Well folks, it’s that time again to go to book club. This time we’re looking at the visual novel Aokana – Four Rhythms Across the Blue, a story of love, sports, flying, and the most offensive yet accurate dig I’ve had a game throw at me for my play style choices in a completely unrelated game.
Aokana is a story about a world where anti-gravity particles were discovered. These particles are used in shoes and foot where to allow people to soar through the sky. As you could expect, this brought a rise in sports that use these Grav-shoes, as well as flight for everyday life. Enter the protagonist, Masaya Hinata, a high school student who tries to avoid using Grav-shoes whenever he can help it.
As how these things usually go, he helps out a transfer student to his school, who has never worn Grav-shoes before. His homeroom teacher assigns him to be her instructor on how to properly use Grav-shoes. Not long after starting her lessons, the transfer student Asuka Kurashina stumbles upon a “Flying Circus” match, which is the name of the most popular sport using Grav shoes. Soon after, a club is formed at the protagonists school for competing in Flying Circus (FC) matches, and the protagonist begins coaching Asuka, as well as classmates Misaki and Mashiro, and the club president Shion how to properly participate in FC matches.
Now, generally I have a tough time giving a review to Visual Novels for two reasons. First is that they tend to have gimmicks to retain interest, that may or may not infuriate players due to unbalanced or poorly thought out mechanics. The other reason is because I’m basically reviewing a book, which tends to have a much more subjective interest base than most games cater to. That being said, Aokana plays it rather straight here, with no gimmicks, just traditional story telling. What Aokana does have, however, is production value. Like, a hell of a lot of it, too.
Let’s start out talking about the cast: they’re almost entirely amazing in one way or another. They’re pretty much all (except Rika) quirky in their own right, straddling the fine line between standard trope and unique enough to stand alone. Here’s the thing though, it’s not just the heroines, all the side and sub characters are like this. Heck, I’d buy a spinoff title about the side characters in a heartbeat with how awesome some of them are.
The four heroines, who you should probably be able to tell by the cover, are at least 75% interesting in their own right, although there is that one standard trope character in just to round things out. Now, the thing is, the heroines are all personality types that I personally can’t stand. Put positively, they’re: talented, prodigious, devoted, and upright, in no particular order. Put negatively, they’re: thriving on innate talent and nothing else, clingy, and stuck-up. This story is full of “geniuses” who can easily learn and master something that it would take normal people a long time training and working their ass off for, or people riding on others coattails and not putting any real effort in.
More than anything else, I can’t stand people who can’t, won’t, or don’t need to put effort in to achieve anything. Yet three of the four heroines are pretty much like this. Despite that, after spending time with the characters more, I found myself looking past their flaws that I would normally refuse to accept, and looking more at their growth as characters, which is a good testament to the writing ability.
The other major reason I say that Aokana has high production value is due to the sheer amount of animation that was done. Not necessarily “moving” sort of animations, but despite being character stills, not even Live2D, there is an incredible amount of different facial expressions and poses that characters have, providing a very real expression to the scenes, The voice acting was also really well done, as many of scenes had me only half reading the text, and despite not really being able to understand Japanese, still coming away with a good grasp of the emotions and direction a scene was supposed to take. Also on the topic of visuals, the FC matches must have taken a ridiculous amount of time to animate. Each match has a bunch of different scenes associated with it, including character cut-ins, backgrounds, clashes, character interactions on and off the field, as well as these fancy light trails that follow the participants in the FC matches.
Another aspect that was quite well done about the FC matches, and just in general really, is how well paced the story is. There’s a lot of explanations and long winded sections, some by necessity for world building, but they tend to be punctuated with either light-hearted intermissions, or something a little more interesting thrown into the mix to keep your attention, such as playing “Monster Eater” (totally not monster hunter) to promote team unity (and totally harassing on me for my weapon choice). If there was any real complaint I have with Aokana, it’s that occasionally I would hit the “confirm” button to continue text, and it would skip a line or two, meaning I would have to go check the text log to find out what I missed.