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2013-07-29

Suika A.S+ Review




Title: Suika A.S+
Original title: 水夏A.S+~SUIKA~
Alias: Wet Summer Days
Release date: 2001-07-27 (2004-09-24 A.S+ Edition)
English release date: 2009-04-25
Developer: Circus (Northern division) & Moonstone
English publisher: MangaGamer

Suika was one of the first games released by then fledgling MangaGamer back in the hoary 2009 and somehow didn't garner much attention from Western fans, which is a real shame. While I have first played this game back in the year of its release, recently I got an urge to replay it. Posting a review is just a side effect of that. So, come closer children and listen to my tale.

So, ehem, let's discard all the pretenses. Recently I dug out a 2011 thread on VNDB, where I named "Suika" as the best game in MangaGamer adult catalogue. More than two years later that statement still stands firm. Now, my question is: "What the fuck are you doing, MG?" And, for that matter, why aren't we seeing its sequel "Suika Niritsu" being translated? Oh, I know, MG has been fapping to "Softhouse-Seal" nukiges for quite some time now, so they weren't very productive. :-| Though the acquisition of "Innocent Grey" titles IS a pleasent news...

"Suika" is a very unusual game structurally as it eschews traditional route based design and rather tells its story in four interconnected chapters, with each one having a different protagonist and different heroines. However, characters from each tale interact among themselves to a bigger or a lesser degree. For example, a major character in one story might be a minor one in another. This creates a fluid and cohesive storytelling and it doesn't look like each story is separate, but rather that each is a part of the whole. After creating this game, its makers apparently came to work for Minori on "ef", which also employs the same chapter based structure. I should really play that game one of those days...
Miss Know-it-all here.
Previously I have talked about a staying power of such games like "Nocturnal Illusion" or "Saya no Uta" where I remembered almost everything while replaying them many years after the first time; "Suika" is another such game. Despite an almost four year gap since I first played it, I could quote some of the characters before they even started speaking. All the events were as clear in my head as if I had played the VN just a few months ago.

The cute cover, the description and the fact that "Circus" is also a creator of "Da Capo" series (that may or may not be set in the same universe) might lead one to believe, that "Suika" is a cute moe slice-of-life game. Nothing could be further from the truth. The game is obsessed with death and death and rebirth are its main themes. This is a VN that deals with some very dark concepts. It mixes personal drama, mystery, romance and even a dash of psychological horror into a unique blend. Add to it the fact that EVERY SINGLE character in this game is such a mental wreck that Freud and Jung would feel like they have won a jackpot, and throw in not one but two yanderes... well that is "Suika".

Majority of the events happen during a few weeks in the second half of July in a small village of Tokiwa (and "Higurashi" totally taught me a lesson about small weird villages). The game starts with a short prologue that is in fact a part of the fourth chapter, thus making it a wraparound story. However, the VN quickly skips to the first chapter where the game truly begins.

Chapter 1: Sleeping Beauty
"To love someone means to push someone else away"

The very first thing you will notice upon starting the first chapter belongs to a technical side of things. While the prologue and the fourth chapter employ ADV interface, all the intermediary stories are told in NVL format. I actually prefer NVL for story-heavy titles and the switch, while unexpected, was welcome. Another unusual detail is from storytelling point of view. Namely, the majority of the story is composed of flashbacks intersected with brief present day segments. And yes, there are arguably more flashbacks than contemporary scenes in this chapter.
We have a f-f-f-face!
The protagonist is one Kazama/Renjou Akira who returns to Tokiwa after a few year absence. "Why two surnames", you ask? Well, the Kazama one is his mother's, and after the divorce of his parents Akira re-acquired it. Previously Akira visited Tokiwa with his mother when she temporarily left his father and then he made acquaintances with two young girls: Itsuki Minase and her sister Sayo. Currently, Akira's parents permanently separated ways and he came here to study for his exams. Imagine his delight when he reacquaints with Itsuki, who is currently a miko in a local shrine. However, this meeting is tinged with sorrow as it brings sad news - Sayo is dead.

The rest of the tale is comprised majorly of flashbacks told from Akira's and Itsuki's points of view and weaving a tale of descent into tragedy and sorrow. What would happen when identical twins that learned to never share anything, realize that they both share a love for the same person? The chapter deals with familial relations, psychological effects of parental abuse and neglect, first love, jealousy and... a mysterious scroll that reportedly can bring people back from the dead. It's a pretty grim tale, especially accentuated by the weather as it always rains during the key events, but also it is the funniest one too. How can it be? Well, it's all Akira's doing as he is one of the funniest VN protagonists ever.
A random encounter.
I think it was very purposeful of "Circus" to make Akira such a joker as "Suika" is not a nice or pretty visual novel and it was needed to slowly ease the readers into it. Kazama frequently converses in such a way, that it seems that his utterances come out of the left field. Natheless, it all works to draw people to him and he quickly makes friends with Minase twins, who are not very forthcoming at first. Akira has a peculiar speaking manner and it really works well as a characterizing aspect.

Itsuki and Sayo are basically the only two female characters of prominence and, despite being identical twins, are direct opposites by their demeanour. Itsuki is a shy and timid girl with strong impressions of being a cloud cuckoolander and Akira just loves teasing her with his jokes. Sayo, on the other hand, is very forthcoming and of an almost aggressive aspect. At first they complement each other really well, but Akira's intrusion quickly turns best friends into rivals.
Nah, you're just seeing double.
This is the most linear of all four chapters with only one ending, but due to a unique structure of the VN, choices made in one chapter can and will affect events in the other. Be careful which options you pick up, even in they do not have any immediate effect. I loved the character interactions in this tale and the fragmented storytelling keeps the suspense until the very end. It's probably possible to guess the final plot twist, but not easy to do due to the red herrings. During my first playthrough I came to a wrong conclusion and it's always satisfying to be wrong in a mystery tale. Still, I believe that the first chapter is simplest in its presentation with others being much more elaborate.

If I have one negative comment, it's the fact that halfway through the chapter, translator introduced a major plot hole. At least I believe it to be a  fault of a translator. For more information check the spoiler:
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

Chapter 2: Masterpiece
"Do you think... people have to have a sad parting to go forward in life?"

Imagine a classroom, the low hum of an air conditioning unit and the three people silently painting inside. Those three people are Shirakawa Ritsu, a famous painter, his daughter Sayaka and her childhood friend Kamishiro Souji. That's how the second chapter (which is incidentally my favourite) starts. It's undeniable that Sayaka and Souji are the core couple of this tale, but Ritsu is the most important character and the central figure...
Cofee maker doesn't answer.
While Ritsu is a famous painter, his fascination with grotesque and bizarre themes ostracized him from the community and severely damaged his daughter's reputation. Sayaka is Ritsu's daughter and a longtime friend of Souji. She is a loner without any friends, but that doesn't stop her from being a cheerful and happy girl. Her ostracism is partly based on her father's unusual hobby, but also on her ability to tell what anyone is thinking just by watching their facial expressions (sadly, this aspect of hers is never fully explored in the VN). This earned her an insulting epithet "witch" from the villagers. While she tries to be friendly with everyone, her behaviour does a 180 during her interactions with her father. She really hates him and has completely shut him off from her personal life, this having something to do with an incident during her childhood.
You're a lame kisser, Souji. Sleeping Beauty didn't wake up.
Souji initially appears to be a mild mannered normal Japanese boy, but the more we read about him, the more it is clear that he is a Stepford Smiler who has trouble feeling emotions normally. Also, he shows a strange affinity to murder and death. Natheless, despite, or maybe because of that, he is a really likable protagonist and the romance that blooms betwixt him and Sayaka is very natural and sweet. They start having sex before either of them is sure of their feelings and eventually they come to acknowledge that they love each other.

Souji is the primary narrator of the story, but Sayaka takes the wheel near the end and finishes it. Unwittingly Souji's abnormal mentality is what fuels the two main conflicts in the story with Ritsu and one another person. As he witnesses Sayaka's treatment of her father, he gets gradually convinced that Ritsu intends to kill his daughter. Through a slightly skewed prism this story explores the ties between the family and the ties the dead have to the living; especially how the living unconsciously carry their dead within their memory (a theme later fully explored in chapter 0).
That's an interesting thought, Sayaka.
It's important to mention that this is a chapter of dual nature. There are two completely different routes and the second one is only accessible after finishing the game once. You didn't think that Mie is there just for show, did you? There are four endings in total for this story and it's probably the most complicated of all the chapters if you are going for a 100 % completion.

Wakabayashi Mie is a cheerful genki girl who managed to gather her spirits and confess to Souji, but is shot down in the main route by... Sayaka. The "what if" scenario explores what would have happened if Sayaka wasn't there to interrupt her confession. Mie and Souji are characters that have been running from themselves for their whole lives and suddenly found themselves running into each other's arms. In order to be together they have to accept the past that they tried burying behind false facades. The game makes a suggestion that Mie would be a better girlfriend to Souji, because her extroverted character would be able to crack his constructed persona and get him out of his emotional shell, but I firmly disagree. Sayaka is my favourite girl in the whole game and I had a hard time sympathising with Mie. It's not that I didn't like Mie - I did - but she is outshined by Sayaka in every aspect.

Chapter 3: The Door into Summer
"I think... true love could be very deformed"

I felt trepidation going back into the third chapter. Unlike with the previous two, don't expect a happy or even a bittersweet story. This is a most twisted and dark story within the game and a one way ride to hell. Just like rereading "Higurashi" or "Saya no Uta", you know you are gonna witness a train crash, but cannot pull your eyes away.
That's a thing No. 1 you don't say to a girl.
This time the game centers on a college student Masaki Yoshikazu who lives with his totally adopted and non-blood related sister Akane and also has a nice yamato nadeshiko girlfriend Touko. Let a beautiful slice-of-life summer begin! If this seems like the most cliché premise, it is... at first. The third chapter piles so many anime tropes and clichés on your head that you might wonder if it's not for the parody reasons. It's especially in stark contrast to the other chapters that specifically eschew such design. That is, until the moment that you realize that it's all very intentional.

While Yoshikazu enjoys his carefree summer days, there is an oppressive feeling of wrongness that doesn't escape even our protagonists perception, though he has no idea where does this feeling of wrongness comes from; also there is a slight problem with his memory. At the same time, an amnesiac girl wakes up in a hospital. She doesn't remember anything much, except for her name - Akane. After her doctor, in order to alleviate her boredom, gives her a book - Heinlein's "The Door into Summer" - she becomes convinced of being a time traveler that came back to correct her own past.
An obligatory kitchen scene.
The third tale is the shortest of the four, but packs not a lesser punch than the others. There is only one choice and it will determine if you get a really fucked up ending or a less fucked up one. Oh, joy!

It's interesting to read this story, while already knowing the outcome. All those subtle hidden details and foreshadowings come together into a coherent narrative while still hiding everything from the first time players. When I read the story the first time, I couldn't even guess where the plot was going until the climax arrived. It's some great storytelling that is suspenseful and engaging while also centering around some of the most unlikable characters ever (all according to the author's plan, of course).

It's also worth mentioning, that the ero content is absolutely essential and inseparably integrated into the plot of the third chapter, which is not a usual sight in a game like this.

Chapter 4: Prayer to a Scarecrow
"You notice something was important when you almost lose it"

You might not even be able to access the fourth chapter normally if you messed up with the choices in the previous tales. If the chapter selection screen is mostly white and gold, you are fucked and will not be able to get the best ending; on the other hand, if it's mostly green and blue, feel free to proceed. This story is the longest one and is the core of the game as all the other chapters served as an extended introduction to it.
Sorry, but I'm not edible.
We finally return to the shoes of Inaba Hiroshi, whom we have already met in the prologue. Hiroshi returns to the Tokiwa village in order to be present at the moment of his father's death and to support his sister Chitose as she is about to receive a difficult heart surgery. It's so unusual to see a protagonist like Hiroshi, as he is so very... normal; at the very least in comparison with those from previous stories. Inaba is a laid back and unassuming guy, but he is a bit of a coward. He is running from difficulties in life and likes to pretend that bad things never happen to those close to him. He dearly loves his (non-romanceable) sister, but his uncertainty about life keeps them from truly bonding.

If Hiroshi is a normal guy, the heroine of this chapter is definitely not. Imagine an amnesiac girl with white hair and red eyes, dressed all in black and wearing a hat with bells. Oh, and don't forget her talking cat Archimedes! A talking stuffed toy cat! At first Hiroshi assumes that she is using a ventriloquism, but quickly ascertains that Archimedes really talks.
An obligatory sickly imouto.
As the girl doesn't remember her own name, our hero simply starts calling her Ojou. Ojou is an innocent girl, who apparently delights in the simplest everyday acts and the first half of the tale is composed of slice-of-life everyday scenes. I usually do not like slice-of-life, but the interaction between Hiroshi and Ojou is so natural, that I couldn't help but admire it. Come the second half, things take a turn for the worse. Ojou starts getting sick and spends her days in bed, Hiroshi is tormented by the same nightmare every night, his father dies and his sister is about to go into surgery.

I felt that maybe the fourth chapter wasn't as fleshed out plot wise and some of the things that happen at the end are really confusing, but character wise it's stellar. Hiroshi and Ojou are a great duo, but it's Archimedes who really shines here. As a stuffed toy he cannot do anything, but he really tries to support Ojou and he is determined to do the one task he previously failed correctly this time.
The game title can also mean "watermelon".
Now, that I have talked about all the main chapters in the game, let's take a quick look at the title - "Suika A.S+". Do you notice that A.S+ part? It means that this is an updated version of the game with some additional content that is unlocked after finishing the game. Majority of that content is actually introduced from the fandisc titled "Archimedes no Wasuremono. "Christmas in Summer Vacation" is a "what if" episode centering on Souji's sister Moe (yes, it's her name). Side story "The Beginning" serves as a prequel to the game and finally "Suika - Chapter 0" is an unrelated short chapter.

Episode 0: Bird in a Cage

This is probably the shortest story concerning a terminally ill young man Mishiba Ryousuke, who one day meets a strange nameless girl with a bird on her shoulder. The setting is subdued and melancholy, giving birth to a certain placid feeling. It's a good tale, even though it differs strongly from the others. It's not really character or plot driven, but rather feeling driven. Outwardly, it appears to be sort of slice-of-life-centric, but the SOL scenes are unconventional and grim, imbued with a quiet feeling of hopelessness. There are two endings, that are both easy to reach. It's oddly disconnected from the central story and is not part of the main narrative. Not that it's a bad thing.
So, does this bird talk, or not?
From a graphical standpoint the game is very pretty, even if a bit dated. What really attracts me though, is the realism. Just like in "Kara no Shoujo", artist here used a less animesque art style, giving everything real world colourations. There are no multi-coloured anime-hair (Ojou being excused), outlandish costumes or exaggerated proportions. This fact leads to a more believable world, to the point that we might imagine Tokiwa village and it's residents as really existing.

If the art is really good, than soundtrack is phenomenal. After finishing the game for the first time, I download an OST in order to listen to it at my leisure. The suspense tunes are especially well made. Voice acting is also great (Sayaka shines again). The strange thing is that Ojou's voice is very silent in comparison to other characters. I don't know if that is intentional and was in the original version too or if it is a problem with the English release. My one gripe is that I would have liked to have males voiced too. Now we have such instances where several males are conversing among themselves and we don't hear anything. It becomes especially jarring if a female joins the conversation and is the only one providing lines.
Describe "funny", Sayaka.
I would also like to talk about the sex scenes. Usually they would be unworthy of a mention in this kind of game, and I admit, that they are not really sexy, but there are a few details that make them worthy of a mention. First of all, they retain their mosaicing. Apparently Circus lost the original artwork, which is the same situation as with "Cleavage" that has been licenced by JAST for gods now how long. Contrary to JAST, MG decided to release the game as is and I approve of this decision. I personally couldn't care less about mosaics, though it's apparently a deal-breaker to some people. The second thing is the fact that the H-content is really well integrated into the first two chapters and is essential in the third one. On the other hand, it's badly shoehorned into the fourth one and Ojou is so loli that it is even uncomfortable to some extent. Still, the situation here is much better than usually.

From a technical standpoint the game is not hard to beat, as most choices are intuitive, but the 100 % completion is very hard to get. You see, the VN not only tallies the endings you saw or the CGs you acquired, but also lists all the scenes in the game and their variations. In order to totally clear all the scenes, lots of backtracking is involved. Not to mention that the online walkthroughs are not much help as there are some mistakes in them, thus I made my own walkthrough as I played while using a Japanese one as a basis.
A strangely normal everyday scene.
Now let's talk about the only detail that is less than stellar in this visual novel - the translation. The game was released in the era of MG's inception. It's not bad on "Edelweiss v1.0" level, but it's not a good one. Actually, I do not think that there are many problems with the translation conceptually and the translator was nice enough to prepare a document with translation notes. Though I would have liked if the notes were included in the game proper a la "Cross Channel", as I play my VNs fullscreen an it's a chore to minimize the game to check the attached pdf. The actual problem is in the complete lack of proofreading: there is so many grammatical and syntax mistakes, missing or repeated words and etc. that it isn't even funny. Also, it is obvious that the translator never got a chance to see the actual game as some of the conceptual mistakes could have only happened that way. Some examples: the first chapter introduced a major plot hole (see the spoiler above), the second chapter called male character a "she", the fourth chapter has a name mix-up. There is a character whose name can be read as either Kako or Hanako and she is called both ways by others. If you listen to the voices, you will realize that the translator sometimes guessed wrong which pronunciation was used.

Now, not counting a wonky translation, I consider "Suika" to be one of the very best VNs I have ever played. It's a shame how underrated the game is. If you haven't played it already, give it a chance - it's fully worth the time and the money you will spend. Though, admittedly the game needs a proofreader and an editor plus a hard release to increase an exposure.

P.S. The game also has an H-OVA adaptation which had a US release under the title "Wet Summer Days". If you wonder how they managed to fit a 30-40 hour game into 3,5 (yes, there is a 0,5 episode) half hour episodes while also having time to include sex scenes, wonder no more. Yes, they are as bad as you imagine. Thankfully the sex scenes are very short and take 3-4 minutes tops, but that doesn't help much.
You know, for all the total sexy time in the OVA, it might as well be for children.
The first episode takes on Souji/Sayaka and basically centers on Sayaka's path. The original personalities of the characters are completely gone with Souji being the main offender. He is turned into a normal featureless boy, instead of being a borderline psychopath. The biggest offence, however, is that the anime puts one of the main Reveals of the game... at the beginning of the episode, killing any possible suspense.

The second episode is based on Itsuki's story and suffers from the same problems as the first one with an added bonus of being a complete mess from start to finish. It should be an achievement to butcher the most linear of the game chapters so badly.

The third one tackles on Ojou and fails miserably. Considering that the fourth chapter was the longest one, it's no surprise. At the very least Hiroshi acts more like his VN counterpart, but that doesn't say much. Oh, and the subs on these episodes were from the official R1 release. How the fuck do you mix Chitose's and Chinatsu's names in an official licenced work?

The last episode is a 15 min special whose sole purpose is to show as much fanservice as possible. That of course involves onsen and beach scenes. Breasts, asses and yuri goodness prevail. All in all, that is the only episode I liked and if the whole series were like that, you could see them as non-serious side stories. Now, there is absolutely no reason to get the OVA - just play the game and forget they even exist.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site for original release / for A.S+ version
Buy a digital English release at MangaGamer
Download an English demo
"Suika" font fix (should probably work on any version of the game, though I cannot be sure)
» Suika A.S+ walkthrough «

Final Verdict: 95%

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous6/8/13 22:10

    Not a bad review. I wasn't interested in this game previously since its VNDB rating isn't very high, but this made me curious, so I'm currently playing the demo. Sadly, the font fix doesn't work with it so I have to deal with MG's eye-meltingly bad old font which makes it hard to read the text. Whoever made that font clearly isn't human. No human eye could read it without feeling pain. Now I understand why people hacked their games just to change it. Does the font fix screw up some line breaks though? I heard that can easily happen when you change the font. There's a reason why many fan-translators who worked on VNs that support multiple font recommend the default font only. BTW, I'd recommend looking up the other versions of the OP on Youtube. The OP of this version is good, but it can't compare to the old one. And the OP of the PS2 port also has a certain charm to it.

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    1. The original font is really bad, but the font patch doesn't screw anything and vastly improves reading. Actually, the guy who made it currently works for MG. The original site is here: http://www.doddlercon.com/main/?p=84
      Sadly, the patch only installs on a licenced old (pre-DRM overhaul) version of Suika. I extracted the installer with a 7zip and from what I see there are only two files that actually matter. I repackaged them in an archive I linked under "Links of Interest". I might have missed something, though.

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    2. Anonymous9/8/13 22:02

      Okay, I finished the demo. Didn't think they'd be so generous as to include the entire first chapter. It was definitely interesting, though I found the pacing rather uneven due to the constant shift between present events and flashbacks and I found the Minase twins' parents rather underdeveloped. Everything else was fine though. The ending in particular was interesting. (Spoilers in the next two sentences!) It was really impressive how it makes Akira feel sad that his friend Sayo survived. This really shows how love can destroy friendships. However, I can clearly see why this game doesn't have many fans since it's really polarizing and Mangagamer completely mismarketed it.

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    3. I agree that it's a pretty polarizing game and MG poorly marketed all of their games back in 2009. The only review of the game at the time was done by Siliconera and it's one big facepalm from start to finish. The reviewer (female) admittedly read only the first hour of the game and wrote a review where she complained that she didn't like clicking her mouse while playing. Oh, and she believed that the game is all-ages as she didn't encounter any H-scenes in the first hour. You can check this piece of gold here: http://www.siliconera.com/2009/09/06/continuously-clicking-through-suika-a-s-circus/

      P.S. Now it's a bit too late to maket the game unless MG takes the time to edit the translation and release a hard copy (not likely). Unless MG decides to release a sequel. In that case a double feature might be a good choice.

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  2. Anonymous16/9/13 16:59

    Hi! Original Engrish->English/editor/QCer of Suika here!

    First off. The translation was done by multiple people and cobbled together by me. I also provided the TL notes.

    Looking through the scripts, yes, that plot hole you mentioned was not mentioned in the original Japanese, and is indeed an error by the translator.

    I'll explain a bit about how the translation worked. There were multiple native Japanese speakers translating different chunks of the game, all of whom probably never saw the scripts in the game. They were sent to me in text form only, and I received them completely out of order. With a game with many perspectives, characters, and timelines, this made it basically impossible to keep track of! I never saw the text linearly in the game. In fact, your review is the first time I've heard the story coherently.

    My deadline was extremely short, and my main job was to turn the Engrish (like Edelweiss) into English. I only had time for one pass, and there were so many fundamental English issues with a lot of the scripts and inconsistencies in style between translators that all my time was spent on that. For example, I had to standardize the verb tense used on all the scripts. Much of the translation was very literal and I did not have the time to do a complete rewrite. Also, there was no real proofreading done after my initial pass at it.

    I wish they would have let me go over it a second (or third) time while playing the actual game for a proofreading run, but they never let me despite my request.

    tl;dr So what you're seeing is the first draft of an Engrish->English translation, with neither the original translators or editor having played the game.

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    1. Wow, thanks for the explanation. That sounds like an unholy mess. It's surprising that this somehow didn't end in a complete disaster - you, sir, must be complimented.

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