Hey, you remember when those degenerates at 4chan decided to make a visual novel, and how they were supposed to make something horrible and shameful and a blight on society but they threw a big curveball at us by actually making something really meaningful? What if Katawa Shoujo wasn’t just a one off? What if that exact same thing happened again? And while we’re playing with our fun little vision, let’s imagine that everyone was wearing giant furry hats while they were doing it.
And that brings us to Everlasting Summer. No, it’s not a 4chan game. Rather, this one came from the minds at… well, whatever they have going on at IIchan, a Russian imageboard. Now, I don’t know anything about IIchan. I got out of the whole chan culture around the time the edgelord thirteen year olds started flooding it. Which, really, aside from the somewhat shared origins, Everlasting Summer doesn’t really have a whole lot in common with Katawa Shoujo that isn’t absolutely standard for the form, so let’s let the comparisons drop there.
So, Everlasting Summer is a romance story that you can turn into a sorta-eroge assuming you hang around all the right (or very wrong) places on the internet. It’s Russian. Very Russian. It does its best to not be inaccessibly Russian, and does a very good job of that, but yeah, it’s Russian. Be prepared for that. Also, full of references to Russian imageboard memes that are guaranteed to fly right over your head. It first seems a slightly oppressive dark paranormal mystery, then turns into a light fluffy romance with somewhat malevolent overtones, then, when you know where to look, those overtones start taking over and the mystery comes way to the fore, then the story just kind of peters out without going anywhere at the end. Oops, spoilers. I did find it to be a pretty enjoyable ride up until then though. Also spoilers. Sorry if you were hoping to whiteknuckle things all the way to the end of this rollercoaster of a review.
Everlasting Summer places you in the surprisingly roomy pants of Semyon, an anime obsessed shut-in who spends his life on imageboards and who hasn’t had a meaningful interaction with another human being in years. I am struggling so much not to ‘accidentally’ confuse him with one of the many other people I know who fits the description.
So anyways, one day Aether’s life of sitting on the internet doing nothing productive is interrupted by a friend inviting him out to a class reunion or some such, and he actually decides to go. Trudging out through the snow, Semyon boards a bus, sets off towards his destination, and begins resting his eyes.
When he wakes up, he is not anywhere, or anywhen, near where he expected.
The bus took him on a big magic trip to the Pioneer Camp Sovyonok, where they raise all the good 1980s kids up to be great communist boy scouts. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. That’s a thing. The bus drops off the now 17-year-old Semyon and just disappears. There’s no other civilization in sight. And everyone seems to be expecting him there.
He soon gets set up with a bunk in the camp leader’s cabin, who sets out upon her duty of bringing the young Semyon up into a nice, upstanding adult. Yeah, good luck there. All the while, Semyon struggles to figure out just what exactly is going on and how he can escape from that camp and back into the reality he knows and spends all his time hiding from.
It’s not an easy pursuit, breaking out of that camp. There are certainly some very… odd things going on. For one thing, nobody is willing to answer any of his questions. They’re not very direct about it, but it’s a little odd that every time Semyon tries to get any info on the camp, what’s going on, and the world outside the camp, the subject gets immediately and deftly refocused into talking about him. Strange happenings abound, and character reactions about them are inconsistent. At one point, a camp member just disappears, and is found hallucinating in an abandoned bomb shelter, and this is a big deal. At several other points some pioneer or another vanishes for a bit, and nobody even cares. Likewise, one of the pioneers manufactures some freakin’ explosives and attempts to destroy the camp’s jerk dad from Evangelion monument, and receives only a minor scolding for that before everyone just forgets about it. The setting is very incongruous as well. It’s apparently 1980’s Russia once you get to the camp, and nobody recognizes just what the blazes your cell phone is, yet there’s still a club dedicated to building sophisticated robots well beyond the grasp of the modern era, and Hatsune Miku’s just kind of hanging around camp flashing her panties at you for… reasons.
So yeah, the place is not normal. Semyon wants out, back to the life he used to do the bare minimum with. But recall, this is a romance novel. So of course, like many good things in a man’s life, there are girls there. Now, Semyon has better things to worry about than his love life at this point. The girls seem to be part of the problem as well, to some extent, diverting his attention away from finding answers to his conundrum and drawing him more into the affairs of the world he finds himself in. Yet, even so, as Semyon quests through the camp looking for a way out, over the course of normal events he usually finds himself growing closer and closer to them anyways. To the point where he spends more time coupling with them than trying to get out of his predicament. Oh, priorities.
Structurally, Everlasting Summer is a route-based VN. In the majority of routes, you spend seven days in the camp. The plot over the first five days are largely the same, although you’ll often be tasked to make a choice that gets events unfolding differently in certain places and increase your relationship values with a certain girl. Near the end of the fifth day, you’re offered a more major choice that, combined with the relationship values, set you up with a specific girl for whom the next two days are focused on. Day six generally sees Semyon completely devoted to a specific girl, helping them through their struggles and spending a romantic night with them. Day seven sees the girl lose their freakin’ mind (or Semyon loses his, in at least one route), because I don’t know if you’ve ever dated before, but that is exactly how it works. Then Semyon (usually) makes it home, and (usually) starts taking steps to make his life better. Each route has a good end and a bad end. Which generally differs in whether or not you get to meet the girl you made it with outside of the camp. If you do, presumably romance re-ensues, and you live happily ever after. Or not. Some of these girls are just rather unpleasant.
There are a few special routes as well, that show up when you don’t make it with any of the traditional romance routes. Those are generally less obvious. May need a guide to get to those. What I found really interesting was that although the special routes, with the exception of the ‘Super Secret Special Route II: Semyon Strikes Back”, don’t end up with you actually making it out of the camp, and so aren’t “successful”, you actually learn a lot more of the nature of the freaky deaky stuff you got mixed up in through your failure there.
Another interesting thing here. For me, Everlasting Summer ended up being an exercise in seeing if I can still enjoy a story if I didn’t like any of the characters. Seriously, there ended up being only two character who I would have felt comfortable sharing some brews with, the rest of them just grated on me. I don’t think that was what the developers intended. But you know what? It works. Well, it works here, I should say. Plenty of other stories test me exactly the same way, and usually doesn’t work out for them. So, budding writers out there, I really wouldn’t recommend giving this method a go until you know what you’re doing. But let’s talk about why that works here. Again, I don’t think the writers intended that all the characters would grate on me. But they did, and that actually ended up being in service to the plot. A few things at work here. First, the girls themselves were deliberately designed so that they’d be a little bit off. That’s actually a big plot point, that their personalities are not all there. The fact that I didn’t like them ended up furthering that feeling. I was disconnecting from them in a way that augmented what the writers had already built in. Second, although I didn’t like them, the characters were still fully fleshed out. At the core, the main characters were based off of some common character archetypes that I’ve just either grown tired of or never caught the appeal for, but they’ve got enough outside details to them that I can still take them seriously as actual characters. Even though I dislike their personalities, with their way it’s written, I can still respect their role in the story. The antipathy I feel towards them, although it wasn’t designed that way, is closer towards the feelings you get for a good villain. You’d hate to hang with them, but they still add to the overall work, and there’s a part of you that’s glad for the way they are.
And third, the plot actually acknowledges their character flaws, and works it in there. It’s not a Scrappy Doo situation where the plot’s all “Oh aren’t these annoying character traits charming?” A good example is Semyon himself. Semyon’s been a shut-in for a good long while now. When he finds himself in this situation, forced to be both interactive and productive, the same personality traits that led to him being a shut-in in the first place are what rise to the forefront, and are the source of both my personal dislike for him and of a lot of his trouble in both adapting and breaking out. That’s not bad writing, that’s is great use of character flaws, and the story is stronger for it. I can’t give more examples without breaking into spoiler territory, but the girls are the same way. They have character flaws, this is worked into the story, and although with most of them I was picking up on more than just those flaws that were acknowledged, it does make the story far stronger for it.
So, let’s take a look at who we’re working with, shall we? Just laying it out here, all of these characters are centered around a really common character trope. This is deliberate. The story plays with that, or, you know, at least it tries. Trying counts, right? I can’t really get into how they play around with it, because, you know, I’m trying to prevent spoilers for a rather underwhelming twist, but just know it’s not a bad thing that these are all really common character archetypes.
Slavya’s a girl who comes first in a lot of things. She’s the first girl you meet in person, the first girl you get to see in a bikini, and she was the young woman who won the illustrious prize of being first to be romanced by me. Try to hold back your jealousy. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a chance someday.
In fact, I totally broke my visual novel/general life rule of dating the redheads first for her. That is both a testament to the quality of her character and the lack of quality in the blasted redheads of this game.
Slavya’s responsible, sweet, and really respected by all. She has a leadership role in the camp, keeping a lot of things organized while the ineffectual leader does, I don’t know, whatever she does. She’s one of the most responsible members of the camp, but she’s no stickler for the rules; she’s happy to bend things when they’ll help someone else. Pretty much everyone likes her; even as people have personality conflicts with everyone else, they’re always sweet on Slavya.
The big thing with Slavya is that she’s always in control. Even when one of the campers goes insane, she’s able to keep things from getting violent. Even when she’s getting kicked out of camp, she’s totally on top of things. Even when you’re sneaking around, peeping in on her as she’s bathing, it’s only because she wants you to.
So in case you can’t tell, Slavya’s got a bad case of that Mary Sue. She’s based off of the 2ch mascot Slavya-tan, according to TVTropes. And hey, when has TVTropes ever steered you wrong?
Yeah, I’ll still be here when you get back.
Alisa’s the rebel, the subculture devotee, the revolutionary without a cause. She is Chaos given flesh. The men fear her. The women… ignore her, mostly. The camp leader is constantly exasperated by her. And that’s just the way she wants it. Well, sorta. Alisa bullies you at first. Stand up to her, and you’ll win her heart.
Then, when you peel back that layer, you find out who she really is. Insecure, persecution complex, absolutely no faith in anyone. The hard exterior covers up a cringey and quivering interior. Either way, she can’t get along with anyone.
So, she’s a tsundere. You know, the thing that some people on the internet find attractive for some reason. She’s based off of the 2ch mascot 2ch-tan. One of the characters in game points this out to her, in an inside joke that went waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay over my head. And I’m like seven feet tall. It’s not easy to get anything over my head.
You know what? Just forget about Lena.
Ulyan no, I’m serious. She’s not worth your time. Uly oh okay fine!
Lena’s the bookworm. Quiet, nebbish, timid. Usually, at least. She does have the odd moment where she shows another side of her personality, seeming unusually bold and confident in her advances, before retreating right back behind that veil she has there.
Lena’s very easy to please. Just needs compliments, interest in what she’s doing, and some time spent together. The simple things in life. But, if you focus enough care and patience on that, you’ll start peeling away all that shyness and awkwardness and find a big, kind, loving heart inside.
Wait, is that what I wrote? No, that’s wrong. What you’ll find inside is a big bowl full of crazy.
Lena’s a yandere. She’s a lot more subtle than most of the other yanderes out there, and she doesn’t really direct her violence at you, but still, yandere nonetheless. And given that yanderes have been ruined for me by my search stats over the past couple of years, I think I’m just done with them. She’s based off the IIchan mascot, Unyl-tan (Despair-tan). Make of that what you will.
And here’s the point where I get added to a government database. She’s eighteen. I swear it. She just has a… condition.
Look, the game even says so!
Right. Urgh. So, Ulyana’s the textbook bratty half-pint. She plays pranks. She enjoys irritating people. She’s out for a good time, and if it comes at other people’s expense, she’s fine with that. Not that she’s out to annoy other people, just that she doesn’t… really… care. If there’s more to her character than that, that I can talk about here, I sure don’t recall it.
Gotdommit I hate this so much.
Thankfully, her route is the only one that’s not erotic. It’s barely even romantic. It’s still creepy. Panties get rubbed all over the place. People start wondering things about Semyon, and rightfully so. You’ve been warned.
Like I said, she’s the bratty half-pint archetype. She’s based on the 2ch mascot USSR-tan.
She’s Hatsune Miku. Hatsune Miku is here in communist Russia in the 80s. She’s really a side character in most everybody else’s route. She’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, always happy and excited and random. There’s an interesting twist, though. Usually the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as a storytelling trope serves to romance a reserved, closeted man, such as Semyon exactly, and allows the male character to take the more passive, traditionally quote-feminine-unquote role in pursuing the relationship that just feels so much safer and allows him to comfortably grow out of his shell. You’d think that Semyon, old closeted, social coward Semyon, would be exactly the type of person to really go for that in this romance story. Like she was custom placed here just for Semyon.
Semyon can’t stand her. He hates her energy, her chaos, her lack of focus. He admires her skill and passion for music, but otherwise, he wants nothing to do with her.
Even the route in which you romance her, you never actually “romance” “her”. It basically requires you to move mildly closer to her and follow a certain series of steps, then end up otherwise alone at a key juncture. Even then, it takes a complete shift in setting, character, and even storytelling genre for Semyon and Miku to end up together.
Just don’t play her route late at night. All I’m saying.
She’s the ‘secret’ character, but the game itself spoils her all over the place, so what do I care. You don’t get to meet her until you’ve gone through pretty much all the other routes, and by the time you do, it won’t be too long until the veils are pulled back. A little bit.
I don’t… actually have all that much to say about her. Leave some of the mystery in place, aye?
Zhenya doesn’t get a route in the main game, but she does in the DLC. Which is completely free. And actually comes with the game. In Soviet Russia, DLC pays for you?
Anyways, she’s a little… different. As far as archetypes go, she’s… another tsundere? Except all tsuntsun and no deredere? I needed a few shots just to write those words, I hope you appreciate it. She’s just pissed off at everyone all the time. Except for in the DLC, but there you know all about what’s going on in this dumb world and why everyone’s the way they are, so that doesn’t count. She likes books. Nothing else.
So that’s the crew. Hey, let’s run through the more technical aspects of this piece, what do you say?
Presentation-wise, we’ve got a bit of a mixed bag here. The music is great, I’ve got to say. The worst pieces just kind of fade into the atmosphere, but the best are really stellar. I think they were created for this work too, so it’s something really special. Visuals are usually pretty good. Very animesque, of course, but solid. But not always. Sometimes the art falters. Usually either with the faces or the CGs, although the sex scenes get some pretty weird anatomy too. It feels like there were a bunch of different artists with different styles and artistic foci here, and they don’t always mesh together.
The translation takes some getting useful. They do a great job of explaining any cultural things that might be unfamiliar to a non-Russian, but the English used can get a little wonky. Never enough that it loses meaning, but oftentimes it feels like the writing’s not hitting on the tone it wants to, because some sort of awkward phrasing pops up.
Characters are not generally very round, but that’s deliberate. They are deep, however, and you get enough content and the writing is solid enough to carry it off. You’ll get to know these people. In fact, writing this little thing here has surprised me in just how much I could recall about any given character in the piece. There’s quite a bit to it. Perhaps one of the biggest strengths is Semyon himself. It’d be really easy to just turn him into a traditional featureless protagonist, but no, he carries a lot with him. He regularly has the same sort of actions and personality flaws as you’d expect from a total shut-in, and that does impact a lot of the story.
And then as for the story itself. So, when this project was started, reportedly, it wasn’t going to be a romance tale at all. Rather, it was supposed to be a supernatural eldritch horror mystery sort of story. Now, as with much else in life, the focus shifted over into romancing the pretty girls, but it still carries a lot of those elements the whole way through. The central conflict of the plot is wrapped up all around it, and to be honest, the mystery of just what the hell is going on really drives a lot forward. It gives it a lot more staying power than just the romance bits alone normally would.
But a mystery needs some sort of payoff. And the payoff here, just isn’t very good. The actual reveal itself is alright. Not going to blow any minds the way I do on a daily basis, but it’s got more than enough build up and support to make it work. But it’s just not explored. It seems they went with the whole “deliberately vague so you can have fun picking up on the clues and forming your own theories” deal that a lot of the best opaque works run with, but they just didn’t pull it off right. Once the reveal happens, they drop a whole bunch of happenings on you with no explanation as to what’s going on and why, and don’t really cast the line to reel in that delicious conjecture. To get the imagination wandering the way something like Dark Souls does, with its breadcrumbs of lore, you at least have to start the reader along the path. Make something happen, then point in a direction, and let the mind go from there. Everlasting Summer’s finale really bails in that second factor.
Right. So. Overall, you know, I had a really good time with Everlasting Summer. The writing is thick enough and strong enough to keep me interested, and the mystery really drove my interest after the romance ran dry on me. I personally disliked most of the characters, and that actually ended up making my enjoyment of the story even stronger. Just a shame that ending went the way it did. My experience was definitely worthwhile here, but it’s hard for retrospect to not be colored by the way it just petered out.
Also, I was forced to look up Ulyana’s skirt way too much. What the hell, Russia?