The Visual Novel A Summer with the Shiba Inu developed by Quill Studios is about a Shiba Inu named Syd and her adventures back home on the seemingly ordinary island of Tai-paw. As she enjoys a nice day in the bustling city with her friend Max everything seems so ordinary. They even reminisce about the old days and get nostalgic. It becomes obvious that Syd had been away a long time and things have changed. One thing is the advancement of technology. Here in Tai-paw technology is part of everyday life and far advanced from Canine-da. As Max and Syd eat lunch she learns how to use the device of the day, the holographic gesture controlled wristphone.
The brief back story on Syd is that she had been away to the distant land of Canine-da, had a good job, and even found someone special. She left everything to come back home and now relies on Max for a place to stay and as a guide. Again all seems like a typical summer day until Syd and Max run into a strange but familiar dog. After Max recognizes her and Syd remembers, the dog challenges Syd to an ARIna.
Throughout the game Syd has flashbacks and through these we begin to unravel her secrets. The first flashback is in leaving Canine-da to search for her brother. Next we learn of Syd’s past ARInas and the ARI, Altered Reality Institute. Soon after arrival in Tai-paw Syd inadvertanly gets the help from a mysterious Labrador, Quei-li, who offers to help find her brother. Then there are the ARIna challengers, fellow Shibas who Syd eliminated in her ARInas.
In essence the ARInas are a virtual simulation were dogs must eliminate each other to gain rank and social standing in the real world. Throughout the game we get to learn more about the ARInas and the truth of the ARI through Syd’s confrontations and memories. During the story, Syd must confront a group of Shibas who she eliminated in the past. With finding her brother and the ARInas this game flips between both plots. At first it was a bit confusing, as I had no idea what happened. One moment I was getting clues from Quei-li next I was re-living an ARIna and then back in the present day in the ARIna with the same dogs or what appears to be the same dogs. Then after recovering from the ARIna Syd is back with Quei-li looking for more clues on what has happen to her brother.
Does it work? In the end it does. However, the journey to that end is the best part of the game. This is a game with a complex story that doesn’t turn out the way you imagine. There are questions needing answers and Syd turns out not to be this seemingly average pup.
As with other visual novels there is a main story but ever so often the player must make a choice. This choice will determine the outcome of the entire story and choices have consequences. However, these choices are based on how the player imagines Syd’s story. So far I have encountered two endings with the longest one having an interesting outcome. One I hadn’t imagined for Syd but made sense thinking back on my choices. There are also different ways of ending the re-challenged ARInas and what happens between Syd and her challenger. Overall, A Summer with the Shiba Inu has a good lengthy story with twists and plots, the altering of reality, and modern themes related to advance technology and one of the best visual novels I have played.
As this world is full of advanced technology the creators made clever uses of the art to show when dogs used the holographic wristphone. There is the text messages and also calls, which show the one dog as a holographic projection.
Gameplay is similar to other visual novels. Click the mouse or tap spacebar to move the dialogue forward. To go back to dialogue the player can either scroll back or read the log. Also, saving is allowed at anytime and my suggestion is to save often and at every dialogue choice.
However, it’s not the gameplay that makes a visual novel, it is the art, characters, dialogue, and story that make the game. A Summer with the Shiba Inu excels at all those components. Take for instance the characters, which are not anthropomorphic dogs. The art for the dogs offers us realistic Shibas and Labs and they walk on four paws. Also, they have the same expressions that real dogs have. It makes them feel real, albeit as dogs wearing clothes, using tech, eating human food, and living human like lives.
The creators of the game even added dog sounds like whining, snarling, and barks, to enhance the experience. On top of this, real dog emotions were also portrayed. When Syd felt alone or troubled she would lay down head on paws, happy Syd looked up with a smile, embarrassed Syd would hang her head. The addition of perked ears, head tilts, and bearing teeth also enhance the user experience, incite the imagination, and dialogue. A dog flipped upside down was a picture of a dog upside down but add the dialogue and I could visualize a tied up dog struggling for freedom and scared of the inevitable elimination. One of my favorite character moments is when Syd is about to sneak away she lowers her head with a side glance and slides out of view, just slinking away.
Another great aspect of this visual novel is becoming attached to each main character and developing a connection with them. The game uses art and each dog’s differences and specific personalities to form a connection with the characters. Besides Syd, I liked Max as a supporting character. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough scenes and somehow faded away toward the end. Quei-li the Lab was also a fascinating companion though mysterious in her actions. However, most dogs were just supporting or background characters. Though at times you feel bad for these dogs or end up disliking their attitudes toward differences and stereotypes. This also including the dogs Syd teams up with in the ARIna.
It is not all serious business in the ARIna, dogs can also have fun. Including a moment were Sad has fun in the water during an ARIna. There is even dialogue choices that let the player pick Syd’s water fun. On an added note, when each dog takes a turn talking, an icon, usually as the characters cartoon avatar, spins. Only named dogs get a spinning avatar, unnamed or less important dogs get a paw.
Dialogue is important and we have a good fleshed out story in this game. However, the dialogue at times may have been over extended during Syd’s inner monologues. She would also discuss here reaction time to a player’s decision. These seemed more filler dialogue then plot driven dialogue. Besides the occasional Syd musings, I find the dialogue very well written. It really made this game a story that was worth the read. An experience with plot twists and several story arcs that kept me well entertained and yearning to know what is going to happen next.
This game is like a play with settings as just a backdrop and the dogs the main show. As for the settings they enhance the scenes and tell where the characters are in the world. However, some scenes seemed out of place for a world of four legged dogs. Like the office scene with chairs made more for humans. At least I knew Syd and her opponent were in an office. Still it doesn’t deter from the main story. Most scenes are familiar to us humans and we can relate. Though one particular scene at the end was just bizarre and I would have liked more time to understand this place.
In the end A Summer with the Shiba Inu is a great game using realistic looking dogs to tell an extraordinary tale of the life of a seemingly average dog, Syd. With themes and issues relatable in our world we get a look at a potential world were tech and corporations control life. While on the mission to find her brother and relive the ARInas against former opponents she finds help in friends and mysterious strangers. However, the story of Syd is up to the player and choices made along the way. Having multiple endings this game has a high replayability factor and is worth another go around. With great art and music to aid story progression this is a fantastic visual novel of one crazy Shiba Inu summer.