Sweet Pool is the third Nitro+Chiral title and by far one of the more surreal titles from their lineup, which really isn’t saying much seeing as this is the same company that gave us Saya no Uta (under their Nitroplus branch) and Togainu no Chi. There is a degree of grotesque body horror in this game that is both unsettling and beautiful, Sweet Pool is Invasion of the Bodysnatchers if it where set in the omegaverse and it is just as twisted as you’re imagining. The game follows Youji Sakiyama a second year high school student after his last stint in the hospital. Youji’s hopes for a normal life are dashed when he is slowly drawn into a nightmare from which there is no escape. Strange symptoms and grotesque hallucinations begin to plague his body and mind, and the only people that may have answers are two classmates who are also harboring dark secrets of their own.
So color me surprised when JAST USA announced that they’d be kicking off their new BL brand, JAST BLUE with English localizations of titles from Nitro+Chiral’s lineup. First up on the docket is 2008’s sweet pool right on time for the series’s 10th anniversary.
*There is one NSFW image at the very end of the review, but, it’s one of the more tame CGs in the game. *
Let me start off by saying that this game is not for the faint of heart, Sweet Pool isn’t a romance game… Let me repeat that for the folks sleeping in the back, Sweet Pool is not a romance. So don’t go in expecting hearts and roses, because this is just not that kind of game! There are some semi-romantic moments between Youji and one of the main male leads, but, those moments of levity are usually preceded and followed by wave after wave of violence, rape, and blood (not necessarily in that order). It’s a bit jarring at first, but, the longer you play the more desensitized you get to all the violence and despair the game throws at you. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by some of the darker elements of the game, but, that’s just scratching the surface of what Sweet Pool really is, there’s a depth to it that few BL games are able to accurately capture. This is definitely one of the more unusual games I’ve played in awhile, but in spite of it’s disturbing premise and themes, Sweet Pool is a rather thought provoking experience.
So, the story, Sweet Pool catches your attention with it’s shocking content, and slowly builds this complex narrative that challenges your suspension of disbelief. The game follows Youji Sakiyama, a second year high school student whose poor health has had him in and out of the hospital for most of his life. After spending a year in the hospital Youji is finally able to return to school and reclaim some semblance of a normal life, however, it isn’t long before his symptoms take a turn for the bizarre: he starts shitting sentient meat monsters. With his world successfully turned upside down, Youji desperately looks for answers, but what he finds is much more sinister than he ever wt ould have imagined. Youji soon discovers that his strange symptoms and the weird goings on at his school are connected to two of his fellow classmates: the eccentric son of a yakuza boss, Zenya and the stoic loner, Tetsuo. Through his interactions with both, Youji uncovers dark secrets that will change his life and the lives of his classmates forever.
I know I’m being extremely vague about the story, but, saying anymore would severely spoil the games carefully constructed storytelling. There is a suggested play order and I strongly suggest sticking to it of you want to experience the story the way it was intended: Zenya (one ending), Makoto (one ending), and Tetsuo (four endings). Every route builds on the previous one, carefully unraveling a small piece of the overarching mystery and revealing more about each of the main characters. It’s clear from the beginning that only one of the main guys is the canon route, but, even so the other guys are given meaningful resolutions at the end of the game for better or worse. While the individual routes (save Tetsuo’s) are incomplete parts of a larger narrative, as a whole, Sweet Pool has some great pacing, slowly building its momentum, drawing the player in to the twisted interconnected lives of the characters.
Unlike most visual novels, there are no “happy” or “good” endings, at least not in the traditional sense, which might be off putting to some players. Sweet Pool puts a lot of emphasis on the nature of fate and the futility of defying ones lot in life. All of the characters at one point or another have to contend with the fact that there is no way out of their situation, that despite their best efforts their fates are pretty much sealed and that fact is reflected in the choices the player makes in the game. Rather than clear cut dialogue choices or actions the player is instead prompted to choose between Reason (Blue) and Instinct (Red) to achieve one of the six outcomes of the game. At no point in the game is it made clear whether which option is “good” or “bad” and that’s point. There are no “good” or “bad” choices, rather, your decision to either follow Reason or Instinct helps shapes Youji’s feelings towards his fate at the end of the game. It’s the choice between having your fate thrust upon you or deciding to embrace your fate.
Sweet Pool is a very striking game, having been developed in the early 2000’s it has a very distinctive 90’s teen drama feel with it’s dark eerie instrumentals and vein-like filters and muted colors. Not to mention the rather yaoi-esque character designs, all of the main male cast members have prominent chins and lean bodies with broad shoulders… and let’s not forget large face eating hands at least where the semes are concerned. Youji on the other hand is slightly smaller than his peers with softer features, but, not so much that he doesn’t look masculine. Now that I think about it all of the high school aged characters look like they’re in their early 20’s and not in their mid to late teens, which makes it hard to see them as “children”. I should also note that Sweet Pool does feature voice acting from quite a few well known VAs including Hikaru Midorikawa, and while I love the voice acting in this game, I will admit that their performances do make the younger characters sound older than they are.
Last, but certainly not least, I can’t talk about Sweet Pool without taking about the disproportionate amount of violence in the game. Nitroplus is infamous for their darker and edgier titles, the most noteworthy nightmare inducing titles being 2003’s Saya no Uta from their main branch and 2005’s Togainu no Chi from Nitro+Chiral, their BL visual novel branch. Their works are known for bordering on horror with their abundance of violence, gore, and straight up nightmare fuel. There is an intensity to their narratives that really sets them apart from other visual novels on the market, this is especially true with their BL games, which are notorious for being overly dark.
Sweet Pool is no different, featuring an overwhelming amount of violence, rape, and gore, however, thankfully, the CGs and art fairly tame in the amount of each that they depict. Let this serve as a warning for anyone uncomfortable with any of the above mentioned themes, Sweet Pool does not sugarcoat anything and given it’s darker and edgier premise it works within the context of the game. However, there are quite a few scenes that are especially concerning, namely those concerning rape. There are a few scenes where Youji is forced into sex by one of the main male characters and it is not played for laughs or as some form of prelude to romance. Throughout it is clear that this is not a consensual encounter, with clear objections being made by Youji, it’s not meant to be romantic rather deeply unsettling. I would like to note that there are consensual sexual encounters in the game, however, they are overshadowed by the violent sexual ones.
Thankfully, there is a censored version of Sweet Pool available via Steam that edits out all of the violence, gore, and yes, the sexual content. However, the censored version does a poor job of editing out the adult content making for an overall choppy narrative full of plot holes. So, I can’t in good conscience recommend the censored version… it really takes away from your enjoyment of the game.
If I had to sum up Sweet Pool in a few words it would be, “beautifully tragic.” The third game under the Nitro+Chiral line of games, Sweet Pool is definitely one of the gorier titles from their catalog, second maybe to their first game Togainu no Chi.
“It’s not romance, it’s not even love. It’s something much more deeper…”
There is an intensity to Sweet Pool that is as mesmerizing as it is horrifying, this game isn’t for the faint of heart. Nitro+Chiral takes you on a journey into the bizarre, with it’s eccentric cast of characters and twisted premise, there is no doubt that Sweet Pool is sure to take you for a ride. Though, if you are sensitive to violence, gore, and sex, perhaps this isn’t the game for you. But, if you can handle it’s dark themes and adult content, Sweet Pool offers a rather thought provoking psychological experience that is sure to stay with you long after the credits roll.
As always, you don’t have to take my word for it, check out the trailer below or purchase the game using one of the links below!