Thanks to Ratalaika Games for the review code
Title: A Summer with the Shiba Inu
Release Date: 06/24/2020
In this visual novel experience, you take control of a Shiba Inu who heads back to Shiba Island, a mysterious place with a dangerous culture of dark games, in search of his missing brother. Being a visual novel, this is very story-focused and like usual I won’t go into spoilers on this game. What I will say though, is that this game has a very convoluted story, and one that’s not worth the payoff in the end, so don’t be fooled by this game’s cute/simple look.
As I’ve noted in other visual novel reviews, the presentation in these types of games are arguably more important than the actual controls/gameplay, since if the story isn’t presented in a clean/proper way, the entire experience could become an utter mess. Sadly, Shiba Inu doesn’t really nail the presentation much at all.
The game is portrayed in your usual visual novel fashion, with dialogue boxes and characters on screen reacting to things going on, but Shiba Inu feels oddly cheap in the way it does things. The one positive I can give is that all the dogs on screen appear to be painted images, or at the very least, photos with a filter to indicate someone drew these dogs very well. With that thrown out the window though, the rest of the presentation is just poor. These dogs look fine, but animate on screen horrendously. While most visual novels would usually focus on fade-ins/outs or smooth transitions, Shiba Inu uses no transitions at times, even though some other times the characters pop in with fine transitional effects!
Early in the game you’re blessed with a scene where you and Max are talking, while this background dog slides horizontally in the background over and over, repeatedly in such a jarring fashion I had to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. This along with other moments where characters have their art flipped upside down to indicate events in the story just add as one of the reasons this whole presentation feels half-assed in general, despite the lovely painted artwork, since nothing is really done with said artwork to make it look good. The backgrounds are fine enough and as well painted as the characters, and at least they transition in better than the characters do, but dear god, it just isn’t fun to look at with how jarring they all come in and transition.
On the slightly better side of things, the music isn’t that bad. It’s still very generic, but at least it fits the soothing and mysterious vibe of the story. The sound effects aren’t really anything to write home about, besides the fact you’ll be hearing the same few dog sounds over and over and over and over again during the course of the adventure, and you’ll almost certainly be sick of them.
So with pretty poor presentational values out of the way, how’s the experience of this visual novel? Is it still fun to read, reasonably paced, and easy to control? Well, while you do have your standard auto/skip/advance options, along with an easy to access save menu, there really isn’t much to note here. There’s not really any major gameplay gimmicks, and the choices (the single most important part of any visual/sound novel) that the game prompts you with during the adventure didn’t feel like they did much of anything.
I made a save midway through the story before a series of choices, and picked what I personally believed in. Later on, certain events happen in an ARL-ina event that tasked me with more choices, and I answered those in a similar fashion. Thinking I made some sort of route change I kept on until the end of the story, where it seemed like the game was approaching the climax. I then see that there’s only one option available, due to the other options being sealed due to my choices. Choosing it took me to one of the endings, so I loaded my save and picked the other options to try and unseal the choices. I end up having some events play slightly differently, but ultimately a lot of them would end in a similar fashion, and I still wasn’t able to change the final ending in any significant fashion, outside of an abrupt end I got upon choosing a different late-game choice.
I restart the entire game, choose a couple more things differently, and the game still feels and plays out relatively similar, sealed choices and all. Confused, I look up a guide to the game and discover that some of these choices have to be done in a very specific order to unseal the choices and actually change the game in a more drastic fashion. While a “true ending” path like this isn’t uncommon in a VN, Shiba Inu puts a lot of focus on its route to the point that it just feels like you have to look up a guide in order to even get a chance at seeing it.
Combine that with the fact that most of the story feels like filler inbetween the interesting portions about Shiba Island and the mystery of your missing brother, and this VN just became an utter bore. No thought-provoking choices, no edge of your seat action, nothing. It doesn’t even succeed as a casual romp either, so I just found myself at yet another unsatisfying ending and left the game at that. If I have to pretty much follow a step by step guide in order to maybe get any sort of interesting events to take place, then this is a VN not worth my time. Blazblue and 428 this one ain’t.
In conclusion, Summer with the Shiba Inu is a pretty unimpressive Visual Novel, with an uninteresting story, poor presentation, and an unsatisfying payoff with little in terms of drastic choices that made me feel as if I wasted my hour with the original route I took. When a visual novel feels like it’s filled with filler and uninteresting events without much of a hook, and doesn’t properly explain some things, it just falls apart like paper at the end of the day, and unfortunately, that’s how Summer felt for me.
Add to the fact that a game of such low quality like this is being priced for an outrageous $10, and I unfortunately feel that this is one of the weakest Visual Novels I’ve ever played, and I can’t even recommend you play it out of curiosity. I had a friend over, watching me play this as I had hoped that even if I didn’t care for it the experience would be an entertaining watch, but it didn’t even manage to provide an ounce of entertainment.
I give Summer with the Shiba Inu a 2 out of 10.