Quirky visual novels will always have their market. The likes of Hatoful Boyfriend, a pigeon based dating sim/ visual novel released a few years ago, managed to hit this niche rather well. On one hand, playing “that pigeon dating game” makes for an interesting purchase and playthrough with friends, but it managed to keep a little more than that with its charm and thoughtfulness. A Summer with Shiba Inu attempts this, but is it successful or is it “ruff”?
In A Summer with Shiba Inu, you follow Syd the Shiba as he leaves his comfortable home in Canine-da to go back to Shiba Island after a ten-year absence. You meet many dogs along the way as you attempt to discover what happened to your brother in a virtual Hunger Games style fight. You join characters like Max, Hei-fen Hong, Quei-Li, and a multitude of others as you find out more about them and what drives their actions.
In typical visual novel fashion, you must make decisions and read where those decisions lead you. Luckily, the decisions in A Summer with Shiba Inu are great. They feel truly varied with different endings and ideas. It really doesn’t hold back on the content it offers up. This adds a great deal to what might be mistaken for a gimmick game before going in. The world building within Shiba Inu is a wonderful surprise. It picks up on small details in ways that really add to the experience and treats individual places with imagination and creativity. This occasionally contrasts against the background visuals in an awkward manner destroying some of the immersion.
One example of this is met very early on as Syd and Max decide to go to a restaurant. It depicts them walking through different blocks as they reach their destination, fading to black and then back again. The picture it comes back to is the same starting picture which ruins the whole point of fading out the background in the first place. This is, admittedly, a small grievance but sometimes adds to the large picture in obvious ways.
Talk of the first scene brings one to the music. Shiba Inu‘s music is pretty decent for the most part. My girlfriend colourfully described the first track as a “combination of TV shopping and phone sex line” – I couldn’t disagree. In other scenes, it has solemn tracks to fit the tone of speaking about your lost brother or fast-paced tracks for running away. For the most part, the music isn’t hugely noticeable which, to me, emphasises it does what it needs to do. It’s a small shame the music doesn’t have a greater sense of personality to it because the rest of the game is flowing with it.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the dedicated bark button. This is a very small addition but is a good indication of how Shiba Inu operates. It’s very fond of throwing small puns and facts at you about dogs that sometimes keep you occupied. This was a good move as, occasionally, the story can drag. Sometimes, there’s needless exposition while at others, it flows a little too slowly. This is a shame as the story is rather great and the multiple ending gives you a reason to care. The opening line “Say, Max, you really can’t tell me where you’re taking us?” is a perfect example of how this game works at the core. It drags you in with a mystery and dangles it in front of your face with nothing but the will to have that answered pushing you along.
Fortunately, it is a rather pretty title with nice watercolour style backgrounds and quite realistic character designs. Occasionally it is nice to just stare at the backgrounds and see what they are telling about the world, each character is fittingly adorable and very expressive. Seeing dogs intently listen or gasp to conversation is something I didn’t know I needed until I played Shiba Inu.
A Summer with the Shiba Inu is a lovely little game that offers real catharsis. It draws you in with cute characters and holds you with its rather fascinating story. Whilst it does drag occasionally, it is well worth making your way through. There’s a clear level of love and dedication felt throughout Shiba Inu, from the phone interface, to the backgrounds, to the 70000 words it advertises on its page. If you watch the trailer for this and it interests you, it’s hard to go wrong with a purchase.
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.