How I Became a Visual Novel Guy – Aokana

Otaku is a word derived from the phenomenon of someone so consumed by their singular interest that they don’t leave the house. I guess I’m going to have to scrap the whole blog, because I consider myself a jack-of-all-weebs. In the realms of anime, manga, and games, there’s nothing I won’t give a shot. With that in mind, it doesn’t mean I’ve gotten around to trying everything.

One of my biggest blind spots is the world of visual novels. I’ve played games with elements of VNs and dating sims, outside of the obligatory playthrough of Doki Doki Literature Club, I haven’t managed to sit down and properly read one. Play one? Watch one? The terminology is going to take a minute, but I’ll get there.

As I take these first steps into uncharted territory, I’d like to take you, dear reader, along for the journey. I don’t do a lot of series, though that’s not for a lack of trying. I mean, it’s totally not so I can find an easy source of content when I run out of ideas, since playing a 20-hour game for one post is not what I’d call efficient.

Seeing as I’m an amateur when it comes to these games, I’m not certain I’m picking up popular or particularly good titles. I’m just going to base this off of what I’ve been told by my better-informed mutuals on Twitter, as well as a quick Google search for the best visual novels on Switch. I may eventually look at some VNs on Playstation and PC, but for today, I’m trying Aokana: Four Rhythms Across the Blue.

Aokana is no mere dating sim or slice-of-life, as I quickly found out that it’s also about sports, or one fictional sport. The world was forever changed by the discovery of certain technobabble particle nonsense that phoned gravity, that imbecile, and told ’em to pack their bags. This led to the invention of Grav-Shoes, which look at the death of Icarus and scoffs, “filthy casual”.

These shoes enable anyone to take to the skies and speed across the open air, resulting in the creation of a sport, Flying Circus, or FC for short. Think the game of tag with the option to collect points by tapping your opponent or navigating between floating beacons. Aokana loves to get into more detail on the rules and strategies, but the story’s pretty straightforward if you just think of FC as flying tag.

We follow Masaya Hinata, and before you sigh at yet another sullen high school student with enough generic otaku hobbies for the players to self-insert as him, he’s also a former FC prodigy, so take that, Mary Sue. Masaya’s FC career was abruptly cut short by a crushing defeat that soured his love of the sport. His retirement grows more precarious as his teacher and former FC mentor pushes him into coaching the new FC club she’s sponsoring.

His players include Asuka, the plucky transfer student, his perpetually lazy friend Misaki, her doting kohai Mashiro, and the guy who’s actually the president of the FC club, but the game doesn’t really care if you forget his name so I went ahead and took the liberty of doing that. Masaya has to train up a team of rookies in time to compete with the students of elite FC teams, including his new next-door neighbor Rika.

I mean, thank goodness Harry Potter never realized that magical flying sports were a formula for a harem, otherwise those books might have actually been interesting.

As you boot up Aokana, you may notice a warning come on the screen proclaiming that all characters depicted are at least eighteen years of age. Considering most of these characters are second years in high school, I’m going to go ahead and call crap on that, but it also just gave us some crucial information. My first foray into visual novels is coincidentally my first foray into eroge, so let’s slap a content warning here real quick.

In reality, Aokana is surprisingly tame, as most Western releases have removed those pesky H-scenes. As it is, most ecchi anime have more going on, and something like Interspecies Reviewers puts even the uncensored product to shame. If that’s really a problem for you, there’s a patch for the Steam version to restore the cut scenes, but for my purposes, the Switch version will suffice…or so I thought.

I’ve always meant to write an essay about ecchi anime. So many of these fanservice heavy shows seem to think you can skimp on the characters and story because you already know why your audience is there. Well, sorry, but the character designs in High School DxD are trash, so the only reason I watched it was for the plot.

Aokana’s visuals are admittedly pretty strong. The character designs are good albeit generic, the CGs are even better, and they do an almost passable job of telling a story about a fast-paced sport in the most static art form imaginable. I just don’t know if a visual novel is the best way to do this kind of story, although if you read the reviews for the anime adaptation, you may realize that the story wasn’t that great to begin with.

I think I gravitated to Aokana at first because it looked like the most straight-forward dating sim of what I was looking for. Believe it or not, the part of Doki Doki Literature Club I enjoyed the most were the slice-of-life scenes, so I wanted to try more games in that vein.

However, as a connoisseur of the most boring genre and how to do it so well that it isn’t boring, Aokana can be an absolute drag. FC might be a legitimately interesting sport on paper, but reading the highlights of a game is arduous. There’s a reason there are way more sports manga and anime than books (I know Run with the Wind exists, and that’s more a testament to how little goes on in marathons than that I’m wrong).

Aokana juggles the affairs of the FC club with each girl’s storyline, but I can’t tell which one is the A or B-plot, and neither would be a good choice. You have seen all of these character archetypes: Asuka is the genki girl, Misaki is the teasing childhood friend, Rika gets no personality outside of being the literal girl next door, and Mashiro’s just insufferable.

And the situations that the characters wind up in don’t do anything to improve on that elementary character writing. You don’t get to write a scene lampooning a scene where the guys peep on the girls at the hot spring when Masaya already peeped on the girls while they were changing.

Well, let’s mix it up then. How about another scene where Asuka talks about how she’s going to do her best at FC? Or maybe another scene where Misaki is lazy and talks about food while Mashiro worships her? That joke hasn’t gotten old yet, I assure you.

They wrote an eroge with the explicit (pun intended) understanding that the players would forgive a lackluster plot or characters. They’re only here to get to the H-scenes with the loose collection of anime tropes that you call best girl. Problem is, they took out the H-scenes on Switch, and from what I hear, the PS4 version is worse, so I have no idea what anyone would even read this for!

Needless to say, I am disappointed. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be an essay or review, but at this point, I’m going to put it on my chart and slap Aokana: Four Rhythms Across the Blue with a Boring Mediocre. Even so, this wasn’t for nothing; I learned an important lesson. I will research the visual novels before I buy them, and if I buy an eroge, I’ll make sure the publisher didn’t hack it into a bloodied censored mess.

So, time to start thinking about what visual novel I want to talk about next. I have a few I’ve already started playing, but I’d like to know what you think. Still debating whether or not there’s anything left for me to say about DDLC, but for now my answer on that is a firm maybe.

As for other visual novels, any suggestions down in the comments or over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku would be greatly appreciated. Until next time, thanks for reading.

MediocreAokana: Four Rhythms Across the Blue

One response to “How I Became a Visual Novel Guy – Aokana”

  1. Too bad to hear that. I’ve seen Aokana on Steam, and it definitely looks appealing. I’ve played/read probably 20, 25 or so visual novels over the years, including DDLC. That’s counting from way back in the mid-2000s so that’s really not saying much, but I don’t have time anymore for a basic sort of harem with lousy writing especially if it’s 20+ hours as it looks to be.

    A few of my favorite VNs over the years have been non-dating sims. I remember liking Remember11 and Ever17 from the Infinity series, written by the same guy who wrote the Zero Escape games and AI: The Somnium Files (though not sure how available they are since they’re on the older side, early 2000s I think.) Also definitely Umineko no Naku Koro ni, a supernatural mystery series written by the Higurashi guy if you’ve seen that.

    Those are all extra-long but worth a try, especially if you’re looking for something more science fiction or fantasy. Another favorite and a far shorter one is Saya no Uta, though that one comes with massive warnings for its extreme contents. As for dating sims, I barely have any experience with the more typical kind, unless the social parts of the Persona games count. And I don’t think DDLC counts as “typical” either. Another unusual one was The Expression: Amrilato, a yuri VN that teaches you beginner Esperanto. A strange premise, but I liked that one too.

    Finally, that “everyone in this game is over 18 (even if they don’t look like it)” warning: it seems to be standard in these sorts of games. Coming from the field I do, I get the “cover your ass” attitude, especially since high school settings are so common in these games, but it does come off as silly when we know that’s really not the case.

    Sorry for the massive comment, but visual novels are a subject I can go on about. I still have to play The House in Fata Morgana — it’s a long one, but I’ve heard it’s excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

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