The Switch has become a visual novel powerhouse. The nature of the console makes it perfect for a quick read at home or on the go, and that means we’re seeing plenty of notable titles appear. Aokana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue is one of the latest and, as you might expect, it’s a perfect port. The story and its characters are, in general, delightful. It’s a chance to live a life where you are part of a fictional sport most people would probably dream of playing on an island with plenty of pleasant classmates.
Aokana takes place in a world where Grav-Shoes, shows that allow people to fly for sport, business, and pleasure exist. Fortunately for Masaya, he’s a high school student on a Japanese island where people use them on an everyday basis. However, this young man was once a rising star in a sport known as Flying Circus. It, as you might imagine, involves using these shoes to race through the skies against others to earn points. As a new school year begins, the arrival of a new student named Asuka and the influence of his classmates Misaki, Mashiro, Madoka, and Shion and teacher/former Flying Circus mentor lead to Masaya getting pulled back into the sport (and maybe falling in love.)
Aokana is structured like an anime. Which is fitting, since it very much feels like a slice-of-life show about a school’s team. There are even the after episode teasers hinting at things to come, and we get this lush soundtrack filled with incredible songs. Helpfully, the game actually tells you what track you’re listening to when the background music changes, so you can keep track of your favorites. But this also means we have a visual novel that feels more like it takes part in a fully-realized world. We have Kunahama’s team and its advisor, which are our day-to-day people, but we also have so many other people from this school and other schools coming in.
This also helps build up the characters who matter most. In some visual novels, heading into a route with a character means that the majority of the interactions are with your avatar and that person. With Aokana, you get those personal moments where you can see a relationship grow between Masaya and one of the heroines. However, you also see how these people relate to each other and their friendships (and rivalries) develop with both other heroines and additional students. It makes them seem more fully realized as characters.
Of course, all of Aokana’s heroines are fully realized. I’m especially fond of Misaki, her cat puns, and how we see someone who is known for being genuinely good at things deal with others who also have talent that rival her own. We watch her relationships with other people. There’s also Rika, who doesn’t exactly fit the girl next door stereotype despite being the literal girl next door. She’s constantly in the worst situations and subject to misunderstandings, but (eventually) her route stops being all about that kind of fanservice.
Ah, speaking of which, Aokana has a lot of fanservice. Which is to be expected, considering this was originally an adult game before being ported over to consoles and handhelds. We still see shades of this with some of the censored cutscenes and the Flying Circus outfits. It’s there, but it honestly isn’t overwhelming. This is more a plot-heavy game with gorgeous character portraits, backgrounds, chibi segments, and general CGs that happens to occasionally have characters in compromising situations.
But with all this, I realize I haven’t actually touched on Flying Circus at all. There’s so much thought put into this fictional sport! Like I was really getting into learning about the rules and characters’ roles when they’d play. I would play a Flying Circus game! It sounds thrilling and the story segments and CGs where characters are playing can be really dynamic and thrilling. Like I definitely liked some of the romantic elements, but the matches were my favorite parts.
Aokana is one of those romantic visual novels where yes, you are eventually trying to win over one of your classmates. But, it’s structured in such a way that the journey, your school life, and the Flying Circus team you help coach feel equally important. It’s a gorgeous game that looks lovely on the Switch. Its story is often uplifting, and it’s rare to have a game where everything feels so well realized.
Aokana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC worldwide. It is also on the PlayStation Vita in Japan.