There is a long history of humanity’s desire to fly through the sky. The Wright brothers, Apollo 11, and many other pioneers of flight have all made their mark on aviation history. However, the ability of personal flight, being able to fly alone without the aid of heavy machinery, has yet to be mastered by engineers and scientists. Aokana is a story set in a version of our society where a scientific breakthrough has made personal flight possible via special footwear, marking the start of a new era.
Aokana takes place in Shitou City, a town located to the west of the Japanese mainland on a set of islands known as the Four Island Archipelago. Unlike almost every other location around the world, in this region the use of anti-graviton shoes is unrestricted, allowing people to use the new technology in their everyday life. The technology behind these shoes relies on the use of anti-gravitons, particles that counteract the effects of gravity and allow flight.
You play as Masaya Hinata, a sophomore student at Kunahama Academy. As a youth, Masaya was an extremely talented player in the sport of flying circus (known as FC), a popular sport played in the air. However, he became discouraged from pursuing his dreams of flying further and faster than anyone else after a certain event, and has lived his life since seeing flying as a painful reminder of his past. Through the course of the game, Masaya is pulled back into flying circus after meeting a girl named Asuka and deciding to teach her about flying. He soon finds himself as the coach of the school’s FC club with two other girls under his tutelage. Thus he is forced to confront his past while teaching the girls how to play.
The plot of Aokana explores relatable themes like depression, loneliness, and jealousy quite well. Its depiction of an alternate modern society comes off as believable, giving the impression that personal flight could be just around the corner for us and that this could very well be how it would be integrated into our own society. The story also has a great amount of humor throughout, which makes the dozens of hours spent reading through text an enjoyable experience even for those not used to visual novels. That said, the character development could have been better for a few of the main female characters. A few had their backstories developed as part of their story routes, but the other two had less-fulfilling storylines. A more balanced development between all of the characters would have been appreciated.
The main theme common across the entire game is the sport of flying circus. Due to this, parts of the game come off a bit like a sports anime, with commentating and game analysis/explanations. The sport is played on a square field of four buoys suspended in the air, with players wearing specialized anti-graviton shoes that allow them to maneuver in different ways depending on their specialization. These specializations are fighter, speeder, and all-rounders. Fighters focus on intercepting the other player and touching their back for points, while speeders try to race around the outside of the field gaining points by touching each buoy in turn. All-rounders have a playstyle that utilizes aspects of both of these.
Many visual novels try to feature unique aspects that make them stand out from the more conventional “dating simulator” types of games, but Aokana does a fantastic job of differentiating itself with the inclusion of flying circus. It’s apparent the game’s writers put significant effort into developing this fictional sport. Many rules and techniques are detailed in the game, giving a real depth to FC. You will find yourself getting into the many FC matches in the game, perhaps even wishing you could be there to see the high-flying action in-person. It seems like something that could be played right now if we had the ability to fly, and that its popularity would be just as huge.
Aokana is what’s known as a visual novel, meaning gameplay is predominantly scrolling through boxes of text as you read through dialogue. Each of the text boxes is accompanied by a character sprite of the person speaking. The text scrolling speed can be changed in the options menu, and dialogue can be skipped through if you’re impatient. A transcript of dialogue can also be accessed with the press of a button, allowing you to replay what was said, and even go back to that point in time if you want to see the scene play out again. Many save slots are also included, so you’ll have no concerns over saving too often.
All of the conversations in Aokana are voiced, except for the main character Masaya’s lines. The sprites display a wide range of emotions, giving dialogue more impact. Visual novels are made or broken by how good their dialogue is, since that’s what the whole game essentially is, so it’s nice to see such a great array of expressions.
The game’s dialogue is generally great. As mentioned, humor is sprinkled all throughout the game. The themes explored aren’t as deep as other visual novels, so Aokana is able to get away with all kinds of jokes and situations without ruining the atmosphere. When dialogue gets serious though, the tone can change and is given the gravity it deserves, such as during romantic conversations or flashbacks. FC matches are exciting, with the conversations between the players and Masaya putting you right into the tense action. What is especially refreshing is how mature the dialogue can be. There are many attractive women in the game, but the protagonist very rarely acknowledges this in a negative way. This may seem like a matter of course, but it’s actually not that common in this type of visual novel.
The game has several characters that feature heavily in the plot. Masaya is the character you portray, a student and coach of the FC club. The individuals in the club are Asuka, Mashiro, and Misaki. Each has their own personality, generally adhering to the character tropes seen in anime. In addition, a girl from a neighboring school named Rika has a major role depending on the choices you make in the game. These four girls can be pursued romantically over the course of coaching them. As mentioned previously, not all of them are as developed by the game’s end, but each certainly provides different dimensions to the game’s plot, especially concerning how Masaya copes with his past.
A highlight of this game is the fact that the main character is actually likable. Too often they are either devoid of any personality or have such a strong personality you can’t stand them. Masaya is able to be right in the middle, not acting inappropriate or off-putting, but also having his own relatable issues and personality.
Though much of the game follows the same plot at first, after a certain point the story can take one of several turns. Unlike other visual novels, the choices seen in the first several hours have no effect on which of these story routes you go down. Instead, it’s dependent on who you decide to focus on training in FC, a decision made through a single choice later in the game. Different story routes see Masaya coping with his past traumas in different ways, often affected by the personal struggles of the girls themselves.
Routes also allow you to get to know each girl much more than what is seen in the game beforehand. Their home life, past, and personal struggles are some of the subjects explored. Masaya will also develop a romantic relationship with the girl who he focuses on, so scenes of kissing and amorous situations can be expected. Note that this is a “clean” version of the game, so nothing explicit is shown. Cleavage and suggestive dialogue is included though, so those that enjoy that part of eroge visual novels will have that to look forward to.
Much like the character development of the girls, Masaya is unfortunately not developed as well in certain routes. Some routes have a focus on making the girl better at FC, while others have more of a focus on the romance. As a consequence, there are routes where Masaya spends the whole time being happy in the present by just internalizing his past that much more. Depending on your tastes, this could be preferable, but some will find these routes less enjoyable or fulfilling.
In addition, it definitely feels like one particular character’s route is considered as the “canon” one, which is disappointing if you prefer the connection Masaya has with another girl or if the events in another route seem like a better story. This is made especially apparent in the game’s final epilogue, a scene shown after completing all story routes that appear to take place following one route in particular.
There is an Extras menu that can be accessed from the main title screen. Here, you can view all of the CG art you’ve seen thus far, conveniently cataloged based on who’s featured in them. There is also a music player that allows you to play any music track heard at that point in the story. These are great features, though standard for most visual novels. At that same time, the fact that Aokana‘s art and music are both fantastic means utilizing these resources is an especially viable option.
A unique feature in Aokana is the inclusion of voice bookmarks. With it, you’re able to make a bookmark of a vocal line during any point of the game. This places that line in the voice bookmark menu, where you can go and replay that vocal line. In many other games, this would seem like a silly feature that you would have no use for, but the quality and humor of the game’s voice dialogue is such that there are many lines that you will find yourself wanting to catalog for later. There are over 100 slots for voice bookmarks, so don’t be afraid to save any lines you like.
The last feature of the extras menu is the sprite viewer. This is only unlocked after you have completed all of the game’s routes. The sprite viewer allows you to make your own scene, with options to write your own text box and change backgrounds. You’re also able to insert any of the game’s character sprites into the scene, including any of their outfits, expressions, and poses. This is a cool tool for anyone that wants to make a unique scene with the game’s characters.
Aokana sports an art style reminiscent of many anime series. The characters have large eyes, small noses, and some hair colors that aren’t seen in nature. The character sprites are quite detailed as well, with outfits and accessories giving each character their own unique style and personality. This game’s background art often looks like screenshots from a scene in an anime. Individuals in the background look like regular people just going about their lives, and are drawn with the same level of detail as the character models set in front of them. This breathes life into every scene. In fact, these may very well be some of the most detailed backgrounds you’ll see in a visual novel.
The vibrant colors seen throughout the game are another aspect that gives Aokana a ton of character. The game includes many blue hues, tying into the overall theme of the sky and the game’s island setting. Many other colors paint not only the background art but also the character sprites. Both pastels and bright colors bring the whole game to life.
MUSIC & VOICE ACTING
The music you’ll hear in Aokana is noticeably more complex than most visual novels. Tracks often include actual instruments like guitar, piano, and violin. The common synthesizer elements seen in other VNs also featured, but the inclusion of a wide variety of instruments gives the game’s soundtrack a distinguishing degree of quality. Every scene in the game is accented perfectly by the choice of music played, as dozens of songs can be heard all throughout. Every character has their own theme song, and every route ends with a credits song performed by the character. Also, every time a song is played in the game, its name is displayed in the top right corner, which makes finding your favorite tracks in the music player easier.
The voice acting in Aokana is top-notch. The quality is comparable to any anime you might have seen, which isn’t surprising since all of the voice actors have extensive experience doing voice work in anime series. Since all dialogue is voiced, this is a fortunate thing. There are many times when the vocal delivery will strike a chord with you, either in an emotional or comedic way. Making voice bookmarks of your favorite lines is a good way to go back and appreciate the vocal talent involved with this project.
You will want to try every story route. Going back and playing through each character route goes a long way in providing depth to the game’s characters. Otherwise, character development only goes so far in the first half of the game before the individual routes start. Playing every route is also necessary in order to see the final epilogue, which concludes Masaya’s personal journey in a satisfying manner.
Aokana has a lot going for it. The characters are all interesting, the plot is unique, and the game looks and sounds fantastic. It does a great job of standing out from other visual novels by having consistent quality in all of its facets. Something it could have done better is developing its main female characters. That would have gone a long way in making their relationships with Masaya all the more fulfilling. Since flying is a dream for so many people, perhaps more than any other visual novel in recent memory, you will find yourself wanting to step into Aokana‘s world and experience the thrill of flying through the sky.
Final Rating: 8.5/10.