuals can cheer you up when reading along a part that is way too long, right? Well. The thing in A Summer with the Shiba Inu is, that it isn’t bad… It’s far astray from breathtaking either.
Syd, Max and Co. are rich in detail and look very good. Sometimes I had the impression they took some photos and maybe drew over them to give it a watercolour and mixed media look. When some dogs were rushing through the screen (literally a picture of a dog just going left and right), that made me laugh and was so preposterous, it’s hilarious. There are no animations on the dogs, so they flip left and right on those background pictures.
The whole background had a lot of details in it as well and was modified to mostly fit the dogs are living in a human world vibe. Some of the ARIna stages were beautiful, but if you took a closer look, they came across rather pixel-y on a few spots. Just like those good old pictures you found on the world wide web and that you saved on your PC. Then adjust it to fit a larger frame so you could print it out to slap it on a notebook or something just to find out it’s a pixel mess when transferred on paper while it was looking alright on the screen.
Can dogs work in human roles?
Get used to the idea that some things are a bit unusual and cannot be transferred well into a dog serves as a human world, just like dogs sitting on chairs around a restaurant table on the streets or in a conference room. You have to be open-minded to adapt to some of the things Syd and the other dogs do, since it can work out quite questionable, but well on other occasions, too.
The last little critique I have is the role Max plays. He feels rather sidelined and – if you ask me – a missed opportunity. Often pushed aside for the sake of Quei-li, Max falls short as a long-time friend of Syd and a key role in getting all the information to find her brother. I had wished for that other Shiba Inu to play a more impactful part than on empathize on the “mysterious stranger”, the lab. Quei-li has good chemistry with Syd and acts as a good counterpart, but her true impact comes rather towards the ending. Before that, it would have felt more natural for Max to take some actions that she did.
Let’s put a paw on it!
Enough barking, let’s get talking; Move along this title or grab it on its leash?
A Summer with the Shiba Inu is a surprise for me. I tried it out for fun and did not expect much. Those games I dive into with zero expectation that can leave a good mark on me are my favourites! With a few little flaws like small music variety and slightly higher than the average visuals, the story is well written and when allowing yourself to go for another stroll than your average visual novel, try this game. I had fun playing and replaying it – not only because Shiba Inu’s is one of my most loved dog breeds.
The overall picture is great but be aware that your main focus should be the story you’d want to get invested in as well as the world Quill Studios built up. Still not convinced? Try the demo for free from the developers’ website on your PC by using this link.