Dogs have been a popular pet for millennia, and for good reason. They are loyal, visually appealing, and can help with tasks depending on the breed. Their instincts and pack mentality have allowed them to be integrated into human society. However, A Summer with the Shiba Inu takes place in a world where dogs have outlived humans as a species and evolved out of some of those instincts. Instead, they have developed intelligence like our own, enough so that they are able to build a society featuring both technological marvels and modern moral dilemmas.
Shiba Island is a country populated entirely by dogs. Its inhabitants benefit greatly from advances in technology, such as holographic watches. An organization known as the ARI oversees the country and sorts residents into professions and social classes through competitions known as ARInas. These are virtual reality battle royale competitions where the aim is to eliminate participants by breaking their pendant. Should an individual place highly in these contests, their social standing on Shiba Island improves, but those that do poorly are destined to be stuck in poverty.
Syd, a former ARIna champion, returns to her hometown of Tai-Paw, located on Shiba Island, after a long absence. Her friend Max is there to catch up with her and bring her back up to speed on life in her old stomping grounds. The homecoming is unfortunately cut short when Syd’s demons start to catch up with her, and the reasons for her departure begin to come to light. Syd is forced to address her past mistakes and those she’s wronged, while also coming to terms with her place in this society and what she wants out of her life.
Those who come into this game expecting nothing more than a cute story about good boys and wagging tails will be in for a bit more than they bargained for. Though not as dark and angsty as other visual novels, A Summer with the Shiba Inu does feature a plot with surprising depth considering its cast is entirely comprised of dogs. Even if there are no humans, the characters display the same traits and shortcomings. By the end of the game, no character is portrayed as being perfect.
Another trait it shares with other visual novels is that the plot of A Summer with the Shiba Inu is not without its faults. Several aspects of Syd’s past are teased early on, but never expanded on or even mentioned again. Characters are also introduced and given screen time in the story, but then disappear and are either never utilized again or are severely underutilized. Even if players manage to see all the endings this game has to offer, they will likely still come away having several questions.
Anyone familiar with visual novels will know what to expect of A Summer with the Shiba Inu‘s gameplay. For those unaware, gameplay in this type of game consists of clicking through many text menus and illustrations conveying the game’s story, with no control over a player character and no combat. Text speed controls and a fast-forward feature allow those who become impatient with the dialogue to speed up the story.
Veterans of the genre may be disappointed with the game’s relative lack of save slots. Though dozens of save slots are common in other visual novels, A Summer with the Shiba Inu only offers twelve slots. Players who are used to making saves before every story decision will have to make do with using the game’s fast-forward function to quickly get back to decisions, as there are more opportunities to make choices than there are save files.
The lone opportunity for player input comes in the form of story choices that pop up sporadically throughout the game. Depending on what options are chosen, dialogue and scenes will differ. While individual choices in visual novels tend to have a major impact on what direction the narrative goes in, here it’s a combination of your choices that determines where Syd will end up at the game’s end.
As a result of this, there is only one route the story can go in for much of the game, with the only divergences in plot happening near the conclusion. There are a handful of endings to see, a few of which are abrupt “bad” endings that take place earlier if you pick certain choices. Players should note that the choices required to achieve different endings are quite specific, so be ready to replay the game multiple times using the fast-forward feature if you are left wanting more after your first playthrough.
Music in the game is well-done, with tracks that fit the setting and/or tone of the scene. There is never a point when players are brought out of the story because of outlandish or out-of-place music. Serious scenes have a slower feel, while parts of the story featuring action are faster in tempo. One example is a particular scene early on that takes place in a Japanese-style restaurant. The song used features traditional Japanese instruments and seems like something you’d hear in a real Japanese restaurant. The appropriate choice in music for different parts of the game helps to enhance each scene as you play.
At first glance, it might seem like photography was used to capture the characters and backgrounds. However, all the dogs and backgrounds in A Summer with the Shiba Inu are in fact hand-drawn. The characters change expression and body position in each scene depending on their dialogue, so this realistic style goes a long way in conveying the emotions and actions of each dog.
A minor complaint is that some dog models are re-used throughout the game. Certain side characters share the same look or clothes as characters seen in the background of other scenes. This detail may very well go unnoticed by most players, but it may detract somewhat from those scenes if you do.
Due to the nature of having multiple endings, players stand to gain a bit more insight into the story of A Summer with the Shiba Inu by replaying the game with different choices. There are also smaller scenes that differ along the way after picking alternate choices. As stated before, this will only give pieces of the story, with a few of the endings featuring the same plot revelations. Even so, replaying does serve to flesh the plot out a bit.
After beating the game once, a new Secrets menu is opened on the main menu, allowing players to see which endings and major story events they’ve experienced to date. Each ending and event is marked by an icon on the menu. The menu is also a great way to see how many endings there are left to discover. This is very helpful, since many endings are so exact in their requirements that players may not be aware that they’ve missed anything.
With its canine cast and beautifully drawn art style, A Summer with the Shiba Inu delivers originality in spades. Any animal lover will be drawn to the characters of this story, and visual novel fans will appreciate the depth of the plot, even if it isn’t quite as serious and hard-hitting in its subject matter as other entries in the genre. As a visual novel, it may not be as substantial as one would hope, but it is still an enjoyable experience to play through.
Final Rating: 7/10.